PhD Admissions Frequently Asked Questions

What are the basic requirements for admission to the doctoral program?
Candidates must have a master’s degree in social work or related field, excellent undergraduate and graduate academic records, participation in independent research, and satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), if you are an international applicant.

What materials are required for the PhD application?
All applicants must submit a Graduate Admission Application, statement of purpose, resume, transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate institutions attended, four letters of recommendation, GRE and TOEFL scores (international students only), evidence of financial support (international students only), PhD information form, PhD career plans and goals form, and scholarly writing sample. Further admissions information and downloadable admissions materials may be found in our Application Process section.

Is a Master of Social Work (MSW) required for admission to the doctoral program?
A Master of Social Work (MSW) is strongly encouraged for potential applicants because it shows a thorough understanding of the field of social work; however, we will also consider a master’s degree from a related field (sociology, psychology, etc.). Applicants without a master’s degree can apply to the school’s MSW program or MSW/PhD dual degree program.

What is the MSW/PhD dual degree program?
The MSW/PhD dual degree program is offered only to exemplary students seeking the uppermost advanced research-based study in social work. The program is designed to produce high-ranking scholars who will make significant contributions to the knowledge base of the profession in social work academia. It leads to both the Master of Social Work (MSW) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work graduate degrees. Applicants must meet all standing admissions requirements for both the MSW and PhD programs.

Do you offer the PhD program online?
No, neither the PhD program nor the MSW/PhD dual degree is offered online. You must be a full-time student at the University Park Campus.

Does the doctoral program accept transfer students?
In the rare occasion that we accept transfer students from another doctoral program, their applications are reviewed by the doctoral committee on a case-by-case basis. All transfer students must apply through regular admission to the PhD program. Each transfer student application is then individually reviewed to evaluate courses already taken and determine a possible course of action. The transfer of post-master’s degree doctoral course work from another institution will only be considered if a grade of B or better (A=4.0) has been obtained, and the course has been completed within the last five years.  Transfer of credits must be petitioned and approved by both the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and the Graduate School. For complete transfer credit information, please refer to the USC Catalogue.

What if I previously applied to the PhD program?
If you previously applied to the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work PhD program, you must submit a new Graduate Admission Application and PhD Information form. If you applied within the last two years and are satisfied with materials you previously submitted, you have the option to use the previously submitted letters of recommendation, GRE scores, TOEFL scores and transcripts for your current application. However, the GRE test scores must be taken within five years of the application deadline. TOEFL test scores must be taken within two years of the application deadline.

Do you accept part-time students?
Due to the rigorous and demanding requirements of the doctoral program, we do not accept part-time students. Both the doctoral program and the MSW/PhD dual degree program require students to be full-time students on the University Park Campus.

Who is required to take the TOEFL?
All international students must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), with the exception of students who earned both their bachelor’s and master's degrees in the United States.

Is the GRE required? Are there any exceptions?
Yes, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are required for all PhD applicants. There are no exceptions.

What is the profile of the incoming doctoral class?
Number of students admitted: 7-10
Average age: 28
Average GRE score: 1311
Average graduate GPA: 3.92

When should I apply?
All application materials must be received by the university by December 1 to be considered priority applications. Completed application materials will be accepted until January 1, but they will be considered late and may not be reviewed for admission. Visit the Application Process.

Is it possible to send my application materials in several installments?
Our admission application process is divided into two parts. Part One materials must be received directly by USC Graduate Admission. Part Two consists of supplemental materials mailed directly to the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s PhD program. To expedite application processing, please send all Part Two supplemental application materials together in one mailing by December 1. Applications cannot be processed until all application materials from both Part One and Part Two have been received. Application materials for admission are ONLY available online in our Application Process.

How long does it take to process my application?
It is crucial to have Part One and Part Two application materials received at the university by December 1. It takes about 30 days for Part One application materials to be processed by USC Graduate Admission and uploaded to the system for review. It will take another four to six weeks for the school to review all application materials.

How can I be sure that all my application materials have been received?
The PhD program will send you an email confirmation after January 1 about the status of your application materials. Please make sure you have an updated email address on file with us. You may also receive a notification from USC Graduate Admission about outstanding applications materials. Please respond promptly to requests for information and materials from both offices.

When should I expect to hear about my admission decision?
The doctoral committee will review applications for fall admission in late January. Those applicants we are interested in admitting will be invited to an all-day campus visit in late March. Official admission letter notifications will be sent by early April.

What can I do to improve my chances for acceptance?
Strong applicants typically show great academic promise, as evidenced by above-average achievement in undergraduate and professional education, participation in research and publications, professional competence as demonstrated through substantial experience and contributions to the social work field, above-average GRE and TOEFL scores, and above-average grade point average.