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The Helen Bader School of Social Welfare (HBSSW) offers a program of graduate studies in social work. As a department in an urban research university, the mission of the Department of Social Work is to promote positive change through social work research, scholarship, education, and community partnerships. The Department promotes the values of the social work profession through a commitment to social justice and diversity, a dedication to public service, and an emphasis on individual and community well-being. The goal of the MSW program is to prepare graduates with specialized knowledge and skills for advanced practice and leadership with diverse populations and communities.

In furtherance of its mission, the goals of the Social Work Department are:

  1. To educate students to become highly skilled, culturally competent, and ethical social workers and to provide leadership for the practice of social justice.
  2. To create and disseminate knowledge leading to social work and inter-disciplinary innovations.
  3. To engage in research and apply results that inform social work policy, practice, advocacy, education, and future research.
  4. To collaborate with community partners in promoting evidence-informed practice, educational and research partnerships, and social and economic justice.

HBSSW offers students access to the University computer system, special interview training rooms, and specialized audiovisual materials.

The MSW curriculum is designed to prepare students for advanced-level professional Social Work practice, and builds upon a solid base of coursework in human behavior, practice methods, research, and policy. The MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and can prepare students for state certification requirements.

Admission Requirements 

Application Deadlines

Application deadlines vary by program, please review the application deadline chart for specific programs. Other important dates and deadlines can be found by using the One Stop calendars.


Relevant application materials must be submitted to both the Graduate School and HBSSW and will be accepted for admission in the Fall semester only. All applications must be completed and submitted on or before January 2. Applications received after January 2 will be considered only if space is available after other applications are reviewed.

Students who apply and are accepted to the joint MSW/PhD program will be able to earn both the Master of Social Work and Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare and will not be required to apply to the PhD program after earning the MSW degree, assuming their progress is satisfactory. Applicants who are not offered admission to the joint program will still be considered for admission into the MSW-only program.

All applicants must meet Graduate School requirements plus the following HBSSW requirements:

  1. Have an undergraduate grade point average of 2.75 or better.
  2. Have completed at least 21 semester credits in the social and behavioral sciences (i.e., psychology, sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, and/or their equivalents).
  3. Indicate the following In the Personal Statement section of the Graduate School application form:
    • Which of the program’s four areas of specialization (Applied Behavioral Health, Applied Gerontology, Criminal Justice, or Family and Child Welfare) they wish to pursue.
    • Their reasons for seeking a doctoral degree in social welfare.
    • Their goals as future scholars.
    • topic or issue in the field that they consider to be particularly challenging and worthy of study.
  4. In materials submitted to the HBSSW, applicants must:
    • Provide a current copy of a professional résumé or curriculum vitae. This should contain information on:
    • All post-secondary education, including institutions, degrees and dates of completed programs of study, plus institutions, dates, and types of study that did not lead to a degree.
    • All employment by the applicant in social work or criminal justice and related areas, including dates and employing organizations.
    • Employment unrelated to social work or criminal justice within the past five years.
    • Information on any past or current professional licenses held.
  5. Submit scores from within the past five years on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test.
  6. Submit three letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s achievements and academic potential, including at least one current or former academic instructor.
  7. Submit a sample of written work that demonstrates: the applicant’s knowledge of social science theory, practice, and research; ability to think analytically; and writing skills. The sample should be at least 1000 words in length and represent work for which the applicant was the sole author, or if it is jointly authored should indicate which sections were primarily done by the applicant.


The HBSSW will assign each MSW/PhD student a major professor. This assignment is based on congruence between the applicant’s interests and the expertise of the major professor. In consultation with the director of the PhD program, the student may change major professors after beginning the program, but no applicant will be admitted unless a doctoral faculty member in social welfare agrees to serve as major professor.

Financial Assistance

Through a combination of tuition remission, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, fellowships, and other options, the program will attempt to provide financial assistance to all admitted students during their first four years in the program. Applicants needing additional information on other sources of financial assistance, such as student loans, should contact the campus’s Office of Financial Aid.

Credits and Courses

MSW Requirements

The MSW portion of the joint curriculum requires a minimum of 22 graduate credits for students admitted to the Advanced Curriculum. Another 12 credits normally required in the Advanced Curriculum will be replaced by the same number of Ph.D- level credits. Students admitted into the joint curriculum who have not earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited social work program within the past five years are required to complete 22 credits in the Professional Foundation prior to beginning courses in the Advanced Curriculum.

Professional Foundation

The purpose of the Professional Foundation is to orient students to the profession and to provide a knowledge, values and skills base for later course. Credits in the Professional Foundation are not included in the 22 Advanced Curriculum credits required for completion of the MSW degree, nor do they apply to the required 12 Ph.D-level credits.

