PhD Program

The LSU School of Social Work believes that doctoral education in Social Work must involve first and foremost a passionate commitment to learning, and a specific commitment to the pursuit of new knowledge that can improve the lives of our client populations. The PhD Program prepares the next generation of social work educators, researchers, administrators, and policy-makers to contribute to the creation of the knowledge base of our profession. 


We prepare students above all else to conduct empirical research targeted at the pressing needs of our client populations and service systems. Social work practitioners must have the highest quality, up-to-date knowledge to strengthen the evidence base of their work, and it is the job of doctoral-trained social workers to provide this. The major educational outcomes for our doctoral students are:

  • To learn about the historical and contemporary contexts of social work research, focusing on the nature of research questions posed and the methods used to address these
  • To learn to critically analyze the quality and merits of social work research in a variety of substantive areas
  • To produce original research relevant to the field of social work, including the framing of research questions, synthesis of the existing relevant literature, the use of appropriate methods to investigate answers to research questions, and the analysis, synthesis, and interpretation of data
  • To translate learning to practice, especially through preparation for teaching beginning social work professionals.

LSU is home to the only independent social work doctoral program in Louisiana. It is an interdisciplinary degree in which students are expected to explore diverse areas and traditions of inquiry and use a variety of research methods, all the while keeping a sharp focus on the need for information to inform social work practice. It is important to note that ours is not an advanced clinical program. The course of study in our doctoral program is completely oriented toward mastering the skills needed to design and conduct empirical social work research. Our students work very closely with faculty mentors, oftentimes directly with them on their on-going research. We have a diverse student body that includes students from several foreign countries and we encourage international applications. 

Our faculty is well-equipped to effectively mentor doctoral student research. Major areas of research and scholarship expertise that our current faculty mentors provide our doctoral students include:

  • Child welfare/child maltreatment
  • Children’s attachments to caregivers
  • Substance use & interventions
  • Juvenile justice
  • School truancy
  • Welfare/family support-related policies
  • The personal and social circumstances of welfare-receiving families
  • Social capital and poverty
  • Vulnerable families
  • High-risk youth
  • Gay and lesbian youth
  • Gerontology
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Behavioral health &  interventions
  • International and comparative social welfare and social development.

It is a good time to pursue a doctoral degree in Social Work. The profession increasingly demands evidence-based knowledge and expertise in research and evaluation. Recently, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work, a national/international consortium of Social Work PhD Program Directors, completed a national study that found that Social Work Programs at virtually all levels in the U.S. face a tremendous shortage of doctoral-trained academicians in the coming years to fill the ranks of the social work programs in our colleges and universities. We need more social workers who are passionate about pursuing the answers to important questions affecting our client populations and eager to take on the challenges to improving social work practice and the well-being of our clients.

Program Overview

Doctoral studies are characterized by three major phases of work: coursework (completion of a minimum of 39 credit hours of coursework); the general exam (an intense period of self-guided study and examination directed by a faculty committee), and the dissertation (the student’s original research, guided by a primary mentor and two other faculty committee members). It is expected that the period of study for the doctoral degree in social work will be three to five years, but not exceeding seven.

Admission Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with typical liberal arts, social sciences, introductory statistics, and human biology courses
  • An acceptable grade-point average in undergraduate course work (as evaluated by the School of Social Work and the Graduate School)
  • A masters degree in social work from a CSWE accredited program or a closely related discipline. Preference will be given to applicants with the MSW. Students without the MSW will be required to enroll in at least 9 hours of social work courses including SW 7004 Human Diversity & Oppression plus two additional electives. Please contact the PhD Director for further information.
  • A GPA in graduate studies of at least 3.00
  • Acceptable scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), traditionally at least 1000 combined on the verbal and quantitative sections (old test) and approximately 297 (new test)
  • Completion of a graduate introductory statistics course with a grade of “B” or better
  • Completion of a graduate introductory research course with a grade of “B” or better
  • Other materials as required in the application instructions

How to Apply

Application to the PhD Program in Social Work for prospective new students consists of two separate applications, an online application to the LSU Graduate School and one to the School of Social Work. Current LSU students submit the School of Social Work application and Request for Change of Department form to the School of Social Work. Applications received before February 1 will receive priority in admissions decisions. Applications received after March 1 will be considered on a space-available basis.

Submit to the School of Social Work:

  • The completed School of Social Work Application for Admission to PhD Program and Request for Change of Department form (for current students only)
  • A completed "Plan of Doctoral Study", a double-spaced, typed, statement of approximately 4-6 pages
  • One official copy of all transcripts in sealed envelopes (all transcripts are required, whether or not credit was earned or is desired);
  • Three letters of reference on forms provided by the School of Social Work
  • One sample of scholarly/professional writing

Submit to the Graduate School:

Complete the LSU Graduate School application



Child & Family Studies Concentration


 PhD Student Handbook




Scott E. Wilks, PhD, LMSW
PhD Program Director
2160 Pleasant Hall