How do I Choose the Best Postgraduate Social Work Program?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
A social worker working with a teen.
A social worker working with a teen.

There are a number of ways to choose the best postgraduate social work programs, and what each person chooses is based on interests, availability, and successful application. The term “program” requires some definition, as does the term, “postgraduate.” A program may be additional training, a fellowship, work, or continued studies. Postgraduate often means post-master’s degree (MSW), but it could also mean postdoctorate. Students may find information about opportunities through their school of social work, by evaluating programs of other schools, by initiating a job search, and by using help organizations like social work associations, such as the US National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

For many students with an MSW, the next goal is to acquire the hours needed to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This doesn’t require being in formal postgraduate social work programs. Instead, many people acquire their hours in the private or public sector through work at hospitals, mental institutions, counseling agencies, or state agencies. If money is a concern at this point in a social worker’s career, private or public employment is usually the best “social worker program” for training. Though trainees won’t be paid as much as LCSWs, it’s possible to make a living wage during the years that training takes place, and it may be the best choice.

Other social workers seek a specific type of training, which they may or may not be able to find with regular employees. In this case they may look especially for fellowships that could help earn hours at the same time training is completed. A school of social work that a person attends may have attractive postgraduate social work programs.

Students can widen their search by speaking with professors about other available programs at additional schools, or they can search through social work schools on their own to determine what fellowships or programs are available at the postgraduate level. Students with specific interests, such as in medical social work, may want to evaluate programs at teaching hospitals. Other sources of information about postgraduate social work programs are national or state run social worker organizations. Any programs endorsed by these agencies typically meet high standards.

If students are interested in fellowships, they do need to scrutinize available ones carefully. Sometimes fellowships are postdoctorate, meaning they're only available to students with a doctorate in social work or another closely related field like social justice. These are often research oriented as opposed to direct practice oriented. Alternately, postgraduate social work programs tend to accept MSWs. The distinction is important to save students time from applying to programs that won’t accept them.

Postgraduate programs can also mean continuing education units (CEUs), as may be offered from colleges, at conferences, or from a variety of other sources. Social workers can expect to take a variety of classes for license maintenance, and they typically lean toward CEUs that teach new topics, that refresh memory on old topics, or that are conveniently located or inexpensive. There is no “best program,” for continued education, but instead there are many options from which social workers may choose.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    • A social worker working with a teen.
      A social worker working with a teen.