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The PhD in Social Work at the College for Public Health and Social Justice has a strong interdisciplinary and methodological orientation.

This degree provides a strong foundation for an academic career or as a social work research scientist in practice or policy settings. 

Individualized Program 

Building on the foundations of required course work each student can develop a plan of study that is intended to provide an educational experience that our faculty feels meets the intellectual and professional requirements for PhD-trained students. These concentrations consist mainly of elected coursework and participation in mentored research. Students will also complete a dissertation project corresponding with student goals.

Curriculum : 72 credit hours of study

Core Curriculum (18 credit hours): These credit hours are divided between five shared courses and the research area synthesis. In addition, students are required to participate in teaching practicums that lead toward teaching their own course in either SLU's undergraduate or graduate programs in the School of Social Work. Further, there are required professional development workshops that provide students with the opportunity to build their unique professional skills outside of formal coursework or research with their mentor. 

Elective Curriculum (42 credit hours): Some of these credits may be for specific required courses and some may be for courses that are tailored for each student to provide them with the knowledge and
skills needed to achieve their research and professional goals. Students can petition to have up to 24 credit-hours of electives counted toward the 72 hour total from an approved Master of Social Work or closely related master's degree.

Dissertation (12 credit hours): The dissertation develops a strong foundation in the interrelated nature of theory, research, and analysis. The objective for the dissertation is to add new knowledge to a specialization area.

Career Opportunities

The fields of social work, criminal justice and applied behavior analysis within the School of Social Work offers a wide variety of career options for a student pursuing a PhD. Students can work to promote the advancement of their fields in academic settings and the well-being of individuals, communities, non-profits, government agencies or the private sector.

Faculty and Research

Our faculty are internationally recognized as leaders in social work, criminal justice and applied behavior analysis. PhD students have the opportunity to work on projects with faculty members in their research areas. Below are some of the areas in which our faculty have active research agendas:

  • School dropout and prevention
  • Mental health and substance abuse
  • Developmental outcomes and child welfare policy
  • Poverty and financial capability
  • International social work 
  • Problem behavior and intellectual disability 
  • Assessment and treatment of disordered gambling
  • Biosocial approaches in social work and criminology
  • Sentencing and punishment outcomes
  • Disparities in criminology and criminal justice
  • Correctional treatment of offenders
  • Youth violence
  • Crime
  • Deviance
  • Psychopathology over the life-course

Funding Opportunities

All full-time students in the program will be awarded a graduate assistantship for two years that includes a waiver of tuition, stipend of $18,000.00 per year, and health insurance. A total package valued at over $75,000.00. There will be partial scholarships (up to 50% of tuition costs) available for part-time doctoral students.


This program is designed for individuals who already hold a master's degree in social work or closely related field. All applications are considered on an individual basis with a balanced approach.

We expect that each student's research goals fit with those of the faculty. Students are therefore encouraged to familiarize themselves with the research of a faculty member and reach out to that faculty member to serve as a mentor.

Explore the Admissions pages for more information on How to Apply, Financial Aid, and Application Requirements.


  • Online application
  • Official transcripts (master's degree from an accredited college or university required)
  • Test scores - GRE scores may not be more than 5 years old. Applicants with an existing doctoral-level degree do not need to submit GRE scores.
  • Three letters of recommendation (confidential)
  • Resume/CV 
  • Statement of purpose detailing research interests, career goals, and fit with current faculty research (2-3 pages, single space)
  • A writing sample
  • Interview required, must have faculty mentor


All students are required to submit an application, even students currently enrolled in master's programs at SLU. The PhD program only accepts applications for the fall semester. The application deadline is January 15. However, early application is advised

Contact Us:

Kristi Richter, MSW, LCSW
Director of Graduate Admissions
School of Social Work
College for Public Health and Social Justice
Saint Louis University 

Frequently Asked Questions

We seek talented applicants that are committed to a research career in the field of social work, criminology and criminal justice, or applied behavior analysis. All applicants are expected to have a master's degree before entering our program. Preference is given to those with a master of social work or social welfare, but we will also welcome talented applicants with graduate degrees in other disciplines such as criminology and applied behavior analysis.

Q: Does the program begin in the fall semester or can I begin in the spring?
A: We only admit students for the fall semester.

Q: Is the PhD degree in social work a clinical doctorate?
A: No. Our program is not a clinical or practice doctorate. We do not provide clinical training beyond the MSW degree. However, students can conduct clinically relevant or practice/program effectiveness research.

Q: How long does it take to complete the PhD Program?
A: Our goal is to have full-time students graduate in 3-4 years and part-time students in 4-5 years, which is ahead of the national average.

Q: I understand that 72 credit hours are required for the degree. Do any credit hours from my previous Master's degree count towards this total?
A: Yes. Typically, students will receive up to 24 credit hours from their previous Master's degree towards the total of 72. As such, the program requires 36 credit hours of coursework and 12 hours of dissertation credits.

Q: I don't have a Master's degree in social work. Will I be required to take additional courses?
A: Yes. Depending on previous coursework you may have to take up to 12 credit hours from the MSW program. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Can I complete the degree on a part-time basis?
A: Yes, we accept up to 3 highly motivated part-time students each year. Part-time students must register for a minimum of six credit hours per semester.

Q: What funding is available?
A: All full-time students in the program will be awarded a graduate assistantship for two years that includes a waiver of tuition, stipend of $18,000.00 per year, and health insurance. A total package valued at over $75,000.00. There will be partial scholarships (up to 50% of tuition costs) available for part-time doctoral students.

Q: What does the admissions committee look for in an applicant?
A: We look for commitment to a research career. A statement of purpose, 2-3 pages in length, articulating why you wish to pursue a PhD and your research and career goals, a writing sample from a course paper, research report, grant proposal, or publication, strong letters of recommendation from faculty and colleagues, undergraduate and graduate grades, respectable GRE and (for international students) TOEFL scores, and a research match with our faculty. A current resume or CV is also required. Although an interview is not a formal requirement, the director of the program may wish to conduct an interview by phone or in person.

Q: What type of post graduate career services support would be provided in regards to finding employment?
A: Career assistance for doctoral students is generally informal and facilitated by faculty mentors, other students, and networking with other researchers.

Q: How do I identify a faculty mentor?
A: One of the best ways is to begin is view a faculty member's web page, look at their CV's, and read some of their current research using Google Scholar. Reaching out and contacting a faculty member to discuss their research in person or by phone can be helpful.

Q: How do I apply?
A: Applicants will be able to apply and upload their materials electronically.