Education and formal training in the field of social work can begin in undergraduate programs, where some schools offer a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) major or degree. Students who graduate from a BSW program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and who meet certain additional criteria, may be eligible for admission to an Advanced Standing Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program. Advanced Standing programs are tailored to provide BSW graduates with a reduced curriculum that effectively omits the first year of a traditional MSW program. There are Advanced Standing MSW programs with concentrations in clinical/direct practice and in macro/community practice. There are also Advanced Standing MSW programs that offer what is known as an advanced generalist curriculum, which provides instruction in both clinical and community practice areas.
Advanced Standing MSW programs offer those with a BSW degree a faster path toward earning a master’s in social work degree that confers the same prestige and professional advantages as a traditional MSW program. The main difference is curricular: Advanced Standing students do not complete as many credits as students in a traditional MSW program. For example, an Advanced Standing MSW curriculum might only require the completion of 30 to 40 credits as opposed to the approximately 60 credits it takes to graduate from a full-length MSW program. BSW graduates are typically able to skip general social work courses that are included in the first year of an MSW program and proceed directly to advanced specialization courses. In addition, students who enter a program through an Advanced Standing track typically have to complete less field education hours to graduate, since they already completed at least 400 hours as part of their BSW program.
For qualified students who cannot or would prefer not to relocate or commute to a college campus, online Advanced Standing MSW programs offer a more flexible and convenient method to earn a master’s in social work. These programs utilize distance-learning technologies to offer the same curriculum as campus programs, and allow students to complete fieldwork at a geographically convenient location. Students in an online Advanced Standing program receive all or most of their didactic instruction online through a learning management system (LMS). Lectures and other course materials are delivered online through the LMS, and students are able to contact instructors, submit assignments, and participate in discussion groups through the system as well.
MSW programs with an Advanced Standing option or track are clearly delineated as such. These programs only accept applicants with a degree from a CSWE-accredited BSW program. However, Advanced Standing MSW programs may offer different specializations within the field of social work. Some programs provide general advanced training in social work, while others target the knowledge and skills associated with macro or community practice social work. There are also programs for students who want a curriculum geared to the clinical or direct practice of social work. Clinical/direct practice MSW programs may include further specializations in areas like family social work, child social welfare, addiction and substance abuse, mental health, and military social work. Regardless of the specialization, MSW programs with an Advanced Standing track are only open to students with a BSW degree who meet additional criteria for academic achievement (see below).
OnlineEducation.com independently researches online MSW programs and identifies those programs that have a clearly defined Advanced Standing track. The programs listed on the site are offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. In addition, programs must be accredited by the CSWE, which indicates that the curriculum meets certain standards for professional training in the practice of social work. CSWE accreditation is also important for students who aim to pursue state licensure in clinical social work, as most states require applicants for licensure to have graduated from a CSWE-accredited program. Online Advanced Standing MSW programs that require students to visit the campus more than two times per year are not currently included on the site.
The Advanced Standing MSW curriculum focuses primarily on the didactic instruction and field training that students in a traditional two-year MSW program would complete in their second year. This includes advanced courses in special topics related to the clinical and/or community practice of social work, as well as the field placements and practicums that align with the program’s area of specialization. Students in a program with a clinical focus learn theories of psychotherapy and how to apply these theories in the clinical counseling of individuals, families, and groups. They may also take classes in topics like alcoholism and drug abuse, adult and/or childhood trauma, neuropsychology, and other areas that pertain to assessing and assisting people in need. Community practice programs offer upper-level coursework in community organizing, human services management, social policy initiatives, and social program funding and development. MSW Advanced Standing programs with an advanced generalist curriculum offer a mix of clinical and community practice coursework.
Field education is an integral part of all MSW programs, including those with an Advanced Standing track. However, the field education requirements for students in an Advanced Standing program differ from those in a traditional MSW program. Instead of having to complete 900 or more hours of field education through two or more placements, students in an Advanced Standing program typically only need to complete 450-500 hours of field work in order to graduate. This is because CSWE-accredited BSW programs include at least 400 hours of field education.
