Dual Degrees in Social Work: Is it Right for Me?
Social work as a field of academic study is by nature interdisciplinary – it draws from various traditional academic disciplines, such as sociology and psychology, to form its educational foundation. Dual degrees in social work programs can be an option for further education.
Social workers realize that academic disciplines should not exist in silos within the university, creating competing schools of thought and hierarchies of methodologies.
Instead, an interdisciplinary approach values how perspectives can be broadened and learning enriched by including inter-related academic areas in social work training and education.
Going beyond the interdisciplinary nature of social work itself, many universities offer dual degree programs in social work and another field, allowing students to earn a Master of Social Work simultaneously with another graduate degree. As dual degree programs grow in popularity and diversity, it is important to consider their potential advantages and disadvantages in weighing the decision of if dual degrees in social work are worth pursuing.
Advantages of Dual Degree Programs:
The philosophy behind most dual degrees in social work is that social work practice can be enhanced by advanced training in complementary disciplines that relate to the practitioner’s arena of work, such as public policy, law, or non-profit management.
Some key advantages of dual degree programs include:
- Allowing students to complete both programs simultaneously, leading to two advanced degrees, in less time than required to complete both programs individually (thereby saving time and money)
- Differentiates graduates from their peers in the job search
- Complements clinical training in social work by drawing from additional theoretical orientations
- Well-suited to students looking for leadership positions in social work practice, or non-clinical roles in the macro and mezzo areas
- Provides the opportunity to share social work perspectives with other disciplines
- Enriches the learning environment through the intersection of different disciplines
- Provides broader perspectives and new ways of thinking about many social work issues
Disadvantages of Dual Degree Programs:
Despite the great potential benefits students might enjoy through a dual degree program, they come with their unique challenges and problems.
Disadvantages to dual degree options include:
- Taking more time and costing more money than the MSW alone
- Difficulties navigating and meeting academic requirements due to rigid curriculum structures and course availability limitations
- Causing students to feel overwhelmed or creating additional stress
- Detracting from the sense of community and camaraderie within a cohort in either program
- Difficulties in coordination between departments
- Greater challenges in finding appropriate fieldwork placements to complement both programs
- Having to gain admission into each program individually
Does a Dual-Degree Make a Difference?
Deciding whether or not to pursue a dual degree program is a personal, academic decision that must take into account the resources available to the student as well as their career goals.
For those seeking leadership positions within the social services, dual degree programs might be a sound choice – one study reported that dual degree graduates advance more quickly into management level positions, and earn higher salaries than MSW only graduates.
However, additional research is needed to evaluate the post-graduation outcomes of dual degree programs.
Based on their unique challenges, dual degrees in social work programs are not appropriate for all students, and alternatives, such as certificate programs or taking cross-disciplinary electives are also viable options for students looking to reap some of the benefits of interdisciplinary graduate work.
However, dual degree programs are an attractive option for those students who are up to the academic and financial challenge of receiving advanced training in two fields at once and attaining a diverse set of complementary skills to enhance future social work practice.
- Miller, SE, Hopkins, KM, Greif, GL. Dual degree social work programs: where are the programs and where are the graduates. Advances in Social Work. 2008;9(1):29-43.