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College of Social Work


Through coursework in research, theory, and quantitative and qualitative methodology, the University of South Carolina College of Social Work’s doctoral program will prepare you for careers in research and higher education.

The mission of our Ph.D. program is to develop scholars who generate and disseminate new knowledge to drive social change and create a more equitable, just, and inclusive society.


Program Overview

Our PhD program combines rigorous coursework; an individualized and supportive approach with hands-on mentoring; and a vibrant, welcoming, and diverse scholarly community that provides rich and integrative opportunities for students to learn, develop, and embark on a career of contributing to the profession as scholars and educators.

I can say that a big part of the reason why I chose this program was because I felt wanted - that my research interests had value. There was also consistent communication, and it was always made clear to me that I could always reach out with any questions - before and after being offered admission. This communication always felt genuine. I did not get that from any of the other programs to which I was accepted. 

Shawn McNally

To ensure graduates are prepared to tackle pressing social issues, our students participate in a variety of experiences to bolster research skills, such as:

· Coursework (required courses on epistemology, qualitative methods, quantitative methods, and statistics, with opportunities for additional advanced electives across the university)

· Supervised research assistantships

· Supervised research practicum

· Independent research for the dissertation

· Opportunities to pursue advanced learning and/or certificates in areas including: Qualitative Research, Applied Statistics, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

You will also attend professional development seminars about writing for publication, dissemination of scholarship to diverse audiences and stakeholders, and seeking external funding to support scientific innovation. These seminars will help you to develop oral and written presentation skills which you will further hone through hands-on work with your faculty mentors.

As a Ph.D. student in the College of Social Work, you will have a strong faculty support network. Starting in your first year, you will be advised by a primary faculty mentor and a research assistantship supervisor. As you get to know more faculty – and continue evolving your individual scholarly interests – you will be encouraged to extend your mentoring network both within the college and across the university. Options for independent study, research and teaching practica, and collaboration on research teams all help to build your network. By the time you embark on your dissertation proposal, you will be well-positioned to develop an advisory committee with three CoSW faculty and a faculty member from outside our college.

In addition to faculty support, you will find opportunities to engage with a strong community of committed students throughout the campus community. Our College of Social Work PhD Student Organization provides rich opportunities for students to build

a sense of community, share wisdom and support, and to play an active role in the doctoral student experience. The University’s Graduate Student Association provides similar opportunities, but linking students across disciplines to learn together and to positively impact our University’s environment for doctoral studies.

Recognizing the program’s unique role in advancing the social work profession through preparing the next generation of educators, we provide structured supports for Ph.D. students to develop as educators. Starting with basic knowledge and skills for pedagogy in the University “TA Orientation” and “GRAD 701” sequence, to mentored experiences of teaching alongside an experienced instructor in our required Teaching Practicum (SOWK 872), to opportunities for independent teaching, each PhD student is encouraged to develop their individual philosophy of education and to hone teaching skills to put that philosophy into action in the social work classroom. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of the rich resources offered through the university’s Center for Teaching Excellence, including a wide range of certificates, short courses, and the Preparing Future Faculty program.

Our program is designed for you to complete required core courses in two years. You must enroll full-time (10 credit hours per semester) during the first calendar year in

residence. The courses are intensive and focused, and delivered in small group seminars.

Degree Requirements (52 post-master’s hours)

· Intellectual Foundations of Social Welfare and Social Work Core (15 hours)

· Research Methods Core (12 hours)

· Professional Seminar (2 hours)

· Planning and Design of Dissertation Research (2 hours)

· Other Course Requirements (21 hours, including 12 hours of Dissertation Preparation)

The course requirements described above constitute the minimum expectations for Ph.D. students. However, dissertation chairs and committees may require you to take additional courses in preparation to carry out your dissertation research.

A typical plan of study is listed below. Detailed course descriptions can be found in the USC Graduate Studies Bulletin.

