A master’s in social work (MSW) and a master’s in public administration (MPA) is a unique combination that helps professionals prepare to work in positions of leadership and management. This guide walks through what to expect from a MSW/MPA dual-degree program. It also covers some of the career opportunities available to people with this level of training and background.In this guide
If you want to dedicate your career to helping improve the lives of others, the MSW provides the framework for you to do so. It offers you the ability to do so in many ways. It allows you to practice at what is called a macro, mezzo, or micro level. The micro level includes providing direct services such as case management, community organizing, counseling, and hospital positions. The mezzo level includes providing mid-level management services such as agency director and community service coordinator. The macro level includes work at the large scale policy levels such as lobbyists or executive directors of state and national agencies. Learn more about the differences in social work practice in our levels of social work guide.
Graduating with your masters in social work is usually enough to get started at a micro or mezzo level. However, most macro level positions will not hire MSWs fresh out of school. Those positions will most likely require MSW graduates to gain additional work experience.
If you know you want to start your career at the macro level you may want to consider the joint MSW/MPA degree.
A masters in public administration, as you may surmise from the title, focuses on public policy. It prepares its students to work at the policy level at agencies from the state level on up. This policy focus provides a wonderful complement to the MSW degree which, while it addresses social issues on a large scale, does not provide the same in depth study of policy that a masters in public administration does.
Certainly, you could move forward to do the policy work with an MPA alone. But what the MSW adds is the personal perspective which can unfortunately be overshadowed in the MPA program.
Advantages and drawbacks of an MSW/MPA dual degree
For the MSW student, there are a few advantages to pursuing a dual degree in public administration. First, if you know that you want to go into policy at the macro level, adding the MPA can help you get there faster. Graduating with your MSW alone, it is more difficult to find a macro level position as a new graduate. With a dual MSW/MPA degree those jobs are easier to obtain. However, bringing the dual degree to the table can give you an edge over those applicants graduating with an MPA alone, because the MSW brings with it a deeper insight into the needs of the clients who you will serve. The dual MSW/MPA degree provides a much needed bridge between policy and people.
Additionally, the salary potential for graduates with a dual MSW/MPA degree is substantially higher than for graduates with a stand-alone MSW degree.
The primary drawbacks of the MSW/MPA dual degree are the additional cost and time. A traditional full-time MSW program takes two years to complete, including a summer field placement. A full-time MSW/MPA dual degree program will take at least three years to complete including summers. The cost will also increase accordingly.
Admission Requirements for MSW/MPA dual degree programs
Typically includes the following:
- GMAT or GRE
- Work experience — varies
- Bachelor’s degree
- Academic references
- Professional references
- Personal references
Choosing the right MSW/MPA program
The first step in choosing the right MSW/MPA program is to narrow your focus to include only accredited programs. In a dual degree program each program must be accredited by their own individual governing board. The reason this is so important is that in most states you can not be licensed in your field if the school you graduate from is not accredited. The accreditation process guarantees that your program adheres to certain educational and professional standards.
Now that you have eliminated the unaccredited programs, it’s time to further narrow down your focus. Look for programs that have a focus on the type of work that you want to do. Are you looking for a more global or local perspective? Do you want to focus on working with youth or the elderly? Or are you looking for a more generalized approach?
Research your programs carefully. Some offer specializations and some do not. Or, your area of interest may not be represented. Do not settle. This is your education that will prepare you for the rest of your career. Find the program that suits you best.
Another aspect to examine is whether you are interested in an online or in-person program, or a hybrid learning experience. If you are looking for an online or hybrid program, make sure the program will offer assistance in with field placements, internships, and job searches, even if you are not physically located in the same place as the school.
Refine your search even more by working on your five year plan. Refine it again with your ten year plan. What role do you see yourself taking on as you move up in your career? What program will help you get there?
Master’s in public administration coursework
- Public Policy
- Policy Analysis
- Public Budgeting
- Organizational Theory
- Decision Making
- Management Concepts
- Public Finance
- Program Implementation
- Policy Implementation
- Information Systems
- Organizational Management
- Policy Research
- Data Collection
- International Relations
- Human Rights
- Urban Policy
- Community Organizing
MSW dual-degree coursework
- Social Work Practice
- Social Welfare
- Research Methods
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment
- Social Policy
- Organization Theory and Policy
- Social Justice
- Community Practice
- Economic and Social Inequality
- Global Social Inequality
Social work fieldwork/internships
All Masters of social work programs require two field placements. The first is a shorter, generalist position, while the second will be longer, more intense, and in your area of specialization. You may also be required to complete an internship for your public administration masters program.
The number of hours you wil need will vary by program, but miniumums will be set by the accreditation agencies, CSWE and NASPAA. Also, some schools may allow you to apply the same internship towards both MSW and MPA requirements, while others may require separate programs. So, do your research carefully.
Another aspect you will want to explore is whether you will have to pay for your field placement and internship hours. Most programs count these as courses, and require you to pay for this time. Some programs help you find paid internships or field placements instead. This may be a consideration for you if cost is a factor in your decision making process.
MSW/MPA capstone project
In addition to your fieldwork, some programs may require a capstone project. Others may require a master’s thesis, while some may require both.
Career paths for MSW/MPA degree holders
- International Development
- Government – all levels
- Nonprofit Management
- Social Enterprise
- Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
- Prison Reform
- Public Relations
- City Manager
- Labor Relations
- Policy Analyst
- Urban Planner
- Emergency Management
- Operations Analyst
- Organizational Performance Consultant
- Budget Analyst
- Community Outcomes Manager
Overall, there is a wide range in salary to be found in MSW/MPA jobs. Many seem to fall into the range of low $40,000s through mid $140,000s. This is another area to research carefully in choosing your MSW/MPA program. You will want to be certain you will not only get a good education, but that you will receive a good return on your investment in yourself. Here are a few examples from the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- Urban and Regional Planners $75,950 median salary. This ranges from a low of less than $46,830 to a high of more than $118,280.
- Emergency Management Directors $76,250 median salary. This ranges from a low of less than $42,230 to a high of more than $142,870.
- Social and Community Service Managers $69,600 median salary. This ranges from a low of less than $42,230 to a high of more than $115,800.
- Operations Analysts $86,200 median salary. This ranges from a low of less than $48,050 to a high of more than $144,330.
MSW/MPA career outlook
Overall, the career outlook for someone with a dual MSW/MPA degree is strong. For urban and regional planners, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020 projected a job growth of 11 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is higher than the national average of four percent.
For social and community service managers the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020 projected a job growth of 17 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is much higher than the national average of four percent.
For operations analysts, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020 projected the job growth from 2019 through 2029 to be 25 percent, much higher than the four percent average.
For emergency management directors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020 predicted a job growth of four percent from 2019 to 2029, which is the national average.