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Our Lady of the Lake University’s Worden School of Social Work offers an Online PhD in Social Work to prepare students for research, service, and teaching within minority serving institutions. This PhD program is one of the three online PhD programs among the nonprofit universities nationwide. The program is focused on supporting under-represented scholars and students working full-time during their tenure as doctoral students and is ideal for students who have a desire to teach and conduct in-depth research into various facets of social work in tertiary-level academic institutions, and who wish to advance their careers as social work leaders and administrators. Students will finish the program armed with an extensive repertoire of knowledge and theory and the ability to conduct research. 

GADE Membership

Group for the advancement of doctoral education in social workThe Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE) is an organization made up of over 90 social work doctoral programs worldwide. Founded in 1977, GADE's primary purpose is to promote rigor in doctoral education in social work, focusing on preparing scholars, researchers, and educators who function as stewards of the discipline. OLLU’s PhD program has followed the GADE guidelines and maintained GADE membership since its inception in 2019.

Employment Outlook

This program is ideal for students who have a desire to teach and conduct in-depth research into various facets of social work in tertiary-level academic institutions. This program is also a good fit for students who wish to advance their careers as social work leaders and administrators. The program aims to train educators who are especially skilled for employment within minority-serving institutions. 

Students will finish the program armed with an extensive repertoire of knowledge and theory and the ability to conduct research in practice settings. With this background, graduates of the program are in a unique position to contribute to the knowledge base about what interventions are most effective in addressing the needs of diverse populations.

Student Teaching Assistantship

The mission of the PhD program at the Worden School is to prepare scholars for academic appointments in minority serving institutions. An important component of this is expertise in pedagogy. In partnership with the BSW and MSW programs, opportunities are available to serve as a teaching assistant. This allows PhD students  to gain experience in teaching at the university level while under the mentorship of Worden School faculty. The teaching assistantship also offers the student a stipend of $2,500 per course.  

Dissertation and Research

Completion of a dissertation is a major requirement of the program leading to the Doctor of Philosophy degree in social work. The Worden School PhD program at OLLU requires the completion of a satisfactory dissertation in the field of social work. The dissertation is an original piece of scholarly research on a topic that has been jointly agreed upon by the student and her/his dissertation committee members. It is a major undertaking that should reflect the highest standards of scholarship and make a significant contribution to knowledge and practice in the field of social welfare and the profession of social work.  

The dissertation requirement is designed to afford students an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to (1) do competent research in social work, (2) organize materials logically, write clearly, and make sound interpretations and conclusions from the facts presented, and (3) contribute to the field.  

A candidate must present a dissertation demonstrating original and independent investigation and achievement. A dissertation should reflect not only mastery of research techniques but also ability to select an important problem for investigation and to deal with it competently. 

When the dissertation is complete, and the dissertation committee agrees that the candidate is prepared, the final oral dissertation defense will take place. The final oral defense is intended as an opportunity for the student to clarify, elaborate, or justify the procedures used and the findings obtained. Successful oral dissertation defense leads to the conferral of the PhD in social work degree.  

Phd Summer Residence Group

Summer Residency

The PhD program requires students to participate in a one-week summer residency at OLLU’s main campus located in San Antonio, Texas. The classroom environment allows for students to gain the faculty mentoring and socialization into academia needed to thrive as a social work educator. This is also a time for students to bond with peers from their cohort and faculty from the program, visit and learn the history of the campus, and obtain orientation for each academic year.

Program Design

  • 54-credit hours (view course sequence and course description )
  • Four-year program
  • Cohort model (first start beginning during the summer)
  • Fall and spring courses will feature a combination of synchronous and asynchronous class sessions
  • Summer course on issues in Social Work Education and Research is required every summer until the student's proposal defense.  This includes a one-week onsite summer residency at OLLU’s main campus in San Antonio.  Summer Residency fee (includes room and board) is $550. 

Admission Requirements
Deadline: Nov. 8

  • MSW from a CSWE-accredited social work program  
  • Two years of post-MSW practice experience (This requirement will be waived if applicants demonstrate the ability to fulfill this requirement before graduating from the PhD program).  
  • A graduate GPA of at least a 3.0 on a 4-point scale 
  • Three recommendations from academics or professionals, who can attest to the applicant’s potential for doctoral work. It is preferred that the recommendations come from academics when possible.
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV).  
  • A 3-5-page personal statement that includes the following: 
    • Educational background 
    • Interest in the PhD program 
    • Professional experience and approach to social work practice 
    • Areas of research interest 
    • Career plans and how a PhD in social work supports those plans 
  • A writing sample between 10 to 20 pages double spaced (12 point font size). APA formatted on a current social work topic of your choice, or an original, professional, solely authored and documented scholarly writing that demonstrates academic and critical thinking and writing skills. Students are encouraged to use their judgment on what best illustrates the student’s potential for doctoral work and their commitment to social work research.
  • Interview with a PhD committee member
  • Non-refundable application fee.

*To learn more about Carnegie classifications, visit

**To learn more about the Council on Social Work Education, visit .