Ph.D. in Education - Social Foundations

The Ph.D. program in Social Foundations of Education offers an interdisciplinary course of study that explores the interrelationship between education, schooling, and society. This is a research-based, full-time program that is offered in Charlottesville only.

The task of Social Foundations is to examine issues that reach beyond the given roles and goals of educational specialists and practitioners. In this context, education and schooling are viewed broadly and critically within social, cultural, and intellectual currents both in the U.S. and abroad.

While Social Foundations in the School of Education and Human Development embraces traditional disciplinary approaches in analyzing and interpreting education, it also vigorously promotes an interdisciplinary approach, utilizing a variety of research methods to explore complex questions and issues in education. Social Foundations provides a synergistic and flexible curriculum that exposes students to sociological, anthropological, and historical approaches to understanding and researching education and schooling. Social Foundations seeks not only to educate and mentor students to become good academics, but also to provide students with theoretical understandings that will enable them to become scholars and intellectuals.

Doctoral-level training in Social Foundations prepares individuals for positions in universities and colleges, think tanks, policy agencies, schools and school systems, educational research agencies, and other professional entities. Opportunities also exist for graduates to work in various governmental agencies, both domestic and international.

Program Details

  • Prerequisites and Admission Requirements

    The GRE is required for applicants applying to begin in 2023.

    Admission to the Social Foundations Ph.D. program requires a master’s degree in education, the humanities, or the social sciences. Exceptions may be made for students who have master’s degrees from other fields of study. You must solicit two recommendations through the online application.  Be sure to request these early, so you meet the application deadline.

    By December 1, be sure to:

    • submit unofficial GREs,
    • upload unofficial transcripts, a letter of intent, and a writing sample to the online application, and
    • submit your application.

    Applicants may submit unofficial test scores and transcripts with their application. However, official test scores (taken with 5 years) and official transcripts showing degree conferral are required prior to matriculation.

    Applicants are responsible for ensuring that all required materials are submitted by the deadline. Incomplete applications will not be read and may be cancelled if left incomplete. Materials should be tracked using the checklist in the application.

  • Application Due Date

    December 1

    Decisions will be released by February 15th.

    Applicants are responsible for ensuring that all required materials are submitted by the deadline. Incomplete applications will not be read and may be cancelled if left incomplete. Materials should be tracked using the checklist in the application.

  • Degree Requirements

    Students must complete 72 credits beyond the Bachelor’s degree in accordance with program requirements and in consultation with their advisor. Students may transfer up to 24 hours from their master’s degree into the Social Foundations Ph.D. program. 

    Coursework will include Introduction to Social Foundations of Education (3 credits) and nine (9) additional credits chosen from the Social Foundations Core (see core list). Students will also complete a total of twenty-seven (27) credit hours. Students must choose eighteen (18) hours from one area of concentration and nine (9) hours from the other area. 

    In addition, students must complete twelve (12) research methods credits, at least three (3) of which must be in quantitative research methods. Students must also complete six (6) credits in the form of independent studies or supervised research and nine (9) credits outside the School of Education and Human Development in a relevant area of scholarship. At least six (6) credits of dissertation work must be completed.


    Students will be assigned a faculty member in their field of specialization to act as their advisor as they begin work and proceed toward completion of the degree requirements. The advisor will assist the student in creating a program of study and developing a set of research experiences that possesses the breadth and depth appropriate to the degree. The advisor is also responsible for research mentorship. Students may, without penalty, change advisors by mutual consent of the student and the new advisor.

    Residency Requirement

    The residency requirement is three academic years of full-time graduate work. With the approval of the School of Education, up to one of these years may be undertaken at another graduate school, or may be completed at this University on a part-time basis, and up to one year may be spent in dissertation research elsewhere. No degree will be awarded unless the applicant has spent at least two consecutive semesters beyond the master’s degree in full-time study at the University. A student must be continuously enrolled at the University during the fall and spring semesters while working toward the Ph.D. If a student is not taking courses, she/he may still maintain enrollment by paying a non-resident fee through the Office of Admissions of the School of Education and Human Development. Failure to maintain enrollment will require the student to reapply to the program.

