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Requirements and Course Offerings

The goals of the Ph.D. Program in Social Work are to prepare students to assume positions of leadership in the field of social welfare by contributing to the knowledge base of social work and the related fields of human services as faculty, researchers, and leaders in the areas of policy and practice.

Students are expected to complete a 72 credit program including: 

  • a course of study with 36 to 48 credits, 36 credits if holder of an M.S.W. or related degree—12 credits from the accredited M.S.W. program can be transferred into the Ph.D. program (possible transfer of up to 12 credits in a related master’s degree are considered),
  • research internship,
  • passing grade on a qualifying examination,
  • successful defense of a dissertation proposal, and
  • successful defense of a dissertation (a minimum of 24 research credits while in candidacy) for 72 total credits.

The overall policy is guided by a belief in maximizing student choice with regard to areas of research. Students are encouraged and expected to make decisions concerning their elective course work, research internship, and dissertation project.


The required distribution of courses is as follows:

Theory Development 3
Conceptual Foundations in Social Work and Social Welfare 3
Social Policy Analysis 3
Research Methods and Statistics 18
Elective course 3
Elective course in Outside Discipline 3
Research Development Seminar 3
Professional Development seminar 1


Total credits 37
(Plus transfer credits MSW/MA) 12

Distribution of Dissertation Research Credits

Research Internship 3-6
Dissertation Seminar 6
Dissertation Research 15

Total 24

For incoming students, we offer a non-credit, non-graded online Statistics Review in the summer prior to entering the program. The review is self-paced and facilitated by an instructor in the doctoral program. It is meant to provide a statistics refresher prior to beginning the statistics course in the fall, and it is expected that all entering students will participate.

Teaching: In the 3rd or 4th year of the program, students participate in the Teaching Assistance Project (TAP) offered by the Graduate School, New Brunswick. Four non-credit, 1-hour workshops on issues related to teaching provide students with a TAP teaching certificate, and all students are expected to participate.

Opportunities for PhD students to teach in the School of Social Work (MSW or BASW programs) are typically available in the third or fourth year of enrollment. 

Students with a MSW may transfer 12 credits toward the PhD upon completion of 12 credits of graduate level course work with grades of B or better. Those with another masters degree may not have as many transferable credits. In any case, 48 course credits are expected prior to the dissertation phase of the program. The Program Director will assess transferability of masters-level courses, which are then reviewed by the Graduate School, New Brunswick.

Students are encouraged to discuss their course choices with an advisor in designing a course of study. 

NOTE: A Transfer of Credit form can be found in the appendix.

View a full-time student sample course plan.

View a part-time student sample course plan. 


The distribution of Ph.D. courses includes required, restricted choice electives and free elective courses. Students should plan with their advisors the choices among restricted electives, free electives, and outside discipline courses that will best build a coherent body of knowledge in the student's chosen area of interest. Students should begin to work with their advisors early in the first year to develop a focus of interest. In addition, students may wish to pursue an area in which no formal course in or outside the Program can be found. In such cases, a tutorial, called Individual Study could be considered. (See separate statement, The Individual Study) Students may change advisors, but must notify the Doctoral Program Director, Program Secretary and their former advisor in such case. It is our goal to help you to tailor your doctoral studies to fit your own goals and interests while also acquiring the knowledge and skills judged necessary for the Ph.D. degree. The program is demanding, but with planning on your part, it can be more coherent, more efficient, and we believe, more rewarding for you.

The key element for this planning is a focus of interest. You should start RIGHT NOW to define for yourself an area of primary interest for yourself. This focus will help you to plan the courses you will take, and within any given course, to apply that course content to your major interest. Your readings, your choice of topic for term papers or other assignments, can all be turned to address some aspect of your interest. Begin the habit right now of keeping an annotated and critical bibliography of EVERYTHING you read that may connect in any way to your interest. Begin also to think of every term paper that you write as a potential publication. Look at each, with some re-write, as an article and consider where and how your writing may be put to that use. 

Outside Discipline

All students must take at least one course in another discipline outside of Social Work. This may be done in another program in the Graduate School such as Sociology, History, Anthropology, etc. It also may be done in another professional school not part of the Graduate School, such as Law, Public Health, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, or Graduate School of Education. (Note: A student may take ONLY 24 CREDITS IN A PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL (outside the Graduate School), and may have already used as many as 12 transfer credits from the masters degree.) Outside courses may also be arranged through cross-registration with Princeton University, the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, or the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. 

The criteria for course selection are: (1) it adds central and useful knowledge, theory or methodology to the student's developing area of interest; (2) it is at the doctoral or equivalent level; and (3) the student's advisor agrees that it furthers the student's educational plan. It is possible that a faculty member teaching an outside course will become the outside member of the student's dissertation committee. The student is urged to consider taking more than one course in this outside area in order to become familiar with that discipline's way of approaching and dealing with issues. Students will need to consult with the Program Secretary regarding registration for these courses.

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