The doctoral program is flexibly structured so that students can pursue a curriculum matched to their individual interests. The curriculum is designed to ensure expertise in social science theory, research methods, and a substantive area of specialization. In consultation with a faculty advisor, each student develops a program of study that includes coursework, a qualifying examination, a pre-dissertation research project, and dissertation research. Doctoral students also have the opportunity to participate collaborate with faculty in their research and to serve as teaching assistants or instructors.

The School offers courses in quantitative and qualitative research methods. In addition, courses explore the theoretical underpinnings of social work scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and levels of analysis, including economic and political processes, human service organizations, social structures and social inequality, communities, culture, life course development, and individual psychological change processes. As an integral part of a major research university, the doctoral program at SSA enjoys full access to a rich array of course offerings within the University of Chicago. SSA students take courses in such departments as Sociology, Human Development, Anthropology, Economics, and Political Science, and in the professional schools of Business, Medicine, Law, and Public Policy Studies. The Traveling Scholar Program enables doctoral-level students to take advantage of educational opportunities at other Big Ten Academic Alliance universities without change in registration or increase in tuition.

The doctoral program at SSA is for people who want to have a career in social work research. Although many of our students conduct research on clinical practice and interventions, we do not offer a DSW or provide specific clinical training for practitioners beyond the master's level.