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A focus on community practice will provide MSW graduates with the opportunity to have a direct, broad-level impact on today’s most urgent issues, mobilizing communities and contributing to policy development to enact needed social changes.

In this section:

As social policies and programs that impact the most vulnerable populations continue to undergo rapid changes, social workers with a focus in community practice are needed to help analyze, develop, and implement best practices for working with marginalized community groups. A focus in community practice can lead to a wide range of professional positions, all of which provide the opportunity for social workers to focus on the most pressing social issues of 2019.

Why Focus Your MSW in Community Practice in 2019:

Community practice is focused on empowering communities to address the concerns that they are facing, and working with communities to bring about needed changes that promote social justice. Social workers engaged in community practice are often involved in community organizing and advocacy, and work with groups of people, organizations, and institutions to bring about desired changes that will impact entire communities.

Projected Growth By Field:

  • Social Assistance – 27%
  • Policy & Government – 10.6%
  • Community & Rehabilitation Services – 8%

The central focus of community practice is macro-level concerns and oppressive conditions that must be addressed in order to achieve a more equitable, socially just society for all. Community social workers approach this task through a variety of strategies for community empowerment.

A community practice focus is well-suited to MSW students interested in bringing about change at the societal level. For those interested in working with community members to transform their communities for the better, a focus on community practice will prepare students for the challenging, exciting, and rewarding work of social change.

In-Demand Career Options for Community Social Workers

A focus in community practice during the MSW degree can lead to a variety of potential career paths, and accordingly, there are several different options for refining one’s learning experience within the community practice focus area. Most programs offer courses focused on policy for those interested in careers in policy development and analysis, or as public servants.

Administration and leadership within the social services field is another potential area of study within the scope of community practice. Community organizing and community development options are generally available through elective courses or specialized tracks within as part of a focus in community practice.

Career Paths:

Social workers who elect a focus on community practice during their MSW can take advantage of the versatility of this focus area by pursuing positions within numerous settings. Community organizing is a natural career choice for many community social workers, wherein they may be employed at a non-profit agency, interest-based coalition, or community neighborhood organization, and tasked with the job of mobilizing community members for self-empowerment.

Top Career Paths Clinical Social Workers:

  • Policy Development & Analysis
  • Community Organizer
  • Program Administration
  • Elected Office / Public Official

Community social workers can also be found in many branches of government, working as elected officials, program administrators, and a number of other roles. The Department of Health and Human Services commonly employs social workers for their expertise in social service provision and community assessment.

Being a community organizer allows social workers to apply their skills at the macro-level and offers the rewarding opportunity to see broad-level impacts.

As public servants in government positions, social workers use their training and skills to represent, advocate for, and act in the best interest of the communities they serve. Similarly, community social workers interested in policy can also serve as researchers, policy analysts, and public policy professionals in government, public, and private agencies.

Our Picks for MSW Programs that offer a Community Practice Focus

  1. Winthrop University – Offering a variety of options for study (online, weekends, traditional), Winthrop University’s MSW curriculum is rooted in Empowerment Practice, which “utilizes advanced critical thinking skills to assess the influence of multiple and interlocking personal, structural, and societal systems of power on vulnerable and oppressed populations.” Through the empowerment approach, students gain valuable community practice skills in community assessment, intervention, and evaluation, and social welfare policy analysis and development.
    Learn more about Winthrop University’s 100% ONLINE Program.
  2. University of Pittsburgh – The MSW program at the University of Pittsburgh offers students interested in community practice a concentration in Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA). This focus area is designed for “socially-active and civically-engaged students who seek leadership careers in community human services, community development, and community change/social policy practice as professional social workers.”
  3. Sacred Heart University Social Work Program – The MSW program at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut offers students the opportunity to choose a Direct Community Practice specialization. This specialization “focuses on practice with larger client systems including large groups, organizations, and communities utilizing human behavior with specific focus on organizational and community theories and frameworks as well as leadership and management.” The community practice curriculum provides students with knowledge of social policies, government processes, research methods, and community assessment.
    Learn more about Sacred Heart University’s 100% ONLINE Program.
  4. Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work – Located in Chicago, Illinois
    where Jane Addams’ settlement house and the Alinsky tradition of community organizing originated, Loyola University Chicago offers MSW students a unique opportunity to focus on community practice in a place rich with social work history. The school offers a dual degree option leading to the MSW and a Master of Arts in Social Justice, as well as a specialization in Leadership and Development in the Social Services.
  5. San Diego State University School of Social Work – Offering a concentration in Administration and Community Development, the San Diego State University MSW program offers students the opportunity to further specialize their community practice knowledge and skills by choosing between the Administration and Community Development tracks.

Spotlight: Programs of Study for Community Practice

Elective offerings often include courses that focus on methodological and theoretical approaches to community engagement and social change. For example, Winthrop University offers a course called “Leadership and Empowerment Practice,” and Loyola University Chicago offers a course for those interested in community practice at the international level called “Global Social Work: Reflective Practice for Justice and Peace.”

Programs of study for MSW students focused on community practice often include a focus on policy and social systems. Courses that focus on social welfare policy and macro practice are core courses offered in most community practice-focused programs. Courses in research methods, and other areas of government policy and processes are also frequently available. For example, Sacred Heart University offers a course on “Lobbying and Legislative Processes” and San Diego State University offers several courses in civic engagement.