SOC WRK 604Social Systems and Social Work Practice3
SOC WRK 662Methods of Social Welfare Research3
SOC WRK 665Cultural Diversity and Social Work3
SOC WRK 705Individual Behavior and Social Welfare3
SOC WRK 708Social Work Methods I: Individuals and Families3
SOC WRK 709Social Work Methods II: Groups, Organizations and Communities2
SOC WRK 721Field Instruction I3
SOC WRK 750Social Welfare Policy Development and Implementation2

MSW-level Advanced Curriculum

SOC WRK 711Direct Social Work Practice I3
or SOC WRK 713 Community Organization, Planning and Human Service Administration I
SOC WRK 722Field Instruction II3
SOC WRK 753Adult Psychopathology3
SOC WRK 811Direct Social Work Practice II:3
SOC WRK 820Seminar in Social Work Practice:2
SOC WRK 821Field Instruction III4
SOC WRK 822Field Instruction IV4
Total Credits22

MSW courses in the Advanced Curriculum to be replaced by PhD-level courses are:


Students who have, within the 5 years preceding admission, completed coursework which substantially duplicates MSW Professional Foundation courses may apply to the Chair of the Social Work Department for an exemption from the relevant courses. Exemption examinations are also offered on a scheduled basis for these courses. Exemption of the field experience (SOC WRK 721) may be authorized by the Director of Field Programs for students having sufficient supervised employment experience. Students interested in securing an exemption should request course exemption forms upon notification of admission to the program.

All requests for exemptions must be made at the time of initial enrollment. Exemption requests will not be accepted following the end of the first semester of coursework.

PhD Requirements

A minimum of 39 credits of PhD-level coursework is required. At least 33 of these must be earned in residence at UWM. Required courses include:

SOC WRK 901Philosophy of Science3
Specialization Seminars
Select 9 credits (3 from area of specialization) Examples include:9
Theories of Poverty and Social Welfare Policy
Theories and Research on Behavior Change
Family and Long-Term Care Across the Life Course
Current Topics in Social Work: (Family and Child Welfare Specialization)
Research Methods
SOC WRK 951Quantitative Research Methods3
SOC WRK 952Qualitative Research Methods in Social Work3
SOC WRK 961Introduction to Statistical Methods4
SOC WRK 962Applied Multiple Regression Analysis3
SOC WRK 963Measurement Methods and Related Multivariate Statistics3
SOC WRK 964Advanced Statistical Methods3
Proseminars and Independent Study
SOC WRK 991Doctoral Proseminar: (Research Ethics)1
SOC WRK 991Doctoral Proseminar: (Grantwriting )1
SOC WRK 991Doctoral Proseminar: (Teaching)1
SOC WRK/CRM JST 999Independent Reading in Social Work1-3
Select two approved external doctoral-level courses in area of specialization (2-3 cr. each)4-6
Total Credits39-43

Additional Requirements

Preliminary Examination

All students must pass a preliminary examination subsequent to successfully completing all required coursework and prior to being admitted to doctoral candidacy. The examination assesses students’ ability to articulate their research interests, analyze and synthesize empirical knowledge and relevant theoretical concepts, explain how theory may affect the generation of knowledge, and show familiarity with relevant scientific methodologies. In keeping with Graduate School rules, the preliminary examination should be completed within five years of enrollment.

An Application for the Doctoral Preliminary Examination must be completed by the student and signed and submitted to the PhD Program Committee by the major professor six weeks prior to the first examination. Students who fail the preliminary examination may not proceed to the dissertation. The exam may be retaken only once. Complete policies regarding forming a preliminary examination committee, writing the proposal, and taking the examination are available in the Social Welfare PhD program handbook.

Dissertation Proposal Defense

All students must successfully complete an oral defense of their dissertation proposal to determine their preparation for independent research. The defense must be completed successfully within four years of initial enrollment.


Students who have passed the Preliminary Examination and have submitted a one-page preliminary dissertation proposal are formally admitted to doctoral candidacy. In accordance with Graduate School policies, students must then register for three research or thesis/dissertation credits each semester until the dissertation is submitted to the Graduate School. To meet the requirements for the dissertation, the candidate must complete an original independent research project that adds meaningfully to the existing body of knowledge in social work or criminal justice. It should be of a caliber that warrants publication in respected journals in the field.

Dissertation Defense

As the final step toward the degree, the candidate must pass an oral examination before his/her doctoral committee in defense of the dissertation. The examination may also cover general topics relevant to the student’s area of study. This requirement may not be completed until all other degree requirements are satisfied.


Students must meet minimum Graduate School residency requirements.

Time Limit

It is expected that most students will complete all degree requirements within seven years of initial enrollment in the joint MSW/PhD program. All requirements MUST be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment.