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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. Applicants must meet Graduate School requirements plus the following departmental requirements in order to be considered:

  1. Hold or be in the process of completing a master’s degree in social welfare or master’s degree in criminal justice, criminology, or comparable degree. Applicants with master’s degrees in related disciplines will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  2. Identify the following in the Personal Statement section of the Graduate School application:
    • 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.
    • A topic or issue in the field that they consider to be particularly challenging and worthy of study.
  3. Submit a current copy of a professional résumé or curriculum vitae to the Social Welfare PhD Program. 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, 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.
  4. Submit scores from within the past five years on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test to the Social Welfare PhD Program.
  5. Submit three letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s achievements and academic potential, including at least one current or former graduate program instructor to the Social Welfare PhD Program.
  6. Submit a sample of written work to the Social Welfare PhD Program that demonstrates: the applicant’s knowledge of social work and/or criminal justice 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.

The program will assign each 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 criminal justice or social work 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 three years in the program. Applicants needing additional information on other sources of financial assistance, such as student loans, should contact the campus Office of Financial Aid.

Credits and Courses

A minimum degree of 43 graduate credits beyond the master’s degree are required, at least 36 of which must be earned in residence at UWM.

In consultation with the major professor and as soon as possible after admission, each student designs a program of study to gain the knowledge and skills appropriate to his/ her educational goals. All programs of study must include the following:

Knowledge Building
SOC WRK 901Philosophy of Science3
Select 11-12 credits in Specialization Seminars (see below)11-12
Methods of Inquiry and Analysis 1
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
Research Methods and Statistics Electives 2
SOC WRK 963Measurement Methods and Related Multivariate Statistics3
SOC WRK 964Advanced Statistical Methods3
Doctoral Proseminar 3
SOC WRK 991Doctoral Proseminar: (Research Ethics)1
SOC WRK 991Doctoral Proseminar: (Grantwriting)1
SOC WRK 991Doctoral Proseminar: (Teaching)1
Teaching 4
Select one semester of work as a teaching assistant
Select semester as a project or research assistant
Independent Study 5
SOC WRK 999Independent Reading in Social Work1-3
Electives 6
Select 4-6 credits4-6
Total Credits41-46

Content in this area comprises a set of required courses in methods of social/behavioral research and statistics. Students are expected to enter the program with at least a basic background in both methods and statistics and may need to satisfy prerequisites before proceeding to required courses.


Two electives from inside or outside the HBSSW are required. Students may choose one or both of the above elective courses or one or two courses from an approved set of alternatives offered in other Schools or campuses. Approval must be secured from the major advisor prior to enrolling.


Requirements in this area are designed to provide students with specialized knowledge and skills needed for success in scholarly endeavors and teaching at the post-secondary level. With respect to classroom work, all students must complete the following three one-credit proseminars.


All students must complete one semester of work as a teaching assistant and one semester as a project or research assistant, usually in their second year. During the semester in which they serve as a teaching assistant, students must enroll for one credit in SOC WRK 999/CRM JST 999.


This independent study credit will be completed under the supervision of the faculty member to whom the student is assigned as an assistant. The product should be a project that will advance the student’s skills in teaching, such as preparation of a guest lecture or other such task determined by the supervising faculty member.


These credits provide an opportunity for students to take content of interest within the HBSSW or in other schools on campus that offer graduate-level courses relevant to the student’s educational goals. Elective options within the HBSSW include the completion of additional specialization seminars beyond the required total. Students may also complete this requirement by taking additional research methods or statistics courses within or outside the HBSSW, or they may take theory or basic-knowledge courses in other Schools that are at the graduate level and are approved by their advisor and the PhD program director.

Knowledge Building

The goals and objectives of the doctoral program reflect the Department’s concern with urban social problems, social and economic equity and well-being, cultural diversity, and the empowerment of individuals, families, organizations, and communities to effect change. The program will prepare students to make significant contributions to social work education and the knowledge base of the profession.

The curriculum includes four areas of specialization:

  • Applied Behavioral Health
  • Applied Gerontology
  • Criminal Justice
  • Family and Child Welfare

Each student must select at least one of these areas in which to concentrate. In consultation with the major professor, a student may also choose to develop expertise that spans more than one area.

Content in these four specialization areas is presented in the form of specialization seminars. All students must take at least three specialization seminars within the program and at least one relevant course external to the HBSSW; the external course must be from a list of courses approved for this purpose or a student’s unique request approved by the doctoral program committee. At least two courses, including one internal and one external course, must be in the student’s area of specialization, and at least one course internal to the HBSSW must be in an area other than the student’s primary specialization. All specialization courses outside the HBSSW must be approved by the student’s major professor prior to enrollment.

Examples of Specialization Seminars

SOC WRK 931Theories of Poverty and Social Welfare Policy (Family and Child Welfare specialization)3
SOC WRK 932Theories and Research on Behavior Change (Addiction and Behavioral Health specialization)3
SOC WRK 945Family and Long-Term Care Across the Life Course (Applied Gerontology specialization)3
SOC WRK 791Current Topics in Social Work: (Family and Child Welfare Specialization)1-3

Additional Requirements


Students must meet minimum Graduate School residency 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. 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.

Time Limit

It is expected that most students will complete all degree requirements within six years of initial enrollment in the doctoral program. All requirements MUST be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment.