Ph.D. Program

The Columbia School of Social Work’s Ph.D. program has awarded more than 500 doctoral degrees since its inception in 1950. We have produced many of the world’s most influential leaders in social work and social welfare scholarship, both in the United States and around the world. As an overview to the program, we have prepared the following 10 Frequently Asked Questions. (For more detailed information, download the relevant Ph.D. Program Documents from the sidebar at right.)

  • Who is eligible to apply for the doctoral program?

    To be eligible for the CSSW Doctoral Program, an applicant must have:

    • A master’s degree in social work (required for the Advanced Practice track) or a related discipline.
    • Excellent undergraduate and graduate academic records.
    • Demonstrated competence to undertake independent research.
    • Satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
    • For those applying to the Advanced Practice method, a minimum of two years of post-Masters direct practice experience is strongly preferred.
  • What are the program requirements?

    Successful completion of the Doctoral Program requires approximately two years of full-time coursework followed by more concentrated work on an original, scholarly dissertation that contributes to and advances knowledge in the field of social work. Before proceeding to the dissertation, doctoral students must pass a qualifying comprehensive examination demonstrating mastery in integrating social science theory and research methodology within the student’s chosen field of substantive interest.

  • What does the curriculum consist of?

    The curriculum comprises two to three advanced social work method courses at CUSSW, as well as courses in research methodology, statistics and the social sciences taken both in CUSSW and at various graduate divisions of Columbia University.

  • What research methods does the program support?

    Upon application to the doctoral program, students must select one of three social work method concentrations, each of which has its own sequence of core-method courses:

    1. Advanced Practice: Prepares students for careers as practice researchers, teachers or other leadership tracks and wish to remain involved in practice and programming.
    2. Social Policy & Policy Analysis: Prepares students to teach and/or conduct research in the formulation of social policy or policy analysis.
    3. Social Policy & Administration: Prepares students for careers as researchers, academicians and leaders in the management and organization of social programs.
  • What is a typical doctoral program course load?

    While much of the program is highly individualized, all students will be enrolled in approximately two full-time years of course work, plus time for tutorials, research projects, examinations, and dissertation work. All students also conduct an intensive individualized research practicum, or a research assistantship, in conjunction with a current faculty research project. For the complete descriptions of courses and program policies, go to Doctoral Program Resource Guide, 2012-13 (PDF: 82 pages), which offers Sample Student Schedules.

  • How many students are typically enrolled in the program, and what kinds of backgrounds do they have?

    Around 65 students are enrolled in the Ph.D. program. The average age of students in the program is mid-30s. Nearly 70 percent of the class is female. One quarter of the class consists of international students, from countries ranging from Azerbaijan to Colombia to China Forty percent of the class consists of African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics. While the majority of students have a master’s in social work, many others have master’s degrees in related disciplines such as economics, education and public policy.

  • Can you give me some examples of recent dissertation topics?

    Here are a few recent examples of dissertation topics:

    • “Developmental Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Sample of Sexually Abused Boys: The Moderating Role of Family and Peer Context, by Jennifer Elkins (May 2011). Sponsor: Professor Michael MacKenzie
    • “Health and Health Disparities in the US and England: A Comparative Study,” by Melissa Martinson (October 2010). Sponsor: Professor Julien Teitler
    • "Justice for All? How Race Influences the Intake Process in Juvenile Court," by Stephanie K. Matsumura (October 2009). Sponsor: Professor Vicki Lens
    • "Relationship Power and Sexual Risk among Drug-involved Women," by Aimee Campbell (May 2009). Sponsor: Professor Nabila El-Bassel
  • How do I apply?

    There are two ways to apply to the Doctoral Program:

    1. Apply online.
    2. Download an application (PDF: 7 pages), print it out, fill it in, and send it to us.

    Please note that the fee for the paper application is $225; the online application fee is $65. Before applying, be sure to download our Admissions Guide. The deadline for Fall 2016 admission is December 15, 2015.

  • What kinds of careers do graduates typically go into?

    The majority of our graduates accept positions conducting research and/or teaching in universities and research institutions throughout the world. Other graduates choose to join governmental organizations or think tanks that conduct relevant social policy research and analysis. A few opt to re-enter the social services field in an executive capacity.

  • Still have questions?

    Still have questions?

    For more information, please contact Director of Administration Jessica Troiano (; 212-851-2389) or the doctoral program chair, Dr. Neeraj Kaushal (; 212-851-2235).