- First-year MSW coursework lays a generalist foundation of knowledge.
- Second-year MSW coursework provides opportunities for specialization and practice.
- Along the way, students will explore the three levels of social work: micro, mezzo, and macro.
Curious about what to expect from a master's in social work? For starters, you can expect to learn a lot about yourself.
And that may not always be comfortable, said Sarah Daily, LMSW. "My favorite classes taught me so much about my own beliefs, bias, and ignorance. It's important to have a good professor walking you through that process."
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Ready to start your journey?
Year One: Building Your Foundation
In your first year, your program will require you to take classes focusing on fundamental social work concepts:
- Human development and behavior
- Interactions between people and systems
- Ethics and theory
- Social policy
- Social justice
- Clinical practice
While curricula vary from school to school, various versions of these five courses are pretty common:
Social Welfare Policy
This course examines the history and purpose of social welfare, as well as the role and evolution of government in social welfare policy. You will explore current social welfare issues and learn how to identify the strengths and weaknesses of current social welfare systems.
Interventions in Clinical Social Work
In this course, students apply social work theory and intervention strategies in supervised practice experiences with diverse patient populations. You will learn about ethical standards of practice, evidence-based approaches, and the importance of cultural competency and sensitivity in clinical settings.
Poverty and Inequality
This course investigates how poverty is defined and measured in the United States. You will study the political, economic, and philosophical foundations of the nation's social welfare system. You'll also become familiar with current welfare policy controversies and analyze different perspectives of poverty and inequality.
Human Behavior in the Social Environment
This course examines how people and communities develop, behave, and interact. You will learn about lifespan development from conception to old age and consider how social influence impacts development and community outcomes.
Social Work Research
Research courses provide an overview of qualitative and quantitative research methods, causation, measurement, and sampling. Prepare to review key research concepts like hypothesis formation, research design, and data collection. You will also study social work research ethics related to informed consent, confidentiality, and cultural sensitivity.
Year Two: Choosing a Specialization
In year two, you will start branching out into more specialized coursework. Students may choose to center their studies around the micro, mezzo, or macro levels of social work.
Working with individuals
Working with groups and organizations
Working to address large-scale issues in the field
Once you have a sense of what level of social work you're most interested in, you'll choose a concentration that best supports your career goals. Common MSW concentrations include:
- Clinical or direct practice
- Advanced generalist
- Administrative and community development
- Addiction/chemical dependence
- Children's mental health specialist
- Medical social work
- Trauma specialist
Pro Tip: Don't worry if you don't know what area of practice you love the most! Most MSW graduates go on to explore many areas of practice throughout their careers.
Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs
Micro, Mezzo, and Macro Social Work: What's the Difference?
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