Earning a MSW Degree: Application and Curriculum Requirements

Social work applicationMasters of Social Work Programs (MSW programs) prepare individuals to work in the field of social work in a variety of capacities. Social workers work with individuals, families, and communities to provide them with the resources necessary to live happier, healthier, and more stable lives. A social work degree opens the doors to many industries such as clinical social workers, medical social workers, private practitioners, or managers. Regardless of their expertise, most social workers choose to either work with particular populations or devote their practice to the general public. Social work jobs may be in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, substance abuse clinics, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, or a number of other settings.

Admissions Requirements for Masters of Social Work Programs

There are typically two options for admissions to MSW programs: regular admissions or advanced standing, also referred to as employed practitioners’ admissions. The following sections describe each in more detail.

Regular Admissions into MSW Programs

Admissions requirements for a social work degree can vary from university to university. The majority of MSW programs, however, require students to have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in social work or the liberal arts, prior to starting the program. Additionally, most schools strongly prefer students have a minimum 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate studies. However, many programs will accept students with lower GPAs provided they meet the program’s minimum requirements and preferred qualifications. Many programs also prefer students have a well-rounded liberal arts background that includes study in subjects such as math, science (physical, biological, and psychological), history, social sciences, humanities, research, and the arts. Some programs may prefer applicants have one to two years’ experience as paid or unpaid employees or volunteers in human services and/or social work settings.

Many Masters of Social Work programs also have prerequisite requirements in subjects such as biology, statistics, and psychology. Programs may require students who haven’t met the programs’ prerequisites to do so prior to enrolling in the program, or during their first year. If the programs to which you’re applying have prerequisites that you haven’t met, ask immediately about the deadline when you need to have met them. Meeting them may require you to complete an additional semester or two of work prior to starting the program. Get started on your prerequisite work as quickly as possible.

Also, Students for whom English is not their first language typically need to receive a minimum score on the TOEFL or IELTS in order to be accepted into an MSW program. Minimum required scores vary by school and program, but generally fall around 550 on the paper test (TOEFL), 79 on the internet-based test (TOEFL), and 6.5 on the IELTS.

Advanced Standing or Employed Practitioners’ Admissions

Some programs offer advanced standing or employed-practitioners’ admission to students who demonstrate especially high academic achievement, have a recent educational background in social work, and/or have worked in the field of social work for a certain amount of time. Special or advanced standing admissions typically allow students to enroll in shorter programs and skip certain prerequisite work. Ask your admissions counselor if you are eligible for special or advanced admissions.

Coursework Requirements for Social Work Degree

Most students complete their social work degree in one and a half to three years of full or part time study. They first devote their time to fulfilling foundational requirements and then to fulfilling the requirements of a concentration. Foundational courses, typically taken within the first year of study, include study in subjects such as human behavior, social environment, social work and welfare, social dynamics, and public policy. Concentrations, typically studied in the second and third years of study, allow students to specialize in various areas of social work such as clinical social work, medical social work, social and community management, public social work and advocacy, and private practice social work. Also, because many programs require students to take research methodology courses in both their first and following years of study, students are sometimes asked to submit and defend a thesis or dissertation at the end of their programs.

Students getting a master’s degree in social work often choose between practical or managerial social work tracks. Students who opt to study practical social work typically learn how to work with the individuals, groups, and communities they want to directly impact; students who opt to study managerial social work typically focus more upon learning how to plan, organize, and administer social work, supervise a team of social workers, and empower other social workers to successfully do their jobs. Both tracks can potentially prepare students for roles as social workers or managers.

Field Work and Internships

Many MSW programs require students to complete supervised field work and an internship. Most field work and internships can be completed within one to two years depending on the program. During the year or years of their fieldwork and internships, many students are expected to work in approved and assigned agencies for ten to twenty hours per week. Once they have completed their field work, internships, and academic programs, students may be eligible to apply for licensure through the state in which they wish to work and reside.

The process of obtaining state licensure to practice social work can begin at the Association of Social Work Boards website. There, students can find information on taking licensure exams, applying for states licensure through the state in which they wish to practice, and much more. Note that the requirements of applying for licensure vary from state to state, and that students applying for licensure must have completed MSW programs through accredited schools.

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