Skip navigation

GSSWGraduate School of Social Work

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions about GSSW's PHD Program

How long does it take to complete the program?
The program is designed to be completed in four years. While some students complete the program in that time frame, those that take longer typically complete by their fifth year. The length of time to finish depends on a number of parameters including how clearly defined the student’s research focus is from the time they enter the program, the type of dissertation they undertake (e.g., qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods; secondary data analysis or collection of one’s own data) and the student’s other responsibilities (e.g., child and elder care, medical issues, work). The first two years of the program consist of course work. The last two years consist of completion of the comprehensive exam and independent dissertation work.

What aspects of the program make it innovative and different from other social work PhD programs?
While there are many similarities across social work doctoral programs, the PhD program at GSSW is unique in several ways. These include:

  • Excellent mentorship One of the best predictors of success in doctoral programs is the strength of the relationship between the student and their faculty mentors. GSSW has a faculty that is passionate about doctoral education, works collaboratively with students to position students to be successful on the job market, has strong national networks within the discipline and supports students in becoming excellent social work scholars.
  • Emphasis on collaboration Whether it is partnerships between faculty and doctoral students, among doctoral students, or with community partners, much of the research produced at GSSW involves collaboration. In fact, we have recently been implementing graduate assistant teams to work with faculty when we have students who share common research interests. These have worked out very well, both in terms of supporting incoming students with multiple mentors, providing opportunities for more advanced students to mentor, and in the overall productivity of doctoral students and faculty.
  • Strong foundation in theory While most programs provide a solid foundation in research methodology and statistics, the focus on theory and the philosophy of science – both integral in the development of strong social work scholars – varies significantly across programs. At GSSW, we are committed to developing scholars who are solidly grounded in theory. Students are required to take a philosophy of science course along with courses in social work theory and theory in their substantive area.
  • Strong commitment to social justice The discipline of social work has a longstanding commitment to practice and research that aims to create greater equity for marginalized communities. Across our academic programs, you will find a deep commitment to scholarship that is centered in issues of social justice. If we are to take seriously our goal of social justice, not only should MSW students be educated to understand practice in the context of social justice, but doctoral students should be educated to understand teaching and research in the context of social justice.
  • Community-based research Most of our faculty members are involved in community-based research, regardless of what issue they are studying or the population with which they are working. We have an extensive network of community-based partners – from large healthcare systems to social service providers to schools and community organizers – that are co-creators of much of the research that is produced by faculty and students at GSSW.
  • Strong commitment to producing excellent teachers As with theory, there is wide variability among social work programs in terms of their emphasis on producing graduates who are not only excellent researchers, but also excellent teachers. The program requires both a course on pedagogy and a teaching practicum, and many students decide to further develop their skill set as teachers through an additional teaching practicum. Additionally, GSSW has a number of faculty members who conduct research on evidence-based teaching and pedagogy.
  • Value for different methodologies While most doctoral programs emphasize research training, GSSW provides training in a broad array of methodologies. Students will learn and practice quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods research designs as well as analytic techniques. This variety allows students to select the best research methods for the questions they pursue in their independent research.

Can your program be finished on a part-time basis?
At this time, the PhD program is offered only on a full-time basis. After the first two years of classes, however, a student may elect to work externally and continue through the comprehensive exam and dissertation processes at a slower pace. This obviously will mean that the time for completion of the program is longer than the typical four to five years. The University of Denver requires that the PhD degree be completed in no more than seven years.

Questions About PHD Admission and Financial Aid

How many applicants do you accept each year?
We accept four to six students each academic year. While our acceptance rate fluctuates from year to year, based on the number of applicants and the number of admissions, we typically accept 20-25% of the applicant pool.

I am thinking about coming into a PhD Program directly following my MSW program. What should I know?
Since the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires two years of post-MSW experience to teach practice courses, the typical course of action is to gain that experience after the MSW program and before entering a doctoral program. However, each student’s career trajectory and career goals are different. For that reason, we recommend that you discuss your unique circumstances with the PhD Program Director to help you make a decision that is best for you and in keeping with your career goals.

My master’s is not in social work, but rather in psychology/law/sociology. Can I still apply?
Not all of our doctoral students have an MSW, and we do not require that prospective students have an MSW to apply and be admitted to the program. Students who enter the PhD program with a master’s degree in a related field, or with an equivalent degree (e.g., JD, MA in sociology, counseling or psychology), must take 15 additional course credits (five courses) during their first two years of the program to ensure that they are solidly grounded in the history, philosophy and values of the social work discipline.

