Wednesday, December 5, 2012

GUEST POST: So, You Want To Be a Social Worker?

by Lauren Dennelly, MSW, LSW

You’re a promising young 20-something, ready to forge ahead into grad school, or maybe you’re thinking about a second career. And you want to go to school for social work. Sure, you have your reasons--you have a passion for helping people, have some personal experiences that are guiding you toward the field, or you just think social work sounds interesting. Whatever your reasons, here’s a quick Top 5 guide to what you need to know before you dive in:

  1. Social work is HARD work. Self-care is your new best friend. Make sure you save time for it! This article on burnout and self-care from The New Social Worker can help.  Also check out for some helpful resources.
  2. You are NOT in this for the money. Salary varies based on what agency or specialty you choose, but overall, you will not be living the Donald Trump lifestyle. But you knew that already, right? Donald Trump is over rated anyway.
  3. Not all MSW programs are created equal. Take the time to do some research on the course catalogs of various programs--what specialty coursework do they offer? What kinds of internship opportunities are there? What is the program’s reputation in the social work world? It is important that you choose a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and you can find a complete listing of these programs on the CSWE web site.
  4. Choose your field experiences wisely. In this economy, when jobs are hard to come by for new graduates, your internship experiences are increasingly valuable. What have you always been interested in, and what kinds of jobs are out there in that specialty? Look at sites like,, and to see what kinds of positions agencies are posting.
  5.  NETWORK. This process begins while you are in your graduate program and never stops once you leave it. Talk to other people in the field. Is there someone you know (or someone you would like to know) that has your ideal job? Talk to that person and ask how he/she got the position. What experiences does he/she have? Becoming an NASW member can help link you to other professionals in the field. This organization has a whole section on its web site just for students! (

Of course, this list could go on. Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you are thinking of a career in social work is that you will meet some of the most interesting and amazing people, both as co-workers and in your work with clients. On my most trying days, refocusing on the work I do with clients helps to center and remind me of what’s truly important in life--the connections we have with one another.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Graduate School Reference Letter from Your Therapist?

Dr. Tara Kuther, of About.Com's Graduate School site, recently addressed the question of whether or not to ask one's therapist for a reference letter for graduate school.

She said, in part:

A letter from a therapist is not a good idea. It will not help your application. Recommendation letters speak to the student's academic competence. Helpful letters are written by professionals who have worked with you in an academic capacity.

Read her full response here.

I am wondering...what do you think?  Is the answer to this question different for those applying to graduate school in the helping professions, or should it be?  What ethical issues might arise for the therapist who is asked by a client to write a graduate school reference letter?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Choosing the Right Social Work Graduate School for You!

Do you have questions about choosing the right social work graduate school?  Chances are, you do!  Your questions might include the following:

  • Does the school have the right accreditation?
  • What concentrations does the school offer?
  • How long does it take to complete the degree?
  • How much does it cost?
  • When should I apply?

THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine published an article on these and other questions you may have.  The article was published several years ago and is still just as relevant today!

Read it HERE!

Tell us what other questions you have that are not addressed in the article, or tell us about your experience in getting your questions answered.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Models of Macro Social Work Education

    The approaches to macro social work education vary a great deal. They are often as unique as are the faculties of the various institutions. There are those programs that view social policy strictly from the perspective of social workers. In those programs, faculty are, for the most part, trained in social work. Other schools, however, have multiple disciplinary perspectives present on their faculties. Such schools are just as likely to have faculty trained in economics, public policy, public health, and law as they are to have faculty trained in social work.

    The policy course offerings will be a good reflection of the faculty’s training and interests. If you have particular interests in specific policy areas such as international social work policy, healthcare policy, immigration policy, or Latin American affairs, to name a few, a thorough review of the course offerings and faculty publications would serve you well.

    Another important area of exploration is, interestingly enough, the offerings of other graduate and professional schools that are also part of the host university of the social work program. If the university has programs in public policy, law, international studies, business, or other areas of your interest, there may be the opportunity to round out your education outside of the social work program. Of course, you need to find out how available classes outside of the school in other areas of the university will be to you and whether they will count as credits toward your degree. If the given university does not have programs in the particular areas of your interest, find out if cooperative arrangements exist with neighboring institutions. If this is the case, you definitely want to explore implications to cost, financial aid, and the total number of courses required for graduation.

