Virginia Commonwealth University

Ph.D. Program

Man and womanAdmission requirements

See the most recent Graduate Bulletin for details; however, prior to our committee reviewing your application for admission, you must complete the following:

  1. An online application form at VCU Graduate School or, if you are an international student, submit your application through the Global Education Office.
  2. A personal statement as outlined below.
  3. Current resume or vita.
  4. Three academic or professional references to be received directly from the individual writing the reference. References should reflect familiarity with the applicant’s career goals and the nature of Ph.D. education. The requisite Graduate School Reference Form must be completed by the applicant and forwarded to each reference; the form must accompany the recommender's reference letter.
  5. Graduate Record Examination scores to be received directly from the Educational Testing Service. Official TOEFL scores should be received from all International applicants regardless of the country where master’s degree was conferred.
  6. Official transcripts to be received directly from each undergraduate and graduate college or university previously attended.
  7. A written exercise as outlined below.

Submit all materials to the VCU Graduate School or Global Education Office for processing. Representatives will then forward the materials on your behalf to the School of Social Work. You may send the written exercise directly to the office of the doctoral program or submit it with your application packet.

Completed folders are carefully and thoroughly reviewed by designated faculty members of the School of Social Work who make recommendations for acceptance or rejection based upon intellectual capacity, including critical and creative thinking; knowledge synthesis and clarity of expression; academic achievement, both past and potential; tenacity and motivation; and “fit” with VCU’s program focus and capacity. The program director and the dean of the School of Social Work are responsible for the final decision. Official written notification to the applicant of the admission decision comes from the dean of the VCU Graduate School.

Applications are accepted at anytime, however, priority for admission and financial aid will be given to those individuals whose application materials are received by Feb. 15.

Writing sample assignment

As part of the admission process to the Ph.D. Program in Social Work, we are also interested in reviewing a sample of your writing. The reviewers will be looking at your potential for integrative and critical thinking, the ability to appropriately use the literature (paraphrasing arguments, synthesis of ideas, citation practices) and an applicant’s basic ability to present a clear, logical and compelling written product.

You are encouraged to submit a paper that you have previously written for your M.S.W./M.A. program if it is less than five years old.

If you do not have such a paper to submit, you should prepare a short paper on a subject of your choice (5-8 pages, typewritten, double-spaced). Use references to the scholarly literature as appropriate.

  1. Choose any issue or problem relevant to the human service field.
  2. Clearly define the issue or problem.
  3. Critically discuss some of the primary arguments and evidence relevant to the issue or problem.
  4. State your position on the issue or problem and justify that position.

The writing sample may be included in your application packet or mailed directly to:

Dr. Sarah Kye Price, Ph.D. Program Director
School of Social Work
Virginia Commonwealth University
1000 Floyd Avenue
P.O. Box 842027
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2027

For more information about the Ph.D. Program in Social Work at VCU, please contact

Personal statement

The personal statement is an important part of the Ph.D. application folder. You should clearly present your career goals and plans, and discuss their match or congruence with the school’s Ph.D. curriculum and program mission as a research-focused educational enterprise designed to develop scholars and leaders for social work and human services. You also should discuss the relevance of professional experience (practice, teaching and/or research) to career goals and plans, including how a doctorate will help prepare you to meet those goals. In addition, you should describe and discuss the development of your own specialized areas of interest and planned scholarly pursuits, and especially your articulated compatibility with VCU’s larger mission as well as the School of Social Work’s focus and capacities. Toward that end, we look for you to explicitly address the interface of your interests and plans with social and economic justice and the potential to improve conditions for vulnerable individuals and groups with disproportionately less power, including those who have lived with the consequences of oppression and discrimination, such as children, women, persons with special needs, LGBTQ persons or those dealing with issues of race, class, emigration status, age or religious tradition (see Social Justice Contributions Statement on Ph.D. homepage). Finally, you can discuss other motivating factors for acquiring the Ph.D., how your life situation is currently supportive of the time and effort needed to succeed in a doctoral program, and anything else you would like reviewers to know regarding your readiness, qualifications or potential for successful doctoral work.

Non-matriculated students in Ph.D. courses

The Ph.D. program has been pleased to occasionally allow non-matriculated students (those not admitted to a VCU Ph.D. Program) to enroll in one course as a way of helping them assess their interest in doctoral education. It can be an enriching experience for all the students in the class. The Doctoral Program Committee believes that some demonstration of minimal preparation and ability is needed prior to enrollment to insure success for the student and a stimulating classroom environment for all. Those requesting enrollment should know that the expectations are considerable for class preparation, course assignments, and reading, as well as for in-class leadership and participation. Our classes are faculty-directed seminars which stress advanced critical analysis and open dialogue. Satisfactory performance as a nondegree-seeking student does not assure admission as a degree-seeking student.

Contact the program director for further details on enrollment procedures.