How long does it take to do a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) program? What are the degree and educational requirements and the long-term career benefits?
The degree requirement for social work and educational requirements for social workers vary according to what area graduates wish to practice in and at what level. A common question for aspiring social workers is how long it will take them to do an MSW and what the online degree options are.
Pathways Into Social Work
The first step to becoming a social worker is usually to obtain a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited college or university. This prepares students for both entry-level positions in the field, as well as for a Master’s of Social Work.
Continuing on to complete an MSW prepares social workers to do advanced specialized clinical work in direct practice or administration. A clinical social worker can provide individual, group and family therapy.
Most students with a BSW go on to complete an MSW program due to the specialized training and in-depth practice experience it offers. Earning an MSW allows graduates to apply for social work licensure (LSW or LMSW, depending on the state) and eventually clinical social work licensure (LCSW).
An MSW program also gives students the chance to choose their concentration in a specific field. Those wishing to work in a clinical setting should take a program with a clinical concentration. Other concentrations include mental health, families, community planning and social work in business.
An MSW typically takes two years to complete. However, it can be completed more quickly with Advanced Standing or done part-time, depending on an individual’s other commitments and prior education and experience.
Fast-tracking an MSW with Advanced Standing
Those who have a BSW prior to applying for graduate school may be eligible for advanced standing, which enables them to receive an MSW in one year rather than through the traditional two-year program.
Advanced Standing is a term applied by universities and colleges to grant credit to a student for their professional experience or academic coursework completed at another institution. The Advanced Standing track allows students to apply relevant completed coursework and move directly into upper-level coursework – allowing them to graduate sooner.
Studying at a Slower Pace
For those with financial or other commitments that prevent them from studying full-time, a part-time online MSW degree program can offer more flexibility. Obviously, these programs take longer to complete.
Part-time online MSW programs, which are MSW degrees with flexible scheduling, are ideal for professionals who already work in the industry and want to pursue an advanced degree. Typically, part-time programs take between two-and-a-half to four years to complete.
Finding the Best MSW Program
The three top-ranking MSW programs in the U.S. currently are the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor – School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis – George Warren Brown School of Social Work and University of California–Berkeley – School of Social Welfare.
For those looking for an online, advanced standing MSW program, Boston University offers students flexibility and a choice of specializations in traditional, clinical and macro social work.
The career outlook for social workers with an MSW is bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for social workers was $45,900 in May 2015, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $76,820.