    Examples of macro concentrations you are likely to come across in your search for a program are:

    •    Social and Economic Development
    •    Community Organization
    •    Management and Planning
    •    Fund Raising
    •    Research and Evaluation
    •    Social Welfare Administration
    •    Social Policy and Planning


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Have you considered a graduate school fair? is presenting several grad school fairs this Fall. Recruiters from a variety of schools, including schools of social work, will be available at these fairs to provide information to prospective students. The upcoming fairs  will be in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Houston, New Orleans, and Miami. You can get details at

If you have attended one of these fairs in the past, please comment and let us know about your experience!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tips on Making Your Social Work Grad School Application Stand Out

Robin R. Wingo, MSW, LISW

Applying for graduate school is a big step! Whether you are just graduating with your bachelor’s in social work or you have been out for a few years, preparing that application takes time, energy, and careful consideration. Your grades are only one indicator of readiness for graduate study. It is highly likely that you will be asked to write a professional statement or essay along with completing a standardized application form.  Although some admissions committees conduct personal admissions interviews, your first representation will be in writing, and your readiness will be evaluated on how you present yourself, your experiences, and your professional aspirations.
    Every graduate school’s application process is different. Some are fully online and others use hardcopy, but they are all looking for the same thing—students who can clearly and thoughtfully make a case for how they are the best fit for acceptance into that particular graduate program.
    As that applicant, you want to be successful, but making the most of the application process is a relatively unexamined process. Each program will provide forms and directions as part of the application, but little direction is provided regarding what works to meet the expectations.

A new article in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine gives 14 tips for putting your best application forward.  Read it here:

Your Social Work Graduate School Application: 14 Tips to Help You Get an Acceptance Letter

Friday, September 14, 2012

Social Work Graduate School: Selecting Your Area of Concentration

An important question to ask of schools is at what point in the program will you be required to declare your selection of area of concentration (i.e., clinical with an emphasis on children and family treatment, or administrative with an emphasis on community organization).

    The selection of an area of concentration is important because it will determine the emphasis of your graduate education. It should be noted, however, that it will not necessarily limit your job opportunities beyond graduation. As mentioned earlier in this book, all schools have a common core of foundation courses as required by the Council on Social Work Education or CASSW-ACESS. Therefore, all MSW holders, regardless of their school of graduation, have a core set of social work skills. The concentration adds a specialty to that core. For example, I was a clinical concentration student, yet I have held policy and administration positions, as well as clinical ones.

    Some schools do not expect students to declare a concentration until shortly before completing the program’s general requirements. The strength of that approach is that students are better prepared at that point than at the start of the program to make an informed selection. By that point, the general requirements will have given students a good background and foundation in both the clinical and administrative/policy aspects of social welfare.

    Other schools, on the other hand, require students to declare their concentration as early as the time of making application for admission. Inquire of those schools if it would be difficult for you to alter your selection if you should change your mind as a result of what you learn from the general requirement courses.

    Whether a school asks you to declare your concentration in the application for admission or not, it should not be difficult to change your selection if you do it before your concentration phase begins or even soon after beginning work on your concentration. Most schools either ask explicitly in the application what your intended area of concentration will be or infer it from your biographical statement. The reason the information is important to the school during the application phase is that it allows the school to balance the numbers of students who expect to be in the various concentrations the school offers.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Have you researched the schools of social work you are considering?

I read an article the other day on the U.S. News education site that says that the biggest mistake prospective graduate students make is not researching schools thoroughly enough before making a decision. According to Don Martin, the article's writer, people too often decide on a graduate school for reasons such as:
  • my parents went there
  • it's a top ranked school
  • someone said it was a good place to go
And then, sometimes, they are disappointed when the school  isn't everything they had hoped for.

I have seen online discussions on Facebook and other places that go something like this:
  • Student 1:  I hate my school.  I go to _____ U. and it is the worst school ever.
  • Student 2:  Oh, thanks for posting that, because I was thinking of going there myself.

And conversely:
  • Student 1:  I LOVVVVVE University of ______.  If you are thinking of going there, GO! It's the greatest.
  • Student 2:  I'm applying there right now!!! Can't wait!

Problem is, one student's dream school may not meet another's needs at all.  And one person's nightmare might be another's dream.

