Program Description - PhD in Social Policy and Social Research | School of Behavioral Health | Loma Linda University

Request Information

Program Director: Larry Ortiz, PhD, MSW


The doctoral program extends the distinctive principles of "whole-person care" beyond the individual to include the care of communities and social institutions. Students are provided with an integrative approach to an advanced curriculum in social science, social policy, Christian ethics, and social research. Emphasis is placed on providing students with the theoretical and methodological knowledge and professional skills needed to conduct innovative and interdisciplinary research. Graduates of the program are prepared for advanced administrative and research roles in national and international health and human services, policy development and analysis, and education.

Admission Requirements

Admission to the program is governed by the policies and procedures established by the School of Behavioral Health and the Faculty of Graduate Studies. Admission requirements to the doctoral program include:

  1. Master's degree from an accredited institution of higher education. Examples include such disciplines as social work (MSW), nursing (MS), business (MBA), public health (MPH), education (MEd), and ministry (MDiv);
  2. Evidence of adequate academic preparation in graduate education. This includes a minimum cumulative G.P.A. of 3.0 (4.0 scale) for graduate/postgraduate work;
  3. Strong intellectual abilities, including background in social science and statistics;
  4. Evidence of research and policy interests that are compatible with the specialized emphases supported by the program faculty;
  5. Professional experience and achievement that demonstrates the competence, motivation, organization, and leadership to complete doctoral education in a timely manner;
  6. Personal interview;
  7. Sample of writing in the form of a published article, academic or professional paper prepared for a research purpose, or an essay prepared for admission to the program;
  8. Satisfactory performance on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE); and
  9. Curriculum vitae or other description of education and employment history.

In addition to the above criteria, the application process for the PhD degree in social policy and social research utilizes a pooled application process by which the top candidates meeting the admissions criteria are selected. The number of new candidates admitted each year is also reviewed in light of the total number of students completing the program.

Program of Study

The program is structured around four primary requirements: coursework, comprehensive examination, applied research, and the dissertation.

Program Curriculum

Policy and Research Specialization 

Students admitted to the PhD degree program have demonstrated evidence of policy and research interests that are compatible with the areas of expertise supported by program faculty. Please contact Dr. Ortiz to discuss faculty interests and how such may intersect with student and applicants' interests.

During the first year of study, students further define their interests through advisement. During the second year of study, following the successful completion of a comprehensive examination, students are assigned a research mentor who guides the development of an individualized program of applied research and policy activities. An applied research product is the result of this year-long activity. This applied activity provides the experience needed for beginning the dissertation process.

During the third year of the program, students select a Dissertation Committee chair with whom they work closely to develop and defend a dissertation proposal following University guidelines. During the final year of study, students actively engage in dissertation research, culminating in the successful defense of their dissertation.

Qualifying Examination 

Students must pass a comprehensive examination consisting of three parts. Students are eligible to begin the Comprehensive Exam process once they have completed the foundation course requirements, which is typically at the end of the first year and in the middle of the second year. Foundation course areas examined are: research methodology, research analysis, and social science theory. The examination process is a two-tier process that typically spans two academic years. The first tier consists of two sit-down exams taken on campus, covering the foundation areas of social science theory and statistical analysis. Each of the two exams is two hours in duration. The second tier examination is a paper that students submit to the doctoral faculty, demonstrating their ability to conceptualize and formulate a research question. Ordinarily this paper is the product of Applied/Structured Research I, II, and III classes (SPOL 671, 672, & 673). The paper should be of length and quality acceptable for publication in a refereed journal and submitted to the doctoral faculty for their evaluation.


Students must successfully complete:

  1. required coursework,
  2. the comprehensive examination,
  3. the applied research requirements, and
  4. defense of the dissertation proposal before advancing to candidacy.


The PhD degree candidacy is spent in full-time dissertation research, culminating in the successful defense of the completed dissertation. Dissertation research for PhD degree candidates follows University guidelines. Details regarding these requirements can be obtained from the program coordinator.

Apply Here Questions? Message us!