PhD Program

Becerra and student

How are the MSW and Ph.D. programs different?

The MSW is considered a terminal degree and prepares students for careers in direct practice, community social work, and policy. Alternatively, the Ph.D. program prepares individuals for careers in academia to carry out research and the education of the next generation of social workers. Unlike the MSW program, it is not a professional practice program. Individuals who are interested in direct or community practice with a higher level of education might consider a Doctorate of Behavioral Health, which is offered by ASU’s College of Health Solutions, or a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) at another university.

Do I need an MSW degree to enter the program?

Generally speaking, yes. The Ph.D. program is built upon the proficiencies acquired through completion of an MSW from an accredited program. Exceptions may be made for students with a BSW from an accredited social work program and a master’s degree in a related field and for students from countries without accreditation.

Do you have a combined or joint MSW/PhD option?

Yes. The combined MSW/PhD program is designed for applicants without an MSW who have an exceptional capacity for research and scholarly work. Students complete the coursework in the MSW Planning, Administration and Community Practice (PAC) concentration in addition to requirements for the PhD. A major advantage of the combined program is that it allows students to complete the two degrees in one semester less than the time normally required to complete both degrees separately. 

Do I need post-MSW practice experience?

No. However, most social work education programs do prefer to hire new academics with practice experience as accreditation standards set forth by the Council on Social Work Education require that social work practice courses be taught by someone with two years of post-MSW work experience.

Do I need to take the GRE to apply to the program?

Yes. This is one of the application requirements. Results must be from within the previous five years. There is not an exact score required for admission, but the Ph.D. program committee usually looks for scores above 144 for the quantitative reasoning section and above 153 for the verbal reasoning section.  

Do you have a part-time program?

No. Our program is considered a full-time graduate degree program. Students are required to take three courses a semester in their first year, and typically take three a semester in their second year to complete their course requirements. 

Can I maintain outside employment while in the program?

Given the rigor and extensive training provided, it is recommended that students do not maintain substantial employment outside of the program except during the summer. The expectation is for students to participate in the full course schedule for the two years of coursework. During this time, most students also participate in a 20 hour a week academic training placement which provides research experience and socialization to academia in tandem with financial support. 

Are courses offered in the evening or weekends?

No. All courses are held Monday through Friday during the day. These courses may be offered on different days during the week, or may be clustered over two or three days. Courses offered within the School of Social Work are small, with four to seven students each. 

Do you offer financial aid?

Yes. Contingent upon satisfactory progress in the program, we typically offer incoming students five years of financial support. In the first two years when students are focusing on their coursework, financial support frequently consists of tuition assistance, health benefits, and a living stipend in exchange for being placed with a faculty member in a 20 hour a week academic training placement. In subsequent years, students have the option of pursuing research with funded faculty and research centers, or obtaining teaching positions in the School of Social Work.

How many students are enrolled in the program and what kinds of backgrounds do they have? 

Incoming cohorts typically consist of 4 to 6 students per year. At any given time, there may be as many as 20 to 25 students enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Our students come from around the world, although many are residents of Arizona and the greater Southwest area. Our cohorts are diverse and reflect a broad array of backgrounds and experiences. A number of students have returned to academia after many years in the field, while others are pursuing a doctorate directly after graduation from an MSW program.

What is the doctoral coursework like?

In addition to building emergent expertise in a substantive area, our curriculum is designed to promote critical and creative thinking around the prevention and amelioration of social issues. Students build proficiencies in quantitative and qualitative research methodology and statistics. Courses are designed to give students the skills necessary to produce and disseminate original research through publishable research articles and conference presentations that build the academic knowledge base.

How long does it take to complete the Ph.D. program?

The program typically takes 4 to 5 years to complete. The first 2 years generally consist of course work (3 courses per semester) and a 20 hour per week academic training placement. The remaining years are typically dedicated to the dissertation process, in which students conduct their own research under the guidance of a faculty advisor. At this stage, students also typically engage in teaching and continued research with partners forged in the first two years.

What areas of research can I pursue?

One of the strengths of our program is its student-centered orientation. Students develop scholarly competencies that are tailored to their individual interests. Dissertation research must focus on knowledge development relevant to the profession, which is broadly defined. 

What are some examples of recent dissertation topics? 

  • Characteristics of Foster Families and Foster Children that Impact Placement Stability
  • Migration Aspirations, Religiosity, and Sexual Behavior among Youth: A New Look at Suicidal Ideation in Central Mexico 
  • Ecological Factors and the Behavioral and Educational Outcomes of African American Students in Special Education 

Will I get classroom (i.e., teaching) experience?

Yes. Another strength of the program is the pedagogical training and extensive teaching opportunities offered in the program. After completing the social work pedagogy course and a teaching training placement, students typically have the opportunity to teach a broad array of social work courses. We offer opportunities to teach graduate and undergraduate courses, as well as in-person and online classes. It may also be possible to assist lead instructors in the larger online courses and to participate in program committees (e.g., BSW program committee) if students are interested in building their pedagogical portfolios in these areas.

What do graduates do with their doctoral degrees from Arizona State University?

As can be seen on our student alumni page, our graduates primarily obtain tenure-track academic positions at either Research I or teaching universities. Some conduct research at university research centers or community nonprofits while others opt for post-doctoral fellowships to gain additional research experience before pursuing academic positions.