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

Admission requirements

Applicants to the Ph.D. degree program must have earned a master’s degree, preferably in social work or a closely related discipline, from an accredited institution and must demonstrate professional or practice-related experience relevant to their career goals.

Application materials

The application form, along with all materials, must be submitted to Graduate Admissions digitally through the online application system or, if you are an international student, through International Admissions.

Additional items include:

  1. Current resume or vita.
  2. Three academic or professional references that reflect familiarity with the applicant’s career goals and the nature of Ph.D. education. 
  3. Graduate Record Examination scores directly reported to VCU by the Educational Testing Service. The School of Social Work minimum TOEFL or IELTS requirement is 100 (internet-based). The minimum IELTS score requirement is 6.5.
  4. Official transcripts sent directly from each undergraduate and graduate college or university previously attended.
  5. A personal statement of goals and social work commitment.
  6. A written sample showcasing knowledge of social work theory and literature, as well as critical-thinking skills (details below).

Application guidelines

Personal statement

In your personal statement, 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. Download our Social Justice Contributions Statement.

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.

Writing sample assignment

In your writing sample, 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, etc.) 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 written previously 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, prepare a short paper on a subject of your choice (five to eight pages, typewritten, double-spaced).

  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.

Use references to scholarly literature as appropriate.

For more information about the Ph.D. Program in social work at VCU, please contact (804) 828-1030 or

Admissions review process

Completed folders are carefully and thoroughly reviewed by designated School of Social Work faculty members 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.

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. degree program) to enroll in one course as a way of helping them assess their interest in doctoral education.

Those requesting enrollment should know that 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 that stress advanced critical analysis and open dialogue. Satisfactory performance as a nondegree-seeking student does not assure admission as a degree-seeking student.