Doctoral Program in Social Work (Ph.D.)

Our Ph.D. program in social work is nationally renowned. The country's first Ph.D. degree in social work was awarded at Bryn Mawr College in 1920. Today we continue to value innovation and creativity to help our students become leading researchers, teachers, and scholar-practitioners. Our Ph.D. students—like our faculty—come to Bryn Mawr from throughout the U.S. and internationally to join in our deep commitment to scholarship and our field. Graduates of the program are extremely well situated to pursue academic positions throughout the country and abroad, and indeed our alumni can be found in many key positions of leadership. 

The centering of faculty-student relationships has been core to our Ph.D. program’s success for almost a century. A distinctive feature of our Ph.D. program is our small size—typically enrolling cohorts of just three or four students per year. Our size allows for a close-knit and productive community of scholars. Our ratio of Ph.D. students at all stages in the program to tenured and tenure-track faculty is less than 2:1, and class sizes are typically 7. We find that this model allows for students to engage and learn more deeply, as individuals, as a cohort, and in close collaboration with faculty.

At the same time, to support our focus on interdisciplinary social work scholarship within a broader liberal arts tradition, students also have access to a wealth of resources beyond GSSWSR. Ph.D. students often connect with faculty throughout Bryn Mawr College for special projects and innovative research across traditional disciplinary lines. Students can also take electives to pursue additional areas of focus within the college of arts and sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as at Haverford and Swarthmore colleges. 

Our faculty have a wide variety of research interests. Our two primary areas of focus for research and teaching at GSSWSR are “Health and Mental Health Across the Lifespan” and “Children, Families and Society.” The school’s traditional strengths in clinical practice and social theory and research help to foster a generative community that values innovative conceptualizations that reach across traditional silos to better address the central problems we face as a field.  

A Few Distinctive Strengths of our Ph.D. Program

  • Consistent with our model, all Ph.D. students are funded equally, and do not compete for basic financial support during coursework. We support all Ph.D. students to engage deeply in doctoral training with full tuition waivers and substantial stipends to offset costs of living.
  • We discourage competition among students and instead aim to facilitate a collaborative and supportive community of scholars.
  • Our small cohorts each year enable a close-knit, vibrant, and productive community of scholars where students often collaborate closely with each other and faculty. In addition to teaching, students and faculty meet frequently to workshop new projects and discuss dilemmas in teaching. For example, Ph.D. students and faculty from throughout GSSWSR meet regularly in our “Inclusive Teaching Consultation Group” to discuss teaching and learning about oppression, marginalization, and inequity in our classrooms across the Master’s program.  
  • Our Ph.D. program places value in qualitative inquiry, quantitative analysis, mixed method designs, and theoretical conceptualization. Our students have been awarded Fulbright and Woodrow Wilson Fellowships, fellowships from foreign governments, and funding from the Council on Social Work Education.
  • As a social work school within a liberal arts college, we take interdisciplinary inquiry and teaching seriously, and Ph.D. students are vital members of the Bryn Mawr College and GSSWSR scholarly and teaching communities.

Our admissions page contains more information about applying to the Ph.D. program. Please be in touch with the Program Director, Cindy Sousa, Ph.D. (, or other members of our faculty, if we can answer any questions during the application process.

Ph.D. Operating Procedures (If you have trouble accessing this document, please contact Sue Edgerton at

Roles and Responsibilities

Cindy Sousa
Ph.D. Program Director