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MSW Programs – Everything You Need to Know
A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree is a rather versatile degree that offers specialized training and certification tracks for those looking for a philanthropic career. If you’re currently a social worker, or would like to become one, earning a MSW is a very wise decision. A MSW is required to provide therapy for nearly all clinical social work positions. If you’re serious about social work and want to remain in the field for years to come, then a MSW is the perfect starting point on your path to success and professional fulfillment.
Why Get an MSW?
The biggest reason one would want to get an MSW after their BSW is the ability to acquire a professional license. A worker with an MSW and about 3,000 hours of supervised practice is eligible to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). This accreditation allows professionals to provide formal, clinical social work, to practice social work independently, and bill third-party payers such as Medicaid or private insurance providers. Likewise, it opens up career options not available to workers with only a BSW, such as:
- Case Manager (catchall for child, family, hospital, mental health, and substance abuse fields)
- Child Protective Services Social Worker
- Family Protection Specialist
- School Social Worker
- Director of Social Work
- Medical Social Worker
- Mental Health Therapist
- Substance Abuse Counselor
A career in one of these fields lets a professional social worker affect the most change in their patients’ lives, and gives the social worker the most freedom in pursuing positive outcomes. A lot of resources exist to aid social workers, like websites and books, but for professionals who want the highest level of knowledge and autonomy to beneficially alter patients’ future, there is no substitute for earning an MSW.
What Does a Clinical Social Worker Do?
According to the National Association of Social Workers, clinical social workers demonstrate specialized knowledge and skills for effective clinical interventions with individuals, families, couples, and groups. Furthermore, clinical social workers will use these skills to accomplish a multitude of tasks, including:
- Establish and maintain a relationship of mutual respect, acceptance, and trust.
- Gather and interpret social, personal, environmental, and health information.
- Evaluate and treat problems within their scope of practice.
- Establish achievable treatment goals with the client.
- Facilitate cognitive, affective, and behavioral changes consistent with treatment goals.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of treatment services provided to the client.
- Identify appropriate resources and assessment instruments, as needed.
- Advocate for client services.
- Collaborate effectively with other social workers or allied professionals, when appropriate
With these skills, clinical social workers are able to counsel patients and guide them through effective changes to better their lives. This may mean improving the home life of at risk children, helping couples resolve marital problems, guiding behavioral changes for addicts and drug abusers, or even facilitating the process of acceptance to those with chronic or terminal illnesses. No matter what specific field a clinical social worker is in, a earning a MSW is the first step in a long and rewarding career.
As you might expect, the admissions process for an MSW program is similar to the admissions process for a bachelor’s degree program. However, there are a few key differences that prospective students should be aware of.
Unless you’re applying to a BS/MSW program, you will need a bachelor’s degree to apply. A BS/MSW program is for students who are already majoring in social work-related fields and wish to pursue an MSW at the same institution. These programs are designed for students who are serious about continuing their education and show academic potential. If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field and an MSW is a definite goal, you might want to consider the BS/MSW option.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree, but it is not in social work, or a related field, such as sociology or psychology, you might need to enroll in a few courses at a community college before applying to an MSW program in order to meet the academic admissions requirements. Check with each school you’re considering for a more thorough explanation of the admissions process and whether you meet the criteria.
Other requirements may include:
- Experience in the field – A few years on the job might be a requirement to enroll in a MSW program, so double check if professional experience is needed to apply. An internship might suffice, depending on the program.
- Letters of recommendation – Most schools will require applicants to submit at least two letters of recommendation from former professors or supervisors that can speak to your abilities and potential. These letters can make or break an application, so make sure to ask for the best references possible.
- 3.0 GPA – Not all schools require a 3.0 to apply, but MSW programs are growing in popularity, upping the admission standards. And while a 3.0 might not be required, a good G.P.A might be necessary to stay competitive during the application process.
- GRE scores – Again, not all schools require the GRE so double check if you need to sign up for the exam.
Coursework and Fieldwork
Once enrolled in a program, you’ll complete coursework that covers a variety of topics. Some of these topics may be specific to certain fields of social work, while others might cover broader topics and be applicable to many, or all the specializations in social work. Having a broad understanding of the different specializations in social work is important because it gives students experience in fields they might not otherwise be interested in. For example, a social worker who specializes in child and family social work may find that issues affecting the patient are caused by a family member’s substance abuse or addiction. In these cases, it’s important for a social worker to be well rounded, so he or she can address the multitude of issues that arise in helping a patient achieve better outcomes. Topics covered in MSW coursework include:
- Human Behavior
- Conflict Management
- Social Welfare Programs
- Social Policy
- Community Organization
- Advanced Psychology
- Clinical Practice
- Child Welfare
In addition to coursework, most MSW programs require students to complete a fieldwork component. Fieldwork is an incredible opportunity to gain knowledge through experience by working alongside professionals at a community center or social service agency.
Fieldwork can be a pretty rigorous part of an MSW program. Some schools require students to dedicate an entire semester to working at an agency or center, so make sure you can commit to the hours necessary to fulfill this requirement. If you’re considering an online program, you’ll likely still participate in a fieldwork placement. Make sure to contact an admissions advisor to get all the information you need about the duration of the fieldwork experience and to learn how placement works.
What’s great about MSW programs is the option to specialize in a particular area of social work – either clinical or non-clinical. Some programs allow you to decide after you’ve taken a few courses, while others require students to declare an area of concentration on their application. Listed below are links to various online schools where you can learn more about the requirements for achieving your MSW.