An advanced standing online master of social work (MSW) degree is open to students who have received their bachelor of social work (BSW). The MSW, or master of social work, degree is a postgraduate degree in the field of social work. The MSW degree is required for many advanced level positions in the field, so that professionals who have obtained their bachelor of social work (BSW) may choose to pursue an advanced degree for better opportunities, both in terms of the scope of the work and the salary. In fact the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports that masters level social workers expected salary is $13,000 or more than bachelors level social workers.
IN THIS GUIDE
- Admissions requirements
- Choosing the right program
- Advanced standing MSW
- Online programs
- Career outlook
- Salary info
It stands to reason that BSW’s may choose to go this route. However, the desire to make a difference in the lives of others drives many people to consider a career in social work. So a bachelor’s in social work degree is not specifically required for a master’s degree in social work. Any bachelor’s degree will do.
Therefore, there are many introductory level MSW courses that a BSW has already taken. Furthermore, a typical Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited MSW program will require two field placements — essentially internships — at a minimum of 900 hours. A BSW from a CSWE program will have already completed one field placement at a minimum of 400 hours. For a BSW, then, enrolling in a traditional two year full-time master of social work program essentially requires one year of redundancy. This may make many a BSW pause.
Enter the advanced standing master of social work degree.
Essentially, this degree takes a year off of the traditional master of social work program, providing credit for the foundational courses and field placement that the BSW student has completed. The advanced standing online MSW degree takes this one step further by allowing students to complete the courses online. This can be very helpful for bachelor-level social workers who are already working in the social work field, allowing them to pursue their degree with minimal disruption to their career.
Furthermore, some programs will count some professional experience towards a field placement credit, though this will vary from school to school and depending on the nature of the job.
An important aspect to consider when choosing an advanced standing online degree program is to be certain it is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Many jobs will require that your degree comes from an accredited institution, so be certain to choose accordingly. It will do you no good to finish your degree in half the time if it does not help you in your professional advancement.
- Bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a CSWE institution
- GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Within five years post-bachelor degree
- Strong references from undergraduate field placement supervisor
- Academic letters of reference (typically two or more)
Additional (varies by school)
- Background check
- Admissions essay or personal statement
Choosing the right online advanced standing MSW program
Once you have decided to take the next step in your education and pursue your Advanced Standing Online Master of Social Work degree it is time to narrow down your options. There are several considerations to examine.
First, examine your basic career goals. For example, if you want to provide direct service then look for a program with a strong clinical or direct practice focus. If you are looking to move into management, policy, or community organizing then search for programs which have these as their strengths.
Then you can further narrow your focus. Determine the area you wish to specialize in. If you want to work in the field of geriatrics, for example, look for programs that provide a strong focus in that area.
If you can’t decide or have multiple interests you can look for a program that will allow you to take a dual specialization. Although this may add additional time to your program, you may find you are able to complete advanced coursework in two specializations in two years, the same amount of time you would have spent in a traditional MSW program with one focus. However, you will come out stronger with a dual degree or dual certificate.
Difference between traditional and advanced standing online MSW programs
As stated above, the primary difference between a traditional master’s in social work degree and an advanced standing master’s in social work degree is the time commitment. The advanced standing MSW recognizes the specialized coursework and field experience that the bachelor of social work graduate brings to the table, and credits them accordingly. This results in a waiving of the foundational courses that a first year traditional MSW student will take. Many schools also count the time spent in a bachelor’s level field placement towards the field placement hours in the advanced standing online MSW program.
In short, the differences can be broadly categorized into courses, time, and cost.
The advanced standing online master of social work program is, at heart, a gift to students who have received their bachelor in social work degree. The beauty of the advanced standing online master of social work program is that it recognizes and respects your bachelor of social work education. The first year of a traditional master of social work program consists of foundational social work education courses.
For students who have not taken social work classes before these courses are an invaluable requirement, However, for BSW students, these same classes will be a review of knowledge you attained as an undergraduate student. Though the exact courses will vary from program to program, you can expect to waive at least a few of these courses.
