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How Do I Earn an MSW?

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  • Written By: K. Testa
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is typically conferred upon completion of a graduate-level social work program. Usually, you must have completed a bachelor's degree program first — while the field does not always matter, courses related to human services are generally recommended. Gaining some practical experience related to social work can be helpful as well. Next, you can apply to a program or several programs and, once accepted, complete the course requirements, which often entail taking final exams or writing papers. Completing a practicum or other professional work assignment is also a normal prerequisite for earning an MSW.

Though it is not always required, many people obtain Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degrees or related undergraduate degrees prior to applying to MSW programs. Liberal arts and many other fields are also relevant to social work, depending on your career goals. In many cases, a BSW might be necessary when a student wants to pursue a particular clinical field, such as counseling, for instance. Furthermore, many programs allow applicants with BSWs to enter with advanced standing.

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Prior to applying to a graduate degree program, it often helps to thoroughly research the schools in which you are interested and, if possible, attend some information sessions. Applying to a program typically entails submitting an application form, undergraduate transcripts, personal references, and any other requested information. A personal interview is possible but not always required. In addition to completion of undergraduate coursework, some MSW programs seek evidence that students have gained relevant professional work experience prior to enrolling.

Once accepted into an MSW program, you will need to complete all of the coursework and assignments necessary to earn the degree. Many schools have internship or practicum requirements in addition to papers or final exams. Depending on the school, the program might have a wide variety of courses and opportunities for specialization. For example, you could pursue a joint degree in social work and another field, such as law or public health. Other MSW programs might offer concentrations in a particular topic area, such as child welfare or aging.

A graduate social work degree program can typically be completed in two to three years. Standard course offerings might include history and theories of social work, along with more scientific courses such as statistics and research methods. MSW students generally graduate with a combination of academic coursework and a predetermined number of hours at a practicum or internship. While some courses might be available online, completing an MSW program usually requires a minimum amount of in-person attendance.

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