According to the national accrediting body Council on Social Work Education there were 201 graduate programs in social work available in American colleges and universities as of June 2010. There are certain academic standards that all of these programs adhere to in terms of course requirements and the minimum 900 hours of clinical, or field work. But there is great disparity in the structure of these programs and how MSW students are trained to pursue a career in social work.
Perhaps the most obvious area where MSW programs differ is the manner in which students select the academic focus for their program, which means choosing an area or social segment on which to concentrate and often, selecting also a method or perspective on social work roles. The schools we have selected and listed below have program designs which are dynamic, often unusual and exemplary of the options that aspiring clinical social workers must select from when completing a Masters in Social Work.
The most elemental division in specialization is the choice between clinical practice and an administrative or organizational role. Either direction can lead to multiple career options, but generally the first means working with individuals, families, groups or organizations on a counseling basis and the other working as an administrator, leader or policy maker within a social services institution. Here are ten of the more interesting and respected MSW programs in the country.
- Columbia University asks its students to select one of four methods of practice in their second year of the master's program. Those options include Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice, which requires focusing on counseling. Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming develops expertise in case work. Policy Practice focuses on the sausage-grinder process for policy and legislative development. Social Enterprise Administration is training in the planning, evaluation and funding for effective social service programs.
- Ohio State University has the oldest social work program among public universities in the United States. OSU awarded its first MSW in 1923. The program goes through the split between clinical and administrative practice, and then hones in on highly mentored training in areas that include both psychotherapy and psychiatric social work; school social work and several other of the more common areas of specialization in the field.
- University of St. Thomas in Minnesota has a highly ranked MSW program that takes an unusual approach in helping graduate students focus on an area of practice that most appeals to them. The usual specialization divisions for working with the aging, with families and children, with groups and as an administrator apply, but some of the coursework provides expanded perspectives. The courses in Grief Counseling & Therapy, in the Spiritual Dimension of Social Work Practice, Clinical Practice with Children and Clinical Practice with Treatment of Trauma suggest an extremely well rounded program.
- University of Connecticut divides the methods of practice options into some unique categories. Those include the Group Work concentration, the Community Organization concentration, the Casework concentration, Policy Practice, and the Administration concentration. The differentiation between group work and community organization speaks to the careful design and acute focus of this graduate program.
- University of Alabama offers two areas of concentration in the second year of their MSW Program: Social Work with Children, Adolescents, &their Families, and Social Work with Adults &their Families. Within those two frameworks however are electives in social services planning & development, program & agency administration, psychotherapy and models & methods of social work in healthcare. The student can shape a focused career track with these options.
- St. Louis University has a specialization in Non-Profit & Administration which is an excellent contribution to a sector of the social services field which requires unique management skills. They offer a four year part time plan of study, and a five year combined bachelors and master's degree in social work. One of the family specializations is in school social work.
- Loyola University of Chicago has introduced two worthy additions to the usual MSW range of specialization options. For those students focusing on healthcare social work there is a selection of electives that will make the student eligible for licensure as a drug and alcohol counselor. In the children and families area there is a sub-specialization in migration & immigration.
- University of Texas - Pan American has an MSW program focused on working with the bicultural community on the Texas-Mexican border. The classes are focused on Latino social and cultural issues and how social work professionals can best work with those issues. The two focal options are on working with Latino families and children; and a concentration in community practice and administration.
- Bryn Mawr Master of Social Service degree has three initial areas of concentration: clinical social work practice; social service management; and policy practice & advocacy. Within one of those academic formats students make further elective selections from courses in Intervention Skills, and Populations Systems & Policy.
- Arizona State University concentrates most of its MSW program at its Downtown Phoenix campus. The program has advanced placement entry as well as the standard two year program for students without a BSW. Areas of specialization hone in on some fairly specific social issues: Health/Behavioral Health with Adults; Public Child Welfare; and the more generalist Children Youth & Families. There is also a Planning, Administration and Community Practice option.