Master’s degree programs in social work prepare graduates for work in a specialized field, such as with children and families, adolescents, or the elderly. MSW students learn how to perform clinical assessments, supervise others, and manage large caseloads. Master’s programs generally require 2 years of study and include a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction or internship. A part-time program may take 4 years. Seek programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education to ensure that the graduate program you choose will provide an appropriate education and meet state requirements for licensure and certification. The Council on Social Work Education accredits over 180 master’s programs.
Doctoral Social Work Programs
A doctorate in social work (DSW) prepares graduates for the most advanced jobs, such as administration, supervision, and staff training positions. College and university teaching positions and most research appointments also require a DSW or a PhD in social work. Similar to a PsyD and a PhD (degrees in psychology), the DSW and PhD differ with regard to emphasis on practice vs research. The DSW emphasizes training in practice, so graduates become expert practitioners, whereas the PhD emphasizes research, training graduates for careers in research and teaching.
Licensure and Certification
All States and the District of Columbia have licensing, certification, or registration requirements regarding social work practice and the use of professional titles. Although standards for licensing vary by State, most require completion of an exam plus 2 years (3,000 hours) of supervised clinical experience for licensure of clinical social workers. Note that most social workers conduct their practice relatively independently but consult with a senior practitioner who serves as a "supervisor." The Association of Social Work Boards provides information about licensure for all states and the District of Columbia.
In addition, the National Association of Social Workers offers voluntary credentials to MSW holders, such as the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW), or the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) credential, based on their professional experience. Certification is a marker of experience, and is particularly important for social workers in private practice; some health insurance providers require certification for reimbursement.