The Joint MSW/Ph.D. program prepares students to make significant contributions to social work education and the knowledge base of the profession.

The goals and objectives of both the MSW and Ph.D. programs reflect the department’s concerns 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.

Admission Requirements
  •   A bachelor’s degree in any field.
  •   Meet admission requirements of the UWM Graduate School.
  •   Successful applicants must be prepared to enroll as full-time students; the program does not offer an option for part-time study.
  •  The expected time to completion of degree requirements for the MSW is approximately two and one-half years, plus another one and one-half to two years for the Ph.D.
  •  Students who hold a BSW degree earned within the past five years at a CSWE-accredited program may be able to shorten the time to completion of the MSW degree by up to one year.
  •  International students must complete all additional requirements for international applicants. Refer to Center for International Education website or contact them directly at or 414-229-4846. A checklist for graduate applications can be found here.
How to Apply
Students are accepted in the spring of each year for admission in the following fall semester. Between three and five students are typically accepted in each class. In order to be eligible for full consideration for admission and financial support, students should submit all application materials by January 2.
  • Submit the following to the Graduate School:
  •  A completed Graduate School application and application fee. Click here to complete the application.
  •  A personal statement, in the appropriate space on the online application, that identifies:
  • 1 which of the program’s four areas of specialization (Criminal Justice, Social Work-Applied Gerontology, Social Work-Family and Child Welfare, or Social Work-Health and Behavioral Health) you wish to study;
  • 2 your reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree;
  • 3 your goals as a future scholar;
  • 4 a topic or issue in the field you consider to be particularly challenging and worthy of study. You may also provide other information you consider relevant regarding your commitment to criminal justice or social work in the academic arena.
  •  One official transcript from each academic institution you have attended.
  •  If applicable, scores from within the past five years on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
  • Submit the following to Dean Tina Freiburger:
  • Tina Freiburger, Social Welfare Interim Doctoral Program Director, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, PO Box 786, Milwaukee, WI, 53201-0786. If you prefer, you may email your materials:
  •  A current copy of your professional résumé or curriculum vitae.
  •  Scores from within the past five years on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test.
  •  A sample of your written work that demonstrates your writing skills, your ability to think analytically, and your knowledge of theory, practice, and research. Published works reporting research results are best, but please indicate your precise role in the project if you submit a co-authored publication. Also acceptable is a sole-authored student paper, if written within the past five years. The following materials are NOT acceptable evidence of your scholarship: bibliographies (even if annotated); group projects; book reviews; teaching/content outline for classes; abstracts without full text.
  •  Three letters of recommendation from persons familiar with your achievements and academic potential, including a least one current or former instructor (a graduate instructor if applicable).

