How Long Does it Take to Get an MSW?

How long it takes to get an MSW depends on an individual’s prior education, work experience, and the social work program they attend. Master’s in Social Work programs award graduates an MSW degree when they complete all requirements.

Students will typically do one or two internships and take required classes and a few electives. Many programs now offer concentrations for students who want to study specific fields such as mental health counseling or addiction counseling. Programs are open to both those who studied social work before and those who earned a degree in another area. However, the length of time it takes to finish the MSW will vary depending on the degree and experience each student has.


What is an MSW?

A master of social work (MSW) college program is available from nationwide graduate schools. Many schools now offer both online and distance education programs in addition to traditional programs.

Online programs allow students to do their internships offline and away from the campus as they take online classes. Distance education programs are suitable for those close to a college campus. Students in these programs will do residencies at the college or university. MSW programs help students obtain the licenses needed to work as licensed social workers.

  • Online MSW
  • Macro MSW
  • Clinical MSW
  • MSW Advanced Standing Program
  • MSW No GRE
  • Micro MSW
  • One Year MSW
  • Online DSW

Why Earn an MSW?

While there are a number of jobs open for those with just a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree, even more jobs are open to those with an MSW. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), MSW programs prepare students for working in clinical fields and positions.

The BLS points out that these programs teach students how to assess clients and manage their clients. It also states that students will do either an internship or a practicum with direct supervision. The supervisors who oversee students will write reports for their schools to show the students’ work and progress.



What Do You Learn in an MSW Program?

The Master of Social Work (MSW) curriculum follows the CSWE standards and is similar at different schools. Programs consist of a foundational year and a specialization year. During the specialization year, a student depends on the school’s agenda and what the college has available.

The MSW curriculum covers topics in gerontology, mental health, youth and families, and social policy. A master’s degree program also has a field education component. Below is some typical coursework graduate students take in an MSW program.

  • Diversity and Social Justice
  • Human Behavior and the Social Work Environment
  • Advanced Practice with Individuals, Groups, or Families
  • Advanced Research Methods
  • Leadership and Management in Social Work
  • Foundations of Social Work Practice
  • Social Work Policy and Advocacy
  • Evidence-Based Community Practice
  • Leadership and Management in Social Work

Traditional MSW Program for Non-Majors

Traditional MSW programs for non-majors will take full time students two to three years to complete. Non-majors are students who studied a related field as an undergrad but did not major in social work. Students in a traditional program may have a minor in social work or no experience at all in the field. They will take introductory courses in the first year and also do a practicum too.

The second year of a traditional program allows students to complete a second practicum and take more advanced classes. If the program offers different concentrations, students will take classes relating to that field and work for an associated agency in the second year. For example, students who want to go into counseling may have supervised fieldwork in a clinical setting.

Part-time students will spend at least three years working in a traditional program on an MSW. And part time programs can last up to five years. Many MSW programs offer an online program as well that students can research as an alternative. Additionally, some schools let students with part time enrollment take a few online classes during the summer session.


MSW Accelerated Programs

Students who want to speed up the time it takes to complete the MSW should consider an accelerated program. In these programs, students complete the same courses as a traditional MSW program but complete the curriculum faster. Typically, students take more credits per term than in a conventional program, or the terms are shortened. For example, some schools use an eight-week term instead of a sixteen-week semester.

The program covers all the same information, just at a faster pace. So, these programs are often more rigorous simply because of the fast pace. The admission requirements for an accelerated program are similar to a traditional MSW program. However, an accelerated program is a good option for students with solid academic records.


Advanced Standing MSW Programs for Social Work Majors

Master in Social Work programs offer advanced standing options for students with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW). Many schools also require that students have at least one year of experience in the social work field. The students in an advanced standing MSW program do not take the same introductory courses as other students. Because advanced standing students learned about basic social work duties in their undergrad years, they do not have to repeat the content of the BSW degree.

In an advanced standing track, students take just one year of classes and simultaneously complete an advanced practicum in the field. Some advanced standing programs take 1.5 years to finish and allow students to take more electives or concentration classes. Additionally, many advanced standing MSW students enter a program at the same school where they received their BSW. The credit hours from prior coursework at the same school can streamline the process.

MSW Programcreditstimeprior degree
Traditional602 yearsbachelor’s misc
Accelerated MSW program601-2 yearsbachelor’s misc
Advanced Standing program301-1.5 yearsBSW
Summary of types of MSW programs.

Full Time vs Part Time Master of Social Work

Another way graduate school MSW programs differ is the enrollment status. Students can attend any program, except the accelerated program, full-time or part-time. Typically part-time students take about half of the courseload compared to their full-time counterparts.

Master of Social WorkcreditsSemestersCourses per
Traditional Full Time6045 courses per term
Traditional Part Time606 +2 or 3 courses per term
Advanced Standing Full Time3025 courses per term
Advanced Standing Part Time303+2 or 3 courses per term
Summary MSW programs by enrollment.

