PhD Program In Social Welfare

The doctoral program in social welfare strives to develop scholars, leaders, and social work educators who will advance

PhD Program Brochure

knowledge about social work, social welfare policy, and intervention strategies from a behavioral and social science perspective to improve the quality of life of individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations. The program has a strong reputation of academic excellence.

Students have a wide selection of courses in world-renowned social and behavioral science departments such as sociology, economics, educational psychology, human development and family studies, the La Follette School of Public Affairs, psychology, women’s studies, population health sciences, and nursing.

The PhD program provides an interdisciplinary plan of study in basic and applied social research. In their programs doctoral students build and integrate knowledge in:

  1. a substantive or social problem area (e.g., child welfare, aging, developmental disabilities, end-of-life care, health, mental health, poverty);
  2. social science theory (e.g., theories of the life course, economic theory, psychopathology, organizational theory, stress process theories);
  3. research designs and statistical methodologies (e.g., program evaluation, policy analysis, longitudinal analysis).


Doctoral students outside the school are invited to consider the minor in social welfare. The 9-credit minor requires three doctoral-level courses from the School of Social Work. One must be a Social Policy Seminar (SW950), one must be an Applied Theory Seminar (SW951), and the third can be a 3-credit social work doctoral course of the student’s choosing (which could be another SW950 or SW951 seminar).


The UW-Madison School of Social Work is known for its:

The requirements to obtain a PhD in Social Welfare include a minimum of 42 credits of coursework, completion of a preliminary examination, and completion of a dissertation. Students entering the PhD program with an MSW typically follow a standard plan of study, which is shown below at-a-glance.

For students entering without an MSW, we offer the choice of obtaining the MSW while completing the PhD, through our Joint MSW/PhD Option, OR following the PhD-only option, for those who do not wish to obtain the MSW. Both of these choices have additional course requirements.


Students entering with an MSW will follow the standard plan of study.

Standard Plan of Study 2019-20


Fall Semester Credits Spring semester Credits
Statistics I 3 Statistics II 3
SW 946 Faculty Research Seminar 1 SW 947 Student Research Seminar 1
SW 949 Qualitative Methods or Elective 3 SW 948 Quantitative Methods or Elective 3
SW 950 Social Policy Seminar or SW 951 Applied Theory Seminar 3 SW 950 Social Policy Seminar or SW 951 Applied Theory Seminar 3
SW 952 Application of Research Methods 3
Total Credits 10 Total Credits 13


Fall Semester Credits Spring semester Credits
Statistics/Methods or Substantive Course Elective 3 Statistics/Methods or Substantive Course Elective 3
Social Science Theory 3 SW 947 Student Research Seminar 1
SW 949 Qualitative Methods or Elective 3 SW 948 Quantitative Methods or Elective 3
SW 950 Social Policy Seminar or SW 951 Applied Theory Seminar 3 SW 952 Application of Research Methods* 3
Total Credits 12 Total Credits 10

*Taking SW 952 twice is strongly recommended, but not required.

YEARS 3 & 4

Preparation for Preliminary Exam (register for SW 999: Independent Reading, 2-8 credits depending on appointment level) and Dissertation Research (i.e., if dissertator status, register for SW 990: Thesis Research, 3 credits).


Coursework typically spans four semesters of full-time study for students who have an MSW. The curriculum emphasizes substantive, theoretical, methodological, and statistical coursework. A variety of social welfare seminars are offered within the department. Students from several departments are invited to join these seminars creating a rich interdisciplinary training environment.

The third and fourth year of the program are dedicated to the preparation and completion of the preliminary examination and dissertation research.

The preliminary examination consists of both a written and oral component. After passing the preliminary exam, the student is formally admitted to PhD candidacy. The student then writes a dissertation under the supervision of his or her faculty advisor and dissertation committee.

The amount of time to complete the program is increased for those students entering without an MSW. These students have two options:

  • The Joint MSW/PhD Option, for students who wish to obtain an MSW.
  • The PhD only route, for students who do not want to obtain the MSW. These students are required to take two MSW generalist courses, and complete a two credit 8-week internship in a field area. View the suggested plan of study for this option below.

PhD Only Plan of Study 2019-20


View descriptions of the required PhD courses offered by the School of Social Work. Syllabi are also available for the current and past terms.


The PhD Program in Social Welfare Guidelines have been developed by the School of Social Work, and cover the policies and expectations of our PhD Program, in accordance with the UW-Madison Graduate School Academic Policies and Procedures.