These courses may include, but are not limited to:
- Introduction to human psychology
- Introduction to social policy and practice
- Introduction to human behavior and the environment
- Introduction to research methods and statistics
- Foundations of social work practice
Of course, the specific classes will vary depending on the program you choose. Some schools may also evaluate your transcript based on your BSW program. It is therefore important to examine the requirements for each of the programs you choose.
Since the advanced standing online MSW student will be essentially skipping a year of graduate education that traditional MSW students will attend, there are some graduate level skills that an advanced standing student will need to learn. To this end, many advanced standing online master of social work programs will require one or two bridge courses. These classes will teach subjects such as graduate level research and writing skills, advanced interview and evaluation skills, and a more in depth examination of social work concentrations.
These classes are typically taught on their own during the first summer session of an advanced standing master of social work program, so you will be ready to jump into the upper level classes with the second year students in the fall semester.
This is where the similarity with a traditional master of social work program comes in. Aside from the foundational courses and the bridge courses, in most cases all of your other classes will be attended by both students from a BSW background and students from all other backgrounds. They will have caught up with you by taking the foundational courses, and you will have caught up with them by taking the bridge classes, so you should all be on a level playing field as you take the advanced classes together.
Generally speaking, most traditional programs require two field placements while an Advanced Standing Online Master of Social Work program requires only one. The traditional first placement is generally a more foundational oriented placement. The second placement is usually within the student’s chosen concentration.
The Council on Social Work Education requires a minimum of 900 field contact hours for a traditional master of social work program, and a minimum of 400 field contact hours for a bachelor of social work program. An advanced standing online master of social work program will typically waive some field placement hours. The exact number will vary depending on the program you choose. Some schools will have a set number of hours while others may calculate the number of hours based on the number of field work hours you completed in your undergraduate program.
Compared with a traditional master of social work program, the advanced standing online master of social work program takes about half the time. This translates to two semesters plus one to two summer sessions for a full time advanced standing online master of social work program as compared to four semesters plus one to two summer sessions for a traditional full time program.
Also, some field placement hours will be waived. The exact amount of field time will vary according to the number of hours you put into your undergraduate placement and the policy of each program. Some programs may also allow you to use your current employment as a field placement for at least part of your hours, so you will definitely want to explore this as you choose your school.
Typically, however, a traditional master of social work program requires two field placements and an advanced standing online master of social work requires only one.
Online vs location-based advanced standing MSW programs
The primary difference between an advanced standing online master of social work program and a location-based advanced standing master of social work program is, of course, the method of delivery. In both programs, the material is the same. The field work hours and classroom instruction hours are also the same.
In an online setting, students have the opportunity to attend class from wherever they choose to be, as long as they have access to a computer. The classes may be synchronous or asynchronous.
Basically, in synchronous classes students will be required to attend a class at the same time, often at the same time as the traditional students, and can participate in group discussions and real time instruction from the professor. Asynchronous classes are pre-recorded by the professor, and can be viewed on the student’s own schedule.
Classes may also be a hybrid of both, where students may be required to attend certain lessons “live,” perhaps for exams or oral presentations. Sometimes the asynchronous classes may be taught by different professors than the synchronous or traditional classes.
In either case, the primary method of communication with the professors and other students will be through email. Professors may also offer virtual office hours, when students will be able to communicate directly with the professor over a video communications app.
These days the skills of a social worker are in higher demand than ever. It is no surprise to learn that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a thirteen percent increase in social work jobs between 2019 and 2029. By contrast, the overall projected job market is expected to grow by only four percent in the same time frame.
Furthermore, a 2015 study predicts that by the year 2030 there will be a shortage of social workers in 30 states in the US and that there will be a national shortage of over 195,000 social workers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2019 the median annual salary for social workers was $50,470. The highest ten percent earned more than $82,540.
Furthermore, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports research from the 2017 National Social Work Workforce Study which shows that Master level social workers earn $13,000 or more than Bachelor level social workers.