A State by State Licensure Guide

Master’s Degree in Social Work: Developing Skills and Competencies

What do master’s degrees in social work offer? The opportunity to develop specialized skills in social work… and basic competencies, too, if you don’t already have them. While BSW programs develop only skills for basic generalist practice, MSW programs develop both basic and advanced practice skills. In fact, they include a year’s worth of courses in each.

social work masters degree student

This doesn’t mean that bachelor’s educated social workers who enroll in MSW programs are expected to do the same work over again. Candidates who have a bachelor’s from a CSWE-accredited program are often awarded advanced placement. These students may move right away into advanced competencies and specialized study. This is how MSW programs are able offer instruction that’s appropriate to the would-be advanced practitioner from either a liberal arts or social work background.

If you don’t have an undergraduate degree in social work, your program will be about 60 semester hours – this is comparable to a master’s program in mental health counseling. If you do have the BSW, your commitment will be reduced to as little as 30 semester hours.

But either way, you’ll have the same licensing and employment opportunities once the master’s is conferred. You may also want to read the article: "Why Pursue a Master's in Social Work"

Earn a Master of Social Work degree online from the top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. This is a CSWE-accredited program. The GRE is not required to apply. It is possible to complete this degree in two years or less. A Bachelor's degree is required. Request information!

The Simmons College School of Social Work (SocialWork@Simmons) is the nation’s oldest school of social work and is offering an innovative Online Master of Social Work program. You can complete this CSWE-accredited Master's in Social Work program in as little as 15 months. There is no GRE required for acceptance to this program. Request information.

The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University’s online Master of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation and is designed for working adults with or without a social work bachelor’s degree. Click here to request information about The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University Online Master of Social Work program.

Social Work Concentrations and Sub-concentrations

Master’s in social work programs offer ample opportunity for specialization. Students may select a clinical or nonclinical focus. This is one of the most important decisions, curriculum-wise. Clinical programs prepare you as a mental health practitioner; non-clinical programs do not.

Some states make the highest licensing level dependent on completion of a program with a clinical focus. They may define this in different ways, requiring a certain number of clinical courses or requiring particular courses. They also expect that your fieldwork has a clinical component. While they typically do allow you to make up missing coursework later, and may even allow supervised work experience to substitute for clinical practicum, not opting for the clinical program at the onset may mean putting in considerably more time and money later. (And post-graduate opportunities do hinge, to some degree, on pre-graduation experiences.)

There are many options for direct service social workers at the master’s level. You may choose a specialty like youth and family. Some programs even have sub-specialties like working with geriatric populations or veterans. Macro programs, meanwhile, may focus on community planning or macro health care.

CSWE accreditation is key whatever track you select. There are ten advanced practice competencies that you can expect to master by the time you graduate. CSWE has publications that describe what the competencies may look like in different fields; still, the actual competencies don’t change from one practice area to the next.

You may want to consider an online MSW. Several are now CSWE accredited. You can learn more about these programs here including what the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) think about online MSW programs.: Online Master of Social Work Programs: CSWE Accreditation and Details

You can expect to have at least 900 hours of field experience, whatever track you’re in. Students typically do field experiences in multiple settings. When you’re evaluating different programs, you might want to take a look and see what the partner agencies are – there may be many.

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Competing for Admission to the Master’s in Social Work Programs

Graduate programs are competitive, but it’s not all academics. There may be a minimum GPA of 3.0 or so. Still, academic accolades and research background are not necessary. The GRE will not necessarily be required for social work programs at the master’s level.

Real world experience can make the difference. If you have no social services background, spend some time doing volunteer work that has some relationship to your eventual practice area. If you have what it takes to handle mental health crises, you might consider volunteering for a crisis hotline.

A resume is a typical admission requirement. Be prepared to submit several professional references and spend some time composing a personal statement. If your interest in social work stems from formative experiences, you may want to write about them.

Sample of CSWE Accredited Social Work Master's Degrees

usc

The University of Southern California School of Social Work offers a CSWE accredited online Master's of Social Work degrees in the country. Click Here to contact the University of Southern California School of Social Work and request additional information.

simmons college

The Simmons College School of Social Work, based in Boston, MA, offers another option to earn a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited Online Master of Social Work. Click Here to contact the Simmons College School of Social Work and request additional information. (*This program is NOT available to students in North Carolina, Maryland, Louisiana, Minnesota, Oregon, Arkansas)

ollu

The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University. OLLU’s online Master of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation and is designed for working adults with or without a social work bachelor’s degree. Click here to request information about The Worden School of Social Service at Our Lady of the Lake University Online Master of Social Work program.

boston university

Boston University School of Social Work also offers an online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree that is fully accredited and recognized by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Click here to request information about the Boston University School of Social Work MSW program.

cau

The Online Master of Social Work at The Catholic University of America. Learn via an application-based, CSWE-accredited curriculum that covers all of the main clinical aspects of social work. Click here to request information about The Catholic University of America Online Master of Social Work program.

widener university

Widener University’s online Masters in social work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and prepares graduates to help improve lives through clinical social work & social justice. Entrance to the program does not require a GMAT/GRE. Click here to request information about The Widener University online Masters in social work program.

Click Here to find additional CSWE Accredited Master's in Social Work Programs in the CSWE Directory of Accredited Programs.