Answer: An MSW is a master’s-level degree that provides advanced training and instruction in the professional practice of social work. There are MSW programs that prepare students for careers in specific areas of the profession, including but not limited to clinical social work, macro social work, school social work, and military social work. There are also advanced generalist MSW programs that offer training in clinical and macro practice. And there are Advanced Standing MSW programs, which are designed for students who hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree from an accredited program.
MSW is the abbreviation for Master of Social Work, which is a formal designation for a graduate program that provides advanced didactic and practice-based training in the field of social work. Master’s in social work programs may also be designated as Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) and Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA) programs. These programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the sole accrediting body for baccalaureate and master’s in social work programs.
Students in an MSW program prepare for careers in the field by learning theories of social and behavioral science, communication skills, and professional ethics. They study social policy and social welfare programs and receive training in the scientific application of social and behavioral theories to the practice of social work with individuals, families, and groups. And they engage in field education, a signature pedagogy of social work training that provides students with hands-on experience and real-world training in the practice of social work.
The CSWE provides training guidelines in its Education Policy and Accreditation Standards. In order to meet accreditation standards, MSW programs must offer at least 900 hours of field education, as well as instruction in nine competencies:
In addition to core instruction in the general practice of social work, many MSW programs are designed to provide additional training in clinical and/or macro social work practice. There are three main categories of MSW programs:
There are also MSW programs that offer coursework in other social work specialization. These include:
Finally, graduates from CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs may be eligible for admission to an Advanced Standing MSW program. These programs provide a shorter pathway to earning an MSW to qualified candidates who have already received undergraduate training in social work.
Graduates from regionally accredited bachelor’s degree programs are generally eligible to apply to most MSW programs. The exceptions are Advanced Standing MSW programs, which require applicants to hold a BSW degree. While some MSW programs require students to submit GRE test scores, many do not. Programs that do request standardized test scores may allow applicants to submit scores from either the GRE or the MAT exam.
In addition to test scores, admissions boards may take into account an applicant’s undergraduate GPA, relevant work or volunteer experience, two or more letters of recommendation, and/or a written personal goals statement. Some programs may have a minimum GPA that applicants must meet or exceed for admissions, and some programs have several undergraduate prerequisites (often a behavior science and/or statistics course) which applicants must demonstrate they have completed. The admissions standards and criteria for MSW programs vary by program; potential applicants should research admissions requirements before applying.