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Frequently Asked Questions

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During the first two years, the PhD program is considered full time. In the third year and beyond, students have greater flexibility in scheduling their coursework, dissertation research, research employment, and classroom teaching. To complete the program most rapidly, some students continue study on a full-time basis. Other students, however, must juggle employment and family responsibilities or wish to gain additional research and teaching experience before they graduate.

The Graduate School requires that students spend a minimum three semesters in full-time study on the University of South Carolina Columbia campus.

Required courses are offered once per academic year, during the daytime, and usually on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Elective courses in the fourth semester and beyond may be scheduled at different times.

The PhD program usually requires a minimum of three years full time study and usually more. Many students require four to five years to complete their courses of study and dissertations.

The MSW program prepares people for advanced social work practice. In contrast, the PhD program prepares people for scholarly careers in social work education and in research related to social work and social welfare. Most PhD graduates go to work in academia while some work as researchers in government agencies, research centers, or private charitable organizations.

The PhD program is designed to train scholars in community-engaged, trans-disciplinary research and social work education. The program does not provide advanced clinical training. 

•    The reading and writing requirements are more extensive and the material more challenging than in a MSW program. Because the required courses constitute only part of the workload and requirements, the PhD program also requires much greater initiative and self-direction on the part of students.

Like other PhD programs, the University of South Carolina College of Social Work PhD Program focuses on preparing scholars as both social work researchers and educators. But the program emphasizes community-engaged research methods and trans-disciplinary perspectives and collaboration. It builds on the community-engaged research activities of the COSW faculty and the trans-disciplinary resources at the University of South Carolina. Read more about the College here.

The PhD program is focused on preparing social work scholars as both researchers and educators, with an emphasis on community-engaged methods and trans-disciplinary perspectives. Each student cohort shares a basic set of required courses during the first three semesters. Subsequently, they take elective courses and training opportunities tailored to their individual dissertation research interests. Read more about the College here.

The program is designed to promote trans-disciplinary scholarship. Where interdisciplinary research takes an integrative approach to work with other disciplines, trans-disciplinary research takes a more holistic approach that includes the natural, social and health sciences, and the humanities. It addresses problems in ways that transcend traditional boundaries.
Toward this end, the program requires that students take theory courses and advanced research courses from other departments on campus. In addition, the program requires that students include a faculty member from outside the College of Social Work on their dissertation committees.  Read more in the PhD Program Manual here.

At the University of South Carolina, there are many opportunities for community-engaged research that cut across disciplines. The College of Social Work includes two research centers—The Center for Child and Family Studies and the Institute for Families in Society—where students can be directly involved in research, technical assistance, and training. The College also includes the I. DeQuincy Newman Institute for Peace and Social Justice, the Community Empowerment Center, SeniorSmart, and the South Carolina Center for Gerontology.


Faculty members and PhD students are involved in collaborative research with colleagues from numerous departments including public health, psychology, business, medicine, sociology, criminal justice, engineering, pharmacy, education, and others. Their external partnerships involve major state and national health and human service systems. And their international affiliations extend to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The program goal is to promote social justice and well-being with innovative research that directly and immediately benefits people and their communities. The required courses include both quantitative and qualitative research methods, with special emphasis on research methods for community-engagement. In addition, students select advanced courses in quantitative or qualitative methods for their dissertation research from other departments. Many students use mixed methods for their dissertation research. Read more about our Research here.

The core curriculum of the PhD program consists of required courses on community-engaged research, intellectual foundations of social welfare and social thought, quantitative and qualitative research methods, college teaching, and leadership for social change. In addition, a professional seminar helps students succeed in PhD study and begin the process of professional socialization. Read more about Curriculum here.

The PhD program is considered full time. During the first two years of the program, students carry a full-time graduate course load (i.e., 10-12 credit hours per semester) and work in paid research assistantships (10-20 hours per week). Subsequently, students take elective courses in preparation for their dissertation research. Read more in the PhD Program Manual here.