How long does it take to finish? Traditional MSW programs can take part-time students up to four years to complete. And advanced standing programs typically take three years for a part-time student to finish. However, the time in the program depends on how many courses the student takes each semester.


Online, On-Campus, and Hybrid MSWs

Prospective students can also choose a program by location. Most programs offer on campus MSWs, online MSW programs, and hybrid programs that are a combination. Students who earn a degree online complete the field education hours in their home community or a similar location. But, they take the courses online in a synchronous or asynchronous delivery format.


MSW Accreditation

Regardless of the format, all students should attend a CSWE accredited program. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) develops accreditation standards for social work programs nationwide. Students who want to find employment after they graduate or qualify for financial aid must attend a program with this accreditation.


What are MSW Specializations?

Master of Social Work degree programs all has similar components. The MSW curriculum includes foundational coursework and social work classes, advanced and specialized coursework, and a field placement or internship.

Specializations are areas of concentration or focus that graduate degree Social Work students can choose. They are similar to a minor in an undergraduate degree program and include a cluster of classes in a specific area. So, students take specialized coursework in a focus area based on their career goals. Below are some popular concentrations in direct practice and policy for MSW students.

  • Mental Health and Trauma
  • Children, Families, and Couples
  • Health, Equity, and Wellness
  • Adult Mental Health
  • Forensic Social Work
  • Clinical Practice
  • Integrated Practice
  • Medical Social Work
  • Military Social Work
  • School Social Work
  • Direct Practice
  • Community, Administration, and Policy Practice

How Long Does it Take to Become a Social Worker?

The amount of time it takes to become a Social Worker depends on your level of education, prior experience, and also the requirements of the state where you want to practice. Social Work is a licensed profession. And the requirements to earn a license vary from state to state. However, most states require graduates to hold at least a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) before applying for a license. And a licensed social worker must also complete regular continuing education. Some states require a master’s degree for licensing. But, all states require an MSW to be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).


What Jobs Can You Do With a Master of Social Work?

Students who want to work in clinical fields like rehab centers and also counseling facilities usually need an MSW degree. Depending on the amount of experience and the type of degree that the student has, it will take between one and three years to earn a Master’s in Social Work (MSW). However, graduates qualify for many advanced roles. Below are some jobs for graduates of a Social Work master’s program.

Community or Social Service Manager

Social and community service managers work for nonprofit organizations. They also have social work careers at for-profit social service companies and government agencies. They typically work full-time to coordinate and supervise programs that support public well-being.

Client Care Coordinator

Program managers consult with supervisors on issues. They measure the policies and standards followed and explain and implement changes when necessary or to meet the client’s family’s needs.

Forensic Social Worker

Forensic social workers practice micro, mezzo, and also macro-level social work. These professionals assist clients involved in the criminal justice or legal systems. Vulnerable populations served by forensic social workers include incarcerated youth and adults, recently released inmates, children who are victims of neglect, and also victims of domestic or sexual abuse. The professional organization associated with these professionals is the National Organization of Forensic Social Work (NOSFW).

Health Services Manager

Experience in social services and an MSW qualify graduates to be Health Services Managers. Professionals in this leadership role typically work in a healthcare organization like a hospital, clinic, and also public health agency. These professionals may also direct and train a staff of healthcare social workers working under them.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Licensed Clinical Social Workers can provide clinical mental health services to clients without supervision. They may own an independent practice and supervise future LCSWs. An LCSW license requires applicants to complete two to four years of supervised experience with a clinical focus. Most LCSWs work in clinical settings like hospitals, inpatient facilities, and hospice care centers.

Medical Social Worker

Most Medical Social Workers work in healthcare settings. They advise patients on how to manage lifestyle changes or other traumatic experiences. Their responsibilities include providing referrals and also other valuable resources like support groups. Additionally, they offer guidance to family caregivers, and discussing patients’ emotional or psychological needs with their healthcare providers.

Social Work Administrator

Social Work Administrators manage organizations that provide social services. These program managers oversee an agency’s staff, financial, and business aspects. An administrator or program manager may also handle grant applications, perform research, and develop methods to improve service.

The Network for Social Work Management (NSWM) is an organization of social work managers and also administrators worldwide. It helps members from various organizations develop best practices and grow networks.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance Abuse Counselors help individuals overcome addiction. Because substance abuse is physically, emotionally, and also mentally taxing, the recovery typically involves setbacks and relapses. So, counselors with social work backgrounds help guide people with substance abuse problems through a recovery plan.

Vocational Rehab Counselor

Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor help individuals with physical, mental, developmental, and also emotional disabilities live independently. Rehabilitation counselors help patients overcome and then manage the personal, social, and psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.



Professional Organizations

  • Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
  • Association for Community Organization and Social Action (ACOSA)
  • American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABESCW) 
  • Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
  • The Network for Social Work Management (NSWM)
  • Influencing Social Policy (website)

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