Frequently Asked Questions – PhD Social Welfare

PhD FAQ Discussion

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Where can I hear answers to the frequently asked questions of the PhD program?

PhD Application FAQ

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Does the PhD program offer an information session? Where can I watch a recording?

Yes, every year the PhD program offers an information session in October, in preparation for the December 1st application deadline.  However, you can watch a copy of it below. Our Information Session recording will provide you with information on our program, as well as valuable information as you consider a Social Welfare degree.

What are the PhD program options?

The Social Welfare program offers 3 program tracks:

  1. The Standard track, for students entering with an MSW
  2. The Joint track for students seeking an MSW
  3. The PhD-Only track, for students that do not wish to obtain an MSW

I want to be considered for both the Joint MSW/PhD program and the MSW program. How do I apply?

Applicants interested in being considered for the MSW Program if they are not admitted to the PhD Program should apply to both the PhD Program under the Joint track, and the MSW Full-time program, by selecting Social Welfare PhD AND Social Work MSW-Full Time MSW under the Program Select tab of the Graduate School Admission Application (disregarding the Continue to PhD Checkbox).

Applicants that do not select MSW in the Admissions Application will ONLY be considered for the PhD Program under the MSW Joint track.  See the PhD Application page for more information: https://socwork.wisc.edu/admissions/phd-application/

Can I get the IELTS or TOEFL waived?

The Graduate School waives English proficiency scores for students meeting one of 3 criteria. Visit their website to learn more: https://grad.wisc.edu/apply/requirements/

Is the GRE required for the PhD program application?

The GRE is required for the PhD program application unless otherwise specified on the SSW website or The Guide: https://guide.wisc.edu/graduate/social-work/social-welfare-phd/#admissionstext

I want to apply, but cannot pay the application fee. How do I request an application fee waiver?

The application fee must be paid online before you can submit your application.

The Graduate School offers a limited number of application fee grants to make sure that the application fee is not a barrier for students from our key recruiting initiatives. Fee grants are currently available to U.S. citizens, permanent resident applicants and students with DACA status who can document that they:

  1. participated in selected pipeline programs designed to prepare students for graduate studies, or
  2. grew up in a low-income family.

Learn more about applying for a Fee Grant through the Graduate School by clicking here: https://grad.wisc.edu/apply/fee-grant/

Please ensure your application is completed, and fee grant requested at least five (5) business days prior to your earliest application deadline to ensure there is enough time to process your request.

I do not have an MSW, can I still apply to the PhD program?

Yes, applicants without an MSW can apply to the PhD program under either the Joint MSW/PhD or PhD-Only track.

PhD Program FAQ

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How do I know if I am ready for a PhD program? What is the first year like?

When considering the opportunity of attending a Social Welfare PhD program, we recommend reading, What I Wish I had Known as a First-Year PhD Student, an editorial published in the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Doctoral Student Committee 2021 newsletter.  The newsletter features articles on the first-year student experience.  The article is available here: http://www.sswrdoc.com/monthlymonitor/2021/9/13/monthly-monitor-back-to-school-2021

How is the Social Welfare PhD degree different from a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree?

For more information on how the Social Welfare PhD degree differs from a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree, we recommend reading, Evolving Education: The DSW and PhD Degrees-Goals and Choices, by Sue Coyle, MSW for Social Work Today.   The article outlines the differences in program experiences and outcomes.  Read it here: https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/MA18p8.shtml

Can I enter the PhD program as a transfer student? 

For transfer requirements, see the Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement for transfer requirements at: https://guide.wisc.edu/graduate/social-work/social-welfare-phd/#requirementstext

To be considered as a transfer student, apply using the standard PhD application.  For internal transfers, please contact the department directly.

What careers can I pursue with a PhD in Social Welfare?

According to the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE), “Ph.D. graduates have a variety of avenues to pursue their academic and research careers [including:]

  • Academic – Tenure track, research, and teaching positions are available in all kinds of settings, including teaching-intensive and large research-intensive universities.
  • Professional Researchers – Ph.D. graduates may also work in other settings, such as government agencies, independent research centers, and the military, where they will conduct research that informs practice and provide policy analysis and data analyses that guide social programs.”

Learn more here: https://www.gadephd.org/Prospective-Applicants/Why-a-PhD-or-DSW

How long will it take me to complete my PhD?

