The doctoral program in social welfare strives to develop scholars, leaders, and social work educators who will advance
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:
- a substantive or social problem area (e.g., child welfare, aging, developmental disabilities, end-of-life care, health, mental health, poverty);
- social science theory (e.g., theories of the life course, economic theory, psychopathology, organizational theory, stress process theories);
- 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 Sandra Rosenbaum 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).
Why Choose a Social Welfare PhD at UW-Madison?
The UW-Madison Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work is known for its:
- National Reputation of Excellence
- Highly Recruited Graduates
- Strong Faculty Mentoring Model
- Individualized Program of Study
- Substantial Financial Support
- Rigorous Interdisciplinary Research Training
- Vibrant Graduate Student Community
- Opportunities to collaborate with world-renowned research centers and institutes, such as:
- Options to pursue interdisciplinary PhD minors in Aging; Prevention and Intervention Science; and Women’s Studies, among others.
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.
Doctoral Program At-A-Glance
Students entering with an MSW will follow the standard plan of study.
|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 SW 948 Quantitative Methods||3||Social Science Theory or Elective||3|
|SW 950 Social Policy Seminar or SW 951 Applied Theory Seminar||3||SW 952 or 945 Application of Research Methods||3|
|Total Credits||10||Total Credits||13|
|Fall Semester||Credits||Spring semester||Credits|
|Statistics/Methods or Substantive Course Elective||3||Social Science Theory, Statistics/Methods or Substantive Course Elective||3|
|Social Science Theory Statistics/Methods or Substantive Course Elective||3||SW 947 Student Research Seminar||1|
|SW 949 Qualitative Methods or SW 948 Quantitative Methods||3||Social Science Theory, Statistics/Methods or Substantive Course Elective||3|
|SW 950 Social Policy Seminar or SW 951 Applied Theory Seminar||3||SW 952 or 945 Application of Research Methods*||3|
|Total Credits||12||Total Credits||10|
*Students may opt to take SW 952 twice and count it once as a Statistics or Methods elective. Students may choose to take SW 945 as a methods elective requirement.
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).
Time in Program
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.
View descriptions of the required PhD courses offered by the Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work. Syllabi are also available for the current and past terms.
PhD Program Guidelines
The PhD Program in Social Welfare Guidelines have been developed by the Sandra Rosenbaum 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 2020-21
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 Sandra Rosenbaum 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.
Teaching Assistantship (TA)
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.
Project Assistantship (PA)
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.
Research Assistantship (RA)
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.
Lecturer Student Assistant (LSA)
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.
Awards and Fellowships
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, Hotels.com, 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 available to applicants wishing to obtain an MSW while completing the PhD in Social Welfare. Applicants selecting Joint MSW/PhD are reviewed as part of the PhD applicant pool.
Students entering the PhD Program and selecting the Joint MSW/PhD complete one of two courses of study or tracks, depending on whether the student has an accredited BSW degree. 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.
Joint 1: For Students Without a BSW
The MSW/PhD Joint 1 track is for students without an undergraduate degree in social work. MSW coursework and field placements are taken concurrently with PhD Program courses. Typically, students in the Joint 1 track complete their PhD and MSW coursework in three academic years.
Click to see an example of the Joint I Plan of Study
Joint 2: For Students With a BSW
The MSW/PhD Joint 2 track is for students with a BSW. While concurrently completing their doctoral coursework, Joint 2 students complete the equivalent of the advanced standing year of the MSW program. Typically, Joint 2 students complete their PhD and MSW coursework in two and a half academic years.
Click to see an example of the Joint II Plan of Study
Note: The PhD Program is a research-focused program, and in their generalist year of field, they will be in a Community Agencies field unit, and in their advanced generalist year of field, they will participate in the Policy field unit, and their field placement will be in a research position with a social work faculty member. It is important to note that Joint students will not be able to meet the requirements for the MSW with a mental health focus. If you wish to obtain an MSW with a mental health focus, we suggest applying for and completing the MSW program before applying for and attending the PhD program.
Note: Although an MSW is not universally required for faculty hires across schools of social work, the MSW and two years of post-MSW practice experience are required to teach social work practice courses, per the guidelines of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Students are advised that post–MSW practice experience time is NOT built into our Joint track curriculum.
Like all PhD Program applicants, Joint track applicants are required to have completed a statistics course and 30-semester credits of social science courses prior to acceptance into 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.
To be considered for the PhD Program under the Joint track, select Social Welfare PhD under the Program Select tab of the Graduate School Admission Application.
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 MSW 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 admissions information, requirements, and instructions for applying.