The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in social work prepares students to conduct research that contributes to the knowledge base of social work, to become leaders in the profession, and to teach social work in postsecondary educational institutions.

Students are required to earn 82 s.h. to earn the degree. Those who enter the program with a M.S.W. are granted 30 s.h. credit; they must complete an additional 52 s.h. for the degree. Individuals with master's degrees in related disciplines (for example, psychology or sociology) may choose to earn a Ph.D. in social work without first earning the M.S.W. Credit from a related master's degree may be applied to the Ph.D. degree program, as determined by the School of Social Work.

Students complete required coursework, research, and teaching practicums; pass a comprehensive exam; write a dissertation; and defend it in an oral exam. Their work includes courses in one of four outside disciplines—sociology, psychology, public health, or education—to assist them in preparation for the comprehensive examination and dissertation defense.


Individualized and Interdisciplinary Curriculum

The program allows students to develop a coherent program of study with opportunities to pursue their own scholarly interests. These interests are pursued through a core social work curriculum, a concentration (sociology, psychology, education, or public health) and a social work focal area (e.g., family violence). Students may take focal area courses in any college or department at the University of Iowa. The median time to complete the degree is four years.

The School of Social Work provides a supportive environment with substantial opportunities for mentoring and interaction with faculty members. Throughout Ph.D. studies at the University of Iowa, the school assists students in developing a program of study based on their unique educational and career goals. There are many opportunities to work closely with faculty members in a mentoring environment. In the first year, students complete a mentored research practicum with a faculty member and a mentored in-class teaching experience. During the second year, students choose a faculty member to guide them through the comprehensive examination and dissertation process.

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree; for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in social work, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Standard Curriculum 31
Additional Upper-Level Electives 9
Dissertation work and electives (see below) 12
Hours applied from Master's Degree 30
Total Hours 82

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: February 1st (for Fall admission)


For more information, see the Graduate Admissions Process page.

The School of Social Work typically admits three or four students annually; approximately 35 percent of applicants are admitted.

Students are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and a minimum undergraduate g.p.a. of 3.00 (on a 4.00 scale).

Students should have completed an introductory statistics course (including graphing techniques for presenting data, descriptive statistics, correlation, introduction to regression, prediction, logic of statistical inference, elementary probability models, estimation and tests of significance) with a grade of B or higher. Research methods courses taken in a M.S.W. program typically do not meet the criteria for an introductory statistics course. Applicants who have not taken an introductory statistics course must complete one before beginning the M.S.W./Ph.D. or the Ph.D. program. Under unusual circumstances, a highly qualified applicant may be conditionally admitted into the program without a statistics course, if they have a high score on the quantitative section of the GRE or if they have taken other mathematics courses. Regardless, applicants still must successfully complete an introductory statistics course the spring or summer semester prior to beginning the M.S.W./Ph.D. or the Ph.D. program.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit official test scores to verify English proficiency. Applicants can verify English proficiency by submitting official test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Applicants applying only to the Ph.D. program are required to have a M.S.W. or a master’s degree in a related field, such as public policy, public health, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, education, nursing, or anthropology.

For more information, please contact:
May Guo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Ph.D. Program Director
203 North Hall (NH)

NOTE:  Any research which involves "human subjects" must be reviewed by the University of Iowa Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to the initiation of the project.  Proof of the determination/review process must also be submitted to the International Studies Program before the international experience proposal can be approved. For all questions contact the IRB at (319) 335-6465; or complete the IRB Determination Form to find out if your research meets the definition of human subjects research.