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What is a Master of Social Work?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

A Master of Social Work is an advanced academic degree which prepares students for a career in social work. As the scope of social work is very broad, most Master of Social Work programs require students to specialize in one or more facets of the field, such as aging or community organization. In addition to two years of course work, students in most programs are required to complete 900 internship hours, enabling them to gain hands-on experience in their desired area of specialization. Admission to a Master of Social Work program generally calls for a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts discipline as well as a strong commitment to improving both society and individual lives.

The field of social work encompasses many diverse concerns, such as child development, public health, and substance abuse. In order to best prepare students for a career in the field, most Master of Social Work programs require participants to choose one or two areas of specialization. Students’ classroom hours are generally split between study of their specialty area and courses which cover more general topics, such as ethics.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In addition to choosing an area of specialty, Master of Social Work students often must also specialize in a specific type of practice. They may, for instance, opt to study clinical methods, which would prepare them to work in counseling-based jobs. Another possible practice specialty is social policy, which prepares students for careers as shapers of public policy.

Accredited Master of Social Work programs in the US require students to complete 900 internship hours in addition to their classroom-based work. Generally, these internship hours relate to the individual student’s area of specialty. Thus, if the student’s concentration is child development, she may intern at a juvenile correctional facility or a school. If she is focusing on substance abuse, she may intern at a rehabilitation facility. These internship hours give students valuable hands-on experience in their areas of interest, ultimately making the transition from student to professional easier.

To gain admission to a US Master of Social Work program, applicants generally must hold a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts subject. Those with some academic background in areas such as psychology, social science, and political science may have an advantage over those with degrees in subjects unrelated to social work. In addition, applicants should be strongly committed to helping individuals improve their lives and be passionate about influencing society on behalf of the disempowered.

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