Once admitted to the program, each student is assigned a faculty mentor to facilitate their successful transition to the PhD program. In addition, students are encouraged to seek out other faculty members with whom they have shared interests, both inside and outside of the College of Social Work. Many College faculty members are engaged in research projects within the community and welcome students to inquire about these projects.  Learn more about current faculty research interests here.

Most graduates of the PhD program accept positions in colleges and universities as social work professors. Depending on their preferences and abilities, they seek positions in research universities, teaching universities, or liberal arts colleges. Some graduates seek research, policy making or leadership positions in government, research, or charitable organizations.

Admission to the PhD program is highly selective. Only a small number of applicants are admitted each fall semester. Successful applicants have career goals consistent with the program focus. Most successful applicants will have:
•    MSW from a CSWE-accredited program (or, for international students, a comparable social work program);
•    Grade point average of 3.5 or above for previous graduate work;
•    Evidence of scholarly potential as indicated by three letters of reference;
•    A detailed personal statement that explains how the applicant became interested in social work research and education, and that describes any community-engaged work or research experience, interdisciplinary experience, or research-informed practice.
•    Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Miller Analogy Test (MAT) score
•    Writing sample (a published paper, master’s thesis, or major classroom assignment);
•    TOEFL or IELTS score for an international student for whom English is not their first language (see http://www.gradschool.sc.edu/Future/international.htm)

In exceptional cases, the PhD Program Committee will consider for admission applicants without an MSW. Such applicants must have comparable graduate degrees and practice experience.

The deadline for applications is January 15. Files may be submitted earlier. The PhD Committee will begin screening applications and making admissions decisions after January 15.

Post-MSW practice is not required for admission to the PhD program. But doctoral students with practice experience enrich the learning environment and are better prepared to be professional educators. Each cohort is selected to increase the potential that students will learn from each other as well as from the faculty.

The Council of Social Work Education requires that instructors have a minimum of two years practice experience to teach practice courses. For example, someone with two or more years of post-BSW experience would qualify to teach BSW-level practice courses; someone with two or more years of post-MSW experience would qualify to teach MSW-level courses. Without sufficient practice experience, PhD graduates can only teach non-practice courses (e.g., theory, research, policy).

Outside employment is discouraged but not prohibited. Student must enroll full-time (10-12 hours per semester) during the first three semesters in residence and most also have research assistantships.

The PhD Program strives to assure that all PhD students receive research assistantships and some level of tuition assistance. The program offers a range of financial supports for PhD students. During the first two years, while students study fulltime, the program offers the best qualified students full tuition, competitive stipends, and research assistantships. For the third year and beyond, these students typically receive teaching and research assistantships with partial or full tuition.

The university requires all full-time graduate students (enrolled in 9 hours or more), all graduate assistants, and all international students to have health insurance coverage. However, the university does not require a particular provider. In 2013-2014, the cost for USC administered health insurance is $1,452 per year. For more information regarding this requirement please refer to Student Health Services website.

Tuition costs and fees can be found online at the Office of the Bursar.  Cost of living in Columbia is well below the national average. For the academic year (August through May), the university estimates living expenses to be about $12,896 USD (on-campus) or $17,283 USD (off-campus). These amounts include room and board, clothing, textbooks, transportation, entertainment, and food.  Visit the Graduate School website here for more information.

Some students seek to improve their odds of admission by retaking the required standardized exams (GRE or MAT). Especially for students unfamiliar with these exams, a second or third attempt may yield higher scores. Students for whom English is not their native language may also benefit from additional English language instruction at home or at English Programs for Internationals, a program at USC designed for scholars and applicants. Students may also benefit from clearer articulation of their professional goals and research interests, and from identifying faculty members with whom they could work and study.

The deadline for applying to the PhD program is January 15, 2014. However, the Graduate School recommends that applicants set aside enough time—usually about 2-3 weeks—for completing the application process. Although the Graduate School typically processes submitted materials in about 1-2 business days, it can take much longer for issuing parties to gather and submit your supporting documents. NOTE: Do not send any supporting materials until after you’ve submitted a completed application.

