In order to earn Master's of Social Work (MSW) degree, you will need to meet admissions requirements designed to measure how well your experiences, previous education, work history and career plans fit with a particular program's goals, and also to assess whether you are academically prepared to complete the course of study. If you are admitted, you will also need to complete degree requirements that will include both coursework and field placements. You may need to complete other non-course milestones, such as a thesis or comprehensive examination.
The requirements for admission to an MSW program vary from institution to institution, but you can assume that there will be some common elements. Check the individual requirements at all of the schools to which you are applying and make sure that you meet their requirements.
For example, in the U.S., you will need a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in order to apply for any graduate program. It may or may not matter what your major was, but something from in liberal arts (humanities, social sciences, especially fields such as psychology and sociology) may be a better fit than some types of professional majors (business administration, for example). This does NOT mean you cannot apply if your undergraduate degree is in something else, but you may need to explain your change of interest. You may also be asked to take specific classes either before admission, or in addition to your program classes (e.g. statistics, U.S. government).
Most MSW programs will also have a minimum undergraduate grade point average requirement. The specific minimum will vary from school to school, but minimums in the 2.75 to 3.5 range (on a four-point GPA scale) are typical.
You will be asked to submit official transcripts of all your previous academic work, to have three or four reference letters and to write a personal statement explaining your interest in social work, your previous academic, professional, and volunteer experience and your career plans.
When you write your personal statement, explain how your previous experiences in school, at work and as a volunteer are relevant to the goals of social work education, as well as how your career plans fit with what you will learn in an MSW program. If possible, ask the people who are writing your letters of reference to address these questions as well.
Depending on the program, you may need to complete an exam or skills assessment. Most MSW programs do not require the GRE. International applicants will need to provide additional information about their financial status and how well they are able to speak and write in English.
Degree Requirements Overview
In order to finish an MSW degree, you will need to complete classroom coursework and also field or practical work, both of which will be counted in hours. These requirements usually take about two years to complete if you are studying full-time and make good progress. You may be permitted to transfer some hours of relevant coursework from another institution.
You may also need to complete one or more non-course milestones, such as comprehensive examinations or a master's thesis, though these requirements vary from school to school, and some, like the thesis, may be optional.
Your coursework will probably consist of both core courses, which everyone in your MSW program is required to take and teach you the fundamentals of the field, and courses relating to your concentration or field of interest within social work. You will choose a field that matches your professional interests and career plans. Examples of fields include child and family, clinical practice and school social work. Different universities may offer different types of specialization.
You will also complete a set number of hours in field placements. Field placements are a crucial part of the education you will receive in an MSW program. In a field placement, you will actually work in a social service agency, community organization, clinical practice, school or other work environment that is relevant to your course of study. In these settings, you will learn the practical skills that you will need in your career after finishing school. There will be people to help you find job placements that are a good fit for you, and there will be someone at your field who will supervise and assess your work.
Finally, you may need to complete a capstone project, such as a thesis or comprehensive examination. These capstone experiences, when they are required, are meant to test the sum of what you have learned throughout your course of study and/or to measure your ability to put those skills into practice.
Nicole Lassahn earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature in 2001 from the University of Chicago. Since then, she has worked as assistant director of the University of Chicago Academic and Professional Writing Program, and as assistant dean of the Graduate School at Loyola University Chicago.