Social Work Graduate Programs and Degrees
What is a MSW Degree Program?
A Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Degree is an advanced graduate degree in social work. An MSW is required to become a licensed social worker (LMSW), or a clinical practitioner. Though PhDs are available, an MSW is considered a terminal degree in the field. Meaning, most students will not pursue a higher-level degree past the masters.
An MSW will expand understanding of human behavior, social policy, social justice and clinical practice. This in turn should prepare students to work in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings that includes local, county and state child welfare agencies, non-profit agencies, medical facilities and correctional settings.
written by Annie Rose Stathes
What Can You Do With a Master’s in Social Work?
With a master’s in social work, you can work in a range of settings including mental health clinics, schools, hospitals, private practices, government entities, and community agencies. Within these settings, you can work with and serve a variety of people. As a social worker, you might help people solve problems or treat their mental, emotional, or behavioral issues. Overall, you’ll help people live healthy, meaningful lives and address small to large challenges along the way.
The average age of social workers in 2016 was 43.2 years old. The majority of people who earned a degree in social work (87%!) were female. Most often, people who earned a degree in social work did so at the master’s level (53.2%).
Do I need an MSW Degree to Become a Social Worker?
You do not need an MSW to become a social worker. Usually the minimum educational requirement for a career as a social worker is a Bachelor of Social Work. However, social workers with a BSW may be assistants or case workers. They are not diagnosticians and their salary may be lower.
It is typical for baccalaureate social workers to be licensed professionals in their state of practice. Earning an MSW opens even more opportunities. At that point you would be eligible for licensing in all states, offering a wider scope of practice. So what do all the acronyms mean then? Well let’s break it down.
- What is a LBSW? LBSW stands for Licensed Baccalaureate Social Workers. This would be the lowest rung of licensure.
- What is a LMSW? LMSW stands for Licensed Master Social Workers. After earning your MSW, you will take a licensure exam to become an LMSW.
- What is LCSW? LCSW stands for Licensed Clinical Social Workers. An LCSW has also earned an MSW degree, but has also completed a certain number of supervised clinical hours.
- What is the difference between an LMSW vs LCSW? An LMSW does not generally practice clinical social work. An LMSW might focus more on things like case management, administration. They may also work with public or private organizations, and do consultation work. An LCSW, on the other hand, practices clinical work. This may include working as a therapist providing clinical services, psychotherapy, and/or counseling.
Regardless, it is important to choose a social work program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSCWE). Applicants at any of these levels must also pass a standard exam to become licensed.
Different Types of Social Workers
No matter where they work, social workers have a certain set of responsibilities. They are advocates who help identify and support people and communities in need. To do so, they assess clients’ situations, strengths, weaknesses, and other characteristics. This helps them understand how to best provide services and support.
In addition to assessing clients’ larger needs, social workers help clients cope with difficult challenges and changes in their lives. They help solve everyday problems and face small to large challenges. They may also refer clients to other services that can help clients otherwise improve their lives.
Social workers must hone numerous skills. They need to be strong listeners, caring people, and interested in seeing people thrive. They must be able to manage files and paperwork and think critically about how to structure client support. They must have excellent communication, emotional, problem-solving, interpersonal, and organizational skills. The skills they need is as diverse as the work they do. Following are some of the more specific roles social workers might play. Child, Family and School Social Workers top the list in terms of overall employment. This may be an indicator that this is where social workers are needed the most.
Child, Family, and School Social Workers
Healthcare Social Workers
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Social Workers, All Other
Top States for Employment: Child, Family and School Social Workers
Annual Mean Wage
|Metro Area||Annual Mean Salary||Employment|
|Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT||$77,680||1,990|
|Corvallis, OR||$71,960||Not Reported|
|Salinas, CA||$67,830||Not Reported|
Popular MSW Programs
Social Work degrees are reported by the National Center for Education Statistics under the category of Social Work .
In fact, in the most recent update of the data (2016), across the U.S, there were 52,122 Social Work degrees awarded to students. The majority (53.2%) of these programs were at the master’s degree level.
|Master of Social Work (MSW)||Quinnipiac University||MSW|
|Masters in Social Work (MSW)||Sacred Heart University||MSW|
What’s the Difference between a MFT and MSW?