Jesus Reyes, a former school of social work director of admissions and author of The Social Work Graduate School Applicant's Handbook, suggests that prospective social work students visit their prospective schools, talk with current faculty and staff, and contact current and former students, as well. Prior to the visit, you need to have done some self-reflection to determine what you want to get out of grad school, what you are looking for, and what your career goals are.  Then make a list of questions that relate to what is important to you in a school of social work.

In the book, Reyes provides an extensive checklist for the school visit, Making Your Visit Count: Questions to Ask and Things to Look For. This checklist serves as a starting point for you to develop your own questions about what the school of social work offers academically, socially, and otherwise.  What areas of specialization are offered?  Are there opportunities to work directly with the well-known professor that you so admire? How are field placements set up?  Is there a student association?  How good is the library?  (Don't just ask...visit the library yourself and take a look around.)  Is the campus safe at night? These are some examples of questions you might ask.

Going to grad school to become a social worker is a big decision and a big commitment. It's worthwhile to take the time to dig a little deeper, check things out for yourself, and find the one that is the best fit for YOU!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Words of Wisdom for New Social Work Graduate Students

 The excitement is building as a new academic year begins and thousands of students are embarking on a social work graduate degree. As I scroll through my facebook newsfeed, I see photos of MSW program orientations, showing groups of men and women who, over the next year or two, will be transformed into new social work professionals.

I am reminded of my own MSW graduate school experience. It was an exciting time of learning and growth, anticipation and--sometimes--fear!  My very wise field instructor said to me, "If you already knew everything, why would you need to get a master's degree to do this?"  In other words, be "okay" with not knowing and with the learning process as it unfolds. Any time something difficult came up (which was maybe a daily occurrence), my co-interns and I laughed and called it a "learning experience," which it definitely was! Letting ourselves learn the hard lessons was not always easy, but it was always worth it.

To all new and continuing social work students, I wish for you the BEST (if not the "easiest") learning experience ever.  Be open to unexpected opportunities and experiences that will expand your ability to be the best social worker you can be.

I would love to hear other "words of wisdom" for this year's new social work students. Your comments are welcome!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back to Social Work School: How to Communicate Effectively With Your Professor

It's back to school time! Social work Ph.D. student Karen Zgoda wrote this article for THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine on using technology effectively in communicating with your professors. For example:

DON'T: Ask your professor what course you are taking with him/her. Seriously.
DO: Communicate that you are going to miss a class.

Read the article here.

Do you have other tips or comments to add?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Joint Degree Programs--Getting an MSW and Another Degree At the Same Time

A good number of accredited graduate programs of social work offer joint degree opportunities. Most common offerings include joint programs with schools of law, schools of divinity, schools of business, schools of public or health policy, schools of gerontology, schools of urban and regional planning, and schools of education. There are also a few programs available in less traditional areas, such as dual degrees in social work and dance therapy, for instance. If you are interested in these possibilities, you have your job cut out for you. You should undertake a thorough investigation of the other program in whichever discipline you choose as carefully as you are exploring the social work program. Appendix B, In Their Own Words, contains information on joint degree programs from participating schools.

Applicants for admission to joint degree programs are normally required to apply to each school independently. A crucial factor in the admissions decision will be the extent to which the applicant makes a case for seeking the two degrees. How have the applicant’s background and experiences in both fields tested and shaped her interests? How will the applicant’s future professional plans benefit from dual training? Normally, an applicant must meet the individual entrance requirements of both programs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tackling the Social Work Graduate Admissions Process with a Graduate Education Action Plan (G.E.A.P.)

by Felicia L. Townsend, MBA, M.Ed.

(Editor's Note: This article appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER. For permission to reprint or reproduce in any way, please contact Linda Grobman . Copyright 2007 White Hat Communications. All rights reserved.)

Are you considering applying to graduate school but you just don’t know where to start? The pursuit of a graduate education is a financial and personal investment. It’s important for students to make an informed decision before committing to an advanced degree of study like a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. It’s almost like purchasing a new car.

The average car buyer will visit several dealerships before making a final purchase. The same strategy should apply to selecting the MSW program that will fit your needs. Any major decision in your life that will affect your financial, academic, and professional career should be approached with a plan of action that will help you make practical decisions. One way to demystify the journey to obtaining an MSW is to create what I have coined as a Graduate Education Action Plan (G.E.A.P). The plan consists of three key components that will make your pursuit of obtaining a graduate degree more attainable: Purpose, Research, and Apply. It’s that simple. The G.E.A.P is similar to a business plan that an aspiring entrepreneur would create before embarking on a new business venture. The plan will provide you with a roadmap to sort out your reasons for wanting to earn an MSW or any graduate level degree.

