The MSW/theology degree is primarily geared towards students who are interested in incorporating the knowledge, skills and perspective of social work into their spiritual work. Traditional theology degrees emphasize Christian spiritual education and guidance, but are not equipped to delve more deeply into the bio-psycho-social aspect that is so important in helping people who have needs beyond spiritual guidance. The dual MSW/Theology degree provides a unique opportunity to integrate these diverse perspectives into a cohesive practice.
IN THIS GUIDE
There are many different types of theology degrees available. However, the degree which is most commonly paired with the master’s in social work is the master of divinity (M.Div.) degree. Additional theological degrees which may be combined with the master’s in social work degree include master of theological studies (MTS), master of religious leadership (MRL), master of religion and public life (MRPL), and master of theology (ThM), among others.
Many master of divinity programs can be completed in three years of full time enrollment, while most master’s of social work programs can be completed in two. A typical dual MSW/M.Div. degree program can be completed in four years of full time enrollment, subtracting a year from the total.
This guide covers what to expect from a dual master’s in social work/theology program. It also provides an overview of the career opportunities available for people with this unique degree.
Choosing the right MSW/theology program
The first step in choosing the right MSW/Theology program is to research programs that offer dual degrees. There are two different types of programs available. Some schools have both theology and social work departments. In other cases, two schools pair together to offer a dual degree.
Once you have a list of schools that offer dual degrees, your next step should be to eliminate programs that are not accredited. Accreditation serves as a protection for students. It ensures that each school meets certain educational and professional standards. In most states, graduation from an accredited social work program is a requirement for social work licensure. In addition, certain theology positions will also be looking for a graduate of an accredited program.
The accrediting body for social work programs is the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The accrediting body for theology or divinity programs is The Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.
This should reduce your list to a more manageable size.
To further hone your list, carefully review the focus of the programs to find those which are best suited to your interests and career goals.
For the theology degree, this would include determining which type of masters program fits best with your career interests. For the social work degree, you can look for schools which offer a strong emphasis on the level of practice which most interests you – micro, mezzo, or macro.
Micro level social work provides direct services such as case management, community organizing, and clinical work, to name a few. Mezzo level social work can be considered the management track, focusing on managerial positions such as agency director and community service coordinator. Macro level social work focuses on the large scale policy levels such as executive directors at a state or national level.
If you are considering a career in pastoral counseling, for example, you should look for MSW programs with a strong clinical focus. If you are looking to work in a service ministry, you should look for MSW programs with a strong direct practice focus. If you are looking to work in a secular setting, you should find dual degree programs which prepare you to align your spiritual views within a social work framework.
How to get a MSW/theology degree
Some dual master’s of social work and theology programs are joint programs between two different universities. In these cases, prospective students will be required to apply to each school separately. Admission to the dual degree program will be contingent on being accepted to each school.
Dual degree programs that are offered at one institution will still require students to apply to each program separately, and upon admission to both programs the students can register for the dual degree program.
In both cases, another option is to apply first to only one degree program. Once the semester starts, students can discuss with their advisors the possibility of pursuing a dual degree and start the process that way.
Admissions to both MSW and theology programs typically require the following:
- Bachelor’s degree
- GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Academic and personal references
- Personal statement or essay
- Relevant work or volunteer experience
In addition, some master’s in social work programs may require GRE scores, while some theology programs may require writing samples. Theology programs may also require references from clergy.
Most programs require coursework in both religious studies and social work foundations. Many programs also require practical experience in both disciplines.
CSWE accredited master’s in social work programs will require students to meet the same minimum standard number of credit hours and field work hours that are required for students in stand alone MSW programs.
Both disciplines may allow classes from one program to count towards required or elective courses in the other discipline. Some theology programs may also waive some course requirements. These requirements will vary between programs, so it will be best to carefully review the coursework for each program you consider.
Students entering the dual degree program with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) should explore an advanced standing option with the social work program. This option will give credit for up to one year of the MSW program. It can also apply the BSW field placement towards the foundational year placement of the MSW program. This can reduce the time it takes to get your dual degree by up to a year – or possibly even longer – depending on the joint program.