Two types of common social work degrees include the Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Master of Family Therapy (MFT). While some of the coursework and program intentions overlap between these two degrees, they have some distinct elements.
First, students who earn MFTs gain knowledge and skills in psychotherapy and family systems. As such, they become Marriage and Family Therapists once licensed. They often use “systems theory” and other theory-based approaches to treat clients. Their focus when treating clients is on the couple, family unit, or other type of pair or group. For MFTs, relationships and how to facilitate healthy ones is the primary focus.
Students who earn MSWs, typically focus on treating individual clients. While they might help a client facilitate a healthy relationship, they will do so by working with the individual. If a students with an MSW wants to treat couples, families, and other group units, they have to pursue a specific license and become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Second, MFT and MSW students pursue distinct licensure. MFT graduates must earn a license to practice. MSW graduates, however, can practice in some settings without a license. Yet to become clinical professionals and eligible to work in more settings, MSW graduates must become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Masters Degree in Social Work Guide
MSW (Masters in Social Work)
MFT (Master in Family Therapy
Length of Program: two years
Length of Program: 36 months
Students study social work as it applies to individuals and families, organizations and communities. They learn about evaluation, public policy, and advocacy and how to use all to facilitate successful social work.
Students learn how to use a family therapy systems approach to support children and teens. They learn how to work in therapeutic settings and gain clinical hours.
Programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education
Programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education and the International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education
The MSW is considered the terminal, or final, degree in social work. However, some social workers choose to pursue a doctorate degree. Social workers who want to develop their skills as researchers, scholars, and teachers pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work. Social workers who want to advance their clinical practice pursue a Doctor of Social Work.
Because you do not need a doctorate degree to work as a social worker or earn licensure, many social workers choose to earn an MSW. After all, it only takes two to two and a half years to earn an MSW. Once you have one, you can pursue licensure and enjoy a range of career opportunities.
Meanwhile, it takes anywhere from three to six years to earn a doctorate degree in social work. Having one doesn’t necessarily make you more competitive for jobs. Therefore, those who opt to pursue a doctorate degree usually want to work as researchers and educators, not as clinical social workers.
Social Work Masters Programs
The curricula for a master’s in social work helps students advance their practice or begin one. Through practice- and administration-oriented coursework, students grow the clinical, organizational, and political skills they need to enhance people’s lives. They also learn how to apply their skills to help individuals and families deal with contemporary issues.
The typical master’s in social work covers subjects such as social work practice, social welfare policy, human development, field work, and research methods. It also covers subjects that impact human beings, such as ethnicity, gender, and class. Courses in subjects like these give students basic knowledge.
Students gain advanced knowledge by studying more specific subjects. For example, they might study leadership and management, intervention, mental disorders, and advanced clinical work. Courses in subjects like these help students grow focused, advanced knowledge and specific skills to apply on the job.
Some MSW degrees offer students options to concentrate their studies. Examples of concentrations include:
- Advanced clinical practice
- Military social work
- Social work in healthcare
- Social work with children and families
- Social work and trauma
As you can imagine, having a concentration enables students to learn about an area of interest in depth. Doing so can direct students’ careers and give them specialized knowledge and skills.
Overall, the coursework for an MSW is divided into two parts: core and elective courses. The core courses cover foundational subjects. The elective courses cover subjects of specific interest to students. Students often devote one year of study to each.
What is an Advanced Standing MSW Program?
Some MSW programs offer an option called Advanced Standing to students who have a bachelor’s degree in social work. Advanced Standing degrees enable students with academic or professional experience in social work to earn their MSW degrees more quickly.
MSW Advanced Standing Admissions Requirements
Our Lady of The Lake
Letters of Recommendation
Three letters of recommendation not more than one year old (at least one from an academician if in school within the last 3 years, others from employers or supervisors)
Three letters of recommendation: two academic references and one professional reference
Two letters of recommendation:
One from a manager, employer, or professor, all written within the last two years.
Students may be accepted with a lower GPA in certain circumstances.
BSW from a CSWE accredited school.
BSW from a CSWE accredited school.
BSW from a CSWE accredited school.
BSW from a CSWE accredited school & earned within the last 6 years.