Purpose: Why do you want to obtain an MSW?

The first part of the G.E.A.P should focus on your purpose for applying to an MSW program. Remember that the decision to pursue an advanced degree, like an MSW, should be your decision and no one else’s. Just because your best friend or relative is a social worker does not necessarily mean that social work is a good fit for you. To be truly successful and fulfilled in an MSW program, you have to possess the passion and motivation to want to earn the degree in order to make a meaningful contribution to the field of social work. You should not expect to find your passion once you get to graduate school—you should come into the program motivated and driven to contribute and gain new knowledge in the social work field.

Also assess why you want to apply to a particular type of MSW program at a particular university. For example, will the universities that you are applying to provide you with the skills to reach your goal to better serve your community, individuals, and families? Will the MSW degree provide you with the conceptual and practical knowledge you need to achieve your lifelong dream of addressing international issues? Is the university conducive to learning? If the answers are yes, then you should start applying to those graduate schools of social work that you feel are conducive to learning and that will best prepare you to practice international and family-centered social work. If the answers are no, or if you have different goals, I recommend that you continue your research until you find the university that provides the MSW program that will meet your academic and career goals. Whatever the outcome, you should feel proud in knowing that your diligence in following a plan of action will yield a more rewarding and beneficial outcome.

During the initial stages of the admissions process to a particular institution, students begin to form their first impressions of the social and intellectual character of the institution (Tinto, 1993). Therefore, it’s critical for prospective students to take the time now to thoroughly investigate various universities and their graduate programs to make sure that it’s the right fit. The G.E.A.P will help you make informed decisions that will ultimately turn your purpose into reality.

Monday, August 13, 2012

9 Essential Tips for New Medical Students--Do They Apply to Social Work Students, Too?

I came across an article on outlining 9 essential tips for new medical school students.  I think some of them--like don't cram, don't get down on yourself, set aside time to relax, learn about the profession, and others--can just as well apply to students in other professions, including social work.  What do you think?  What tips would you add for social work students?

You can read the article here:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finding My Way to an MSW: Step-by-Step

by Mary Hannity, MSW

Statistics and research. APA style papers. Ten-page papers. Multiple books for each class. Presentations to my classmates. Role-playing. Raising my hand in class. Finding an internship. Meeting with clients. Commuting. Meeting new people. Going to class with people younger than myself. Going to class with people older than myself.

When I entered my MSW program, I didn’t know how I would face the challenges ahead. I hoped I would make it. I knew I wanted to become a social worker. But I also knew desire alone would not carry me through my course work. I questioned my ability to do the academic work. I questioned whether or not I should even return to school. I had not been a full-time student for over twenty years. In fact, I questioned just about everything related to school.

Between my undergraduate and graduate years, I had the luxury of choosing books to read of any and all kinds. I could read unhurriedly and mull over timeless prose. That approach to reading changed after my first class on the first day of graduate school. The luxury of reading for pleasure was suddenly gone. As a graduate student, I had to be self-disciplined and follow a strict reading schedule. Over the course of a term, I had to read lots of books and become conversant on what I had read. I made daily, weekly, and monthly reading lists. My house started to look like a miniature library. Books were strategically placed so as to remind me of my reading requirements. Adhering to a tight and full reading schedule was one of several responsibilities I had to attend to in order to succeed in graduate school.

For me, graduate school meant a lot of hard work and balancing priorities. I had to coordinate reading, research, class work, writing papers, preparing for class presentations, and so on. Then about the time I became moderately comfortable with managing class work, I had to find a practicum and add practicum hours to my weekly schedule. This all occurred in my first quarter. I was concerned that entering a master’s in social work program might not be a good idea for me.

Then things began to click. Writing research papers, for example, was not new to me. As an undergraduate student in American history, I had been trained in research. Writing in APA style was new to me. Writing a ten-plus page research paper in APA style was a daunting task. Perusing through the APA Publication Manual made me anxious. How would I master the precise writing expected of graduate level work? How would I even think of a suitable topic?

Writing a graduate-level research paper was one of my first challenges and one of my first significant successes. I had to think carefully about it and immerse myself into the assignment. I don’t recall exactly how I navigated each step. But I do know that components of my success included hard work and focus and lots of time in the library and at my computer. I was also very fortunate to have professors who were available and involved in helping. Having a research professor who would make time for me to have lengthy conversations about my research and the attendant questions played an important role.

