Program Requirements & Timeline

Three doctoral students



Degree Requirements

Students are required to take a minimum of fifteen courses offered at the Crown Family School and across the University: one on the history of the social work profession, two statistics courses, three additional research methods courses, and nine substantive courses, at least three of which are in other departments or professional schools at the University of Chicago. It is expected that these three courses be in a single discipline or substantive area. 

PhD students are expected to complete coursework by the end of Spring Quarter of their second year. A GPA of 3.0 (equivalent to B) and above is required to progress into the following academic year. A student whose GPA falls below 3.0 in any three consecutive quarters will be withdrawn from the program. 

During the proposal development and dissertation phases of the program, faculty advisors will assign an S (satisfactory) grade to indicate that a student is making satisfactory progress. Receiving a U (unsatisfactory) grade in any quarter signals that a student is not making progress on their proposal or dissertation and is not in good academic standing. When a student receives a U grade, a progress review period will be initiated (see below). If a student receives a U grade in three consecutive quarters for not making progress on their proposal or dissertation, the student will be withdrawn from the program

In each of their first two years in the program, students are expected to spend 11-13 hours per week in research assistantships with Crown Family School faculty members. In those assistantships, students collaborate on faculty research projects. Students select the faculty projects with which they would like to work based on faculty availability. Those decisions should be based on a variety of factors including the substantive topic of the project, the opportunity to develop relationships with faculty and other members of faculty research teams, the opportunity to gain academic publications, and what specific research skills will be learned.

Students must pass a qualifying examination that assesses their understanding of core literatures in two of seven conceptual domains informing their area of scholarship. The process includes a take-home, open-book examination completed during a ten-day period at the end of summer following the second year. 

Students who fail one or two questions will have the opportunity to retake the question(s). The first retake should occur before December 1 of that year, and the second retake before the end of the Winter Quarter of that academic year. If a student does not pass the second retake, they will be withdrawn from the program.

Students are required to complete a dissertation in their area of specialization. Dissertations are expected to pose a question or questions for study that fall broadly within social work or social welfare; have substantive, theoretical, and methodological significance; and have not been satisfactorily resolved by existing knowledge. For a dissertation topic to be acceptable, there should be a reasonable expectation that the proposed investigation can be satisfactorily completed. 

Beginning in the second year, the student should discuss dissertation interests with several faculty members. Through this process, the student locates a tenure-track Crown Family School faculty member – the dissertation chair – who agrees to work with the student on the development of the dissertation. The student should also select two other members for the dissertation committee. One of these must be a member of the Crown Family School tenure-track faculty, and the other must be an external member. The external member must have a doctoral and hold a formal academic appointment in another department at the University of Chicago or at another university. 

With the guidance of the dissertation chair and committee, a student will develop a proposal for review and approval. A proposal should contain a well-developed plan for the research. A substantial portion of the document should be devoted to the elucidation of the research plan. Although the Crown Family School does not have a page limit for proposals, the document should normally be no longer than 25-30 pages and should include the following points: a general statement of purpose, substantive discussion of the significance of the study, a summary of the state of relevant knowledge, the questions to be posed, and the clear plan of research.

Students are expected to have defended their dissertation proposal and reach the candidacy stage before the beginning of their fourth year in the program. To become a candidate, the student must complete any minor or major revisions following the hearing and receive approval from the chair (for minor revisions) or full committee (for major revisions). If a student has not scheduled a hearing and reached the candidacy stage by the end of the Autumn Quarter of their fourth year, the student and dissertation chair need to submit a petition to the Committee on Doctoral Studies for an extension to hold the hearing in the Winter (or, at a limited basis, the Spring) Quarter, explaining their progress on the proposal, the reason an extension is required, and a timeline for completing the proposal. A draft of the proposal should be attached. Students should also request that letters of support be submitted by their two Crown Family School committee members via email to the Doctoral Program Director. Students who do not reach the candidacy stage by the end of the Spring Quarter of their fourth year will be withdrawn from the program. AM/Ph.D. joint degree students have an extra year to schedule the proposal hearing and become candidates.

Each student will complete three mentored teaching experiences (MTEs). These experiences can take the form of a teaching assistantship (TA) or, in some cases, a student can choose to teach a course independently by serving as a course instructor. Students typically do their first MTE in their third year of the program. All three MTEs must be completed prior to graduation.

Students are expected to complete a pre-dissertation research paper. This paper should be an empirical report, a critical analysis of the literature, or a theoretical piece written while a doctoral student and submitted for publication in a journal or book by the end of the fourth year in the program.

Students are required to successfully complete a dissertation project. As the culmination of the doctoral program, the dissertation thesis reflects the student’s ability to use theoretical knowledge and analytic tools to advance knowledge in a particular area of concern to social work and social welfare scholarship.

Doctoral program leadership will regularly assess student progress. A progress review period can be initiated by a Statement of Concern (in a letter or email) by a student’s advisor, course instructor, Assistant Dean of Students, or Program Director if a student is not meeting milestone requirements. Concerns can be derived from unaddressed incompletes within the designated time, not meeting milestone expectations, serious signs of no progress, disciplinary actions, and/or less than a 3.0 GPA or U grade in a given quarter. When initiated, the plan to remedy the concerns will be co-constructed with the student, their advisor, and the Assistant Dean of Students, which will include a list of agreed-upon expectations (typically culminating in a written product) and a timeline for completion. The Assistant Dean of Students will schedule regular check-in meetings with the student to provide support throughout the progress review period, which is typically the length of an academic quarter. The progress review period can be initiated at any point during the program and can occur more than once.

If the plan during the progress review period is not fulfilled, the student will be placed on academic notice. A review meeting with the advisor, student, Dean of Students, Assistant Dean of Students, and Doctoral Program Director will be scheduled, and a revised completion timeline will be co-developed. The student will be informed in writing what the expectations are for their return to good academic standing, including required expectations and the timeline for completion of those requirements. The student should confirm receipt of the timeline and that they have read and fully understand the terms of the notice. Academic notice is for the length of one academic quarter. An extension of academic notice for another quarter, although rare, may be considered if there are compelling circumstances. In cases where a student is unable to meet expectations as outlined, the student will be withdrawn from the program. Students can be on academic notice one time during the program. If a student becomes eligible for a second period of academic notice, they will be withdrawn.


PhD and AM/PhD students who entered the program prior to Autumn 2023 must complete the degree by the Summer Quarter at the end of their ninth year in the program. For students who begin in Autumn 2023 and beyond, the time for completion is seven years for PhD and eight years for AM/PhD students. 

In general, students take five years to complete all program requirements. The following outlines a suggested plan for progress in the doctoral program. Students in the AM/PhD joint program are provided an extra year to complete all doctoral program requirements.


Requirements First Year Second Year Third Year Fourth Year and Beyond
Coursework Courses to meet degree requirements Courses to meet degree requirements    
Qualifying Exam     Complete the qualifying exam by the beginning of the year  

Research assistantship

Pre-dissertation research paper

Research assistantship

Pre-dissertation research paper

Pre-dissertation research paper Pre-dissertation research paper
Teaching     Mentored Teaching Experience Mentored Teaching Experience

Dissertation Proposal Development (students take the proposal seminar)

Proposal Hearing by the end of the third year 

Dissertation data collection, analysis, writing, and defense


Contact us

Doctoral Program Director

Assistant Dean of Students for the Doctoral Program

UChicago Grad Associate Director, Graduate Student Affairs