CSWE Accredited Programs
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a national organization in the U.S. that represents social work education. As an accrediting agency, it develops standards that define quality social work programming and curricula. It conducts a rigorous review of the courses, coursework, clinical hours, and more in social work programs to ensure that students learn what they need to learn to provide safe, effective care. The accreditation process is rigorous and includes reviews of curricula and programming, site visits, and case studies.
Attending a social work program accredited by the CSWE is important. It represents that the program is a quality one. It also signifies that the curricula in the program is sufficient to help students pursue licensure and employment. It offers a seal of approval in the field of social work.
How Long Does it take to earn a MSW?
With full-time study, students can earn an MSW in two years. If they opt to pursue an MSW with more clinical hours, it could take two-and-a-half years to graduate. Students who hold a Bachelor of Social Work may be eligible to pursue Advanced Standing. Having Advanced Standing can help a student earn an MSW in as little as one year.
Students who want to earn a doctorate degree in social work can do so in two to three years. Typically, students complete two years of coursework. Then they take one year to do a dissertation. Prior to pursuing a doctorate degree in social work, students must hold an MSW.
Online Social Work Programs That Could Be Completed in 15 Months or Less
|University||# of Credits Required||Start Dates||Minimum Months to Complete||Clinical Hours|
|Sacred Heart University||30||N/A||12||550|
|University of Louisville||30||2 Starts Through the Year||12||450|
What is the Cost of a Masters in Social Work?
The median in-state cost of tuition for a degree in social work is $6,912 per year. Out-of-state tuition at a private institution, meanwhile, had a median rate of $29,900 per year. This means that some programs will be more or less expensive than this.
To give specific examples, this visualization shows instate and out of state graduate tuition costs of four institutions with Social Work Graduate Programs as reported by NCES.
Instate/Out Of State Tuition
What are the Costs per Credit for Social Work Programs?
Cost per credit of course is different at every College or University. State Universities are also likely to have in state costs vs out of state costs. Below are a few examples of the cost per credit as reported by each one of these institutions:
|University||Degree Name||# of Credits Required||Cost Per Credit||Tuition Cost|
|Boston University||Master of Social Work (Traditional)||65||$885||$57,525|
|Boston University||Master of Social Work (Advanced)||40||$885||$35,400|
|Our Lady of the Lake University||Master of Social Work (Traditional)||57||$907||$51,699|
|Our Lady of the Lake University||Master of Social Work (Advanced)||30||$907||$27,210|
|Simmons College||Master of Social Work (Traditional)||65||$1,060||$68,900|
|Simmons College||Master of Social Work (Advanced)||37||$1,060||$39,220|
Top 37 Social Work Graduate Programs
- Accredited online university.
- Capella University offers doctoral programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession.
- Competency-based curriculum delivers both foundation knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.
Northcentral UniversityMaster of Social Work
Winthrop UniversityMaster of Social Work - Traditional Track Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing
Our Lady of the Lake UniversityMaster of Social Work
Widener UniversityMaster of Social Work Master of Social Work – Advanced Standing
Walden UniversityMaster of Social Work (MSW) - Advanced Clinical Social Practice (Standard: up to 2 courses/term) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work with Children & Families (Standard: up to 2 courses/term) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Military Social Work (Advanced Standing) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work in Healthcare (Advanced Standing) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work with Children & Families (Advanced Standing) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Military Social Work (Standard: up to 2 courses/term) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Advanced Clinical Social Practice (Accelerated: 2-year intensive) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work with Children & Families (Accelerated: 2-year intensive) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Military Social Work (Accelerated: 2-year intensive) Master of Social Work (MSW) - Social Work in Healthcare (Accelerated: 2-year intensive)
Saint Mary's University of MinnesotaMaster of Social Work - Traditional Track Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing
Regis CollegeMaster of Social Work
Sacred Heart UniversityMasters in Social Work - Community Practice Masters in Social Work - Clinical Practice
Capella UniversityMS - Social and Community Services MSW - Social Work PhD - Social and Community Services DSW - Social Work
Quinnipiac UniversityMaster of Social Work (MSW)
Edinboro University of PennsylvaniaMasters in Social Work
Seton Hall UniversityMaster of Social Work
Fordham UniversityGraduate School of Social Service - Fordham Westchester
California State University, Long BeachSocial Work
University of DenverMaster of Social Work Doctorate of Social Work
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/