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Careers in Community & Human Services: Social Work

Getting a Master’s in Social Work (MSW)

To become a social worker, you must complete a graduate degree from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).   The CSWE reviews and provides accreditation to MSW programs to ensure that they are meeting nationally accepted standards of social work education.   As you begin researching MSW program options, you want to be sure that the program you choose is CSWE accredited.



Admission to an MSW program requires the completion of either a BA or a BS.  A Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW) is not required.   Programs vary in their specific admissions requirements but, in general, they look for students who demonstrate academic ability and the personal qualities needed to become effective social workers.  Academic ability is usually judged by the applicant’s undergraduate grade point average (GPA) but other factors may be considered as well.  Some important personal qualities are a commitment to helping others, integrity, sensitivity, and good critical thinking skills.  Programs assess these factors through the applicants’ essays or personal statements and letters of reference. 

      Here are some other qualifications that various MSW programs look for in their applicants*:

·         Work experience (either paid or volunteer) in the human services or helping field

·         A strong liberal arts undergraduate education

·         Completion of at least one course in human biology

·         Completion of at least one course in statistics and/or research methods

·         Completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

* These criteria only apply to some programs.  Check specific program websites and materials for requirements


Program Structure

Different programs offer different options for completing the MSW.  Most full-time programs consist of two years (four semesters) of study, including fieldwork but part-time options are also common.  Depending on the program, classes and fieldwork may be done during daytime or evening hours on weekdays or weekends. 

Typically, the first full-time year of the MSW program focuses on a generalist curriculum, providing students with the basic social work knowledge and skills.  Generalist course topics include human behavior in the social environment, foundations in social work practice, social welfare policy, and research methodology.  Some programs offer specializations in the second year of study in such fields as clinical practice, administration, or policy.  MSW programs do not accept work experience in lieu of coursework credits.

Fieldwork is usually 14-21 hours per week of work in a social work setting supervised by a licensed social worker.  Settings include hospitals, mental health agencies, schools, community organizations, government agencies, and many others.  Students are often able to request a particular type of field placement based on interest.