    Annual Review of Progress

    Students will document their evolving competencies annually and receive written and oral feedback from their advisor on their annual progress.

    Record of Progress

    The student must complete and keep current his or her official Record of Progress Form. At the conclusion of a student’s program of studies, this document must be submitted to the Office of Admissions and Student Affairs (106 Bavaro Hall). 

    Doctoral Advisory Program Committee

    Once a student has been formally admitted to the Social Foundations program, and certainly by the end of the first year of study, he or she should request from the advisor the appointment of a doctoral advisory program committee (forms may be obtained from the Office of Admissions and Student Services). The committee must include the student’s advisor along with three other members, some of whom may be outside the program area, department, or the School of Education and Human Development altogether. Members of the program committee will oversee the student’s progress in completing coursework and serve as readers for the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam. The advisor, program coordinator, and the associate dean must approve any changes in the composition of this advisory committee.

    Program Approval

    A student’s entire program of study must be officially approved by unanimous consent of the doctoral advisory program committee before a dissertation proposal may be presented for consideration. Each doctoral program is designed in accordance with the candidate’s background and professional interests. A typical program consists of substantial work in social foundations, disciplinary studies, and professional education.

    Qualifying Pre-Proposal Comprehensive Exam

    Students generally complete the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam at the conclusion of their required coursework. The exam takes the form of a dissertation pre-proposal consisting of 25 pages. The first section will outline a topic or question for potential exploration in the dissertation; the second section will discuss the literature (including a literature review, annotated bibliography, and or historiography) pertaining to the question; and the third section will discuss the methodological approach. In some circumstances, a student and dissertation chair may request the committee’s permission to use a different pre-proposal structure. The qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam must be orally defended before the doctoral advisory program committee.

    The objective of the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam is to provide a stronger basis for student progress toward dissertation research. In many cases the student will choose to use the pre-proposal as the basis for the dissertation proposal, though this is NOT a requirement. Students are allowed 60 days, after formal agreement with the doctoral advisory program committee, of the questions and topic, to complete the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive.

    Three members, including the advisor, of the student’s doctoral advisory program are required to sit on the student’s committee for the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam. The student will develop his or her research question, literature review, and methodology for the pre-proposal comprehensive and the faculty committee will read the exam and provide written or oral feedback to the student (as necessary) and the student’s primary advisor. The doctoral advisory committee will determine, by majority vote, if the student successfully completed her or his qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam and can move forward in developing a full dissertation proposal.

    Students will normally use feedback from the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive to develop a full dissertation proposal, including oral defense, as required by the School of Education and Human Development. Students are encouraged, but not required, to submit a full dissertation proposal within six months of completing the qualifying pre-proposal comprehensive exam.

    Doctoral Dissertation Committee

    Prior to beginning work on the dissertation proposal, the student must compose a dissertation committee. This committee may or may not be the same as the doctoral advisory program committee that reviewed the qualifying pre-proposal. This committee will oversee the student’s dissertation research and serve as the examining body for the dissertation proposal and defense.

    The committee must have at least four members, one of whom is from outside of the student’s program area and preferably outside of the department or school. It should also include the student’s advisor, who will generally chair the committee, although in rare cases this duty may be shared with another faculty member. The outside member, now termed the “Dean’s representative,” must be approved by the Director of Doctoral Studies. The student, in cooperation with his or her advisor, should compose the committee to be as helpful as possible in the particular area of research being pursued, selecting members with specific content and methodological expertise relevant to the dissertation research. The advisor and the Associate Dean must approve any subsequent changes in the composition of this committee.

    Dissertation Proposal

    The student must prepare a written proposal of dissertation research and defend it orally before his or her dissertation committee. The dissertation committee may be the same as the doctoral advisory program committee, assuming the former included at least one faculty member from outside the department, but it may also be different. The student is responsible for scheduling committee meetings and distributing copies of the proposal at least 14 days before the defense.

    A dissertation proposal must include: (a) an introduction to the area in which the research focuses, including the wider problem that it seeks to address; b) a well integrated review of the literature that is pertinent to the topic and shows the relevance of the particular problem to be researched; (c) clear development of the problem under investigation, showing its place in the wider literature; and (d) a description of the methods to be used to investigate the problem and the usefulness of these methods in gathering and analyzing data to address the problem, so far as this can be known prior to the actual conduct of the study. In some circumstances, a student and dissertation chair may request the committee’s permission to employ a different proposal structure.

