What Classes Will I Take for a Master’s in Social Work (MSW)?

Wondering what to expect from an online master's in social work? Check out the five core courses you need to prepare for in year one.

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by Meg Embry

Published October 6, 2022

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What Classes Will I Take for a Master’s in Social Work (MSW)?
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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:

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.

Micro:
Working with individuals

Mezzo:
Working with groups and organizations

Macro:
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:

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.

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