The Catholic University of America

Ph. D. Program: Professional MSW social workers considering doctoral program education are invited to contact Dr. Joseph Shields, Ph.D. Program Chair, to discuss their questions or schedule an appointment at 202-319-5474 or


Graduate Information: Doctoral

Admission to the doctoral program requires the applicant to hold an M.S.W. degree from an accredited school of social work and to have completed a minimum of one year of successful professional practice subsequent to the attainment of the master's degree. The M.S.W. prerequisite is based on the assumption that acquisition of the core knowledge, values and skills of the profession and professional socialization are accomplished during M.S.W. study. The practice requirement is based on the assumption that mastery of social work practice provides a common set of experiences basic to producing scholarship and research in social work. Occasional exceptions may be made for applicants with an advanced degree in a related field and who have extensive subsequent practice or research experience. M.S.W. graduates without subsequent practice experience who wish to proceed directly from a master's to a doctoral program will be considered if they have demonstrated exceptional performance during their M.S.W. program and have the written endorsement of their M.S.W. chair for immediate doctoral study. Admission is selective and determined by the quality of the total application.

Admission is selective. NCSSS seeks to enroll those who will be successful in all aspects of the Ph.D. program and competent as future social work scholars, researchers or educators. Application portfolios are reviewed against the following criteria:

1. Evidence of the applicant's readiness for doctoral study including:

a. capacity for critical and analytical thinking;

b. ability to understand and apply a broad range of conceptual frameworks such as philosophy, sociology and practice theory; and

c. facility for strong, clear, cogent and concise critical and analytical writing. These capacities may be demonstrated in previous academic work, especially that of the M.S.W. program, test scores and writing samples such as scholarly works, monographs and agency manuals.

2. Evidence of personal qualifications indicative of a high level of motivation and capacity for independent study and reflective of a strong identification with the social work profession, its values and standards. Evidence of these qualities may be demonstrated in previous volunteer and employed work experience, the purpose statement or the views of those providing recommendations.

Applications are accepted for full-time or part-time status for fall semester and for part-time status only for spring semester.

Nondegree Enrollment

With the permission of the program chair, nondegree-seeking students may enroll in a maximum of nine credits in NCSSS courses, taking no more than one course per semester. Applicants must submit a completed university application form, official transcripts, and a nonrefundable application fee. Enrollment in courses as a nondegree seeking student does not guarantee admission to the Ph.D. program. Course offerings for nondegree-seeking students are limited and are offered on a space-available basis after registration for enrolled degree seeking students is completed.

Application Process

Application to the Ph.D degree program consists of the deveopment of a complete portfolio utilizing the guidelines available online from The Catholic University of America Office of Graduate Admissions.  The application portfolio consists of the following:

1. Completed graduate application accompanied by a $60 nonrefundable application fee.

2. Official transcripts of all graduate and undergraduate academic work.  Please note:  applicants applying   online may submit unofficial copies of transcripts for admission review purposes.  If offered admission, an official transcript hold prohibiting registration will be placed on all student accounts until official transcripts are received.

3. A detailed purpose statement that includes:

a. Professional goals. Reasons for wishing to undertake doctoral studies, which address the relevance of a doctoral education at this school to future professional goals.

b. Areas of interest/concentration. Specific emphasis to be pursued in doctoral study in social work, identifying major professional or scientific interests in the areas of either theory or research.

c. Work experience. Prior work experience both in social work and other fields, with specific emphasis on post-master's professional experiences, evaluating professional experience to date, including the contributions made to your professional development, and the limitations of these experiences.

d. Research Experience. Description and evaluation of  participation in research projects, including a list of any individually or collaboratively written published professional material.

e. Research Agenda. Identification of the area or areas of future interest for research, questions regarding social or psychosocial problems of interest to explore, a plan of study; institutions or agencies with which to partner in future research; and any other research relevant ideas.

4. Three letters of recommendation: At least one of the recommendations should be an academic reference.  If applying online you must click "add" after listing two recommenders to be able to include a third recommender.

5. Results of the Graduate Record Examination taken within the past five years.

6. Resume of all work experience (paid and volunteer).

7. Writing sample of published material or other example of written work that will give evidence of research skills, practice competency, conceptual style and scholarly writing skills.

International Students

NCSSS welcomes qualified international students to its program. In addition to submitting all required items (application fee, transcripts, purpose statement, resume, references, and GRE scores), international students must also submit documentation that shows financial support for tuition and expenses for one year of study.

Applicants for whom English is a second language must demonstrate their proficiency by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Scores for all three components (listening, writing, vocabulary/comprehension) should be sent to NCSSS as part of the application process. The university code for the TOEFL scores is 5104.

International applicants must also complete the Request for Visa Documentation form in the CUA Graduate Admissions Application Packet. For more information on applying as an international student, contact the Office of International Student and Scholar Services at 202-319-5618 or visit its Web site at

International students must arrange to have their transcripts translated and credits and/or degrees certified by the World Education Service (

Application Deadline 

Fall Semester

Feb 1 Ph.D. applications for full-time and part-time status