Social Work Graduate Programs and Degrees

What Are Social Work Graduate Programs?

Social work graduate programs offer continued education for students who have earned a bachelor's degree and wish to expand their understanding of human behavior, social policy, social justice and clinical practice.

They are typically offered at three different levels and include Master of Social Work (MSW), Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or PhD in social work.

Social Work Certificates are also available, however these are not considered a graduate degree.

Social work graduate programs are designed for graduate students seeking an advanced degree in social work or to become fully licensed social workers (LMSWs) and clinical practitioners.

Why Pursue A Graduate Degree in Social Work?

Social Work Graduate Programs

If you aspire to a specialist or advanced practice social worker role such as licensed clinical social worker (LCSWs), wish to work in private practice, or aim for leadership and management roles, earning a graduate social work degree may be an important next step - and a timely one.

Social work graduate programs may also appeal to career changers, students whose undergraduate degree is in a related field such as human services or counseling psychology, as well as to BSW graduates seeking to comply with state licensure.

Demand is rising for healthcare and social services which is likely to generate faster than average employment growth. This is especially true for clinical social workers, who hold a masters degree in social work (MSW) and licensure.i

Per the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), social workers, regardless of their career stage, are ethically responsible to stay informed of current research, theory, and techniques.ii Beyond professional development and the addition of credentials, social work graduate programs may enable social workers to follow a variety of potential career paths and possibly earn better salaries.iii

Per the BLS, social workers with an MSW degree earned 25% higher wages than individuals with a Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) degree as recently as 2013.iv

Fact: 50,395 total social work degrees were awarded in 2015. Growing at 5.22% with an average wage of $53,330.v

Social workers are considered a helping profession and assist or advocate on behalf of individuals or communities. They help children and adults solve and cope with problems in their lives. Let's explore some postgraduate social work career paths.

Popular Types of Social Work Graduate Degrees



Graduate School

Masters of Social Work


Simmons University

Masters of Social Work, Advanced Clinical Social Practice (Accelerated: 2-year intensive)


Walden University

Online Master of Social Work- Macro


Northcentral University

Doctorate of Social Work


University of Southern California

Social Work - Social and Community Services


Capella University

Divinity MSW/MDiv Dual Degree


Grand Canyon University

Social Work - Addictions


Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada)

What Are The Different Types of Social Work Degrees?

Social work degrees may be earned at the Master's or Doctorate level. Each may be ideally suited to different levels of experience and goals.

Usually social work programs take a practical approach to subject matter and may integrate practicums or other forms of hands on study which is known as "clinical." However research focused programs, typically in the form of PhD social work programs, may also be available.

Master Programs in Social Work (MSW Degrees)

The Master of Social Work (MSW degree) is a professional degree in social work and the minimum education for many advanced forms of licensure. As such, all MSW programs include coursework, as well as a supervised practicum. Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations with the 2016 median pay being $46,890 per year according the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. i.

Prospective MSW students are not always required to hold a bachelor's degree in social work. However, it is recommended to have taken courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science. Average time to completion is two years for students with no previous social worker degree, and one year for advanced standing students who have completed a BSW program. Note that program lengths vary.

Types of Masters Programs In Social Work

Social work masters programs can typically be divided into two general categories: Clinical or Community Practice.

  • Clinical MSW programs prepare graduates to work directly with clients and develop clinical assessments, interventions and evaluations.
  • Community Practice or Macro MSW programs focus more on policy, advocacy, community organizing and human services management.

Within each of these categories, individual masters in social work programs may have different areas of focus. Often MSW students choose a specialization, either a type of population, like children, or an issue, such as addiction or trauma.

The differences between each program may be limited or vast, depending on the social work school and program curriculum. Some programs take a more generalist approach and have a large core curriculum. Others may be more specifically tailored from the start. Therefore it's best to contact preferred MSW programs directly and read course lists.

Online Social Work Programs That Could Be Completed in 15 Months or Less

University# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to CompleteClinical Hours
Sacred Heart University30N/A12550
University of Louisville302 Starts Through the Year12450

Doctor of Social Work - DSW Programs

At the doctorate level, students who have earned their Masters in Social Work might pursue either a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or a PhD in Social Work degree. These social work graduate programs offer the highest level of education in social work and may appeal to experienced professionals interested in social welfare policy or sociological research.

Earning a doctorate degree does not lead to advanced licensure, however, it may open the door to potential careers in research, academia or higher-level administrative

The DSW is a professional degree and therefore focuses on the application of research and work in the field. A PhD in Social Work is an academic degree and may be more theoretical in nature.

In either program, most students must successfully complete coursework, pass comprehensive exams, and write and defend a dissertation. It might take a full time student about three to six years to earn a doctorate degree in social work, although time to completion varies.

Social Work Graduate Certificates

Graduate Certificates in Social Work may be a great choice for students who want to deepen their knowledge and skill sets to work with specific populations. Typically shorter in duration than a full social work program, students might learn very targeted skills (e.g. trauma, addictions) in around one year. Program length varies.

