PhD in Social Welfare

Berkeley Social Welfare’s doctoral program is designed to inspire independence and originality of thought in pursuit of knowledge. We develop scholars who make significant contributions to social work and social welfare teaching, research, policy development and analysis, and administration.

Our doctoral students are trained and equipped with the knowledge of professional practices, policies and programs required to address a wide range of contemporary societal problems. In addition to providing the educational climate conducive to creating innovative research scholars, we also train future educators who can inspire the next generation of social work practitioners and researchers.

Nationally and internationally recognized as leaders in their fields, our pre-eminent faculty conducts cutting-edge research on major issues facing California, the U.S. and the world. Berkeley Social Welfare has more faculty fellows of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare than any other school.

Doctoral Studies in Social Welfare

Social Welfare doctoral students design and pursue an individualized program of work tailored to their intellectual interests, and aligned with specialized research areas of faculty mentors and supervisors from Berkeley Social Welfare, and additional distinguished departments across the Berkeley campus.

Doctoral coursework includes seminars in research methods, statistics, theory and other related areas. Required courses for doctoral students focus primarily on research methodology. In addition, students enroll in elective courses, seminars, and independent tutorials useful for mastering selected fields of study, preparing for the qualifying examination, and developing competence in research methods. For specific degree requirements and descriptions of courses offered, please see the Berkeley Academic Guide to Social Welfare.

Students are also encouraged to select courses from the rich and varied offerings in other University departments. Doctoral students at Berkeley are required to include faculty from outside their major discipline on qualifying and dissertation committees; and Social Welfare PhD students have access to world-class Berkeley faculty in top-ranked programs.

A minimum of three years is necessary to complete the program (two years of full-time course work and one year for the dissertation), although most students require a longer period. In Social Welfare, it is expected that all doctoral students will complete the PhD degree within ten semesters, having taken the Qualifying Exam by the end of the third year and filed the dissertation by the end of the fifth year.

Combined MSW/PhD Degree Program

A Combined MSW/PhD Program option is also available 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.

Admission to the PhD Program

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. Please note that we are pausing doctoral admissions, including our Combined MSW/PhD program, for entry to the 2025-2026 academic year.

For complete admission requirements and application instructions, please visit PhD Admissions.

Tuition, Fees and Financial Aid

Berkeley PhD students pay UC Berkeley Graduate Academic Fees. For current rates please visit the Office of the Registrar's Fee Schedule.

Berkeley Social Welfare offers a competitive funding package for newly admitted doctoral students that will typically include three years of departmental support, plus an additional year of support from the Graduate Division Doctoral Completion Fellowship available upon becoming eligible. Doctoral support packages normally include payment of tuition and fees (including student health insurance), plus an annual allowance for living expense support (currently estimated at $28,000 per academic year), funded through a combination of academic student employment as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) and/or Graduate Student Researcher (GSR), and university or departmental fellowship award(s).

For more information about fees, fellowships and financial support for doctoral students, please see our guide to Financing Your Graduate Degree.