Master of Social Work (MSW): Everything to Know

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Are you thinking about completing a Master in Social Work program? Also known as an MSW, this degree path may provide you with the opportunity to obtain more insight and skills into the work of a social worker. Many colleges and universities offer this program, both as an in-person and online educational tract.

What Is a Master of Social Work (MSW)?

A Master of Social Work is a degree that provides students with additional education, skill training, and perspectives that goes beyond what is included in a bachelor’s degree. It may enable a student to help others more fully in the field. It also could qualify graduates for clinical work, though there may be an additional need to obtain a license to do so.

For those who wish to make this their career, completing a master’s degree may be necessary. Individuals entering a master’s degree in social work may not have to have industry experience yet. They may obtain that as a part of clinical studies during their educational program.

What does an MSW teach students?

Those completing a social work master’s program may have a wide range of skill-development courses as well as courses to take in their chosen concentration. Some of the areas that students may learn with the goal of becoming proficient in include the following:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Case management tools and skills
  • Entrepreneurial attitude
  • Advocacy approaches
  • Therapeutic intervention experience
  • Research skills
  • Technology literacy

What Types of Concentrations Are Available in an MSW Degree?

Many students may wish to complete their Master of Social Work in a specific area of social work to allow them to work in these fields with as much skill and insight as possible. Concentrations often allow students to have a very focused among of education in the field. This may include options such as mental health, adult social work, substance abuse disorders, children and youth social work, community organizations and planning, and family social work.

Some specific concentrations you may find in universities and colleges include:

  • Child Welfare
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Trauma
  • Healthcare Social Work
  • Crisis Intervention and Trauma Response
  • Military Social Work
  • Veteran Social Work
  • Death, Loss, and Grief Social Work
  • Mental Health and Mental Illness Social Work
  • Substance Abuse Social Work

A student does not have to spend all of their time in one area. Rather, some of the coursework they complete may be more focused on this particular area rather than others. This may help to prepare them for the circumstances surrounding their work later within their career.

  • Some of the nation’s most affordable tuition rates, from a private, nonprofit, NEASC accredited university
  • Qualified students with 2.5 GPA and up may receive up to $20K in grants & scholarships
  • Multiple term start dates throughout the year. 24/7 online classroom access

Who May Wish to Pursue an MSW Degree?

Those who have completed a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field of psychology may wish to pursue an MSW. This type of degree may allow those with a degree in another area to focus their education on social work. A master’s degree may be necessary for those who wish to provide clinical services to people. State licensing requirements may differ, but many states require at least a master’s degree and a state-issued license to operate as a social worker.

What Are Some Common Courses Completed in an MSW degree?

Coursework is often tied to the specific concentration a student takes. However, some of the common courses students take in their master’s degree could include:

  • Human Behaviour and Social Environment
  • Social Work Research
  • Diversity and Social Justice
  • Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families
  • Social Work Policy Analysis

Courses may range widely to meet the needs of a student who wishes to work in one of the aforementioned concentrations. One key thing to note, too, is that this program often has some clinical components. That means some students may spend time in the field working with those who need support in one or more areas. That may provide hands-on learning for students.

Common Types of MSW Degrees to Consider

One of the benefits of completing an MSW may be that there are often flexible ways to do so. Some colleges and universities offer a range of tools to help students learn in a way that works for their specific needs. Here is a look at some examples of these social work educational paths that may meet your needs. Keep in mind that not all colleges offer all of these educational tracts.

Traditional MSW Pathway

This is often a common method to completing an MSW. In this path, a student usually earns a bachelor’s degree in a related field. It may not be directly in psychology. They are then often able to complete the MSW program. The traditional path could allows students to complete their work, typically, in 2 years as a full time student. Some accelerated MSW programs may do this sooner.

MSW Advanced Standing Alternative Program

Sometimes called an ASAP program, this method allows for those who have already earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) in the prior 5 years to fast track their master’s degree. Many of these programs could have additional requirements, such as students may need to have a high GPA and have completed all necessary prerequisites. If qualified, a student may be able to complete an ASAP in three semesters, or about 1 year and a summer semester as a full time student.

Dual Degree

A Dual Degree may allow a student to complete an MSW along with a second degree that, in some way, compliments the first. This may include, for example, a master of Law or a Juris Doctor degree. Some may complete a Master of Public Health. Students typically spend time studying both areas and complete their degree within 4 years, sometimes more or less.

MSW: Master of Social Work
Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Social Workers, All Other
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$89,1500
Springfield, MA-CT$88,01060
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX$84,900230
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$82,9001,190
Worcester, MA-CT$81,80040

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top States for Employment for Social Workers, All Other
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York7,940$64,170
South Carolina2,500$41,830

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Finding the Right MSW Path for You

Completing a master’s degree in social work may help you take the first steps of creating a strong future and career for yourself. The key to making that happen may be starting with a college or university that offers a program that fits your interests and goals. Do some research on the various colleges available to determine which of these programs may be a good fit for your specific needs.


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