United States Social Work Graduate Programs and Degrees
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.
Social work graduate programs may 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.
Most social work programs are clinical and research based and are offered from accredited universities.
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 specializations include community practice, trauma, substance abuse, mental health and aging. i
What Are Social Work Graduate Programs?
Social work graduate programs offer continued education for students who have earned a bachelors 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, and Social Work Certificate programs.
Most graduate social work programs take a practical approach to subject matter and may integrate practicums or other forms of hands on study. However research focused programs, typically in the form of PhD social work programs, may be available.
Types of Social Workers
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.
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.
Why Do I Need A Graduate Degree in Social Work?
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.
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
How to Become a Social Worker
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
A Potential Path to 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 bachelors 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.
Types of Graduate Social Work Programs
Social Work Graduate Programs are available as Masters in Social Work Programs (MSW), Doctorate of Social Work (DSW Programs), P.h.D. in Social Work Programs, and Graduate Certificates. Each may be ideally suited to different levels of experience and goals.
Social Work Programs & Degrees
Masters of Social Work
Online Master of Social Work- Macro
Social Work - Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention
Social Work - Policy Practice
Divinity MSW/MDiv Dual Degree
Social Work - Addictions
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 specializaion, 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.
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 positions.vi
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.
Could I Earn an Online Degree in Social Work?
Graduate programs in social work may be offered online or on campus, with options that might encompass full-time and part-time programs. Use filter to search for ‘online’, ‘campus’ or ‘hybrid’ graduate social worker degree programs. Alternatively, use our location setting to find Social Work Schools Online by city, state or country.
- 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.
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.
Find A List of Social Work Schools
Browse below to find a list of Graduate programs in social work from accredited schools. Take the next step to help you define yourself as a social worker and jumpstart your career. Whether you choose to study full time or part time, in a traditional or virtual classroom, consider different options to land on a program that aligns with your interests and goals!
Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm |[ii] socialworkers.org/pdev/default.asp |[iii] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/article/should-i-get-a-masters-degree.htm |[iv] [iii] |[v] datausa.io/profile/cip/440701/ |[vi] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1113.00 |[vii] cswe.org/About.aspx | [viii] aswb.org/licensees/about-licensing-and-regulation/
Sacred Heart University
You'll expand the level care and assistance you can provide to vulnerable populations and be a force of positive change in your community when you earn your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree online at Sacred Heart University.
The Catholic University of America
Complete in Only 8-Months. The Catholic University of America is the #1 Ranked Catholic School of Social Work in the Nation. CSWE-Accredited MSW Program. Advanced Standing. Full & Part-Time, 100% Online Degree Options.
Widener University's online Master of Social Work (MSW) is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). It prepares you to improve both your life and the lives of others through clinical social work and social justice.
Winthrop University's online Master of Social Work Traditional program prepares students without a social work background to become competent, specialized social workers.
Our Lady of the Lake University
Our Lady of the Lake University's Worden School of Social Service, offers its acclaimed Master of Social Work degree program entirely online, giving working adults the opportunity to work toward this career-building,service-oriented credential.
Loyola University Chicago
The Online, Bilingual MSW program offers a unique specialization in Health/Mental Health with a sub specialization in Migration Studies. Courses will be taught by bilingual faculty with a majority of the content being delivered and discussed in Spanish.
University of Southern California
The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a CSWE-accredited online Master's in Social Work. The GRE is not required to apply to the MSW@USC program. Complete in as little as 1 year with a BSW.
- Paxton, MAPaxton, MA
Anna Maria College
The MSW curriculum is uniquely designed as students take classes while doing concurrent fieldwork which provides them with knowledge and skills necessary to promote social change, development, and empowerment of diverse populations.
- Hamden, CTHamden, CT
The MSW program's foundation curriculum and the advanced concentration curriculum reinforce the Quinnipiac value base of understanding real-world issues through practice and the consideration of different perspectives.
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
MSW graduates are prepared to work in a wide range of practice settings, including family based agencies, mental health care agencies, addiction treatment centers, schools, medical care facilities, psychiatric facilities, rehabilitation facilities...
- Pomona, NJPomona, NJ
Stockton University offers the MSW in a two-year format, or a one-year format called Advanced Standing. Advanced Standing is open to individuals who have earned baccalaureate degrees in social work from a social work program accredited by the Counci...
- Northampton, MANorthampton, MA
For 90 years, the Smith College School for Social Work has provided graduate social work education to men and women around the world...
- South Orange, NJSouth Orange, NJ
Seton Hall University
The Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) prepares students for advanced practice with individuals, families and groups in the areas of behavioral health, substance abuse and health care.
- Fairfield, CTFairfield, CT
Sacred Heart University
The Master of Social Work (MSW) will prepare students for both generalist and specialized practice with client systems across varying contexts and problems.
- Loma Linda, CALoma Linda, CA
Loma Linda University
The Loma Linda University MSW program is accredited by CSWE and includes a 78-credit curriculum consisting of academic, experiential, and research experiences. Two-, three-, four-year, and advanced standing options are available.
- Baltimore, MDBaltimore, MD
Morgan State University
The goal of graduate program in social work is to prepare advanced social work practitioners and scholars for the professional.
- Dekalb, ILDekalb, IL
Northern Illinois University
- Chestnut Hill, MAChestnut Hill, MA
Boston College School of Social Work offers three professional degrees: Masters of Social Work, Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work, Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare, and several dual degrees.
- San German, PRSan German, PR
Inter American University of Puerto Rico
- Saint Louis, MOSaint Louis, MO
St. Louis University
The Master of Social Work Degree will prepare you to be a leading practitioner.