Image description: Ph.D. students, Rachel Rosenberg and Cory Cummings, at VCU School of Social Work May 2018 commencement ceremony.

Reflecting the dual mission of Virginia Commonwealth University and the profession of Social Work, the Ph.D. program in Social Work aims to develop scholars, researchers and educators who will, independently and collaboratively, make significant contributions to advancing social justice and human well-being within local, national and international contexts.

Program goals and outcomes‌

Our curriculum

During the first two years in the program, students complete a common core curriculum in the School of Social Work and take more individualized concentration courses within the School and in related disciplines. After completing coursework, students take comprehensive examinations, which are designed to enable them to demonstrate an ability to critically analyze, integrate and apply the whole of their educational experience to that point. Upon passing the examinations, students are admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. As candidates, they propose, conduct and defend an original dissertation research project that meaningfully advances knowledge and contributes to a more just society.

Detailed breakdown of the Ph.D. curriculum

Faculty expertise and guidance

The School’s distinguished faculty possesses a range of substantive and methodological research expertise and offers state-of-the-art instruction in professional education. Current examples include:

  • Community and organizational partnerships in prevention and intervention research in local, national and international settings.

  • Interdisciplinary research in social, behavioral and health sciences, e.g., child and adolescent well-being, interpersonal violence, alcohol and other substance misuse, persons with disabilities, and aging and the life course.

  • International collaborative projects, e.g., interpersonal and societal violence and trauma, poverty and inequality, immigrants and refugees in the U.S. and abroad, and population aging and mental health in low-resource settings.

Formal mentorship in these and other areas of investigation take the form of graduate research assistanceships and supervised teaching opportunities in the School’s competitive M.S.W. and/or B.S.W. programs. Students are strongly encouraged to draw on the extensive body of faculty expertise for advice and guidance throughout their time in the program.

Advising for Ph.D. students

First-year students participate in a proseminar that is led by the Ph.D. program director. The three-fold purpose of the seminar is to: 1) introduce students to the School’s faculty and their programs of research; 2) familiarize students with current major trends and topics in social work and social welfare and 3) facilitate a working model of on-going peer advising and consultation. Students are also assigned a secondary adviser who assists them in developing specialized areas of scholarly interest and advises them on academic activities such as teaching, university programs and community service. At the end of the first year in the program, students may elect to continue with their appointed secondary adviser or select another consenting faculty member. Once admitted to candidacy, the student’s dissertation committee chair serves as their adviser.

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Individuals who are interested in exploring the Ph.D. program in greater depth are encouraged to contact the program for additional information at

Apply to the Ph.D. Program

Learn more about the admissions process and requirements