Each program will have its own academic requirements. However, there are certain courses which are likely to be offered. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment
- Research Methods
- Social Welfare
- Cultural Diversity
- Social Work Practice
- Biblical Studies
- Church History
- Ministerial Leadership
- Biblical Languages
- Comparative Religion
- Cultural Studies
Fieldwork is the social work internship. It is often considered to be the cornerstone of the social work degree. Fieldwork provides the opportunity to practice the skills learned in the classroom in a real world setting while under the supervision of an experienced social worker. CSWE approved master’s in social work programs will require two field placements.
The first placement is considered a foundational placement. This gives the student the opportunity to build general skills that can transfer to a wide variety of settings. It should also allow students to develop skills in approaching situations from a social work framework grounded in the nine social work competencies which include ethics, diversity, human rights, and social justice, among others.
The second placement builds on those foundational skills. It is typically more specialized, and targeted towards your specific career interests. ‘For example, if you are interested in a mezzo level position in a church setting, you might look for a field placement at an agency affiliated with a place of worship. Examples of these programs include a food pantry or homeless shelter based in or run by a church.
Theology internships provide students with opportunities to both gain more experience in a particular aspect of ministry, and obtain exposure to a wide range of vocational options.
The goal of the theology internship is to give students practical experience in applying their education in real world situations. Through the theology internship, students learn how to approach situations from a theological and ministerial mindset.
Students pursuing dual degrees in social work and theology should seek out internships that allow them to learn how to integrate their theological beliefs and skills with social work practices.
Where will I work?
- Non-profit agency
- Advocacy organization
- Refugee services
- Service ministry
- Social service agency
- Nursing home
- Religious school
- Christian counseling center
- Youth program
Adding a master’s in social work degree will enhance just about any job you can do with a theology degree. It adds additional training in providing service to others, gives you access to resources and skills that improve your ability to help those in the greatest need, and broadens your perspective on working with people in the social environment. This is particularly true in the areas of counseling, hospital, and hospice work
Pastoral counselors bring a unique perspective and skill set into the work they do with their clients. Their training and education in theology and clinical social work gives the pastoral counselor the skills to integrate mental health treatment with the spiritual needs of their clients. Clients seeking the services of a pastoral counselor are looking for services that resonate with them on a spiritual as well as a therapeutic level. The dual degree helps practitioners navigate the path of bringing their religious beliefs into their sessions while still following the ethical principles of the counseling profession.
Grief counselors are professional counselors who specifically work with clients around the issues of grief, loss and bereavement. Their clients include people facing the end of their lives for reasons of illness or age, as well as their loved ones. Often, people working through these issues are also looking for the comfort of their faith, or wrestling with spiritual questions, in addition to the mental and emotional components of grief, such as anxiety, depression, and anger. The dual MSW/theology degree provides advanced training in all aspects of the grieving process while giving practitioners the skills to integrate the spiritual needs of their clients with the tools and resources of social work and mental health practices.
Individuals with a dual degree in social work and theology have the skills to work in a hospital in a variety of ways. MSW/theology graduates can hold such positions as chaplain, chaplain liaison, or spiritual care coordinator, in addition to traditional social work positions such as social worker or case manager. However, unless the position is at a religiously affiliated hospital, social workers and case managers will have to keep their focus on the social work aspects of the positions unless the client specifically requests faith-based services and the hospital allows this type of interaction.
Hospices provide end of life care to clients with terminal illnesses. Dual MSW/theology degree holders can provide many of the same services here as in a traditional hospital setting. These positions include chaplain or chaplain liaison, spiritual care coordinator, social worker and case manager. Grief counselors also have an important role to play in hospice work.
Salary and career outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2020 the median annual salary for social workers was $51,760. The lowest ten percent earned less than $33,020, while the highest ten percent earned more than $85,820. At the same time, under a different labor category, the 2020 median salary for clergy was $56,560. The lowest ten percent earned $28,410 or less and the highest ten percent earned $89,510 or more.
Also according to the BLS, the job market for social workers will increase by twelve percent between 2020 and 2030. This is higher than the average projected increase of eight percent over the same period. At the same time, labor projections show the job market for clergy will increase by three percent between 2020 and 2030, which is lower than the average projected increase of eight percent over the same period.