Other challenges piled on. I had no idea whether I could stand up and make a presentation to my class, for example. I had spent over 14 years teaching in a high school classroom, but that meant nothing compared to addressing my peers. Presentations were just as much a part of the program as writing papers. My response, again, was hard work, focus and tap into my professional resources. I researched and practiced my assigned topic. I went to the library, searched the Internet, interviewed people in person, and talked to people on the phone. I wrote and re-wrote my presentations. My strategy was to overlearn the subject matter. After several presentations, each one a little more successful than the last, I became more confident in my ability to present to my classmates. I spoke with more authority and less apprehension.

Getting through research and statistics class presented another challenge. Unlike writing papers and giving presentations, I had little faith that my simply working hard would be enough to get me through stats class. The fact that none of my classmates was any more comfortable with statistics than I was did little to placate my uneasiness. I knew beyond any doubt that stats class would be dreadful.

Because I had a gifted professor, however, my first day in research and statistics class wasn’t that bad. With her informal and reassuring style, my professor disquieted my fears and instilled in me hope that I could succeed in her class. As the term progressed, I began to see the many applications research and statistics have in the field of social work. The class was actually intriguing. With lots of weekend hours spent on homework, I successfully surmounted the class. In the end, statistics and research became one of my favorite classes.

Obtaining a practicum placement was yet another hurdle. Although I knew from the outset that I was expected to secure an internship, I did not fully appreciate how competitive the market was. There were few placements, and many students scrambled for internships. Securing a placement would take determination and resourcefulness. I started out by meeting with the college director of field placement. She was supportive and encouraging, but it was clear that finding a placement would be my undertaking, not hers.

I began by copying down phone numbers and addresses from the telephone book of all the agencies that might have potential placements. I called and explained who I was and what I was calling about. I hoped to make a connection to move to the next step, which was to meet for an interview. I crossed names off my list much faster than I entered interview dates on my calendar. Sometimes a phone call would lead to another agency that wasn’t on my list. For several weeks, if I wasn’t writing a paper, studying for an exam, or reading class material, I was focused on finding a placement. I was able to secure a few interviews. During the process of calling and interviewing, I gained confidence and was able to refine more closely the idea of what I wanted to do.

After updating my résumé, phoning many people, and interviewing, I was able to find a placement. I was relieved. My focus immediately shifted to preparing for the placement and making sure I did a good job. It seemed a pattern was emerging in my program. As soon as I felt in control of a project or assignment, the next challenge was awaiting me. But that was okay. By now, I was really starting to feel like a social worker. And I liked that feeling.

The course work, the interaction with classmates and professors, and then, the interaction with clients in my practicum brought my work together. I came to value my practicum experience. It was the best of both worlds. I gained experience with clients while still in the safety of my academic program. Once again, I could use my professors’ expertise for insight and skill development while gaining confidence in working independently with clients.

My master’s in social work program has been an awakening experience for me. A professor told my incoming class at orientation that we would change over the course of our program. At the time, I wondered what he meant. Now, after going through the program, I couldn’t agree more. I have learned the value of hard work and active participation. When I gave to my program, my program gave back to me. And now, grateful to have received the training to do social work, I expect more positive growth to come.

Mary Hannity, MSW, lives in Boise, ID. She is a June 2002 graduate of Walla Walla College in College Place, WA.

This article originally appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER magazine. All rights reserved. Please contact Linda Grobman for reprint permission.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MSW Program Rankings

There are a number of rankings of graduate programs in social work and social welfare. I advise caution in letting your choice of school be driven by them. They tend to have the same band-wagon effect on some applicants that the old advertising phrase “seven out of ten doctors recommend...” has on purchasers of aspirin. Keep in mind that rankings are the end result of someone’s idea of what constitutes a good program. That “someone’s” ideas may be based on needs and priorities very different from your own. Beyond that, that someone’s methodology for evaluating or ranking the programs may be less than perfect. Whose point of view they represent is also important.

Having made the above disclaimer, I will add that, when placed in their proper perspective, rankings can be useful. They give applicants a feel for how the school and, by extension, its graduates, are seen, at least within academe.