Applications must be submitted electronically.

The ApplyWeb system, which you will use to apply to USC, will ask you to provide recommender contact information. Upon submission of your application, the online system will contact your recommenders directly with instructions for submitting their recommendation.

The ApplyWeb system, which you will use to apply to USC, will ask you to provide recommender contact information. Upon submission of your application, the online system will contact your recommenders directly with instructions for submitting their recommendation.
If you are having technical issues that relate to the online application or letters of recommendation system, please contact Collegenet at help@applyweb.com or 503-973-5213.

Only send your transcripts to the Graduate School after submitting your online application. The Graduate School requires applicants for degree programs to submit official transcripts. Official transcripts are sent directly from your institution to the Graduate School or submitted in an envelope sealed by your institution. Opened copies of your transcript are not official.
While applicants are required to submit official transcripts, they may also upload unofficial transcripts with their online application. These unofficial transcripts significantly assist the College in evaluating your application, and may allow for a quicker admission decision.

Electronic transcripts should be sent to: gradapp@mailbox.sc.edu  Paper transcripts should be sent to: The Graduate School, University of South Carolina, 901 Sumter Street, Suite 304, Columbia, South Carolina 29208.

International applicants must provide official documents but SHOULD NOT send the original copies. Instead, send certified copies and/or bring the originals to the Graduate School upon arrival.

The Graduate School requires applicants to submit official test scores directly from the testing service. Copies of test score reports provided to the student are not considered official. Institutional codes for University of South Carolina-Columbia are as follows:
•    GRE - 5818
•    MAT - 1719
•    GMAT - JV2
•    TOEFL - 5818
•    IELTS - Choose from drop down menu (or enter the university’s name and address)
While students are required to provide official test score reports, they may also upload unofficial test score reports to the online application. These unofficial test score reports significantly assist the College in evaluating your application, and may allow for a quicker admission decision.

Checking your application status is the fastest way for you to know what activity is taking place with your application, including your admissions decision. Check to see whether your recommendations, scores, transcripts and other supporting documents have been received. The Graduate School updates records throughout the day as files are received and processed. You can log in as often as you want to check your status.

The $50 application can be paid online by credit card at the time of submitting your application.

Checking your application status is the fastest way for you to know what activity is taking place with your application, including your admissions decision. Check to see whether your recommendations, scores, transcripts and other supporting documents have been received. The Graduate School updates records throughout the day as files are received and processed. You can log in as often as you want to check your status.

PhD students are admitted through a cooperative effort between The Graduate School and the College of Social Work. While The Graduate School sets and ensures high academic standards, the College has significant autonomy in making admissions recommendations. Graduate admission is a two-step process at USC:

  • The College of Social Work will review your Graduate School application and supporting documents. Taken together, the whole of your application should demonstrate adequate preparation for PhD study in social work.
  • Upon recommendation of the College, the Graduate School will review your credentials and make a formal recommendation for your admittance. Official notice of your admission can only come from the Graduate School.

Admission decisions will be made following the January 15th application deadline. Students are admitted in the spring for classes beginning in August.

Submit a request in writing to the PhD Program Coordinator.

The PhD Program strives to assure that all PhD students, including international students, receive research assistantships and some level of tuition assistance. The program offers a range of financial supports for PhD students. During the first two years, while students study fulltime, the program offers the best qualified students full tuition, competitive stipends, and research assistantships. For the third year and beyond, these students typically receive teaching and research assistantships with partial or full tuition. Federal law allows international students to work on campus.

The University requires that international students demonstrate they have adequate resources for graduate study.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit either TOEFL or IELTS scores.

In addition to English examination scores, international applicants must submit:
1.    Financial Resource Requirement.
2.    Application for Immigration.
Learn more about these requirements and the support services offered by the University of South Carolina at the web site for International Student Services.

