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Tips for Writing a Strong Joint PhD Program Application

The purpose of this document is to provide the applicant to the University of Michigan’s Joint PhD Program in Social Work and Social Science tips for writing a strong application. This document also provides some insight into the priorities of the program: a commitment to training social work scholars who have a deep knowledge of social justice issues and the social work profession, and who are committed to serving vulnerable populations with a passion for improving/changing conditions through intervention research. 

Social Work Scholars

Your application should demonstrate why you want to be a social work scholar with a burning commitment to serve vulnerable populations. The University of Michigan is a research school and the School of Social Work seeks to prepare students to take on, primarily, research jobs in academia. Additionally, while we offer a joint program, we are training students to be social workers and to impact the social work field. This does not mean that everyone will end up going into social work or that they all will take an academic job. However, the goal of the program is to train social work scholars with advanced skills in a social science discipline for the purpose of impacting the social work field and the populations it serves.

Social Worker Scholars are Passionate about the Research They Do

Perhaps, the most important thing an applicant can do is to demonstrate that they have real passion for studying the area of research they have identified and to improve a populations’ life through intervention research. The applicant should demonstrate this passion through personal experience, through education, work, and volunteering activities. That is, the School doesn’t just want you to say you have passion for an area of research but demonstrate how you have lived this passion in your life. The School also wants to know something about who you are, what drove you to become a social work scholar, what gave you the passion you have for studying what you want to study, the passion for the population you are interested in.

We are a Joint Program

The University of Michigan’s School of Social Work is a unique program in that it is a joint program. So, students get a degree in Social Work and one of five other social sciences: Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, or Economics. Therefore, applicants must get familiar with the requirements of not only Social Work but of the Social Science discipline they choose. The best source of information for the admission requirements of the other Social Science is the Social Science itself. We encourage applicants to contact them early in the process. Further, the applicant must identify why they want to apply to the joint program, why it is a good fit and will better prepare them for studying their area of research, and why Social Work and the Social Science complement each other. It also means that they must identify faculty that are doing research in the area they want to study in the Social Science of interest and identify them in the statement and why their work is a good fit.

Good Mentoring Requires a Good Faculty/Student Fit

The key to having a successful PhD experience, in most cases, is having a good mentoring experience. Part of having a good mentoring experience is finding fit with the faculty in the Joint Program. Therefore, we would like to know about who on the faculty both in Social work and in your Social Science you want to work with and how they might be a good fit with your area of interest and plans for the future. A good application will integrate into your discussion the issues you wish to research, how a faculty’s work fits with what you want to study, and how you envision working with them.

Recommendations and Prior Experience

The School also pays attention to your recommendations and prior experience. Evidence of research experience is a strong indicator of your interest in, and ability for doing research. Recommendations can help provide evidence of your research capacity. The better recommendations from people who can directly speak to the applicant’s ability to do high quality research. This means, they have actively worked with the applicant on a research project, in the classroom, or other domain and therefore can provide concrete examples of the applicant’s capacity for research. Recommendations can also speak to the applicant’s passion and experience for becoming to a social work scholar. 

Research Methodology Skillsets

One concern at the PhD level is whether a prospective student will be able to fulfill the statistical and qualitative research requirements at the PhD level. So, a strong application will demonstrate the ability of the prospective student to successfully complete both requirements. Completion of PhD level classes in both these areas would be the clearest indication of your ability to complete the requirements. However, your research experience, master’s level classes in both areas, and recommendations are also other ways the applicant can demonstrate their capacity for fulfilling the statistical and qualitative research requirements of the Joint Program. This is another area the applicant should become very familiar with the requirements of their Social Science discipline of choice because the requirements for statistical and qualitative research can vary significantly between disciplines.  

GRE Scores

Another way to demonstrate a capacity for doing PhD level research is through the GRE score. You should take the GRE early because you can take it multiple times. Nevertheless, a high score will not be definitive of your capacity, but it is one indicator that is considered and can help your application. However, it is important to highlight, the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work does not have a minimum score for being accepted. Students with varying scores (e.g., low or high) can be accepted depending on the strength of the overall application.

None of these (i.e., PhD level stats class, research experience, or strong GRE) are mandatory for being accepted into the Joint Doctoral Program at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work but will help determine if your application is a strong application and make it stand out.

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Joint PhD Program

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