Rankings generally tend to be done by educators for educators and students. Just how many practicing social service professionals know the rankings or are aware that they even exist is questionable. Those practicing professionals who are graduates of the highly ranked schools know of the rankings, because their schools tend to feature the rankings in alumni publications. On the other hand, practicing professionals outside of academe who are graduates of lower-ranked or not-at-all-ranked schools probably never hear about rankings, because their schools are unlikely to feature a story on rankings in alumni publications. The mainstream press and other media, with the notable exception of U.S. News & World Report (more on this later), are also unlikely to feature stories on rankings of academic programs.

If you plan to remain in academe, whether by teaching and doing research in an academic setting once you have your master’s or by pursuing a doctorate, the ranking of the school you attend may be more relevant. Within academia, the rankings are analogous to the price of stocks in business. The higher the ranking, the higher the “stock.” There are also, from time to time, studies on the amount of research and writings produced at various schools. Within the academic world, those reports are significant. That is the stuff that tenure is made of. Overall, the academic ranking of the program you attend may or may not assist you in securing employment.

Two well-known rankings on social work programs are worth mentioning. They are very different from one another in the methodologies they employ.

The more empirically sound of the two is The Gourman Report: A Rating of Graduate and Professional Programs in American and International Universities (Gourman, J., Sixth edition, Revised. Los Angeles: National Education Standards, 1997). Gourman offers rankings based on specific criteria including, among many others, the age and experience of the institution, qualifications of the faculty, curricular content, and support services and physical facilities. It offers a good starting point for those interested in programs of national prominence.

The second ranking is that of U.S. News & World Report. The inclusion of schools of social work in the magazine’s annual education issue began in 1993. A partial listing of U.S. News & World Report’s current rankings of schools of social work (ranked in 2004) may be found on the Internet at

The methodology employed in determining rankings consisted of a survey of opinions of senior faculty and deans of schools of social work. To what extent the respondents’ loyalty to the schools they attended or where they are employed played a part in their responses is anyone’s guess. Given that the magazine is so widely distributed and known, the results of the survey may become widely accepted by the general public, despite the weak methodology.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Choosing a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Accredited School of Social Work

As you consider schools, it is most important that you make sure they are accredited or in candidacy by CSWE (in the United States) or CASSW-ACESS (in Canada). Schools that are accredited by CSWE or by CASSW-ACESS have gone through a rigorous process to ensure that they meet the minimum standards for social work education and that their graduates are prepared to practice social work at a professional level.

Some schools may state that they are “in candidacy” for CSWE or CASSW-ACESS accreditation. Candidacy is a precursor to full accreditation, and schools must have met certain requirements to be admitted into candidacy. Schools that are in candidacy by CSWE are working toward accreditation and have shown that they have the potential to achieve that status. Assuming that the school completes candidacy and receives full accreditation, students who attend the school while it is in candidacy will receive accreditation of their degrees once the school is accredited, if the degree is earned under the same curriculum that receives accreditation. If you are considering a school that is in candidacy, ask when the school expects to receive accreditation and whether the curriculum you will receive your degree under is the curriculum under which the school expects to receive accreditation.

For CSWE, the movement from candidacy status to accreditation status varies. Ten of the 15 programs listed as “in candidacy” in this Handbook’s June 1996 edition were accredited by the next edition in June 1997. The other five were still in candidacy as of June 1997. Of those five, only one remained in candidacy as of February 2002. Of the 20 programs listed in candidacy status in this Handbook’s 1999 edition, 14 had achieved accreditation, five continued in candidacy, and one was no longer in candidacy by the February 2002 edition. Of the 25 programs in candidacy as of the 2002 edition, 22 have achieved accreditation, while three continue in candidacy as of February 2005. Data are not available to provide similar information for movement from candidacy to accreditation for CASSW-ACESS.

If you are considering attending a program that is in candidacy status, it is important to learn as much as possible about when the program expects accreditation and to evaluate as much as possible its prospects for achieving it. Programs in candidacy status that participated in this edition’s “In Their Own Words” survey (Appendix B) were asked to report the date when accreditation is expected. The program’s failure to achieve accreditation could have serious implications for the marketability of your diploma. There was recently the case of a program that did not achieve accreditation as expected. Its graduates found themselves unable to sit for the state licensing exam and to qualify for many jobs that require it. Grants that fund many programs have as a requirement that staff in those programs be licensed.