    Submitting Letters of Reference – Three steps must be completed in this part of the application:
  • STEP 1: Choose the persons you will ask to write letters of reference. Select at least three but no more than four individuals familiar with your achievements and academic potential. Do not include friends or relatives. 
  • References should include the following:
  • Current or recent supervisor from paid employment and current or recent instructor from a graduate-level classroom course.
  • If you are unable to secure one or both of the required references, you may substitute that reference with another from a professional source. Please explain the reason for the substitution on the list of references form (see link below).
  • STEP 2: Provide a copy of the reference form to each of the individuals you select. Copies of the Ph.D. Program Reference form are available here.
  • You must print a copy of the form and complete the top portion of the first page before mailing it to the persons you ask to write letters of reference on your behalf. Information is provided on the form to indicate how it should be sent to us when completed. Each person completing a form must sign the mailing envelope on the back before sending it.
  • STEP 3: Let us know who will be sending letters on your behalf. Complete the List of References Form and mail it to us at the address shown.
Social Work Joint MSW/Ph.D. Specializations
  • Three areas of specialization that reflect both faculty expertise and issues of importance to the university’s urban mission are emphasized. In consultation with their advisors, students in the Joint MSW/Ph.D. program will be expected to identify one of these three areas as the overall focus of their studies:
  • Applied Gerontology:
  • This specialization focuses on the complexity of the aging process from the perspective of the individual, family, society, and social policy. It covers the physical, psychological, and social processes of aging, including family roles and responsibilities, cultural diversity, social support networks, and the use of health and social services. Major developmental issues during the second half of life will be presented and interventions to facilitate adaptation to developmental change will be described.
  • Family and Child Welfare:
  • Both the social work and criminal justice professions have historical commitments to ensuring the welfare of children, and professionals view the family system as being of prime importance in children’s lives. The family system, in its various forms, is also a significant social institution, essential to communities and to society as a whole. This specialization focuses on the study of family systems, child and family welfare, and interventions to enhance the lives of children and families.
  • Health and Behavioral Health:
  • This specialization is designed to prepare students for teaching and scholarship relating to the delivery of mental/physical health and addictions services to individuals, families, small groups, and the community. Students are exposed to issues, approaches, and technologies in prevention, treatment, administration, and policy. These are related to risks and problems with alcohol and other drugs, various forms of mental illness, intimate partner violence, cognitive and physical disabilities, physical illness, community violence, and other behavioral health concerns.
Financial Aid and Support
Contingent on the availability of funds, the program seeks to provide tuition assistance and financial support to all incoming students.
  • First year students are eligible for the Dean’s Fellowship, which provides full tuition plus a stipend of $20,000 for the nine-month academic year. In the second and third years the assistance takes the form of teaching and research assistantships.
  • All fellowships and assistantships are contingent on the recipient’s satisfactory progress in completing program requirements. Opportunities for support in subsequent years and in the summers, including dissertation fellowships, research assistantships, and others, are also available. Students may be asked to assist the program in applying for internal or external fellowships or awards for which the student may be eligible.
  • Teaching assistantships are typically 50% time and will usually involve assisting faculty with larger class sections. Project assistantships are also typically 50% time and involve assisting faculty with research projects. Both appointments provide healthcare benefits and remission of tuition.
  • Click here for further information.

MSW Curriculum

For students interested in social work, the joint MSW/Ph.D. program offers two tracks—an advanced curriculum for students who hold a BSW earned within the past five years from a CSWE-accredited program, and a foundation track for those who do not.

