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Admission to the PhD Program

PhD Admission Requirements
PhD Application Process and Timeline
PhD Application Materials and Checklist


Berkeley Social Welfare prefers applicants to doctoral study who hold a master's degree in social work or social welfare, or have comparable preparation in a closely related field, and who show evidence of intellectual and other qualifications essential to successful doctoral study.

In reviewing applications we seek to determine whether the applicant’s particular objectives can be met in our doctoral program at Berkeley.

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the Social Welfare PhD Program, all applicants must:

1) Satisfy the minimum requirements for admission to graduate study at Berkeley.

2) Have a master's degree in social work or social welfare, or comparable preparation in a closely related field.

3) Demonstrate evidence of intellectual and other qualifications essential to successful performance in the doctoral program, including scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and examples of scholarly written work.

4) Demonstrate English language proficiency to do graduate work (i.e., a satisfactory score on the TOEFL exam or other acceptable equivalent evidence) if you are an international applicant from a country or political entity where English is not the official language.

Applicants to doctoral study are evaluated on 1) academic background and preparation as reflected in the undergraduate and graduate GPAs, transcripts, and scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE); 2) research and teaching potential, as reflected in the curriculum vita, examples of scholarly written work, and letters of recommendation; and 3) appropriate fit of research interests and career goals with faculty research areas and PhD program goals.


Admission to the Combined MSW/PHD Program

Berkeley Social Welfare’s MSW-PhD Combined Program option is designed specifically for individuals who possess a strong interest in and exceptional capacity for research and scholarly work and who wish to pursue a continuous program of graduate study leading to the MSW and the PhD degrees. 

Combined Program students pursue a challenging and ambitious course of study that leads to completion of the MSW degree in two years while simultaneously laying a foundation for advanced doctoral study. A minimum of three years of full-time course work and at least one additional year to complete the dissertation are required.

In addition to the requirements for the PhD, combined program students complete the course work and field placements required for the MSW degree in one of the specialized MSW program concentrations. Certain course substitutions are made in the MSW curriculum for Combined MSW/PhD students in order to reduce redundancy of material as they segue into the doctoral portion of the program. For example, students normally substitute PhD statistics and research courses for the MSW research sequence, and may count units from PhD courses and tutorials towards part of the overall units required for the MSW degree.

Admission to the MSW-PhD Combined Program option is highly competitive and restricted to new applicants to graduate study only.  Current MSW students who are interested in pursuing doctoral studies are encouraged to discuss their interests with the chair of the Doctoral Program and other faculty members to possibly prepare for applying to the doctoral program upon completion of the MSW.

Applicants to the Combined MSW/PhD Program are evaluated on the criteria for both the MSW Program and the Doctoral Program.


PhD Application Process

All applicants to graduate study at Berkeley apply directly through the UC Berkeley Graduate Admissions Online Application.

The online application becomes available in early September each year. Berkeley Social Welfare only admits for the fall semester each academic year; no spring or summer admissions are offered.

Application Deadline for Fall 2018 Admission

Friday, December 1, 2017 at 8:59pm PST
The system will log out automatically at 9:00pm PST on Friday, December 1st. No late applications are accepted under any circumstances. All application materials, including transcripts, written statements, letters of recommendations, and resume must be uploaded as PDFs into the online application by the application deadline.

Admissions Decisions and Notification

All applicants to the PhD Program and Combined MSW/PhD Program will be notified of decisions and offers of funding support in early February.


Required Application Materials

Download PhD Application Checklist [PDF]

All application materials, including transcripts, written statements, letters of recommendation, and resume must be uploaded as PDF files into the online application by the application deadline. Paper copies are not accepted. ALL of the following items are required for an application to be considered complete:

  • 1. An electronic Graduate Application for Admission and Fellowships, submitted online with all sections filled out completely.
  • 2. PDF copies of transcripts documenting all college-level work undertaken. Unofficial copies are acceptable for the graduate admissions application, but they must include the full name of the applicant and the name of the academic institution. Official copies will be requested by the Graduate Division for all applicants who are admitted.
  • 3. A written Statement of Purpose:
    A 3-5 page statement describing your aptitude and motivation for doctoral study in social welfare, including your area(s) of specialization and research interest.
  • 4. A written Personal History Statement:
    A 1-3 page essay that describes how your personal background has informed your decision to pursue doctoral study in social welfare. Please include information on how you have overcome barriers to access in higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand barriers faced by others, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups
  • 5. A written Sample of Scholarly Work:
    You may submit published articles, a masterʹs thesis or portion thereof, papers written for graduate courses, or material written in a professional capacity. The writing sample should give evidence of your ability to think critically and analytically; it should not be purely descriptive. 
  • 6. A current copy of your Resume/CV:
    You may format your resume/ CV in any way that you wish. Please include contact information, your educational background, and any relevant work and/or volunteer experience. You may also consider including any relevant research and/or teaching experience.
  • 7. Field of Study and Faculty Preference:
    Applicants will be asked to provide a short description of their intended field of study, as well as an explanation for their first and second choices for faculty advisors.

Applicants may choose advisors from the following list of faculty members:

Adrian Aguilera
Julian Chow
Jill Duerr-Berrick
Jeff Edleson
Neil Gilbert
Anu Gomez
Erin Kerrison
Kurt Organista
Steve Segal
Valerie Shapiro

Jennifer Skeem
Paul Sterzing
Susan Stone

  • 8. THREE Letters of Recommendation, including two academic and one professional, must be submitted to your online application file by the application deadline.
  • 9. GRE/TOEFL Scores:
    Applicants to the PhD Program are required to take the GRE. We do no require any GRE Subject Exams.  Acceptable GRE scores are from tests taken between December 1, 2012 and November 17, 2017. There is no minimum GRE score required.  International applicants from countries in which the official language is not English and who do not meet the TOEFL exemption qualifications must also take the TOEFL exam. Acceptable TOEFL scores are from tests taken between June 1, 2016 and November 17, 2017. GRE and TOEFL tests taken after November 17, 2017, will not be valid for admission into the 2018-19 academic year. For the TOEFL, a minimum score of 90 is required.  All test scores should be sent immediately to UC Berkeley Grad Division (Institution Code 4833); they do not need to be sent to the School of Social Welfare.  All test scores must be received by the application deadline: December 1, 2017.

Download PhD Application Checklist [PDF]