Washington Masters in Social Work | MSW Degree

MSW Programs, or Masters in Social Work (MSW degree) programs, prepare individuals for the professional practice of social welfare counseling and administration.

Earning a Masters in Social Work may also be valuable if you wish to pursue specialist and advanced practice roles in the field such as licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). While an undergraduate degree is helpful if you are looking for that initial or entry-level job, an MSW degree is often required for social work positions in health care, administrative or clinical roles.

Are you considering a masters in social work? Looking for grad schools with campus or online MSW programs, dual degree tracks, or full or part-time study? Whichever type of Masters in Social Work program you're looking at, read on to explore the potential opportunities that an MSW degree might lead to.

MSW Programs

What is an MSW?

An MSW is the abbreviation for the Masters in Social Work degree, which is a professional degree that typically requires two to three years of education (approximately 15 to 20 credits) beyond your Bachelor’s degree. Some MSW programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) to earn their master’s degree in one year. All MSW programs require completion of coursework and supervised practicum, also called an ‘internship’ or ‘field work’ in some MSW schools.

Potential Benefits of Earning a MSW Degree

We asked Licensed Master Social Worker Tomanika Perry-Witherspoon how earning a MSW degree supported her career:

“Obtaining my MSW degree significantly impacted my career in social work, as it increased my learning opportunities. I was educated on clinical aspects (how to facilitate, individual and family therapy, etc.) of social work. This graduate education background enabled me to begin a private practice after obtaining my full license.”  


Perry-Witherspoon, LMSWCEO of Growing Counseling Services Click to Tweet

What are the MSW Program Requirements?

While you should pay attention to specific MSW program requirements at a prospective school, a bachelor’s degree in social work is not necessarily required to enter an MSW degree program. There are two scenarios:

  1. For students with an undergraduate degree from an accredited college, such as a Bachelor of Human Services or a Bachelors in Psychology, the MSW degree may provide the education and background needed to enter the field of social work. If this describes you, and you are thinking ahead, courses in psychology, sociology, economics and political science are recommended.[i]
  2. For graduates of accredited Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) programs who are already working at entry-level social worker occupations, earning an MSW is required to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)[i] in all 50 states (specific licensing requirements vary by state). Furthermore, many states also require a MSW to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). If this describes you, earning a Master of Social Work degree might represent time you might pursue a specialized branch of social work (e.g. medical social worker).

MSW Programs: Potential Course Curriculum

MSW programs might focus on different strategies to provide basic support services for different vulnerable individuals and groups, whether these are troubled teens, abused children, people in hospices or military veterans. While courses vary between MSW programs, some of the topics that a student working towards an MSW degree might encounter are[ii]:

  • Social welfare policy
  • Case work planning
  • Social counseling
  • Intervention strategies
  • Specific applications of social work (i.e. child welfare, family services, probation, employment services, disability counseling

Fieldwork: An Essential Component of MSW Programs

In addition to classroom-based learning, students are typically required to complete a certain amount of fieldwork as specified by their MSW program. Masters in social work students are usually able to choose from a variety of settings to complete this work such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Senior centers
  • Community centers
  • Local governments
  • Substance abuse clinics
  • Military bases
  • Schools


Although most social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting[i].Click To TweetMSW Degree Programs

Why Consider an MSW Degree?

Wondering whether earning an MSW degree might be instrumental in helping you to make diagnosis? Professionals who have earned a BSW, and are currently working in direct service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant may be able to interview clients, serve as liaisons between clients and social services agencies, and maintain case history records. However, they may not actually diagnose. Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) may diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional disorders. This is not all.

7 Reasons to Consider An MSW Degree

  1. Without a Masters in Social Work one cannot become a licensed clinical social worker
  2. A commitment to continuing education is part of the social work profession
  3. You may be interested in supervising other social workers (e.g. Director of Social Work)
  4. An MSW degree is part of the requirement to work in private practice
  5. Social workers with a master’s degree report higher earnings than those with a BSW[iii]
  6. Working as a Healthcare Social Worker (e.g. Geriatric social worker, hospice and palliative care or medical social worker)
  7. MSW programs might prepare you to pursue advanced degrees (DSW or PhD)

What is an LCSW?

Individuals may earn an MSW degree without committing to full licensure in the form of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Clinical social workers (CSWs) are always licensed in the state where they practice, and it is up to each state to determine the titles professional social workers may use, or the scope of their practice. The LCSW is an extremely specialized social worker who has:

  1. Earned their Master of Social Work (MSW) degree
  2. Passed the necessary steps to gain state licensure (requirements vary by state)
  3. Completed extensive post-graduate supervised work experience (minimum 2 years)
  4. Passed national competency exams


Many states require a MSW graduate to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). For professionals who have already earned a BSW and work in the field (direct service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant)[vi] the Master of Social Work is a prerequisite of practicing as an LCSW.

Pursuing an ‘LCSW degree’ might be worth considering if you are choosing between a Masters in Counseling Psychology, or Master of Social Work. Clinical social work combines an in-depth understanding of how mental and emotional disorders develop within an individual in their environment. LCSWs may be involved in direct therapy with clients in private practice.

Find CSWE Accredited MSW Degree Programs & Schools

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a non-profit national organization that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as the only accrediting agency for social work education in the United States. As of October 2016, there are 250 accredited masters social work programs and 16 masters social work programs in candidacy.[iv]

Are Online MSW Programs Available?

Online MSW programs may be ideal for working professionals and students who live too far from a traditional on-campus program. Search our extensive directory of sponsored listings for masters in social work online. Or, search for social work schools in the location of your choice (by city, state or country). Our on-page navigation is easy to use and will filter your results as you enter your preferences.

Take the Next Step

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for social workers – especially those with a master’s degree and licensure should be good; a 12% employment change between 2014-2024 is projected.[i] If you have a strong inclination to compassionately help people cope with their unique stresses, or you wish to pursue the path of clinical social work, review the sponsored options for MSW Programs. They may sound alike, but contacting the school through the ‘request info’ setting will help you identify unique features of each school and this way, you can track deadline for applications. We simplify so you may take the next step in your professional or academic life.

sources[i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm | [ii]nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=88564 |[iii]bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm#Healthcare and social service | [iv]cswe.org/Accreditation.aspx