What is an MSW degree?

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Counselor talking with a young woman

A social work master’s degree is an advanced credential meant to prepare individuals for specialized jobs or leadership positions in the industry. Most Master of Social Work programs offer coursework covering ethical, legal, theoretical, and practical elements of operating in the field. Beyond that, some programs also specialize in specific areas of practice. The Regis College MSW, for example, focuses on clinical social work practice.

Our online MSW program primarily prepares students to obtain licensure in the industry, with a particular emphasis on developing skills to work as mental health clinicians.

The makeup of an online MSW

Most online MSW programs are designed as convenient curriculums that enable students to pursue an advanced, accessible course of study. Typically, they build on the skills and competencies developed in a Bachelor of Social Work program to prepare individuals for advanced positions in the field, and do so in such a way that can fit in a variety of schedules and preferences. For example, many programs offer:

  • Varied start times so students can begin when it’s most convenient for them
  • Application processes that don’t require a GRE
  • Flexible course options that allow students to fit their classes into their preferred timeline
  • Transfer credit acceptance for eligible courses, with eligibility varying between programs

Many programs are designed to prepare students for licensure, but requirements can vary from state to state. In most cases, an MSW program will feature a blend of generalist studies and specialized coursework. To some degree, this is designed to ensure students have a solid base before getting into advanced courses. However, it is also common to incorporate general courses for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a different field.

Experiential learning and field placement are also common practices in MSW programs, particularly those focused on clinical study. Because most degree programs are designed for professionals, field placement often involves internships working under direct supervision of experts in the field.

When pursuing an MSW, you can expect to find a blend of general foundational courses and highly specialized areas of study as you get deeper into a program. The MSW is a natural fit whether you have a bachelor’s in social work and are trying to advance your career or if your degree is in another field and you hope to make a career change to social work.

Regardless of your background, it is important to understand how an MSW degree can lead to licensure and industry certification.

The MSW and licensure

Most states have their own licensure requirements for social workers, with the specific demands varying substantially. There are a few common traits, however. For example, most will offer a variety of specific license types to recognize professionals depending on the degree they hold and their clinical experience. Most states also require that students attended a program that is either accredited by the Council on Social Work Education or is in pre-candidacy for accreditation. In some cases, professionals from a program with pre-candidacy accreditation will be eligible for a provisional license. It is important to look at the specific requirements for licensure for the state where you hope to work. The Regis College MSW is in pre-candidacy for accreditation.

For a quick look at licensure requirements, let’s take a glance at what’s expected in Massachusetts. The state offers formal examinations for those pursuing licensure. As such, individuals need to apply for licensure by submitting their credentials and, if approved at that level, proceed to an examination specific to the license they seek. Professionals in Massachusetts can pursue a variety of licenses, but the ones relevant for those pursuing an MSW include the Licensed Certified Social Worker and a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker.

The Licensed Certified Social Worker designation is only obtainable in Massachusetts for individuals with a master’s in social work. Those seeking to become Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers must have an MSW or doctoral degree in social work, a license as a Licensed Certified Social Worker, 3,500 hours of post-MSW clinical experience and at least 100 hours of individual work under the supervision of a professional holding an LICSW license. Equivalency options from other states are also possible.

Besides opening the door to more advanced licenses, an MSW can also prepare students for industry certifications. For example, the National Association of Social Workers offers a certification meant to designate individuals who have skills, education, and experience to meet demanding national standards for social work practice, something that can be advantageous for those who want to advance in the field or apply for international positions. Certifications are rarely a requirement, but many hiring bodies can prefer individuals have a certification on top of their licensure.

Pursuing an MSW at Regis College

An online MSW program offers students an opportunity to pursue their career goals in an accessible, flexible format. At Regis College, we put a particular emphasis on clinical social work as part of our institutional goal to provide programs that take a holistic view of health services. Our programs are designed to prepare students for the future of the field.

To this end, our faculty is made up of licensed clinical social workers who have at least two years of clinical experience in the field. We build on the core skills needed in the industry and empower students through advanced study.

If you’re considering an MSW, there are two things you should do to get started:

  1. Research licensure requirements for clinical social work in your state. It is important to understand what is necessary before you get started, as licensing can have a huge impact on what program will work for you.
  2. Contact us today so we can send you more information or put you in touch with enrollment counselors.

The Regis College MSW can be a springboard for licensure and certification. Whether you’re a career changer or a social worker hoping to get ahead, we have options for you.


Recommended Readings:

Social work or psychology: Which master’s degree is right for you?

Social work or human services: Which master’s degree is for you?



Frequently Asked Questions About Social Workers by Mass.gov 

Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW): Information Booklet with Application and Reference Evaluation Forms by the National Association of Social Workers