You can enter a Master of Social Work program with a bachelor's degree in virtually any field. The degree usually takes two years of classroom work along with at least 900 hours of internship work, also called "field work." MSW workers who engage in counseling or similar activities must be licensed by the state in which they work. That licensure in turn will require graduation from a school that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
The MSW is a terminal practice degree, as they are called in the academic world, meaning that graduates are in effect licensed counselors. There are two general tracks in the field: one leading to clinical practice and the other to a wider scope of practice in the areas of community advocacy, social policy and institutional management.
Most MSW programs accept applicants with a wide variety of bachelor's degrees, principally in the liberal arts. Students who enter the graduate program with a degree from another discipline are spoken of as coming in through regular entry, meaning that they are going to need to enroll in the entire social work curriculum required of a graduating MSW. Usually that is a sixty credit program or two full years of full time classroom study. Many programs have their students in the field in the first year as well.
The first year consists of "foundation courses" which cover the various levels of social work practice with groups, individuals, families, organizations, communities, institutions and advocacy in policy areas. Social work academics use the terms "micro-. meso-, and macro- when referencing levels of practice, meaning the application of social work skills at the individual or family level, the group level, and at the broader community, social or policy level.
The second year of study is devoted to working on an area of specialization as selected by the student. The areas of specialization vary from university to university; many ask their students to select a method of social work practice as well as an area of practice. These are covered in more detail below. There are some interesting new areas of focus emerging, such as the Forensic Social Workoption at Arizona State University.
Students who have completed a bachelor's degree in social work are entitled to enter the MSW program on an advanced basis. They can forego a number of the foundation courses and have a forty to forty eight credit hour obligation to complete the graduate work. The credit hours also vary from school to school, but the numbers we are using accurately reflect an average for the differentiation between advanced entry and regular entry used by most schools. The undergraduate work usually must have met a certain GPA and be similar to the classes it is displacing in the graduate program.
Some schools simply offer the two options of a clinical practice track or a social advocacy and management track. More often however students have several choices for specialization, which break out into categories that describe the options for most schools. Those areas of concentration usually include working with the aging, with children and families, in health, in mental health, or in social policy and management.
Schools that offer a selection of practice method include options such as clinical practice, policy practice, administration or leadership practice, and a category for working with groups and communities. Once a student selects a method of practice, the next step is selecting an area of practice as characterized in the paragraph above.
Some of the clinical hours are completed during the two years of classroom work and some of it continues beyond completion of the degree. The requirement for a certain number of hours stems from the licensing requirements of the state. Columbia University has agreements with over 400 agencies and institutions throughout the five boroughs of New York City where students can be placed for internship. Selection of internship sites is a process of consulting with a faculty advisor and finding opportunities that align with academic specializations.