Online programs generally have an office or administrator in charge of directing and approving field placements. In many cases, online students are able to complete field work requirements at a geographically convenient location, although some field placements do require students to travel up to two hours if a local agency cannot be found. Some programs require students to set up their own placements, while others provide placement services that match students to a field instructor/agency.
Curricular details vary by program and by specialization. The table below offers an overview of the kind of coursework that is common in Advanced Standing MSW programs, based on actual curricula. It is important to note that macro/community practice programs often do not include intensive clinical coursework, and clinical/direct practice programs may not include advanced community practice coursework, although some of these courses may be offered as electives.
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Clinical Practice with Individuals||The use of psychotherapy and other counseling techniques for the assessment and treatment of individuals in the practice of social work.|
|Clinical Practice with Groups||The use of psychotherapy and other counseling techniques in group settings.|
|Clinical Practice with Families||The techniques social workers employ in family counseling settings.|
|Understanding Social Change: Issues of Race and Gender||A consideration and exploration of race and gender issues in the field of social work.|
|Human Neuropsychology||An examination of human neuroanatomy and its relationship to behavior and cognitive function across the lifespan.|
|Planning and Program Development||Social program planning and funding in community settings and at the state and federal level.|
|Community Organizing||Methods for organizing community groups and organizations to promote social welfare.|
|Human Services Management||The principles of organizational science applied to the human services sector.|
|Human Service Program Evaluation||Methodologies for assessing the efficacy of human and social service programs.|
|Organizational Behavior & Culture||An examination of the issues that arise in complex organizations and how these issues can be addressed through effective leadership.|
Most online Advanced Standing MSW programs have selective admissions policies (i.e. even if a student meets all the admission criteria, they are not guaranteed admission to the program) and fairly strict admissions requirements. Candidates must have a BSW degree from a program accredited by the CSWE, and many programs only consider applicants who have graduated from a BSW program within a certain number of years (usually five to seven). Many programs also have a minimum GPA requirement for Advanced Standing applicants, which is typically a GPA greater than 3.0, although some programs require at least a 3.25 or even a 3.5. There are a few programs that accept students with a GPA lower than 3.0 (typically in the 2.75 range), but these are not very common. In addition, some schools calculate total GPA while others only look at a student’s GPA in undergraduate social work classes. Most programs require students to submit two or three letters of recommendation and a short personal goals statement, and some programs may require the submission of standardized test scores from the GRE or MAT exam.
While many aspects of an Advanced Standing MSW curriculum are fairly standardized, not all online programs are the same. There are several structural and formatting variations that may make some programs more preferable than others, depending on a student’s needs. There are different modes of online instruction, and different enrollment options available to students in online MSW programs. And some online programs may require students to attend a limited number of on-campus sessions, while others do not. These can be important considerations when choosing an online program.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two modes of online instruction: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous instruction is similar to traditional classroom instruction in that lectures and other class activities take place at scheduled times each week and online students are expected to be logged on to the LMS in order to participate. Asynchronous instruction is more like an independent study project in that there are no set meeting times, only a set amount of material that students are expected to complete by certain dates. Students in a course that utilizes asynchronous instruction can view lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. However, they must be self-motivated enough to keep up with assignments. Students in a course that utilizes synchronous instruction have less flexibility but are provided with a more structured learning environment.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: It is not uncommon for Advanced Standing MSW programs to offer an enrollment option that allows full-time students to complete the degree requirements and graduate in approximately one year. This can mean taking as many as five courses for three consecutive semesters over a 12 month period. Many programs are also offered part-time or have a part-time option for students who would prefer to take fewer classes per semester. While enrolling part-time is often a more realistic option for students who have work or other commitments outside of school, it does increase the time to completion. Part-time students who take two or three courses per semester can typically complete a program in 18 to 24 months.
Campus Visits: All of the programs on OnlineEducation.com are offered online. However, some may require students to attend a limited number of campus visits. These on-campus sessions can last for a couple of days to an entire week. They may include orientations, lectures, workshops, and other instructional activities, and they can be a valuable addition to an online MSW curriculum. However, they do require travel and, in order to attend these sessions, students may incur expenses in addition to tuition and fees. There are also online programs that do not require any campus visits. Currently, OnlineEducation.com does not include programs that require more than two campus visits per year.