The Master of Social Work is very similar across the United States if the program has accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Having this designation means that the program has met the curriculum requirements set by the organization and the Master’s degree will have the academic needs to prepare students to become licensed professionals in the state they reside in.
Flexible, with online, full time, or part time options
A Master’s degree in social work is very flexible, catering to students that can be enrolled in a full-time or part-time basis depending on other obligations. A prior academic background in social work is not necessary to enter an MSW program, but some work or volunteer experience in the field is recommended. Those with a Bachelor’s degree in social work may qualify for advanced standing.
There are foundational and specialization or elective courses
The full MSW program consists of two different parts – foundational and specialization. This foundational content will introduce students to social welfare policy, research in the field, initial practice methods when working with individuals or groups, and current issues in social and economic justice. Having advanced standing in the MSW designates that the student has already completed foundational education in social work along with one field requirement.
More about the concentration portion
Known as the concentration or specialization portion of the curriculum, students will get more customized education that will aid in the type of social work they will have a career in. Many institutions offer an advanced generalist concentration that gives students further overview of the field, advanced practice methods and research in policy implementation, and more.
Be sure to review the different types of tracks
Students should carefully review what schools offer in the Master of Social Work program as the terminology for concentration and specialization may be different. For example, it is common for programs to offer two concentrations – one that focuses on direct clinical practice, and the other is on a macro level with administration and policy.
A specialization is what type of clients or section of social work will be explored by the student. What is recognized by the CSWE include mental health, children and family relationships, school improvement, substance abuse, gerontology, public policy, and more. These opportunities will vary based on where the student chooses to study and what format they select, be it on campus or conveniently online.
Is the MSW a Difficult Degree?
Pursuing the Master of Social Work can be challenging for students that do not have a specific academic background or work experience in the field. Typically, prerequisites in statistics and various liberal arts subjects, such as behavioral and social sciences, are needed prior to entering this program. Having these requirements and a passion for helping communities and fighting injustice will help students preparing for the program.
The MSW takes a committment
Even without having a full academic background in social justice, the entire curriculum for a Master of Social Work provides foundational material that prepares students for what to expect in their career. This includes an initial internship that features anywhere from 400 to 600 hours of field experience. Having concepts and theory in research, policy, and practice will prepare students for the specialization.
Earning a degree is part one – you also have to get licensed
For those looking at gaining licensure in their state, obtaining a Master’s degree is only part of the process. Additional needs include post-graduate work experience and completing various testing based on location. Instead of being a difficult program to pursue, students will need to consider the amount of time it takes to gain this licensure, which is at least eight years when adding undergraduate, graduate level, and post-graduate work.
What about dual degrees?
Another consideration for students in lieu of licensure may be pursuing a dual degree within a different topic, such as public health or law. This can open the door to other social work opportunities that may not require licensure in the state. Within a reasonable time frame, students could still receive licensure should they change their mind.
Is the MSW Worth It?
Pursuing the Master of Social Work is a great opportunity to prepare students for theory and application of social work practices. They have the ability to work with other professionals that are currently in a particular field or have established their career in social work. Along with numerous resources through the institution, field work provides application of these studies to real-world situations.
Worth it if you are going to get licensed
There are additional requirements following graduation if the individual is looking to get licensure in the field. Thousands of hours in post-graduate experience adds at least two years to the entire education, and there are additional exams that vary in each state – many locations require licensing exams through the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) while some additionally need jurisprudence exams.
Required to get licensed
An MSW is not only worth it to gain state licensure, but it is a requirement in nearly every state. Having licensure will open up the ability for a professional to directly work with other clients and patients without immediate supervision, and to begin a private practice. This can also be gained to pursue further academic research in social work or supervise other students looking to gain their own licensure.
How Many Credit Hours is the MSW?
On an average basis, 60 credit hours are needed to fulfill curriculum requirements for the Master of Social Work. This is generally divided up on an even basis between two different types of study – foundational and specialist. Early on in the program, students will explore theory, policy, research, ethics, and more behind social work and how it has developed over the years. Specialists studies will focus on what field of social work the student is looking to get a career in. This could be working with students to improve their school efforts, discussing issues within family relationships and marriage, helping substance abuse victims, and advocating for public health resources. Electives are usually taken during this period.
Students that have an accredited Bachelor’s degree in social work will already have the generalist education required to become officially licensed. If they meet GPA requirements set by the school being applied to, there is often an opportunity to be administered in advanced standing. Only the second half of the program needs to be completed and shortens the educational obligation.
One or two internships will be taken in all MSW programs and accounts for some of the credit hours taken in the program. Commonly known as field education, these are also separated with a generalist and specialist focus, and provides an opportunity for students to apply their studies in different situations and industries. In some cases, this may directly set up a future career for the eventual graduate.
How Do I Prepare for the MSW?
One of the benefits of pursuing a Master of Social Work is the flexibility accredited programs offer. Students do not need to have a background or any experience within the field of social work, and programs will often only require two to three years worth of study to complete. For professionals with experience, they have less requirements they need to meet.
As with many other Master’s degrees, it is usually a requirement that students have a Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. It helps to have a degree in a related discipline has some programs may have prerequisites that need to be met to get into the full MSW program. Cumulative GPA requirements will vary, but it is usually at least recommended to have a 3.0 GPA or higher.
Having a Bachelor of Social Work that is accredited from the CSWE with high academic merit is the ideal pathway to enter an MSW program. This is because students may be eligible for advanced standing if offered by the program, and that will often cut credit hour requirements in half. Some programs will still require some courses that would be taken in the generalist portion of the curriculum.
While not required, it is usually recommended for students to have work experience or background knowledge in social work before entering a graduate-level program. It is worth noting that prior work experience is often not accepted to deduct field education hours that are required. An accredited BSW will knock off the first internship requirement, as students will have already completed that obligation.
Can You Get a LCSW Degree?
Degrees in social work can help graduates land positions working in public service agencies, schools, and in the community. Some students that are enrolled in social work programs desire more influence within their positions, in terms of treatment and counseling.
What About LCSW Licensure?
The Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) degree program is a great choice for students that want something more with their social work degree program. The LCSW distinction adds psychological assessment, diagnosis, and therapeutic capacities to the social work component of degree programs, allowing graduates from this degree program to play a larger role in the care of communities and increase in quality of care.
What Do LCSW’s Focus On?
LCSW degrees focus on the need for compassion and intervention in public-related organizations, such as schools, community health settings, and public health agencies.