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College of Social Work

Frequently Asked Questions

Your one-stop resource for information on the Ph.D. program, admission requirements and more. 


The MSW program prepares students for advanced generalist social work practice. Conversely, the Ph.D. program is for scholarly careers in social work education and research related to social work and social welfare. Most Ph.D. graduates work in academia while others work as researchers in government agencies, research centers or private charitable organizations.

The reading material and writing requirements are more extensive and challenging than in the MSW program. Because required courses constitute only part of the workload and requirements, Ph.D. students require greater initiative and self-direction.

Our program develops research scholars who generate and disseminate new knowledge to drive social change and create a more equitable, just, and inclusive society. The program provides no advanced clinical courses or training. 

Outside employment is not prohibited but strongly discouraged. Students must enroll full-time (10-12 hours per semester) during the first three semesters in residence and all have research assistantships that require about 15 hours per week.

Program Options

Our program usually requires a minimum of two years of full-time coursework and study. Most students require four to five years to complete their courses of study and dissertations.

Our program is full-time. 

Required courses are offered once each academic year, during the day, and usually on Mondays and Tuesdays in the first year. Elective courses from other departments may be scheduled at different times.


Our curriculum consists of required courses on community-engaged research, intellectual foundations of social welfare and social thought, quantitative and qualitative research methods, college teaching, and leadership for social change. A professional seminar also helps you succeed in the transition to doctoral studies and begins the process of professional socialization.

You must complete 52 credit hours of coursework to earn the degree. Refer to the program's curriculum for more information.


Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly selective, and only a limited number of applicants are admitted for each fall semester. Successful applicants have career goals consistent with the program focus. Most successful applicants have:

  • A completed application.
  • Transcripts from all post-secondary schools previously attended, including non-degree courses taken.
  • A Master of Social Work degree from a Council on Social Work Education accredited graduate program (a master's degree in a related field may be considered on a case-by-case basis).
  • A grade point average of 3.5 or above for graduate-level work.
  • Evidence of scholarly potential as indicated by three letters of reference.
  • A detailed personal statement.
  • A sample of the applicant's scholarly writing. 
  • Satisfactory score on TOEFL or IELTS for international applicants for whom English is not their primary language.

Post-MSW practice is not required for admission, but doctoral students with practice experience enrich the learning environment and are better prepared to be professional educators and researchers. Each cohort is selected to increase the potential that students will learn from each other and the faculty.

The Council on Social Work Education requires instructors have a minimum of two years post-MSW practice experience to teach practice courses. Without sufficient post-MSW practice experience, Ph.D. graduates may only teach non-practice courses.

Applications must be submitted electronically through The Graduate School.

The application deadline is Jan. 15, although files may be submitted earlier. The Ph.D. committee will begin screening applications and make admissions decisions after Jan. 15.

The deadline for applying to the Ph.D. program is Jan. 15, but The Graduate School recommends applicants set aside enough time (usually two to three weeks) for completing the application process. Although The Graduate School typically processes submitted materials in one-to-two business days, it may take longer for issuing parties to gather and submit your supporting documents.

Admission decisions are made following the Jan. 15 application deadline. Students are admitted in the spring for classes beginning in August.

Submit a request in writing to Kristen Seay, Interim Ph.D. Program Coordinator.

Some students seek to improve their odds of admission by retaking the required standardized exams (GRE or MAT). A second or third attempt may yield higher scores. Students for whom English is not their primary language may also benefit from additional English language instruction at home or with USC’s English Programs for Internationals. You may also benefit from a clearer articulation of your professional goals and research interests and identifying faculty members with whom you could work and study.


USC offers numerous opportunities for community-engaged research throughout the campus. The College of Social Work features five centers and institutes, providing direct opportunities for research, training and technical assistance:

  • The Center for Child and Family Studies

  • Institute for Families in Society

  • I. DeQuincey Newman Institute for Peace and Social Justice

  • SmartHOME Center

  • South Carolina Center for Gerontology

Faculty members and Ph.D. students are involved in collaborative research with colleagues from numerous university departments, including public health, psychology, business, nursing, medicine, political science, sociology, criminal justice, engineering, pharmacy and education. External partnerships include major state and national health and human service systems, and international affiliations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Once admitted to the program, you are assigned two faculty mentors - a research assistantship supervisor and an academic advisor - to facilitate your successful transition. You are also encouraged to seek other faculty members with shared interests, both within and outside the College of Social Work. Most college faculty members are engaged in research projects within the community and welcome students to inquire about these projects. Learn more about current faculty research interests.

Tuition and Financial Aid

All incoming Ph.D. students receive research assistantships that provide competitive stipends and tuition remission along with research experience. Learn more about Ph.D. funding.

International Students

As required by the United States government, the university must document that international students have adequate resources for graduate study.

Applicants whose primary language is not English must submit either TOEFL or IELTS scores, unless they have already earned an English-language degree.

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