PhD Admissions

The application deadline for Fall 2024 admission
to the MSU PhD Program in Social Work is

December 8, 2023

All applicants to Michigan State University graduate programs use the online application system through the University’s Office of Admissions. This interactive system will allow you to send all of your information (with the exception of official transcripts) electronically to MSU. All information submitted via the online application system is secured with SSL encryption. MSU does not accept hard copies of any application materials, with the exception of official transcripts.

The University’s online application system will only allow you to apply for one graduate program at a time. You will need to identify your major preference. Please select Social Work (Doctoral) from the drop-down options.

During the admissions process we will be using e-mail to communicate with you. Please check your e-mail regularly (at least 2-3 times per week).

You are only considered an applicant to the PhD Program in Social Work when we receive all required application materials and your application fee has been paid. It is your responsibility to check the status of your application by logging into your personalized online admissions portal with your applicant ID and password. Early application is strongly encouraged.

All application materials must be received by the application due date in order to be reviewed.

Incomplete applications will not be reviewed. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that their application is complete by the due date.

Applicants will be notified of the outcome of their application via e-mail by April 1, 2024.

Who is Considered for Admission?

You must have an MSW (or be in the process of earning an MSW and have it awarded by the time you enter the PhD program in the fall) in order for your application to be considered.

We invite applications from:

  • Experienced social workers who hold an MSW from an accredited program and show evidence of outstanding academic excellence, professional competence, research aptitude, and demonstrated career interests in social work research and education
  • Recent graduates of MSW programs who, although limited in post-master’s experience, have outstanding academic records and the capacity to conceptualize and research issues that inform social work practice

How to Apply

Step 1 - Applying to the School of Social Work PhD Program

  • Use the online application process for admission to the School of Social Work PhD program from the MSU Office of Admissions. This step initiates your application process by generating an applicant ID. In order for your application to be considered for admission, your application fee must be paid and all required documents must be uploaded to your University application.
  • After starting your application you will receive an email with a unique applicant ID and password. Log into your personalized online admissions portal using the box at the top of that page. Using your personalized portal allows you to check the status of your application and view supporting documents, as well as make changes to your application information.

Please read the following critical information regarding the application process to maneuver through the University's Admission application website

  • You need to submit and pay your application fee, then you will be able to upload your documents using your ID and password.
  • To access a saved application, visit the Office of Admissions application system.
    • Select "Saved Application"
    • Enter your applicant ID and password. This will allow you access to work on your application.

Step 2 - Application Uploads and Items to be Submitted Electronically

When filling out the application, documents that say "required" must be completed and uploaded. There are multiple items that you must upload or have submitted electronically.

Click the links below for more detailed information about what is required and for access to the specific forms:

+Personal Statement
We are interested in gaining a better understanding of your particular research focus, your interest in the PhD program at MSU and any relevant background information. Please write an essay in which you address the following questions:
  • What educational and professional experiences have prepared you for pursuing a PhD? Please focus particular attention on experiences that have involved research.
  • What are your current research interests? How did these interests develop?
  • What are your career goals and how would obtaining a PhD in social work help you realize those goals?
  • What life events or circumstances have influenced your career trajectory? If you have had to overcome any challenges, please address those.
  • Graduate study can be stressful and can take an emotional toll. Tell us how you handle stress and what protective and resilience factors you plan to access or put in place to manage these challenges.
  • What leadership qualities do you possess?
  • The School of Social Work faculty are conducting research in a wide variety of areas: Are there particular faculty members with whom you would like to work? Please explain why you would you would like to work with these faculty members.

You are expected to organize your personal statement into a cohesive essay, rather than a list of discrete answers to the questions posed. In other words, you should use the questions to guide your personal statement but organize it like an essay or paper. The personal statement is a critical part of the application: We will assess your ability to address the questions, as well as your writing skills, research aptitude, and fit with our PhD program. Your statement should be double-spaced, and a maximum of 5 pages long.

The personal statement should be saved and uploaded to your application. Note: we do not require an academic statement, however this cannot be left blank. Please either upload your personal statement again or write a brief statement to upload.

