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Social Welfare

Administrative Unit:Social Work
College/School: College of Letters & Science
Admitting Plans:Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Doctoral Minor


The doctoral program has four special features: an emphasis is given to interdisciplinary research and training that seeks to promote optimal functioning in individuals or families across the life course; it stresses that social welfare problems are best understood in individual, family, community, economic, and cultural context; it conceptualizes research as a catalyst for social action and change; and it emphasizes methodological and statistical training and their applications to studying social problems and processes.

The first two years of the curriculum emphasize methodological, statistical, theoretical and substantive course work. A variety of social welfare seminars are offered within the school. Students from several departments are invited to join these seminars creating a rich interdisciplinary training environment. Two foundation social welfare research methods seminars cover the fundamentals of research design and implementation relevant to the design and conduct of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research. Application of research methods seminars provide practical experience and application of research knowledge and skills (e.g., proposal writing and data analysis). The social policy and applied theory seminars address specific substantive issues (e.g., poverty, child welfare, family policy), as well as core policy analytics and models of the application of social theory to social problems, respectively. The social welfare faculty research seminar (SW 946, fall semester); and two student research seminars (SW 947, spring semesters) provide opportunity for professional socialization to the field and development of research interests.

The curriculum is designed to require students to take some courses in departments throughout the campus, based on their individualized learning needs. Students take substantive and research courses focusing on topics related to their specialization. A wide selection of courses in world-renowned social and behavioral science departments is available. Students select an approved social science theory course; two statistics courses (Soc 361–362 or Ed Psych 760–761); two substantive elective courses; two statistics/methodology elective courses. Years three and four (or five) are dedicated to the preparation and completion of preliminary examinations and dissertation research.

Ph.D. Degree Traacks

Students who enter the Ph.D. program with a master's degree in social work and follow the program's standard course sequencing should be able to complete their degree in four to five years. Students who enter the program without a master's degree must plan on an additional one to two years to complete the program and must select from among the following:

  • Track I: Joint Ph.D./MSW program for students without a bachelor's degree in social work (requires that students enter the program with 30 semester credits of social science courses and a course in statistics and complete the equivalent of the two-year master's program)
  • Track II: Joint Ph.D./MSW program for students with a bachelor's degree in social work (students complete the equivalent of the one-year master's program in a concentration area; requires that students have a BSW from an accredited school of social work and full advanced standing, including a course in statistics)
  • Track III: Program for students who do not have a social work degree and who do not want an MSW (requires that students complete MSW foundation-level courses that include a 2-credit internship, and enter the program having completed 30 semester credits of social science courses and a statistics course)

Doctoral Minor

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).


Online applications are available through the School of Social Work. Admission to the Ph.D. program requires an undergraduate grade point average of at least 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale) on the equivalent of the last 60 semester credits. Applicants are required to have completed a statistics course; 30 semester credits of social science courses and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores taken within five years of application date; if appropriate, TOEFL, or MELAB scores, taken within two years of application date. Applicants must also apply to the Graduate School. Apply online through the Graduate School Electronic Application.

Ph.D. program details are fully described on the School of Social Work website.

For more information: Social Work Admissions Office, School of Social Work Building, 1350 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706-1510; 608-263-3660; fax 608-263-3836; trniemi@wisc.edu; socwork.wisc.edu.