PhD in Social Work

A Doctoral Degree for Social Change Agents

The Graduate School of Social Work is home to one of the nation’s oldest social work PhD programs, but nothing about it is old-fashioned. We see ourselves as more than social work researchers; we're social justice scholars, educators and policy experts whose work responds to today's most pressing community needs.

There’s never been a better time to embark on a PhD in social work. Social work job opportunities in academia are plentiful, and given the social challenges of the 21st century — challenges such as the growing wealth and achievement gap in the U.S. and the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations worldwide — the need for social work research and scholarship is greater than ever.

6 Cohort size

4-5 Years to complete the program

14% Projected job growth for postsecondary social work educators

Financial Aid

Most students are admitted to our PhD program with a competitive funding package that typically provides four years of financial support.

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    Years 1 & 2 

    In the first two years, PhD students receive a graduate assistantship, which includes a living stipend, 100 percent tuition waiver and a health care subsidy.

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    Year 3

    Students receive a pre-dissertation fellowship, which includes a living stipend. (A tuition waiver is no longer necessary because all classes are completed during the first two years of the program.)

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    Year 4

    Students receive a dissertation fellowship, which includes a living stipend. We also support students in seeking adjunct teaching roles, research assistant roles on funded faculty projects, and external fellowships. 

Offered on our campus in Denver, Colorado, the PhD program is geared toward those who already have an MSW or a master’s degree in a related field and who want to work as a faculty member or researcher in an academic setting. From team-based mentorship to an emphasis on training excellent teachers, several features make our program stand apart:

An Emphasis on Teaching

  • Excellent Mentorship

    One of the best predictors of success in doctoral programs is the strength of the relationship between students and their faculty mentors. The GSSW faculty is passionate about doctoral education, works collaboratively with students to help them succeed in their job search, has strong national networks within the discipline, and supports students in becoming excellent social work scholars.

  • Emphasis on Collaboration

    Whether it is partnerships between faculty and doctoral students, among doctoral students, or with community partners, most GSSW research involves collaboration. When students share common research interests, they work with faculty as teams that support incoming students with multiple mentors, provide opportunities for more advanced students to mentor, and enhance the productivity of doctoral students and faculty.

  • Foundation in Theory

    Although most programs provide a solid foundation in research methodology and statistics, the focus on theory and the philosophy of science can vary significantly. Because we are committed to developing scholars who are solidly grounded in theory, students are required to take a philosophy of science course along with courses in social work theory and theory in their substantive area.

  • Commitment to Social Justice

    Across our academic programs, you’ll find a deep commitment to scholarship that is centered in issues of social justice. We educate students to understand practice, teaching and research in the context of social justice.

  • Community-Based Research

    Most of our faculty members are involved in community-based research, and we have an extensive network of community-based partners — from large health care systems to social service providers to schools and community organizers — that co-create much of our research.

  • Emphasis on Producing Excellent Teachers

    Not all doctoral programs emphasize producing graduates who are excellent teachers, as well as excellent researchers. We require a course on pedagogy and a teaching practicum. GSSW also has a number of faculty members who conduct research on evidence-based teaching and pedagogy.

  • Training in Varied Research Methodologies

    Unlike most doctoral programs, we provide training in a broad array of research methodologies. You will learn and practice quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods research designs as well as analytic techniques. This variety will allow you to select the best research methods for the questions you’re pursuing in your independent research.


Important Links

Recent Doctoral Student Research

“I wanted to find an opportunity where I could pair that passion for social justice with learning how to sharpen my research skills.” 

Stephanie Begun, PhD ’17, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
University of Denver Campus

GSSW researchers are doing a world of good. Want to know more?

GSSW Research Projects

Featured Courses

Advanced Social Welfare Policy Analysis

Applies analytical techniques to development of social welfare policy stressing the ability to formulate a policy hypothesis (i.e., a statement, in testable form, of a basic premise undergirding a policy position) and to reach conclusions based on analysis of empirical evidence related to the policy hypothesis. This course is for SOWK PhD students only.

Seminar in Professional Social Work Issues

Examines the dilemmas and challenges confronting the social work profession and social work education. Examines the nature of professional education, the nature of the profession itself and the forces internal and external to the profession that have an impact upon practice and education. Required.

Jennifer Greenfield

Jennifer Greenfield

Associate Professor & Associate Dean for Doctoral Education

Passionate about educating future social work researchers, Greenfield mentors all doctoral students when they first begin the program and throughout their time at GSSW. Her student-focused approach places students’ individual goals at the center of their learning plans and gradually moves them from learning specific tasks to becoming independent scholars. “At GSSW, our scholars-in-training identify how their strengths can align with programs of scholarship that will maximize their impact in the world,” she says.

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student at a 1 on 1 meeting with professor

Career Opportunities

Do you want to train the next generation of social workers and create solutions to pressing social problems? Unlike most other disciplines, the job outlook for social work faculty positions is robust. As the demand for master’s-level social workers continues to increase, so does the demand for new educators to train them at a time when nearly 25 percent of U.S. social work faculty members are nearing retirement.

Most of our PhD graduates pursue careers as social work faculty members or researchers in university settings. Approximately 25 percent of our graduates work in other settings, such as nonprofit organizations and policy think tanks where they can put their research training to work.


Where our PhD Graduates Work

The GSSW PhD program prepared our graduates for teaching positions at Universities across the U.S.

Living at GSSW

An Inclusive Environment

Heather Kennedy presenting at Truth to Power

Ours is an environment where every voice matters and a culture that welcomes and embraces the rich diversity of our extended community. We stand in solidarity with immigrants, religious groups, people of color, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual violence, members of the LGBTQIA community, and all other communities whose civil rights have been threatened and/or violated. As a school dedicated to the development of future social workers who will embody and represent the values and ethics of social justice, we commit ourselves to understanding our place in the larger context of institutional injustice.

The Denver Difference

Denver skyline

The University of Denver campus is just a short train or bus ride from downtown Denver (all University of Denver students get a free pass!), a city that U.S. News & World Report has named one of the nation’s best places to live. Craft beer, food trucks and art crawls are plentiful, as are urban and mountain parks and recreation opportunities. Denver also is home to a thriving, engaged community of social justice activists. And as one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities with several major universities nearby, Denver has no shortage of job opportunities.

"I’ve had colleagues in other PhD programs in social work across the nation who were not as well prepared as I have been in this program. The school really sets you up for a great experience. It’s very supportive but also extremely rigorous."

Ann Obermann, PhD ’17, Assistant Professor, Metropolitan State University of Denver