  • Students who complete both the foundation and advanced curricula will fulfill all requirements for the MSW degree in seven semesters (approximately 2.5 years), including two semesters of summer study. Requirements for the classroom portion of the Ph.D. degree will be completed in one additional semester after that.
  • Students who qualify to begin in the advanced curriculum will complete all MSW requirements in four semesters (approximately 1.5 years) including one semester of summer study. Requirements for the classroom portion of the Ph.D. degree will be completed in two additional semesters after that.
Advanced Curriculum
  • Students in the advanced curriculum must earn 34 credits.
  • Advanced curriculum courses:
    11 credits of Field Instruction (722/821/822)
    6 credits of Social Work Practice Methods:
    711 and 811 (Direct Practice)
    713 and 915 (Macro Practice)
    2 credits of practice electives
    6 credits of Social Work Research (951 and 961, substituting for 793 and 794)
    6 credits within selected area of concentration (753/931)
    6 credits of electives (substituting approved doctoral-level courses for MSW-level courses)
Foundation Curriculum
  • Students admitted into the Joint MSW/Ph.D. program who have not earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited social work program within the past 5 years are required to fulfill 22 credits in the professional foundation prior to the advanced curriculum (see below for exemptions).
  • The purpose of the professional foundation is to orient students to the profession and to provide a knowledge, values and skills base in preparation for the advanced curriculum. Coursework in the professional foundation is not included in the 34 advanced curriculum credits required for completion of the MSW degree.
  • Professional foundation courses:
    604 Social Systems and Social Work Practice
    961 Introduction to Statistical Methods (replaces 662 Methods of Social Welfare Research)
    665 Cultural Diversity and Social Work
    705 Individual Behavior and Social Welfare
    708 Social Work Methodology I
    709 Social Work Methodology II
    721 Field Instruction I
    750 Social Welfare Policy Development and Implementation
  • Students who have, within the five years preceding admission, completed coursework that substantially duplicates 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 (721) may be permitted under special employment experience circumstances and only by permission of the director of field programs. 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.
Program Overview
  • Objectives of the curriculum within each of the above areas of specialization include:
  • providing opportunities for advanced scholarship and research in social work, including partnerships with the wider community;
  • preparing scholars who demonstrate knowledge, skills, values, and ethics of the profession and who are able to serve as future leaders in social work academic and research settings;
  • preparing scholars competent in the development and advancement of knowledge in these disciplines, with particular emphasis on social work intervention as broadly defined.
  • Outcomes and competencies expected of doctoral graduates, regardless of specialization, include:
  • knowledge of theories underlying intervention approaches used in the student’s discipline;
  • ability to critically analyze theories and knowledge development related to a specific content area;
  • understanding of how knowledge currently is and has historically been developed, disseminated, and applied in each discipline and in relation to specific content areas;
  • familiarity with relevant policies, their rationale, and their implications for practice;
  • capacity to design and conduct intervention research appropriate to the student’s area of interest, including the capacity to participate effectively in knowledge-building and in applying that knowledge to the development of effective interventions, programs, or policies;
  • capacity to develop, utilize, and disseminate quantitative, qualitative, mixed, epidemiological, and instrumentation research methods and statistical analysis with relevance to discipline-specific research;
  • furthering the knowledge base of the discipline by conducting research that addresses questions of direct practical relevance and questions involving broad theoretical issues, etiological and epidemiological concerns, and large-scale social policy;
  • knowledge, values, ethics, and skills essential to teaching and the preparation of future professionals, in addition to those relating to research, scholarship, and leadership in the social work discipline.
Joint MSW/Ph.D. Course of Study
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 classroom courses:
  • one required foundation course in the philosophy of science (SW 901);
  • four specialization seminars used to address broader themes by presenting them from the perspective of one of the concentrations. These include one seminar in criminal justice and three in social work. The latter include a class covering the life course model taught by faculty in Applied Gerontology (SW 945), a class addressing interventions research taught from within the Health and Behavioral Health concentration (SW 932), and a class on child and family well-being taught from the perspective of the Child and Family Welfare concentration (SW 791). Students must take the seminar in their area of focus, plus two others;
  • six standard classes on research methods and applied statistics, including one quantitative methods class (SW 951), one qualitative methods class (SW 952), at least two in-house statistics classes (SW 961, SW 962), and two additional classes in either advanced statistics or specialized research methods. These last two classes may be taken inside or outside the school;
  • three proseminars that cover specialized content relevant to research and teaching. These are a course in post-secondary teaching methods (GRAD 801) and two courses within the school on research ethics and grant writing (SW 990);
  • two practicum credits (SW 999) used to expand students’ skills in teaching and research. These are taken in connection with their first teaching assistant and research assistant assignments;
  • two electives, usually taken outside the school, in areas that strengthen students’ knowledge in their substantive areas of interest. Examples of courses taken on campus include a seminar on social psychology in the Psychology Department, a program planning course in public health, and a course on social inequality in the Sociology Department. Examples of courses taken through UWM’s cooperative enrollment arrangements with other campuses include a psychopharmacology course at Marquette University and a maternal and child health course at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Preliminary Examination
All students must pass a preliminary examination subsequent to successfully completing all required coursework and prior to being admitted to doctoral candidacy. In consultation with the student’s advisory committee and with the approval of the doctoral program coordinator, one or a combination of the following formats will be required:
  • a paper that consists of three sections: a) critical literature review in a discrete area of study, b) discussion of the relevant theory and its application, and c) description and critique of research methodologies and analytic strategies;
  • an alternative preliminary examination that includes both a written and oral component. The written preliminary examination will be designed to assess the breadth and depth of a student’s knowledge in the core curriculum and area of concentration along with his/her ability to conduct independent research. At least one semester prior to the examination, the student will develop a reading list in consultation with her/his major professor that covers: a) critical literature in a discrete area of study, b) the relevant theory and its application in this area, and c) description and critique of research methodologies and analytic strategies common to the area. Potential examination questions will be submitted by the members of the examining committee and will be based on the sources appearing on the reading list. The final set of examination items will be selected by the chair of the examination committee;
  • regardless of format, the preliminary examination is comprehensive and integrative, reflective of the student’s individual course of study, and requiring independent work beyond the course requirements.
Dissertation Examination
  • 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.
  • Dissertation:
  • Students who have successfully completed the qualifying exercise and 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 criminal justice or 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.
  • For additional information on Graduate School Ph.D. requirements, see the Ph.D. section of the Graduate Faculty and Student Handbook.
Contact Us


Class Schedule