Sometimes credits earned in a certificate program may be applied to a later MSW program. This varies by school, so it's best to talk to an advisor before enrolling.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. They may work in mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, community development corporations, and private practices.

Within this broad category, there are several kinds of social workers, with different job descriptions. Each role may therefore have slightly different educational and/or licensing requirements.

Clinical positions require a masters in social work degree and additional licensure.

Community (Macro) Social Workers

Community Practice or Macro social workers focus more on policy, advocacy, community organizing and human services management. The field of community practice social work encompasses community organizing, social planning, human service management, community development, policy analysis, policy advocacy, evaluation, mediation, electronic advocacy and other larger systems interventions. Typically community practice social workers hold a masters degree in social work (MSW).

Social Work Administrators and Policy Makers

Social work administrators are decision makers, concerned about the well-being of a total system versus one particular client. This is commonly referred to as macro, which is a term used to describe social workers who are concerned with large units of people. This work requires knowledge about social policy and the delivery of social services.

These programs may provide a comprehensive overview of social work theory and methods, as well as allow for a focus on a specific population, issue, or type of work. Example social work specializations include community practice, trauma, substance abuse, mental health and aging. i

USC’s online Master of Social Work program prepares students to change lives in their communities without attending classes on campus.

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What are the Costs Per Credit for a Graduate Degree in Social Work?

UniversityDegree Name# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTuition Cost
Boston UniversityMaster of Social Work (Traditional)65$885$57,525
Boston UniversityMaster of Social Work (Advanced)40$885$35,400
Our Lady of the Lake UniversityMaster of Social Work (Traditional)57$907$51,699
Our Lady of the Lake UniversityMaster of Social Work (Advanced)30$907$27,210
Simmons CollegeMaster of Social Work (Traditional)65$1,060$68,900
Simmons CollegeMaster of Social Work (Advanced)37$1,060$39,220

How to Become A Social Worker

  1. Usually the minimum educational requirement for initiating a career as a social worker is a bachelor of social work, earned at a school approved by the Council on Social Work. Social workers at this level of education may be assistants, case workers or in direct-service position, but they are not diagnosticians.
  2. For those who wish to continue their higher education in social work with a masters do not necessarily need a baccalaureate in social work as a prerequisite. In many cases a liberal arts degree will be acceptable to enter into a Master's program.
  3. In most states, baccalaureate social workers are licensed professionals but at the Master’s level social workers are eligible for licensing in all states, offering a wider scope of practice. It is important to choose a social work program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSCWE).
  4. Finally, make sure you receive the proper licensing. It is important to familiarize yourself with state regulations on social work licensure requirements. States may require that social workers obtain a masters degree in social work or a relevant doctoral degree before applying for advanced social work licensure.i

Guideline for Social Work Licensure

Licensure requirements vary by state and typically fall into four categories. Below are some guidelines to help you determine which graduate social work program might match your goals.

  • Initial licensure: Licensed Baccalaureate Social Workers (LBSW) hold a bachelor's degree.
  • Master licensure: Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSW) must hold an MSW degree.
  • Clinical licensure: Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) must hold an MSW and have supervised clinical experience.
  • Advanced Generalist: Licensed Advanced Generalist Social works mush hold a MSW and have post graduate supervised experience.viii

Licensure at each of these levels also typically requires applicants to pass a standardized exam. However, this is just a general outline. Licensing requirements vary by state and position. It's best to contact your state's board to learn more.

CSWE Accredited Social Work Graduate Programs

The Council on Social Work Education is the accrediting agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education. Their mission is to ensure and enhance “the quality of social work education for a professional practice that promotes individual, family, and community well-being, and social and economic justice”.vii Consider expediting your degree process by using your existing progress in an advanced standing MSW program.

Graduation from an accredited graduate social work program may be required for licensure. Therefore, you may want to contact graduate social work schools directly to learn if they qualify.

Choose How to Earn Your Social Work Degree

Graduate programs in social work may be offered online or on campus, with options that might encompass full-time and part-time programs.

  • Online Social Work Graduate Programs: Either fully online or with campus requirements. Study in the virtual classroom from a remote location. Online programs may allow you to pursue your education without compromising your lifestyle.
  • Hybrid Social Work Graduate Programs: Distance learning combination of online and on campus courses for both interaction and scheduling flexibility.
  • Social Work Schools: Traditional face-to-face in classroom learning offered at social work schools in different locations. This may provide additional hands on study, as well as access to student resources and other campus facilities.

Top 426 Social Work Graduate Programs in Turks and Caicos Islands

  • Qualify to sit for the Licensed Master of Social Work exam immediately after graduation and earn hours towards state licensure for clinical social work (LCSW).
  • Ranked a Best College in the North, U.S. News & World Report, 2015-2017
  • This online MSW provides you a choice of a direct clinical practice or a direct community practice specialization.
  • Coursework is 100% online, saving you time and money in commuting.
  • Tuition for this valuable program is affordable as part of our Lasallian mission to serve our community.
  • Both Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available to give you the right education based on your experience.

SOURCES: [i] |[ii] |[iii] |[iv] [iii] |[v] |[vi] |[vii] | [viii]

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