Curriculum and Degree Information

The Ph.D. Program in Social Welfare focuses on preparing students as professional scholars who will make a significant contribution to social work research and evaluation. These course of study to complete degree includes required and elective courses, a First and Second examination, and completion of a dissertation. 

For an overview of the requirements of the degree and timing, please view our pathway to degree:

Path to Degree (2022 Cohort)


The current curriculum includes 51 credits beyond the master’s degree of required and elective coursework.

These include eight required courses in the areas of social policy, organizational theory, research methods and analysis, and a year-long dissertation seminar. The program’s research courses provide students with the tools to design and to implement qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods inquiries. Students apply what they have learned by collecting and analyzing data in the qualitative and quantitative components of the curriculum. In the first year, students complete six of the required courses, and in the second year, students complete the remaining required courses. 

In the second year, students also begin taking the seven elective courses. One elective course must be a theory course offered in another social science discipline. Elective courses are chosen under the guidance of the Executive Officer or the student’s mentor.

Each semester, a number of Graduate Center doctoral courses appropriate as electives for Social Welfare students are cross listed with other disciplines. Students may also enroll in other Graduate Center courses offered in Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, Educational Psychology, among others. Students may also elect to meet the requirements for certificate programs offered through The Graduate Center in Women’s Studies, Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, Africana Studies, and Demography, among others.
The Graduate Center is a member of the New York City Interuniversity Doctoral Consortium. Schools in the Consortium include Columbia (GSAS and Teachers College), Fordham (GSAS), The New School for Social Research, NYU (GSAS), Rutgers, SUNY Stony Brook, and Princeton. The student must have completed at least one year of study in the doctoral program and may only register for courses not normally available at The Graduate Center. A student's cross registration must be approved by the appropriate deans at the home and host institutions, and a student must register at both the home and the host institution.

In the third year, students enroll in the Dissertation and Professional Development Seminar. The Dissertation Seminar enables students to focus sharply on preparing for their Second Examination and dissertation proposal through the development of a literature review and a pertinent design/methods discussion.

First and Second Examination

The First Examination must be completed by the end of four semesters.

After the first semester of the Dissertation Seminar, completion of the first exam, and completion of 45 credits, students move to Level 2. 

Students are eligible to take the Second Examination once they have reached Level 2. The Second Examination requires that students develop a substantial conceptual or research paper that demonstrates they are prepared to undertake dissertation research. The Second Examination must be completed by the 10th semester. Once students have completed all 51 credits of required and elective coursework and the Second Examination, the student moves to Level 3 and is admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree. 


During Level 3, the student concentrates entirely on the dissertation project.

All dissertations must focus on developing knowledge in a significant area of social welfare practice, theory, policy, or education. Dissertation research projects may be qualitative, quantitative, or multi-method in approach. All dissertations are expected to meet rigorous standards of research and scholarship. To complete the degree process, the student must complete a final oral defense of their dissertation.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of degree, our students will meet the following learning goals: 

Students develop broad knowledge of the field through required courses. The structure of the program emphasizes theory and research at the micro, macro, and organizational unit of analysis. Equally important, exposure to qualitative and quantitative structures of inquiry offers broad overview research methods. Students develop specialized expertise through access to electives in related disciplines to deepen their relationship to bodies of literature and their thinking associated with emergent inquiry.

Most core courses include written assignments, formal oral presentations, and participation in debates and class discussions. Through community meetings and professional development seminars students to learn about resume development, pathways to publication, interviewing for a teaching positions and employment at professional organizations. Teaching experiences help students refine their oral communication and pedagogical thinking.

We weave professional ethics into various parts of the curriculum. Issues related to the protection of human subjects are discussed in research methodology classes. When preparing Institutional Review Board applications students systematically address the tensions between their inquiry and violation of human subject’s rights. Questions relevant to the uses of technology and emergent ethical questions are also discussed in both our organization theory and method classes.

The program structure strives to enhance our students’ desirability as candidates for academic positions, because their scholarship represents current vexing and complex problems in social welfare. This also leads to a high success rate for publication in peer review journals and conference presentations. In addition, a number of our graduates have published their dissertations as books.