Apply to the PhD in Social Welfare Program
The PhD in Social Welfare is a full-time, on-campus degree program. Students are required to have a master’s degree in social work or a social science field before they can enter the PhD program.
The PhD in Social Welfare is a rigorous program that requires strong comprehension and communication skills. International applicants whose first language is not English are required to submit a TOEFL score (Institutional Code 2926; Department Code 95) of 100 or higher or an IELTS score of 7.5 or higher taken within the last two years.
Applications and transcripts must be submitted through the online application system by December 15th. Supporting materials (letters of recommendation, official GRE scores, and, if applicable, official TOEFL scores and evaluated transcripts) must be received no later than January 15th for applications to be considered complete. Please note that official copies of test scores typically take 3-4 weeks to arrive, so schedule your GRE and TOEFL exams accordingly. Only files completed by January 15th will be reviewed by the Admissions Committee; this is a hard deadline.
Your admissions process begins with submitting your application online. After creating an account to start your application, you will be able to return to your application as many times as you wish before submitting. You can track the status of your application, including the receipt of letters of recommendation and any other supplemental materials, at any time by logging into your account.
You must submit a resume as part of your online application.
The application will provide prompts for your personal statement. Be sure to address why you would like to do a PhD, your career goals, what particular strengths of our program will help you meet your goals, and your areas of research interest. The personal statement should be double spaced and no longer than 1500 words.
If interested in working with a specific faculty member or members, please include that information in the statement. Applicants are not responsible for finding their own advisors. That decision is made by the faculty and takes into account faculty availability, the match between faculty and student interests, and other considerations. Given the number of applicants, we are not able to address advisor-advisee assignments until after admissions decisions have been made.
Writing samples should reflect your ability to write at the PhD level. Examples include, but are not limited to: previously submitted academic assignments, a journal publication, a brief, a professional report, etc. Total pages should roughly be between 15-25 and may include more than one piece or a portion of a larger piece.
Applicants must submit transcripts detailing all undergraduate and postgraduate study via the online application. This includes coursework conducted at an applicant’s degree-granting institution(s) as well as in study abroad programs and at institutions out of which an applicant may have transferred. Applicants should upload copies of their official transcripts (i.e. not screenshots from a student record or student grade system) that clearly display their name, dates of enrollment, the names of all courses in which they enrolled, and the credits and grades awarded for each class. Applicants should not mail hard copies of transcripts to the School for purposes of application review.
ATTENTION INTERNATIONAL APPLICANTS:
Transcripts reflecting more than two semesters of study at institutions based outside of the United States must be evaluated on a course-by-course basis by a third-party evaluation service such as WES or Educational Perspectives, or another NACES-accredited member. This applies even if the studies were conducted in English and even if the transcript is printed in English.
Applicants with these international transcripts should upload their university-issued transcripts into the online application and order their official, third-party evaluations sent to the School of Social Policy & Practice. Please note that these international transcripts cannot be considered official until they have been evaluated and that their respective applications cannot be reviewed until the evaluations have arrived in the Admissions Office.
Letters of Recommendation
Letters of Recommendation
Each application requires three letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation should be submitted directly to the online application.
You should submit two academic and one employment reference.
The GRE is required for all applicants. You must submit official GRE scores, that is, scores within the past five years. Scores should be submitted to Institutional Code: 2926 and Department Code: 5001
English Language Exam
For international students whose first language is not English, we require official TOEFL or IELTS scores taken in the last two years. A minimum of 100 on the Internet-based (iBT) TOEFL or a minimum Overall Band Score of 7.5 on the IELTS is required. TOEFL scores should be sent to Institutional Code 2926 and Department Code 95. IELTS scores cannot be reported electronically; applicants submitting IELTS scores in lieu of TOEFL scores should email official copies of their score reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TOEFL/IELTS requirement can be waived for applicants who completed an undergraduate or master’s degree in the United States or in a country in which English is recognized as the official language. Please note that it can take up to one week following application submission for the waiver to be indicated on your application checklist.
Upon notification of acceptance for admission to the University, you are required to submit a nonrefundable $300 to reserve your spot in the class. The deposit due date is provided with the offer of admission. The deposit will be credited to your account upon matriculation.
Tuition & Finances
Students are fully funded for four years which is the time by which most of our students graduate. Students continuing after four years are strongly encouraged to apply for external funding to support themselves and their research.
The nine-month (academic year) stipend is for a research apprenticeship with the student’s advisor and, after coursework is completed, can be expanded to include teaching assistantships. Funding for summers and study beyond four years is available through research assistantships, graduate fellowships, and teaching assistantships.
We provide full support for four years, which includes a generous nine-month stipend, full tuition, individual health insurance coverage through the plan offered by the University, a general fee covering computing, library, and similar facilities and services.
Individual health insurance through the University also is provided to each student for four years. Students have the option of purchasing coverage for their family members as well. More information is available here. If a student prefers other insurance, he or she is responsible for the cost and must provide to the program proof of alternate health coverage.
Current tuition information is available here. In summary, in addition to a flexible curriculum and outstanding faculty who are dedicated to student learning, we commit over $250,000 to each student who is admitted to our program.
Additional Funding Opportunities
Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships, fellowships, and grants (e.g., dissertation grants). Administrative support for these efforts is provided by the School and University.
External Funding Opportunities
AERA Minority Dissertation Fellowship in Education Research
The purposes of the program are to advance education research by outstanding minority graduate students and to improve the quality and diversity of university faculties.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
The dissertation will focus on areas relevant to health services research, with emphasis placed on methodological and research topics that address the mission of AHRQ.
