Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – PhD Social Welfare

PhD FAQ Discussion

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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.

Watch on to enable captions:

PhD Application FAQ

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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 PhD-Only track, for students without an MSW, that only wish to earn their PhD.
    3. Joint MSW/PhD track, for applicants with a BSW. This track allows students to earn their MSW while earning their PhD.

Information on each track can be found here:

During the application process, should I contact faculty? Do I need to contact faculty to see if they are willing or available to advise me?

While contacting faculty prior to applying is NOT required, it is suggested that applicants review the faculty directory ( and consider which faculty member(s) they would like to work with as their temporary faculty advisor.

Upon admission, each student is assigned to a “temporary faculty advisor” whose research interests correspond broadly with the student’s interests. The role of the temporary advisor is to mentor students at the beginning of their program, assist students in the selection of required and elective courses for the first year of the program, and advise students on research and curricular issues as they explore and refine their research area and choose a major professor. Many times, the temporary advisor becomes the Major Professor.

I do not have an MSW, can I still apply? How do I apply?

Applicants without a Masters of Social Work (MSW) have several application options. Determine which option applies to you, and refer to the application directions.

PhD-Only, for applicants that do not wish to obtain an MSW.

  • PhD-Only is a track for applicants that only wish to obtain a PhD.
  • Follow the admissions process found here:

Joint MSW/PhD for applicants with a BSW that would like to earn their MSW as part of the PhD Program.

  • Joint MSW/PhD track, for applicants with a Bachelors of Social Work (BSW). This track allows students to earn their Masters of Social Work (MSW) while earning their PhD.
  • Follow the admissions process found here:

PhD with MSW Consideration

  • PhD with MSW Consideration is for applicants applying to the PhD Program AND the MSW Program.
  • Use the PhD with MSW Consideration option if you want to be considered for the MSW Program if you are NOT admitted to the PhD Program.
  • Select Social Welfare PhD AND Social Work MSW-Full Time MSW under the Program Select tab of the Graduate School Admission Application.  Applicants that do not select MSW in the Admissions Application will only be considered for the PhD Program

MSW Only, for applicants wishing to apply only to the MSW Program.

  • Click here to learn more about the MSW program, and their admissions process.

Can I get an English Proficiency Test Waiver?

All international degree-seeking applicants must meet at least one of the waiver criteria OR provide official and admissible results of an English proficiency exam.  Learn more here:

English Proficiency Test Waiver Criteria

To demonstrate English proficiency, all international degree-seeking applicants meeting at least one of the following criteria may waive the English proficiency test requirement.

  • Earned a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited United States college or university.
  • Earned a Masters or PhD degree from a regionally accredited United States college or university not more than 5 years prior to the anticipated start of enrollment.
  • Earned an undergraduate degree equivalent to a bachelor’s degree from an international institution where English is the exclusive language of instruction. The language of instruction must be stated on the official transcript or verified as the only language of instruction.
  • Completed at least two full-time semesters of graded coursework from an accredited institution where English is the exclusive language of instruction not more than 5 years prior to the anticipated start of enrollment. This coursework cannot include English language learning classes.

English Proficiency Test Requirements

All international degree-seeking applicants that do NOT meet at least one of the English Proficiency Test Waiver criteria must provide English proficiency exam results.  Scores must be within two years from the anticipated start of enrollment.

  • The approved tests and required scores are listed below.

How to submit English proficiency test scores

You must submit your scores following the directions below:

    • TOEFL scores must be submitted electronically via ETS.
      • Our institution code is 1846.
    • IELTS scores can be submitted electronically or by mail via IELTS.
      • To send electronically, select our account name UW-Madison Graduate School.
      • To send by mail, use the following address:
        UW-Madison Graduate School, Office of Admissions
        232 Bascom Hall
        500 Lincoln Drive
        Madison, WI 53706
    • Duolingo English Test (starting spring 2025 admit term) scores must be submitted electronically via Duolingo to University of Wisconsin – Madison – Graduate Admissions.

Is the GRE required for the PhD program application?