+Curriculum Vitae (CV)
You must submit a current CV or résumé. The CV should be saved as a PDF document and uploaded to your application.
  1. Log in to your account.
  2. Upload your CV under Upload Materials.
+Examples of scholarly work

Applicants are required to submit two (2) examples of scholarly work as part of the application. These may include publications, papers completed when you were a student, research reports, or presentations. Ideally, these examples will highlight your writing ability for the admissions committee.

The two scholarly works should be saved as PDF documents and uploaded to your application.

  1. Log in to your account.
  2. Upload your two examples of scholarly work (there is not a drop-down option yet for this so please select “Certification”).
+Three (3) letters of recommendation

We require three (3) letters of recommendation from people who can evaluate you academically and/or professionally, such as former professors and work/practicum supervisors. Carefully consider letter writers who can specifically describe your skills, abilities, and accomplishments as they relate to the pursuit of doctoral study. Letter writers should be able to discuss your intellectual capacities, your abilities in research and/or teaching, and your potential to advance social work research and academia. Do not use personal or family acquaintances, friends, relatives, therapists, ministers, or religious leaders. Please click here to review the information requested from your recommenders. Once you have identified your recommenders, they will be emailed and asked to electronically submit their letter to us.

PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to accept hard copies of recommendation letters. You must register them in your online application.

+Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores

Submission of GRE scores are optional but will be considered by the admissions committee if submitted. GRE scores are required for some University fellowships; if you are interested in being considered for a University fellowship you must submit your GRE scores. If you submit GRE scores, submit the GRE general examination scores, which will come directly to us via ETS. We will not accept GRE scores that are older than five years. The Michigan State University code is 1465, and the code for Social Work is 5001. The PhD program admissions committee does not have a required minimum GRE score.

+TOEFL, Duolingo English Test, IELTS Indicator, or TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition scores (international applicants only)

International applicants are required to submit TOEFL, Duolingo English Test, IELTS Indicator, or TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition scores, which will be sent to us via ETS. The Michigan State University code is 1465.

For regular admission, MSU requires a minimum average score of 80, with no sub-score below 19 for reading, listening, and speaking, or below 22 for writing (these scores are for the Internet-based test). If you score below these minimum levels on any of the sub-scores, you may still be admitted, but your admission will be provisional.

Provisional admission means that you will be required to take the MSU English Language Test upon arrival at MSU; based on the results of this test, you may be required to take English language courses at the start of your PhD program, as well as fulfilling all of the requirements for the PhD in social work.

While these are the University requirements related to TOEFL, Duolingo English Test, IELTS Indicator, or TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition scores, the PhD admissions committee may impose additional criteria. Please see this web page for further information.

Step 3 - Submitting Transcripts

+Non-MSU students

Request one (1) official transcript for the purpose of admissions for each and every university/college attended for all previous undergraduate and graduate course work. Unofficial copies of your transcripts will not be accepted. Official transcripts should be mailed to:

Graduate Programs
School of Social Work
655 Auditorium Road Baker Hall Room 239
East Lansing, MI 48824

If your university/college provides official electronic transcripts, these can be emailed to the School of Social WorkThis is only for domestic students. International students should mail them to us.

+Current MSU students/graduates

An applicant who has been or is currently a student at Michigan State University does not need to order official MSU transcripts. We will obtain an applicant's MSU records from the Registrar's Office. For any other undergraduate or graduate program that you have attended, you will, need to submit one official transcript to:

Graduate Programs
School of Social Work
655 Auditorium Road
Baker Hall Room 239
East Lansing, MI 48824

+Applicants from Chinese Universities

If you are pursuing or have earned degrees from universities in China, the Office of Admissions requires you to submit not only transcripts and graduation certificates from China, but also obtain verification of these documents from the China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Center (CDGDC).  Michigan State University requires these documents in the original language (Chinese) as well as an official English translation. All documents should be sent to:

Graduate Programs
School of Social Work
655 Auditorium Road
Baker Hall Room 239
East Lansing, MI 48824


We have created a checklist to help to ensure all required steps are completed.

Decision Process

Please visit our Decision Process page to learn more about the criteria used in the decision process.

Tuition Calculator

The university provides a tuition calculator to help you estimate the annual costs.