Having an accredited degree is important for a number of reasons. Besides ensuring that your education meets minimum professional standards, you need an accredited degree in order to be eligible for most social work licenses. Check with your state or province licensing board to find out which accreditation(s) it accepts. An accredited degree will also enhance your employment opportunities, and some professional associations (such as the National Association of Social Workers) require it in order to join or receive full membership privileges.

For more information on CSWE accreditation, see


Sunday, July 29, 2012

FAQs About Social Work Graduate School

1. Where should I go to social work grad school?

Answer: The answer to this question is different from person to person. A lot depends on what your goals are (personally and professionally), what your learning style is, and other factors. If your goal is to be a professional social worker, one criteria that you SHOULD look for is accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in the U.S., or by comparable accrediting bodies in other countries. A list of such schools can be found in CSWE's program directory at

2. Do I need to get my BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) first, before I go for my MSW?

Answer: No, you do not need a BSW to get an MSW. Your bachelor's degree can be in any major. If you do have a BSW from a CSWE-accredited school, however, you may qualify for advanced standing in some MSW programs.

3. The school I am looking at doesn't offer the MSW. Their social work degree is an MSS. Is that okay?

Answer: The most common accredited degree in social work is the Master of Social Work (MSW). However, some schools call their degrees by different names (Master of Arts, Master of Social Service Administration, Master of Social Sciences, for example). If the school is accredited by CSWE, the master's degree you are getting is equivalent to the master's degree at other CSWE-accredited schools, regardless of the actual name of the degree offered.

4. How long will it take me to get my MSW?

Answer: Most MSW programs are 2 years if you are a full-time student, but this varies. If you are in advanced standing, you may be able to obtain your MSW in as little as 1 year.

5. How important is the personal essay (also called the biographical statement) portion of my MSW application?

Answer: Very important. Each school will require that you write an essay, statement, or similar document as part of your application for admission. The statement/essay tells the admissions committee about your motivation for and commitment to a social work education and career, how well you write, and other important information about you that is not conveyed in other parts of the application. Follow the directions provided by each school, which will mean writing a different statement for each application.

6. What courses do I need to take to become a social worker?

Answer: If you are enrolled in a CSWE-accredited degree program, there are certain core courses that you will be required to take. They include: human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy and services, social research, social work practice, and field practicum. Most schools of social work offer a variety of concentrations or specializations for MSW students, such as health, mental health, aging, children and youth, and so forth. Additional courses are taken in your area of concentration.

7. Will I have to write a thesis?

Answer: This varies from school to school. Some require a formal thesis; others do not. Ask each school what the requirements are in this regard.

8. How do I know if the MSW is the right degree for me?

Answer: Only you can decide this for yourself. You might try doing some volunteer work in your community, under the supervision of a social worker, to find out what the social worker in that setting does and how the work suits you. Talk to social workers to get a feel for the profession. Look at the classified ads in your local newspaper and see if the jobs that interest you typically require a social work degree. Be aware that the social work profession is quite broad. Read some books like DAYS IN THE LIVES OF SOCIAL WORKERS (Linda M. Grobman) and CAREERS IN SOCIAL WORK (Leon Ginsburg) to find out the variety of career paths that are available to social workers. Look at your own career goals, possibly with the help of a career counselor, to determine if a formal social work education will help you reach those goals.

9. Will I need to be licensed to practice social work, once I get my degree?

Answer: Social work licensing is governed by the state in which you live or practice. Each state sets its own licensing requirements. You can go to the Web site of ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards) at to find a directory of licensing boards in the U.S. and other jurisdictions. This directory will give you contact information for each board, as well as general information about each state's requirements.

10. What are all the initials I see after social workers' names? BSW, MSW, LSW, ACSW, BCD? What does it all mean?

Answer: BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) and MSW (Master of Social Work) are social work degrees. LSW typically means Licensed Social Worker, but licenses vary from state to state, so depending on the state, you might see LSW, LCSW, LMSW, LBSW, and other such titles. ACSW stands for Academy of Certified Social Workers and is a national certification that is issued by the National Association of Social Workers. BCD is Board Certified Diplomate, which is also a nationally recognized credential.

11. What are the ethical obligations of social workers?

Answer: The social work profession takes ethics very seriously. The primary document relating to social work ethics is the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics. It can be found online at State licensing boards may also have their own codes of ethics. If you are a licensed social worker, please check with your state licensing board for its code of ethics (also called code of conduct or something similar).