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What is an MSW?

June 05, 2019
Yeshiva Whats an MSW

Acronyms like “MBA” are generally universally recognized and come with a certain amount of prestige, but what is an MSW and what does it stand for?

MSW stands for Master of Social Work. Like many other graduate degree programs, an MSW aims to give you the skills and knowledge needed for career advancement. However, a master of social work is also required for social workers who want to be fully licensed in their state of residence.1 Generally, an MSW degree program takes about two years to complete and gives students a stronger foundation in social theory, public policy, social programs and organization structures. Most MSW programs also require students to participate in clinical practice and fieldwork, which gives them actual experience in providing social services.2

What can you do with an MSW?

While a bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient for entry-level work, a master’s is considered a must-have for many in this field.3 Earning your MSW provides an invaluable opportunity to hone your soft skills as well as business acumen should you choose to open your own practice. It’s also a good way to build a network both for professional and support purposes.

Many who earn their MSW are primed to pursue educational pursuits at the doctoral level; this tends to be the goal of many social workers, and it’s an important accolade for those who would like to continue moving up within the field.3 So, what can you do with an MSW? Graduates with an MSW are prepared to move into positions in local, state or national government, as well as non-profit and private organizations. A master’s degree is generally required for those who would like to attain a supervisory position within these organizations as well as to provide therapy. Social workers with an MSW can also work as administrators, researchers, policymakers and planners.2


When selecting your MSW degree program, it’s important to choose one that is accredited. While an MSW isn’t viewed in quite the same way as a medical doctorate or a Juris Doctorate, the laws governing the field are similar. To ensure that students are receiving the highest level of education possible, most states will only allow full licensure for students who have graduated from programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).3

The CSWE is essentially the gold standard for university review and full accreditation of social work programs.3 Students who wish to use their MSW degree for full licensure should consider programs approved by the CSWE, and not simply because this is a good indicator of the level of education they can expect to receive. Without a degree from an accredited program, sitting for the final Licensed Clinical Social Worker examination could prove exceedingly difficult, and in some cases, even impossible.3

What’s an MSW curriculum like?

An MSW program is meant to be challenging for the candidates. The coursework is time-consuming and rigorous, but this is what gives MSW degree holders a higher distinction than those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. At the master’s level, most accredited programs require students to take courses that cover a wide range of social work topics, including but not limited to social justice, social welfare policy, mental health practice, human behavior and research technology.2

Most programs will also require that their students engage in clinical practice and research fieldwork, which allows them to gain applicable experience providing social services and enables them to critically examine a certain social issue or problem.

What kinds of MSWs are there?

As society evolves, so have MSW programs. Currently, several different options are available to attain your MSW degree. You could go the traditional route and attend a full-time, on-ground program, or you could choose a part-time, on-ground program that you attend at night after work. You could also attend a hybrid program that mixes in-person meetings with online work. For those who cannot attend a brick-and-mortar classroom, another option is a full-time or part-time online MSW degree program, like Yeshiva University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) online program, which allows you to complete your coursework in your spare time while you continue to actively further your career.

No matter which format you choose, make sure it’s the best fit for your current needs. Be sure to consider your current professional workload, your support system at home and the amount of free time you have to devote to the degree program.

If you’ve answered the call to help others and would like to augment the skills you’ve already built through your bachelor’s degree and work experience, discover how to broaden your future in social work and check out the online Master of Social Work from Yeshiva University.

1. Retrieved on May 17, 2019, from socialworkguide.org/licensure/
2. Retrieved on May 17, 2019 from study.com/articles/What_Can_You_Do_With_a_MSW_Degree.html
3. Retrieved on May 17, 2019, from socialworkdegreeguide.com/faq/what-is-a-master-of-social-work-degree/