ucla phd in social work

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

Our doctoral curriculum is highly interdisciplinary, with the intent of producing graduates who are capable of original research and passionate about advancing the profession’s knowledge base. Course work and independent study opportunities within the school and across the university offer intellectual grounding in:

  • Comparative social science theories
  • Advanced research methods and statistics
  • Global issues
  • Policy analysis and advocacy
  • 21st century challenges

The school gives special emphasis to evidence-based approaches and translational science. Our doctoral students regularly collaborate on faculty research projects in addition to pursuing their own funded research.

he PhD program requires a minimum of 45 units beyond the master’s degree (exclusive of SOWK 794 Doctoral Dissertation units) and successful completion of written and oral qualifying exams and the doctoral dissertation. Students must complete all required coursework by the end of the second year in their doctoral studies.

Individualized Course of Study

Students prepare an Individualized Course Study Plan (ISP) with their faculty mentor in the spring of the first year that is approved by the doctoral committee. It details classes and tutorials that each student will take during the second year of the program.


All doctoral students must teach for two semesters before they graduate. Requirements may be fulfilled by co-teaching, teaching as an assistant or solo teaching. Before beginning these experiences, students must take a teaching course approved by the doctoral committee. International students must meet the English proficiency standards set forth by the American Language Institute and participate, if necessary, in specialized training offered through the Center for Excellence in Teaching.

Qualifying Examination

As a prerequisite to candidacy for the PhD degree, students must pass a qualifying examination in their research area, which comprises a written paper of publishable quality and includes an oral defense. To become eligible to take the exam, students must complete all core courses, at least six units of SOWK 790 tutorials and at least 32 units of course work in the doctoral program, with a minimum grade point average of 3.0. After passing the qualifying exam, students will be advanced to candidacy.


Before proceeding with the dissertation, students must establish a dissertation committee approved by the Graduate School and submit a dissertation proposal for approval. Students submit their completed dissertation to their dissertation committee and orally defend it.

Course Requirements

The doctoral curriculum is designed to produce social work scholars with a mastery of core competencies essential for contributing original research that advances the profession’s knowledge base. Course work and independent study within and outside the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work provide students with an intellectual grounding in policy advocacy, analysis of policy and practice issues, global issues, interdisciplinary research, advanced research methods and statistics and comparative social science theories.

Core Substantive Courses*

702 Theories of Human Behavior in the Contexts of Social Environments
703 Explanatory Theories for Larger Social Systems
733 Policy Analysis and Advocacy in a Comparative Social Policy Context
743 Theories for Practice with Small Systems
744 Theories for Practice with Large Systems

* Students must complete four of the above core substantive courses. Students with a macro focus must take 702 and/or 743, and those with a micro focus must take at the minimum two of the following: 703, 733 and/or 744. Students must also take at least one 3-unit elective either in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work or elsewhere in the university.

Core Research/Statistics Courses**

760L Introduction to Social Work Statistics
761L Multiple Regression in Social Work Research
762 Social Work Research Methods I
763 Social Work Research Methods II: Issues in Research for Social Work Practice
764 Advanced Multivariate Statistics

**Plus, students must take an additional 3-unit elective in statistics or research either in the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work or elsewhere in the university.

Courses within the University***

Students must take at least three courses in other departments or schools within the university. At least eight of these 12 units must be in courses with a substantive rather than a research methodology or statistic focus.

***Each student must develop a concentration in another discipline outside the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work such as gerontology, sociology; psychology; preventive medicine; business; policy, planning and development; or political science.

Social Work Tutorials (790)

Students fulfill the requirements for their individualized course of study through a combination of at least three (2-unit) directed tutorials (SOWK 790) under the mentorship of a social work faculty member. Tutorials provide greater understanding of a student’s chosen specialty through closer examination of relevant practice theories, explanatory theories and research methodologies. The tutorials are substantive and have a purpose beyond preparation related to the student’s qualifying exam. All tutorials must be of publishable quality in order to receive credit.

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