The Graduate School requires applicants to submit official test scores directly from the testing service. Copies of test score reports provided to the student are not considered official. Institutional codes for University of South Carolina-Columbia are as follows:
•    GRE - 5818
•    MAT - 1719
•    GMAT - JV2
•    TOEFL - 5818
•    IELTS - Choose from drop down menu (or enter the university’s name and address)
While students are required to provide official test score reports, they may also upload unofficial test score reports to the online application. These unofficial test score reports significantly assist the College in evaluating your application, and may allow for a quicker admission decision.

You can apply as early as August or September of each year.

Applications received after the deadline date will be considered on a seat-available basis only.

The Graduate School will consider application fee waivers for Fulbright and McNair Scholars. Please contact the Graduate School at (803)777-4243 for more details.

You do not need an undergraduate degree in social work to be considered for admission. We do have a program specifically designed for those students who have earned a degree in social work (BSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education called the Advanced Standing Program. For those students who have not earned a BSW, you are welcome to apply to our full-time or part-time programs.

If you are interested in the part-time program in either Charleston or Greenville, you will need to submit an application along with all the appropriate admissions documents to the Graduate School. Please see How to Apply.

An autobiographical statement is an essay that gives you the opportunity to provide the admissions committee information about who you are and your motivation for pursuing a career in social work. The autobiographical statement should be equivalent to at least 2-3 doubled-spaced pages typed.

A GPA of at least a 3.0 accumulative overall (based on a 4.0 scale) is highly preferred for general admissions. For applicants who fall below a 3.0 grade point average, an official copy of your GRE scores is required. GRE is not required of those students who have earned a master’s degree.

The GRE is NOT required of applicants who have earned a master’s degree, or meet the preferred GPA requirements. For applicants who do not have a master’s degree, or the preferred GPA requirements, the GRE is required for further consideration. GRE scores from applicants who have taken the GRE prior to the newly revised GRE are accepted if the scores are no more than five years old from the date of application. For more details about the GRE, please visit http://www.ets.org/.

An applicant who wishes to transfer from another MSW program must complete the same admission process and meet the same admission requirements as other degree candidates. A formal written request for transfer must be made at the time of application for admission. If admitted, you must complete the transfer for graduate credit form. To obtain a form, please visithttp://gradschool.sc.edu/DocLibrary/#current. A maximum of 30 semester hours of graduate credit may be transferred from other institutions accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Students requesting a transfer to our program will have their transcripts individually evaluated by the associate dean to assess which hours are transferrable. You will need to provide syllabi when meeting with the associate dean. Please address letters requesting transfer to: The Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University of South Carolina College of Social Work, 135 Thornwell Annex, Columbia, SC 29208

The admissions committee will begin reviewing files in January for summer (Advanced Standing program) and fall admissions (full-time and part-time). Your application will be reviewed once all supplemental documents have been submitted to the graduate school. The response time on all completed applications is approximately 4-6 weeks.

International applicants must also submit an application for graduate admission to the graduate school. To apply, please visit http://www.gradschool.sc.edu/prospective/apply-grad.asp?page=apply . Along with an application for graduate admission, international students may be required to submit the following: TOEFL or IELTS scores for applicants whose primary language is something other than English. An applicant whose native language is not English is required to submit a satisfactory score on the TOEFL or the IELTS Intl. Academic Course Type 2 exam. The minimum acceptable score on the TOEFL is 80 Internet-based, or 570 paper-based, but some programs have set higher standards. The minimum acceptable overall band score on the IELTS Intl. Academic Course Type 2 exam is 6.5.

For testing information contact:
Test of English as a Foreign Language
Educational Testing Service
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
www.toefl.org

IELTS International
100 East Corson Street, Suite 200
Pasadena, CA 91103, USA
www.ielts.org

We encourage prospective students to visit the College of Social Work. Prospective students can attend open house events, virtual sessions, or group sessions, which are held during the fall and spring of each year. Please continue to visit www.cosw.sc.edu website for details about information sessions and open house events. The college can also arrange an individualized visit for prospective students, which includes a campus tour and a meeting with the recruiter or admissions coordinator. Please contact the recruiting office at 803.777.3702 to schedule an individual appointment.

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