Social Work (Ph.D.)

The School offers full-time and part-time study programs leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. The doctoral curriculum is intended to provide social work educators with rigorous training in social work theory and research methodology to address contemporary issues associated with social work practice or social welfare policy at all levels. In addition, the doctoral program offers students the option of enrolling in a clinical scholarship concentration. The clinical scholarship concentration is designed to prepare graduates for important careers in clinical social work teaching, scholarship and research, as well as for leadership positions in the greater clinical social work community. A minimum of ninety credits beyond the foundation year of the M.S.W. are required for graduation.

Admission Requirements

All applicants must meet the admissions standards of the Graduate School and the School of Social Work. The doctoral degree in social work indicates not merely superior knowledge of the discipline but also intellectual initiative and the ability to design and conduct independent research and evaluation of social work practice and/or social welfare policy. Students in pre-candidacy will be evaluated on the basis of these attributes as well as on their grade-point performance. The doctoral program is open only to highly qualified students and all applications for admission to the program must have the approval of the School's Doctoral Steering Committee.

Doctoral Program Admission Requirements

In addition to the requirements for admission to the Graduate School, it is strongly preferred that candidates have:

  1. Grade Point Average: A minimum undergraduate and graduate grade point average of 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale)
  2. Prior Degree: An M.S.W. degree from a CSWE accredited institution. Applicants not having an M.S.W. must complete established requirements for the M.S.W. degree while working towards the Ph.D.
  3. Practice Experience: Two years post B.S.W. or post M.S.W. social work practice experience
  4. Graduate Record Examination: GRE scores (verbal, quantitative, and writing) taken within the three years prior to the application should be included in the application. Scores at or above the 50th percentile on the verbal, quantitative, and writing components of the GRE are preferred. 
  5. English Proficiency: International students must meet the English Proficiency requirements for Wayne State University. For more information, see      
  6. References: Applicants should submit three professional references from former supervisors or instructors. At least two of these should be academic references from social work faculty, researchers and/or practitioners holding the Ph.D., J.D., or medical degree who can  evaluate the applicant’s scholarship and aptitude for research.
  7. Statement of Professional Goals: Applicants should write a brief statement describing their motivation for doctoral study, career goals, research interests, and  interest in research mentorship by specific doctoral program faculty. In order to determine a potential fit of research interests with faculty research programs, applicants are encouraged to view faculty interests on the School's website
  8. Academic Scholarship:  Applicants should submit one example of scholarly writing (published or unpublished). The writing example should be first-authored or sole authored work that demonstrates the applicant’s ability to critique, synthesize, and make conclusions about social work relevant issues or problems.
  9. Interviews: Promising candidates for admission will be invited to complete an in-person interview with program faculty for final consideration after the above requirements have been completed.
  10. Applications:  Applicants must submit the School of Social Work Application for Admission to the online Graduate Application, specifying that they are applying for fall admission to the Social Work Ph.D. Program. Students are also required to specify a Ph.D. concentration (policy and practice or clinical scholarship)

Application Deadline: Completed application packets must be received by December 18 prior to the fall term of desired admission.

Admission decisions are based upon all materials submitted and reflect careful consideration of the applicant’s professional goals, research interests, and the resources of the School of Social Work. 


Candidates for the Doctor of Philosophy must complete a minimum of ninety graduate credits beyond the core year of the M.S.W., thirty of which are earned through the dissertation. The thirty-credit dissertation registration requirement is fulfilled by registering for SW 9991SW 9992SW 9993 and SW 9994 (Doctoral Dissertation Research and Direction I, II, III, and IV, respectively) in consecutive academic year semesters upon attaining doctoral candidate status (see below). All course work must be completed in accordance with the academic procedures of the School of Social Work and the Graduate School governing graduate scholarship and degrees.

Plan of Work: Doctoral students structure their course work in terms of an area of specialization within the discipline of social work. Doctoral students, with the assistance of their academic advisor, plan a sequence of studies. A preliminary plan of work, approved by the academic advisor and the Ph.D. Program Director, should be filed by the end of the first month in the program. Petitions for the Transfer of Credits should be attached to the Plan of Work. The Plan of Work should be finalized with the Graduate School before the student earns 40 credits in the doctoral program.  Students are responsible for discussing program requirements and course changes with the Director of the Doctoral Program prior to registration for each semester.  Students who have not yet attained the MSW degree should also regularly communicate with their MSW advisors to ensure that they are meeting MSW program requirements. Students are required to notify the doctoral director and advisor(s) in writing of  any requests for changes in their Plan of Work.

Annual Review: Student progress toward degree completion will be monitored annually by the Steering Committee and Director of the Doctoral Program.

Residency: The Ph.D. requirement of one year of residence is met by completion of six graduate credits in course work (not dissertation) over two successive semesters.