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Research fellowships to support joint research projects for study in Germany between American and German scholars.
American Association of University Women Educational Foundation
Career Development Grants/ American Fellowships support women who hold a bachelor’s degree and are preparing to advance their careers, change careers, or re-enter the work force.
CSWE Minority Doctoral Fellowship
Fellowships for students interested in pursuing a career in mental health research.
Elderhostel K. Patricia Cross Doctoral Research Grant
This grant was founded to aid doctoral students researching topics relevant to aging and later-life learning. This $5,000 grant honors the work of K. Patricia Cross, PhD, former Elderhostel Board Member and Professor Emerita at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley.
Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships
Through its program of Diversity Fellowships, the Ford Foundation seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, to maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and to increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Research Fellowships
The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation (HFG) welcomes proposals from any of the natural and social sciences and the humanities that promise to increase understanding of the causes, manifestations, and control of violence, aggression, and dominance.
NASW Jane B. Aron Doctoral Fellowship
The Jane Baerwald Aron Doctoral Fellowship Program provides partial support to social work doctoral students who are engaged in dissertation research in health care policy and practice.
Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA)
Ruth L. Kirschstein was an icon at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a scientific and administrative public service career that spanned more than half a century. Various awards are offered to improve the diversity of the health-related research workforce by supporting the training of predoctoral students from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented; and, to provide support for promising doctoral candidates who will be performing dissertation research and training in scientific health-related fields relevant to the missions of the participating NIH Institutes and Centers.
Social Science Research Council
Sponsors pre-doctoral fellowships and advanced research grant programs. Requirements and deadlines vary.
Internal Funding Opportunities
GAPSA Research Student Travel Grant
The GAPSA Research Student Council has some funds available to distribute as individual travel grants to help defray the cost of qualified travel expenses for doctoral students presenting their research at academic conferences and meetings.
- Individuals presenting: max. $800
- Individuals attending only: max. 50% of total cost or $500, whichever is less
Please note: If a student is in a PhD program, they are considered a research student by the University. If a student is in a research master’s degree program (AM or MS, as defined by the University), they are considered a research student.
If a student is in any other non-research Master’s degree program (including EdD, MSE, and other Master of Science degree programs with other letters), they are considered a professional student and will need to apply for funding through the Professional Student Council.
GAPSA President Gutmann Leadership Award
President Amy Gutmann has generously provided additional funding to GAPSA to augment GAPSA’s funding for graduate and professional student travel. The award will be given to students presenting at either an international conference or a conference within the United States that would normally be out of their budget even with an individual travel grant through the Research or Professional Student Councils.
Award amount: The maximum award is 70% of the total budget or $2000, whichever is less.
GAPSA Provost’s Award for Interdisciplinary Innovation
The GAPSA Research Student Council in conjunction with the Office of the Provost offers $6,000 grants to provide summer support for research projects that promise to harness the knowledge of different academic disciplines to explore societal issues. Individual students or teams of students may apply for this award by submitting a proposal for a summer research project that clearly intends to integrate knowledge across academic disciplines.
Award amount: Up to $6,000 per project
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes your program unique?
We have stellar faculty who are very active in different areas of social welfare, largely engaging in multidisciplinary and international research including, but not limited to: mental health, queer studies, sex work, homelessness, incarceration, gerontology, and foster youth. Faculty also engage in issues related to social policy, nonprofits, volunteering, and philanthropy. See individual faculty profiles here.
Do you have a diverse student body?
Can I speak to a faculty member about my research interests?
Yes, we encourage you to reach out to our faculty in your area of interest. You can find our standing faculty bios and their contact information here.
Can I schedule an interview with someone in the department?
Interviews are not a part of the regular PhD application process. Applicants under final consideration may be contacted by the department to schedule a virtual interview.
Do you have a part-time or online PhD program?
The PhD is a full-time, on-campus program.
For those who prefer a more clinical program, we have a part-time, hybrid Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) program. The DSW program combines online coursework with intensive campus immersions and requires a completed MSW and at least three years of post-MSW experience.
What is the difference between the PhD in Social Welfare and the Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) programs at Penn?
The PhD in Social Welfare involves an interdisciplinary view of social problems, while the Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) is firmly rooted in social work. The DSW program requires three years of professional experience post-MSW.
Do you have an online information session or one I can attend on-campus?
Information session dates are available here.
What is the minimum score you accept for the GRE?
We do not have a set minimum score. While admission is competitive, our faculty like to consider each applicant on a holistic basis. Considerations include, but are not limited to: scores and grades, personal statement, research/professional experience, letters of recommendation, areas of research interests, etc.
Does the PhD in Social Welfare program have a session beginning in the spring?
Our program begins once per year for the fall session only.
How many applicants do you accept to our program each year?
We accept 3-6 students each year.
Do you offer a MSW/PhD dual degree program?
We no longer offer a dual degree program.
Is there any support for those with families?
Yes! Penn Family Center offers space, resource information, and even grants* for financial assistance for childcare and/or dependent healthcare. More information is available here.
*need based, not guaranteed
What if I don’t have two academic and one employment reference for my letters of recommendations?
We understand that not every applicant has the same history. Some applicants have been working in the field for a decade or more, others are applying directly from a master’s program. A combination of recommendations between academic and professional is preferable, but please feel free to choose the recommenders that best suit your experience.
Can I apply if I am graduating with my master’s degree only this upcoming spring?
Yes, you may apply if you are currently in a master’s program, as long as you complete your master’s degree before you would begin the PhD program. You should submit your master’s transcript to date with your application and explain that you will send your official transcript once you complete your master’s degree.
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