No, the GRE is no longer required for the PhD program application.

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

Domestic Applicants

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:

The PhD program does not provide fee grant waivers to domestic applicants.  Please contact the Graduate School for waiver details.

International Applicants

A limited number of fee grant waivers will be offered to international applicants by the PhD Program to ensure the application fee is not a barrier. Please note that waivers are not guaranteed, and as of 9/2022, candidates are only eligible to receive 1 waiver total from the PhD Program.  The application fee coupon codes currently only cover the standard application fee and international applicants will still need to pay the international document fee. International applicants needing financial assistance to waive their application fee must:

  • Have all application materials submitted at the time of the request, including 3 letters of recommendation
  • Meet application criteria, including language scores
  • Contact the PhD Office to request a waiver once everything is completed

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

I am a current student at UW-Madison, how do I apply?

Currently enrolled UW-Madison students applying to the PhD Program must add the program through the electronic Add/Change/Discontinue Program Request before the application deadline.  In addition to the Add/Change/Discontinue Program Request, all application requirements must be submitted to the Program Coordinator, and the materials will be reviewed as part of our applicant review cycle.

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:

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:

Or, watch this helpful video: 

Can I enter the PhD program as a transfer student?

Yes!  To be considered as a transfer student, apply using the standard PhD application.

For current UW-Madison students, please use the UW-Madison application instructions.

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:

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?

Visit Guide for details on the PhD course plan.

Also, some classes are eligible for exemption, the exemption exam schedule, and exam registration is available here:

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:

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:

As a student, what funding support is available? What about funding for international students?

Graduate Assistantships

Social Welfare PhD students are generally guaranteed a minimum funding package consisting of a 33.4%, 9-month appointment for a minimum of five years, if they are in good academic standing, make satisfactory progress in their coursework, perform acceptably in their appointed position, and remain in residence. However, many appointments or combinations of appointments go above the minimum guarantee of 33.4%, and may include summer appointments. 

Typically, students do not receive funding after their 5th year in the program, though some exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis depending on funding availability and the fit between a student’s skills and faculty/departmental needs with regards to TA, PA, RA, and teaching appointments. Refer to the Graduate School Explorer data tools, available at (click “Data” in the upper right), for historical information on how the Program’s students have been funded. Or, click here:

Graduate assistantships appointed at 33.3% or higher (>13 hours/week) provide multiple benefits:

  • monthly stipend;
  • remission* of both resident and non-resident tuition (students will still need to pay segregated fees, roughly $726/semester); and
  • eligibility for health insurance (health insurance options for a reasonable premium are among the country’s best group health insurance plans).

Appointment Types

  • Teaching Assistantships (TA): Instructional positions that could include lecturing, grading papers, supervising laboratories, leading discussion sections, or developing course curriculum
  • Project Assistantships (PA): Project-related assignments such as coordinating programs, organizing events, analyzing data, or supporting student services
  • Research Assistantships (RA): Research under the guidance of a faculty member
  • Lecturer, Student Assistant (LSA): Instructional position leading a course in place of faculty or instructional academic staff

For more details on TA, RA, and PA, positions, including stipend levels, please visit:

What awards, grants, or fellowships are available for students? What about awards, grants, and fellowships for international students?

As part of our admissions process, the PhD Committee considers all incoming students for available awards, including;

In the spring, the PhD Committee awards current students PhD Scholarships and Awards including;

The UW- Madison International Student Services (ISS) Office offers information on scholarships and grants for International graduate students, as well as educational loan options.  See more here: ISS:

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:

PhD Support FAQ

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What is the cost of attendance?

See a breakdown and descriptions of Graduate Student costs of attendance (COA) here:



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:

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:

Experience Madison, and the weather, and visit local favorites through their YouTube page here:

The City of Madison offers a comprehensive list of everything you need to know about Madison.  See it here:

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:

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:

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:

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

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:

Reporting Issues

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I am a current student experiencing an issue. How do I report my issue so that my concern is heard?

Please refer to our resource on the Student Resources page regarding Reporting Issues.

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