Year 1 (Fall)

Course No. Title Credit
SOWK 803  History of the profession of social work 3
SOWK 804  Understanding and using social science theory 1
SOWK 805

 Knowledge for social change: core principles of ontology, epistemology, and methodology in social science research

SOWK 850  Professional development seminar 3

Note: Waiver examinations for research methods and statistics courses will be available to students who can demonstrate competency in these areas. Students who successfully waive one or both courses will substitute elective courses.


Year 1 (Spring)

Course No. Title Credit
SOWK 806

 Conducting a systematic literature review

SOWK 892 Design and critical analysis of social work research 1
SOWK 890 Analysis of social work data1 3
SOWK 850  Professional development seminar1 3


  • SOWK 872 (Social Work Education Practicum) and SOWK 889 (Doctoral Social Work Practicum) may be taken any time after the first academic year. They are not required prior to the qualifying examination.
  • Required statistics courses meet the university's foreign language requirement for graduation.

A typical plan of study is listed below. Detailed course descriptions can be found in the USC Graduate Studies Bulletin.

Year 2 (Fall)

Course No. Title Credit
SOWK 802  Intellectual foundations of social welfare and social work: conceptual model building 3
SOWK 891  Advanced analysis of social work data2 3
SOWK 811  Qualitative methods of inquiry for social work research 1
SOWK 894 Planning and design of dissertation research 3


Year 2 (Spring)

Course No. Title Credit
SOWK 894 Planning and Design of Dissertation Research (Repeatable: Two credits required for the doctoral program) 1
Elective Elective 3
Elective Elective 3
Elective Elective  3

A typical plan of study is listed below. Detailed course descriptions can be found in the USC Graduate Studies Bulletin.

Year 3 and until completion of program

Course No. Title Credit
SOWK 899

SOWK 899 – Dissertation preparation (total of 12 credits required)

Comprehensive examination (Dissertation proposal defense)

Dissertation defense



  • Students who enter the program with a strong background of graduate-level statistics/research methods courses may request to waive one or more core course. This will require committee review of syllabi from past courses. Students who successfully waive one or both of these courses will substitute additional advanced methods or other elective courses as approved by the PhD Program Director.
  • Successful completion of SOWK 890 is prerequisite for enrolling in SOWK 891.
  • Successful completion of SOWK 894 (2 credits) is a prerequisite for enrolling in SOWK 899.
  • After completing the core courses, students must be enrolled for at least one credit of SOWK 899 during any semester in which they make dissertation progress or use university resources, such as the library, computer facilities or faculty time.
  • Students must complete a total of 12 credits of SOWK 899, including at least one credit during the semester of graduation.

Our program’s academic regulations are consistent with those that apply to other doctoral programs within The Graduate School. It is assumed that all required courses will be taken at the University of South Carolina. Under some circumstances and with the approval of a student’s adviser in consultation with the Ph.D. program coordinator, coursework taken from another doctoral program may be accepted in lieu of required or elective courses at Carolina. Courses must be taken in sequence unless the Ph.D. program committee grants permission to take a course out of sequence.

All course work applied toward a Ph.D. must be completed within 10 years prior to graduation. If you exceed 10 years in the program, special arrangements may be made with The Graduate School for the revalidation of over-age credits in courses given by the university, but the College of Social Work must approve each revalidation. Courses taken at the University of South Carolina in departments outside of the College of Social Work must be revalidated by the related department prior to approval by the college.

Admission-to-Candidacy Examinations

Following successful completion of required coursework, you will take a qualifying examination to be admitted to candidacy. The examination typically takes place after the second year of coursework. The examination requires you to demonstrate competence in integrating and applying content drawn from required courses.


A dissertation proposal serves as the student’s comprehensive examination. Within seven years following successful completion of the comprehensive examination, you must present a dissertation based on research that has been approved by a committee of professors in the major field and by the dean of The Graduate School. The dissertation must be successfully defended before a dissertation committee appointed by the dean of the college and approved by the dean of The Graduate School. The dissertation committee will consist of at least four members, one of whom must be from outside the College of Social Work.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.