Frequently asked questions about the PhD program

Why choose the University of Minnesota PhD program in social work?

Highly productive faculty

Faculty members at the School of Social Work are among the most productive faculty in the world. Doctoral students have the opportunity to work with faculty involved in local, national and international research projects. See the faculty profiles to learn more about our faculty.

Large research university

The University of Minnesota is one of the nation’s largest schools, with 65,000 students and degrees in virtually every field—including medicine, law, agriculture, business, public affairs, child development, education, gerontology and technology. Students take classes across the university, and many are also involved in research or other collaborations with faculty in other disciplines.

Public land grant university

The land grant mission of the University of Minnesota, with its focus on the public responsibilities of higher education and community engagement, fits well with the field of social work. The School of Social Work has a strong interest in engaged research, and many faculty and doctoral students are involved in community based research projects in partnership with local communities. While teaching traditional research methods, our program also values community based participatory research as an increasingly appropriate social work research approach.

Generous funding for PhD students

We offer the majority of students a three year funding package which covers tuition, health insurance and a stipend. Many of our students secure dissertation fellowships; though we help other students secure research assistantships to fund their fourth (and sometimes fifth) year of their PhD program. The School of Social Work also provides among the most generous travel funding in the nation for students to present at national academic conferences.

Structured research mentoring experiences

Our PhD program relies heavily on a mentoring model, and PhD students work closely with faculty members throughout the program. Mentoring is seen as a vital part of the teaching and learning process within the doctoral program. Most students also work as research assistants on faculty research projects. In addition, all students complete at least one structured research practicum with a research mentor before beginning their dissertation. Most students graduate from our PhD program with a number of publications in peer reviewed journals as well as national conference presentations.

Diverse student body

We have a highly diverse student body. Our students come from Minnesota, across the nation, and across the world. See the current student profiles to learn more about our current students. Structured opportunities to gain teaching experience. Students are required to take a teaching preparation course, and can complete teaching mentorships with experienced instructors and some serve as instructors in our own MSW or undergraduate courses. As we are the only PhD program in the metropolitan area, our PhD graduates also regularly teach as adjuncts in many local BSW, MSW and other programs. Most graduates have taught at least two independent sections of courses upon graduation, and some have taught many more.

Professional development emphasis

We have numerous professional development opportunities for students. We have two colloquia a month that doctoral students attend. One colloquium is a school-wide research colloquium in which faculty, visiting scholars or other researchers present their current research. The second colloquium is a professional development colloquium geared towards doctoral students on topics such as job placement, grant funding, international issues, use of technology in teaching, or work- life balance. There are many other workshops, seminars, or short-courses held across campus on a daily basis to assist in professional development.

General questions

What is the structure of the PhD program at the University of Minnesota?

Students take two years of coursework both inside and outside the School of Social Work, including required courses in research methods, statistics, theory, history, policy and teaching, as well as supporting program courses from across the university. Students typically complete their preliminary examinations and defend their dissertation proposal, and then complete their dissertation in their fourth or PhD fifth year.

Do you offer distance, online or weekend options?

No, the PhD program is a weekday program with courses offered during the daytime. Students should expect to be on-campus at least three days per week, if not more, for at least the first two years of the program.

Do you accept part-time students?

There is no formal, part-time program, though some students do work off-campus part-time and complete the program at a slightly slower rate. However, we do not encourage part-time study and give preference to students interested in full-time study and do not provide funding packages to part-time students. Full-time students are better able to engage in all aspects of the program and are more likely to complete the program.

Do you have a joint MSW/PhD program?

We have a very limited joint MSW/PhD program is restricted to the most exemplary students. The purpose of this program is to produce top social work researchers who will have a high impact on knowledge creation in the field, and thus is geared towards students interested in an academic research career. This program allows students to complete their MSW and PhD program sequentially, though eliminating some of the time in completing both degrees.

Does your PhD Program offer advanced clinical training?

No. Our PhD program does not focus on developing advanced clinical skills.

How long does it take to complete the doctoral program?

Our program is designed so that students can complete the program in 4 years, though most finish within 4-5 years.

What are the requirements for completing the PhD program?

The PhD program includes two years of coursework, examinations and the dissertation. Please see the PhD Student Handbook for the specific requirements and timetables for completion.

How does an MSW differ from a PhD Program?

An MSW program is an advanced professional practice degree geared towards preparing social work practitioners for work in direct practice social work or community practice social work. Our MSW graduates secure positions in a variety of areas, including clinical social work, case management/care coordination, advocacy, community organizing, planning, or leading. A PhD program is a research degree that focuses on the development of advanced research, theoretical and teaching skills. Most of our PhD graduates work in academia or research positions.

Can I keep my full-time job while studying for the PhD program?

Because of the rigorous demands of the PhD program, most students are unable to work full-time and successfully complete the program. A PhD program should be thought of similarly time wise to a demanding full-time job.

Admissions questions

What materials are required for the PhD Application?

All students are required to submit undergraduate and graduate school transcripts, GRE scores, a curriculum vita, an academic writing sample, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. All international students must also take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), with the exception of students who earned an academic degree in an English speaking country.

Is the GRE Required? Are there any exceptions?

Yes, the GRE is required for all PhD applicants. There are no exceptions.

What if I took the GRE more than five years ago?

The GRE is only valid for five years. If your GRE is more than five years old, you will need to take it again.

Is a master’s degree required? Does it have to be a Master in Social Work (MSW)?

A master’s degree is required for admission directly into the PhD program. While we do accept people with master’s degrees in other related fields, we strongly encourage applicants to complete their MSW before applying to the PhD program. An MSW provides important theoretical and practice knowledge that is useful throughout the PhD program. In addition, applicants should know that many social work departments will only hire faculty with an MSW and at least two years of post-MSW practice experience, which is another reason why the MSW is valuable for applicants.

How hard is it to get into the PhD program?

The PhD program is very selective. Usually we accept less than 20% of applicants. Most applications are quite strong, so we have turn away many applicants each year who could potentially succeed in our program.

What is the profile of the incoming doctoral class?

    Number of students: 5-8
    Average verbal GRE percentile: 75th
    Average quantitative GRE percentile: 65th
    Average analytic writing GRE percentile: 75th
    Average undergraduate GPA: 3.60
    Average graduate GPA: 3.85

What are you looking for in applicants?

We are looking for students who will be able to conduct meaningful scholarship upon graduation and will eventually become national or international leaders in developing the social work knowledge base and providing academic leadership in the field. Thus, we are looking for people who excelled in their undergraduate and graduate programs, have excellent GRE (and TOEFL) scores, have had meaningful social work or related professional experience, have participated in research projects and publications, have strong critical thinking and writing skills, and have a strong interest in a career centered upon social work scholarship.