Candidacy: Admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree will usually require two years of full-time graduate study beyond the M.S.W. It is granted upon fulfillment of the following requirements:

  1. Completion of School and Graduate School residence and course requirements.
  2. Filing of an approved Plan of Work with the Graduate School.
  3. Completion of all theory, research methods, and statistics requirements.
  4. Completion of the qualifying examination.
  5. Selection of the dissertation advisor and committee

Qualifying Examinations must be applied for following completion of all of the required social work courses in the doctoral curriculum. The Qualifying Examination requires of students to engage in critical analysis of the state of research, practice, and knowledge in their substantive and cognate areas, and for the reflective presentation of innovations in perspectives, theory, knowledge, and research design, methods and strategies that will advance social work practice and/or policy. By the end of the qualifying examination process students should be well grounded in their substantive areas of research and demonstrate an ethically sound, independent and original perspective regarding inquiry into social work practice. The subject of the Qualifying Examination is selected in consultation with the Doctoral Program Steering Committee.

Approval of Dissertation Prospectus: The candidate is required to prepare a Dissertation Prospectus and have it approved by their dissertation committee prior to beginning work on the dissertation. The Prospectus and Committee form must be submitted to and approved by the Graduate School.

Submission of Dissertation: The candidate is required to submit a doctoral dissertation on a topic satisfactory to his/her Dissertation Committee, designed to demonstrate proficiency in social work relevant research and scholarship, a capacity for ethical, independent, and creative research, and the ability to perfect and follow through on an appropriate research or evaluation design.

Dissertation Defense: Upon completion of the dissertation, the candidate is required to make a public presentation of his/her research. The Dissertation Public Lecture-Defense form must be completed by the candidate and the Dissertation Committee indicating readiness for public presentation of the candidate’s research and dissertation. This form must be submitted to the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the date of the defense. The Dissertation Public Lecture-Defense includes the public lecture and defense where the candidate presents the results of the dissertation research with the audience and the dissertation committee, a private meeting between the dissertation candidate and the committee, and the evaluation by the dissertation committee whereby it is determined whether the candidate has passed the dissertation defense. Upon completion of this process, the Dissertation Public Lecture-Defense form is returned to the Graduate School with the recommendations of the Dissertation Committee.

Time Limitations: Students have a seven year time limit to complete all requirements for the Ph.D. The seven-year period begins with the end of the semester during which the student is admitted to doctoral study and commences working toward meeting requirements for the degree.

Doctoral Program Curriculum

Social Work Transfer Courses: (up to twenty-three advanced year M.S.W. or post-M.S.W. certificate credits relevant to the student’s proposed area of research) approved by the Director of the Doctoral Program.

SW 9210Theories for Practice and Research with Individuals3
SW 9220Theories for Practice and Research with Groups and Families3
SW 9230Theories for Practice and Research with Communities and Organizations3
Research and Statistics Courses
SW 9100Social Statistics and Data Analysis3
SW 9300Applied Regression Analysis and Generalized Linear Models3
SW 9400Qualitative Research Methods in Social Work3
SW 9410Quantitative Research Methods in Social Work3
SW 9420Research Practicum3
SW 9430Dissertation Seminar1
Clinical Scholarship Concentration Courses
SW 9500Advanced Clinical Social Work Theory3
SW 9510Applied Clinical Social Work Practice I3
SW 9520Applied Clinical Social Work Practice II3
SW 9550Advanced Clinical Practicum I2
SW 9560Advanced Clinical Practicum II2
Social Work Elective
Select one of the following:3
Directed Study: Doctoral (Max. 6)
Social Work Education
Current and Historical Trends in US Social Welfare Policy
Cognate Courses
Courses other than Social Work that support the candidate's area of research8
Total Credits49

Full-Time Program

Full-time students typically complete the degree requirements in four years. During the first two years of the program, students receive advanced training in social work theory, statistics and research methodology. Students in the research track also complete at least nine credits of coursework in a cognate discipline (e.g., psychology, sociology, education, health, gerontology) associated with their area of research. Students will complete their Comprehensive Qualifying Examination after they complete the relevant coursework. During the third and fourth years of the program, students will complete a one-credit Dissertation Seminar, any remaining elective courses and all of their dissertation credits.

Part-Time Program

The part-time study program is designed to permit students to complete degree requirements over an extended period of time. The part-time option makes it possible for students to work or engage in other activities during much of the time they are enrolled, and complete all degree requirements within a five-year period.

All required courses in social work and the student's cognate area are completed within the first three years of the program. In Year three, students will take the Research Practicum (SW 9420) in the Fall Semester.  Students will complete their Comprehensive Qualifying Examination after completing the relevant coursework. During the fourth and fifth years of the program, students will complete a one-credit Dissertation Seminar, any remaining elective courses and all of their dissertation credits.

Elective Coursework

In addition to the required coursework identified above, all students will be required to complete twenty-three credits in elective courses. Students may be eligible to transfer up to twenty-three M.S.W./post-M.S.W. credits of coursework. Courses that may be eligible for transfer include those taken during the Advanced Year of the M.S.W. program and/or post-master’s certificate program that are relevant to the student’s proposed area of research. Transfer credit must be approved by the Director of the Doctoral Program.