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Masters in Social Work Requirements

Masters in Social Work Requirements

The requirements for a Masters in Social Work aren't subject to quite as much flexibility as some degrees, because social workers are required to obtain a license in all fifty states. The licensing requirements have some fairly specific academic requirements that MSW students must meet for state licensure, particularly as counselors. So the format for most MSW programs follows a pattern: the first year is devoted to the core courses for the program and the second year to the advanced courses, which correspond with a selected area of concentration.

Year two also entails hundreds of hours spent in "field work," which is a supervised internship of sorts working in a social services facility at a position that is relevant to the area of concentration for the degree. The selection of a location for field work is accomplished by agreement among a faculty advisor, the student, and the participating agency. New York University has a roster of over 600 social services agencies and locations that the School of Social work has partnered with.

The Core Courses in Year One

Social work is broken into two broad categories: 'macro practice' which refers to the administrative, management, policy making and community organizing aspects of the career. The other segment is 'direct practice' which is the counseling and intervention activities that social workers undertake with children, families, and seniors. Some of the core courses at the University of Washington provide examples of the foundation work: Micro-Mezzo Practice with Individuals, Families & Groups; Macro-Practice - Organizations, Community, Policy Practice; Foundations of Social Welfare Research; and Poverty & Inequality. At UW there is a first year practicum as well, putting students into the field for the first time.

Research is an important and ongoing function in social work, because the career is devoted to fixing social situations that don't work. Evaluating the reasons that problems exist and the degree to which existing programs are fixing those problems is critical to maintaining the necessary public and political support for social programs. It is public funding and non-profit foundations that keep social work programs afloat.

Year Two Specializations and Field Work

Areas of specialization vary from school to school. Some of the top MSW programs have only two or three areas of concentration; others expand somewhat, breaking down into categories that generally will include Health, Mental Health, Children & Families, Gerontology, Community Practice, Administration & Management, Non-profit management, and in some cases additional categories. But generally there are the counseling roles, working with people, and the macro roles, working in policy, organizational management, and advocacy.

In many programs the skills for those specializations are learned in the field. The academic requirements for field work may range from 600 to 1,000 hours, so students are working at their field assignment location for hours every week. Those assignments can be in one of dozens of service organizations or jobs. Social workers are deployed to housing agencies, homeless shelters, hospital emergency rooms, schools, mental health centers, addiction rehabilitation organizations, public health clinics, senior centers, home health agencies, and many other social services organizations, public and private. Much like advanced practice nursing and physical therapy, the profession is taught in the classroom but learned on the job.

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