What about the GRE? Is it required? What if my GRE scores weren’t the best?
Yes, the GRE is required and is an important component of the application package. We advise all potential applicants to spend time preparing to take the GRE through self-study and study courses, and to take the GRE early enough that it can be re-taken should they not do as well as they could have. While GRE scores are an important consideration, the admission committee carefully reviews each application in its entirety. GRE scores are only one aspect of the application and are considered in the context of the applicant’s full application. For example, if an applicant is exceptionally strong in terms of their fit with the substantive interests of GSSW faculty, has a strong statement of purpose and has examples of scholarly writing, lower GRE scores may be offset by these other factors.

I missed the January 15th deadline. Can I still be considered for admission
Because the application and admission process varies from year to year, we encourage you to contact Professor Kim Bender, Associate Dean for Doctoral Education, to determine if the admission process is still open to receiving additional applications. We occasionally have an admitted student who defers entering the program for a year, which potentially creates an opening for us to accept a student who is on the waiting list or whose application has not yet been received.

What type of funding is available to support students undertaking the doctoral program?
Most students are admitted to the program with a very competitive funding package that typically provides three years of financial support. A two-year graduate assistantship includes a living stipend, 100% tuition waiver and a health care subsidy. In year three, most students are eligible for a pre-doctoral fellowship which continues the living stipend; a tuition waiver is no longer necessary because all classes are completed during the first two years of the program. GSSW currently offers two fourth-year doctoral fellowships and opportunities to teach as an adjunct instructor during the fourth year.  Numerous students also receive external fellowships or work on faculty research grants. Additionally, students may access travel and dissertation grants.

Before I apply to the program, I’d like to visit the campus. Is that possible?Absolutely. If you are serious about pursuing your PhD in social work, and you are interested in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver, we’d love to have you visit our campus.

There are two types of campus visits:

  • The first type of visit is typically for potential applicants who are still trying to figure out the direction they would like to go with their education. It typically entails a meeting with the PhD Program Director who can help you sort through some basic questions about whether a PhD is right for you and whether GSSW is a good fit for your interests. If you live outside the Denver metropolitan area and are not planning a visit in the near future, we can have that conversation over the phone. To set up an informational meeting or phone conversation, contact Professor Kim Bender, Associate Dean for Doctoral Education.
  • The second type of visit is for those who are further along in the process. You know that a PhD in social work is in your future, and you want to make sure that GSSW is a good fit for you. These campus visits are usually more extensive, and you may spend anywhere from two to six hours on campus. These visits typically include a meeting with the Associate Dean for Doctoral Education, brief meetings with one or more faculty members who have similar or overlapping areas of interests, a meeting with current doctoral students and a brief tour of the Graduate School of Social Work. If this sounds like something that would be right for you, and you live in the Denver metropolitan area or will be visiting soon, contact Professor Kim Bender, Associate Dean for Doctoral Education. Because this type of visit is more intensive, it is a good idea to first visit the online GSSW appointed faculty directory to identify which faculty members are conducting research that coincides with your areas of interest. You also should contact Professor Bender at least two to four weeks prior to your campus visit so that it can be individualized to meet your needs.
Career Options for PHD Graduates

How is the academic job market in the field of social work?
Unlike most other disciplines, the job outlook for faculty positions in social work is very strong. This is the case for a number of reasons. First, there has been an increase in the number of schools offering social work programs, while the number of graduating PhDs in the field has remained fairly constant. Second, the discipline is in a phase where large numbers of social work faculty are retiring. This results in an academic job market that is quite favorable to our graduating students.

What types of jobs do graduates of the program get after completion of the program?
While the types of jobs pursued after our graduates have completed the program are heavily dependent upon on the individual student’s career goals, life circumstances and strengths, approximately 75% of graduates of the program either pursue careers as social work faculty or as researchers in university settings. Of those who do so, three-fourths have taken positions as faculty members, while one-fourth have taken positions as researchers in state, national, or international settings.  The remaining 25% of our graduates have accepted positions in other types of environments (e.g., non-profit organizations, policy think tanks, etc.) where they can use their research training to address issues of concerns to the field of social work and to prepare the next generation of social work practitioners. 

While some graduates make the decision not to pursue academic careers, the program is designed specifically to prepare the graduate to assume a position as a social work faculty member or researcher in an academic setting. While the knowledge and skills gained in the program may be useful to students pursuing other career routes, our primary focus is to recruit applicants whose focus is to contribute to the social work field by becoming a social work faculty member. Past graduates have accepted faculty positions at schools including The Ohio State University, University of Maryland, Georgia State University, Colorado State University, University of Tennessee, University of Alaska and Arizona State University.  In some cases, our graduates have gone on to become deans and department chairs of social work programs including those at the University of Vermont, Portland State University, University of Louisville, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Rutgers University and California State University/Long Beach.