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Question: What Is an Advanced Generalist Master of Social Work (MSW) Program?

Answer: Advanced generalist is the formal designation for Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs that provide broad training and instruction in clinical and macro social work. While many MSW programs are geared toward a specialization in clinical or macro social work, advanced generalist programs allow students who haven’t settled on a particular area of practice to develop an understanding of both of these fields within the profession.

Advanced Generalist MSW Programs

An MSW degree is considered to be the standard for professional practice in the field of social work, and it is a requirement for those who want to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs). MSW programs provide advanced, practice-based training in different areas of social work, including the profession’s two main fields: clinical and macro practice. Rather than targeting one of these areas, advanced generalist programs offer students a broad curriculum that incorporates elements of clinical practice with individuals, families, and groups, and macro practice at the community and organizational level. Some advanced generalist programs also provide training and instruction in one or more of the sub-specializations within social work through elective coursework. These sub-specializations include: school social work, military social work, trauma counseling, mental health counseling, and substance abuse counseling.

Advanced generalist MSW programs are quite numerous. The latest data from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) indicates that clinical/direct practice MSW programs account for nearly 50% of all programs, advanced generalist programs for almost 30% of all programs, and macro programs for just 12%. It is important to note that the advanced generalist designation encompasses a wide range of MSW programs, some of which have a stronger clinical focus, while others put a greater emphasis on macro social work. An advanced generalist program may also allow students who have not yet decided on a specific area of practice to develop a broad base of knowledge and skills while enrolling in elective coursework in specialized areas of practice.

Advanced generalist MSW programs may prepare students for licensure as LCSWs, depending on the curriculum, on where students complete their field education, and on what the specific requirements for licensure are in a student’s state of residence.

Clinical vs. Macro Social Work

Clinical social work involves meeting with individuals, families, and other groups, assessing their wellbeing, identifying problems, and providing direct assistance in the form of counseling services and referrals to social, vocational, and human services programs. Macro social work takes place at the community and policy level, where social welfare programs are designed, initiated, assessed, and maintained through public and private organizations and initiatives. The crucial difference between clinical and macro social work is that clinical social workers must be licensed by the state in which they practice in order to set up their own private practice. Macro social workers do not require licensure. This is important in the context of advance practice MSW programs because students who want to move into clinical practice areas may require training that is not mandatory in an advance generalist program. However, there are advance generalist programs that can provide the necessary training and coursework for LCSW licensure.

The Advanced Generalist MSW Curriculum

All accredited MSW program must adhere to the curricular guidelines set forth by the CSWE most recently in its 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards for Baccalaureate and Master’s Social Work Programs. This encompasses coursework in clinical and macro areas of practice, including: assessment of and engagement with individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations; theories of social, economic, and environmental justice; professional and ethical standards of practice; and policy and practice-based research in the field of social work. In addition, CSWE-accredited MSW programs must provide at least 900 hours of field education, which involves placing students in clinical and/or community social work settings for supervised, on-the-job training. An advanced generalist MSW program may allow students to divide their field education between clinical and macro practice environments, which may not be possible in program with a defined clinical or macro focus.

Like other types of MSW programs, advanced generalist programs are designed to be completed in roughly two years of full-time enrollment. However, there are format variations that may allow full-time students to graduate in less time (16 months of year-round enrollment), and there are programs that offer part-time enrollment options that can extend to the time to graduation beyond the standard two years. The coursework in a 60-credit MSW program usually accounts for between 40 and 45 credit hours, with the remaining third of the credits earned through field education. The table below offers an overview of some of the core courses that are typically part of an advanced generalist MSW curriculum.

Course TitleCourse Description
Principles & Philosophy of Social WorkAn introduction to the nature, history, traditions, and current state of work in the field of social work and social justice.
Theoretical Foundations of Social WorkTheories of human behavior and socialization applied to the practice of social work in clinical microsystems and at the macro or community level.
Social Welfare Policy AnalysisAn examination of social welfare policies and their impact on communities, families, and individuals.
Research Methods in Social WorkThe design, implementation, and analysis of research in the field of social work, and the application of research to the practice of social work.
Generalist Practice: Small Client SystemsApplied training in the clinical skills used in assessing and engaging with individuals and families in social work practice.
Generalist Practice: Large Client SystemsApproaches to the professional practice of social work at the community level, with action groups, organizations, and other social welfare agencies.

Prospective applicants to an advanced generalist MSW program who intend to seek LCSW licensure should determine the licensing requirements for the state in which they intend to practice and check with the program to ensure that the curriculum will allow them to meet these requirements.


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