    All members of the committee must approve the proposal, and all members must remain on the committee through the final oral defense of the dissertation. Acceptance of the proposal will be verified on the Record of Progress Form by the committee chair after all revisions of the proposal have been approved. A copy of the signed proposal must be attached to the student’s official Doctoral Degree Record of Progress.


    The dissertation requirements for Social Foundations students are the same as those stated in the Graduate Record catalog. Students should consult their advisor concerning the specific style to be used in writing the dissertation.

    Final Defense

    When the dissertation research is completed and an acceptable draft of the dissertation has been provided, an oral defense of the dissertation is held by the doctoral committee. Copies of the dissertation must be distributed to committee members at least 14 days prior to the defense date. The four members of the committee must be present at the defense and all must judge the dissertation to have been successfully defended to be successful.

    Application for Degree

    A formal degree application must be approved by the student’s advisor and submitted to the Office of Admissions and Student Affairs no later than February 1 for May graduation, June 1 for August graduation, and October 1 for December graduation.

  • Funding Opportunities

    Departmental fellowships and assistantships are provided to a select number of applicants each year. Students who apply for assistantships or fellowships before February 1st typically receive priority consideration.  A typical funding package includes (a) a minimum of $18,000 for 9 months in a combination of wages and stipends, (b) tuition and all mandatory fees, and (c) funds to cover student health insurance costs.

    The University also offers a limited number of competitive fellowships for which students enrolled in Ph.D. programs may apply.

    All graduate students at the University may use the service of the Office of Student Financial Service which assists students in obtaining loans to defray part of their educational expenses and in finding part-time employment. Students who have serious financial need and who are not dependents of their parents may qualify for federal work-study. Applications should be made to the Office of Student Financial Services, 918 Emmet Street, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, Phone: (434) 982-6000.

    Although it is not always possible to provide financial aid to all students who apply, the Department has been rather successful in assisting its graduate students, especially those in doctoral programs, in obtaining financial assistance. It is not at all uncommon for students, once here and engaged in University affairs, to learn of opportunities that become available at unexpected times during the year.

  • Typical Length of Study

    Full or Part Time:

    Full time

  • Course Overview

    Core Courses

    EDLF 7601 Social Foundations of Education * (*required for all doctoral students)
    EDLF 7602 History of American Education
    EDLF 7603 Philosophy of Education
    EDLF 7604 Sociology of Education
    EDLF 7605 Anthropology of Education
    EDLF 7606 Schools and Society: Culture and Politics in the Globalization of Western Education
    EDLF 8651 History of Higher Education

    Elective Courses

    EDLF 7607 Asian Education
    EDIS 7400 Problems and Issues in Language, Literacy, and Cultural Studies
    EDLF 7050 Institutional Frameworks of Education Policy
    PPOL 7010 The Changing Context of Public Policy
    EDLF 7060 Theoretical Perspectives on Education Policy
    EDLF 7080 Education Policy Professional Seminar
    EDLF 7100 Contemporary Educational Issues
    EDLF 7602 History of American Education
    EDLF 7702 Women and Education
    EDLF 7810 School Law
    EDLF 8651 History of Higher Education
    EDLF 8655 Politics of Difference  
    EDLF 8662 Politics and Education 
    EDLF 8680 Economics and Education Policy
    EDLF 8700 Seminar: Contemporary Educational Policy Studies
    EDIS 885B Policy Issues in Teaching and Teacher Education

    Research Courses

    EDLF 7300 Foundations of Educational Research
    EDLF 7310 Educational Statistics: Stat I

    EDLF 7404 Qualitative Analysis
    EDLF 8440 Advanced Qualitative Analysis
    EDLF 8300 Experimental Design: Stat II
    EDLF 7403 Survey Design & Instrument Construction
    EDLF 5500 Ethics, Protocols, and Practices of International Research

The information contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The Undergraduate Record and Graduate Record represent the official repository for academic program requirements. These publications may be found at