These guidelines are updated annually. Each doctoral student is expected to adhere to the policies and expectations in the Guidelines applicable to their year of entry into the program.

Guidelines are available for the past several years:

PhD Program Guidelines 2019-20
PhD Program Guidelines 2018-19
PhD Program Guidelines 2017-18
PhD Program Guidelines 2016-17
PhD Program Guidelines 2015-16
PhD Program Guidelines 2014-15

The School of Social Work provides highly competitive financial support to new and continuing PhD students.

Graduate Assistantship and Fellowship positions include paid tuition, health insurance coverage, and a monthly stipend.

Graduate Student Funding Information 2019-20.


These positions are typically given to doctoral students at a minimum of 33.4% appointment per semester. These positions are appointed by the PhD program chairperson and are supervised by the course instructor.


These positions vary in the appointment percentage, ranging from 33.4% to 75%, typically for a 12-month period. These positions are appointed by individual faculty and enable students to work closely on the faculty’s research project.


These positions also vary in the appointment percentage, ranging from 33.4% to 50%, typically for a 12-month period. An appointment as a research assistant is made when the activity performed by the research assistant is primarily for the benefit of the individual’s course of study and research and directly applicable to the individual’s thesis or dissertation.


These positions are occasionally given to qualified doctoral students at a minimum of 33.4% appointment per semester. These positions are appointed by the Associate Director of the School to provide important professional development for the graduate student and to deliver an effective instructional program.


Thanks to the generosity of alumni and friends, current PhD students are eligible for a small number of awards during the spring semester. For information about these awards, please visit Awards List and use the Doctoral Support category filter.

Incoming PhD students are eligible for a small number of awards through the admissions process. For information about these awards, please visit Awards List and use the Admissions category filter.

Advanced Opportunity Fellowship (AOF)

Individuals holding this fellowship are qualifying students who receive support through funding from the State of Wisconsin Advanced Opportunity Program and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. AOF nominations are submitted through the department to the College of Letters & Science during the admissions process. Current students are not eligible, except for rare circumstances. For more information, visit Community of Graduate Research Scholars (CGRS).


Current PhD students seeking travel funding to attend conferences should contact the PhD Program Office. Typically, the PhD Program will provide travel support to a student at least once a year while in the program. Students will receive the funding as a reimbursement up to a certain amount which means they must follow UW-Madison’s e-reimbursement guidelines. For example, students are not allowed to use third party booking sites for anything (Expedia,, etc.) and cannot use AirBnB. If so, those expenses will not be reimbursed. For questions, contact the School’s Event Coordinator, Gerald Eggleston.

The Joint MSW/PhD is an option of the PhD Program, which is available to students who wish to obtain an MSW while completing the PhD in Social Welfare. Joint applicants are reviewed as part of the entire PhD applicant pool.


Students entering via the Joint Option complete one of two options of study depending on whether or not the student has an accredited BSW degree. The Joint Option one requires a minimum of 79 credits of coursework; option two requires a minimum of 58 credits of coursework. As with the PhD Only Option, after completing all coursework, Joint students must pass a written and oral preliminary examination before advancing to dissertator status.


Students who do not have an undergraduate degree in social work take this option. The master’s degree is awarded after completing two years of MSW coursework and field placements that are taken concurrently with PhD Program courses. Typically, Option One students complete their PhD and MSW coursework in three academic years.

Joint I Plan of Study 2019-20


Students who have a BSW take this option. While concurrently completing their doctoral coursework, Option Two students complete the equivalent of the one-year, advanced standing MSW program in a focus area within the Advanced Generalist specialization. Typically, Option Two students complete their PhD and MSW coursework in two and a half academic years.

Joint II Plan of Study 2019-20


Like all PhD Program applicants, Joint Option applicants are required to have completed a statistics course and 30 semester credits of social science courses prior to acceptance in to the PhD program. Prospective students interested in the Joint Option must apply to and be accepted by the PhD Program using the standard PhD application.

Carefully read and follow the instructions for applying, which can be found on the PhD Admissions Information page.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Although a MSW is not universally required for faculty hires across schools of social work, the MSW is required to teach social work practice courses. In addition, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires educators to have at least two years of post-BSW or post-MSW practice experience to be able teach practice courses. Students are advised that the post MSW practice experience time is not built into our Joint Option curriculum.

Contact information for current PhD students.
Contact information for PhD students on the job market.