The PhD Program in Social Welfare is a full-time program. Regardless of the program track, it typically takes 4-6 years to complete the program: 2-3 Years for full-time doctoral coursework, and 2-3 years for completion of the preliminary exam and dissertation. The actual time students take to obtain the PhD degree will vary according to their previous preparation, progress in the program, and the nature of their dissertation work.

Which classes will I take in this program?

Course plans, currently approved elective options, and their descriptions can be viewed on The Guide (bottom of the page): https://guide.wisc.edu/graduate/social-work/social-welfare-phd/#requirementstext

How many credits are considered full-time?

Full-time enrollment status varies based on school obligations, with most students enrolled in 8-12 credits during their coursework, and 3 credits as a dissertator. Policy number UW-1208 provides guidance on enrollment requirements, with the chart at the bottom of the page being particularly helpful: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1208

What certificates and minors are available? Are they required?

While minors in the PhD program are not required, there are many minor options for those students interested in pursuing one. It should be noted that completing a minor could increase your length of time in the program. For a list of certificates and minors available at UW-Madison, please visit: https://guide.wisc.edu/graduate/#doctoralminorstext

I have a lot of social work experience. Which classes are eligible for exemption?

Classes eligible for exemption, the exemption exam schedule, and exam registration is available here: https://socwork.wisc.edu/students/exemptions/

As a student, what funding support can I receive? What funding is available for international students?

Our PhD students are guaranteed five years of funding, which includes full tuition, a 33% – 50% appointment as a RA, TA, or PA during the academic year (although we also assist students with securing summer funding, and most PA positions are 12 months rather than 9 months), and health insurance benefits.  Students are responsible for paying other fees.  For more details on TA, RA, and PA positions, including stipend levels, please visit: https://grad.wisc.edu/funding/graduate-assistantships/

As part of the admissions process, we consider all incoming students for available awards.  In the spring, we award PhD Scholarships and Awards to current students at our annual PhD Student Luncheon event.

Our ISS Office offers information on scholarships and grants for International graduate students, as well as educational loan options.  See more here: ISS: https://iss.wisc.edu/students/new-students/funding-scholarships/

Additionally, we recommend applying for outside awards and funding.  The Wisconsin Scholarship Hub, or WISH, is a great place to start the graduate scholarship search.  Visit the site here: https://wisc.academicworks.com/

PhD Support FAQ

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As a student, would I qualify for insurance? Where can I learn more about benefits?

Yes, students qualify for insurance. Students awarded a fellowship, traineeship, or assistantship with at least 33.33% appointment per term qualify for full medical benefits. Additionally, students have access to University Health Services (UHS). Learn more about the benefit options by visiting: https://grad.wisc.edu/documents/insurance-and-medical-benefits/

What is it like to live in Madison? Will I need transportation? How cold does it get in Wisconsin?!

Graduate Student Life offers a guide to the graduate experience at UW-Madison. Along with information about living in Madison, along with housing and transportation, they offer a full YouTube playlist featuring the sites of Madison. Visit their site here: https://gradlife.wisc.edu/living-in-madison/

Experience Madison, and the weather, and visit local favorites through their YouTube page here: https://www.youtube.com/c/UWMadisonGraduateSchool

What wellness options are available to me?

Graduate Student Life offers resources to support graduate student health. Additionally, they offer resources for families and the partners of graduate students. Learn more here: https://gradlife.wisc.edu/thriving-in-graduate-school/

I have kids. What campus resources are available for students with children? What about childcare?

The Office of Child Care and Family Resources offers info on childcare, financial assistance, resource library, parents listserv, lactation space, parent education, programming, and links to more campus and community resources. Learn more by visiting: https://grad.wisc.edu/current-students/students-with-children/

Where can I learn more about on-campus and off-campus housing? What are the options for families?

Learn more about on-campus, off-campus, and family housing options by visiting: https://gradlife.wisc.edu/housing-and-transportation/#campus-housing

What resources are available for students of color, LGBTQ students, international students, and other groups?

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Funding, housed within the Graduate School at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, focuses on the needs of underserved graduate student populations such as graduate students of color and first-generation graduate students.  Learn more here: https://grad.wisc.edu/diversity/inclusion-and-engagement/

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