Advanced Standing MSW Programs: Campus and Online
For students who have graduated from a CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program and who wish to earn their MSW, enrolling in an advanced standing MSW program can save them both time and tuition. Traditional MSW programs typically take at least two years of full-time study or three years of part-time study to complete, and are comprised of 60 to 70 credits. In contrast, advanced standing programs typically take only one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study to complete, and are comprised of between 30 and 40 credits.
While advanced standing programs are highly advantageous for BSW graduates, prospective students should know that these programs typically have very rigorous admission standards, often requiring applicants to have maintained a relatively high overall undergraduate GPA and in their BSW coursework. In addition, in general, students must demonstrate exemplar performance in their undergraduate-level social work practicum. It is therefore highly recommended that BSW students, who think they might want to earn their MSW through an advanced standing program post-graduation, begin planning while they are still pursuing their undergraduate degree. Doing so will ensure that they achieve strong grades in their BSW coursework and excel in their practicum, both of which are necessary for them to put forth a strong application.
Considerations for BSW to MSW Programs
Advanced standing MSW programs waive the foundational coursework that traditional MSW students take in their first year, as advanced standing students are expected to have completed similar course content during their BSW program. Instead of these foundational classes, advanced standing MSW programs typically require students to take one or more bridge courses before starting advanced and specialized social work coursework; these bridge courses help prepare them for the rigorous research and writing assignments of their MSW program.
Students who are interested in advanced standing programs should note that MSW programs may award different amounts of course credit to advanced standing students, depending on how much the students’ BSW curriculum matches the graduate program’s foundational course requirements. For example, while some advanced standing MSW programs might award 25-30 course credits for a student’s work at the baccalaureate level, others might only award 3-15 credits. Therefore, students may need to take additional courses from their school’s traditional MSW track if their BSW credits do not fully transfer. Prospective students should check with the admissions staff of the programs that interest them to see how much of their BSW curriculum can be transferred towards their MSW degree.
Note: For more information on the differences between advanced standing MSW programs and traditional MSW programs, please refer to our FAQ: Traditional versus Advanced Standing MSW Programs.
Admissions Requirements for Advanced Standing MSW Programs
As advanced standing programs have selective admissions requirements, students who think they might want to enroll in an advanced standing program should prepare well ahead of their application date. Ideally, students should begin their preparation during their undergraduate program, as strong grades in their BSW coursework are essential for admission. Furthermore, depending on whether students plan on completing a full-time or part-time course of study, application dates for advanced standing MSW programs may differ.
Full-time programs generally accept applications for summer term admission (as students typically complete their bridge coursework during the summer months before starting their advanced classes in the fall). On the other hand, part-time advanced standing MSW programs may take applications during the spring or fall terms, depending on the program. Finally, the number of BSW course credits that students are able to transfer to their MSW can also have an impact on their start date.
In general, the minimum application qualifications for an advanced standing MSW program are:
- Graduation from a CSWE-accredited BSW program within five years of admission into the advanced standing program.
- A cumulative GPA for all undergraduate social work classes of at least 3.0.
- Strong performance in one’s BSW field practicum.
In addition to the above requirements, advanced standing MSW programs typically require a letter of recommendation from a faculty member of the applicant’s BSW program, as well as a letter from the applicant’s undergraduate-level field practicum supervisor that attests to his or her qualifications for the advanced standing program.
When applying for advanced standing MSW programs, applicants can expect to submit the following:
- Transcripts of all undergraduate coursework
- Two or more letters of recommendation from faculty and/or professional supervisors
- A letter of interest or personal statement explaining one’s investment in the program and one’s goals within the social work discipline
- Passing of an official background check and drug test, for field education purposes
Advanced standing MSW programs are designed to be highly focused, in that students embark on their concentration classes immediately. As such, schools of social work offering this option expect applicants to demonstrate clear direction and a strong academic and practical background in their desired area of focus. This means that students applying to advanced standing programs must devote sufficient time and effort to their statement of purpose.
In general, it is best for students to tailor their personal statements to each school they are applying to, in order to demonstrate that they have specifically researched that program. Students should make it clear the reasons why they are applying to that specific program and not why they are just applying to an advanced standing MSW program. Students can talk about specific faculty, specific courses, or other standout attributes of the program that make them want to attend. Finally, it is always best for students to proof read their statements several times to ensure they are free of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, so they can make a best first impression.
Advanced Standing MSW Programs: Curriculum and Specializations
As mentioned previously, advanced standing MSW programs are typically comprised of bridge courses that prepare students for graduate-level research and writing, concentration coursework, specialized field education (and accompanying field education seminar, sometimes referred to as an integrative learning seminar), electives, and any advanced leadership or social work management courses required by the MSW program. In other words, the advanced standing MSW curriculum is essentially the second year of a traditional MSW program.
As such, advanced standing programs require that students know the area(s) of social work in which they would like to specialize from the very beginning of their enrollment. In addition, students are expected to establish their field education placement sites and supervisors prior to the term in which they begin their advanced placement program (for more information on field placements for advanced standing MSW programs, please refer to the section below).
Below is a table outlining the general curriculum structure for a full-time advanced standing MSW program that starts in the summer and can be completed in one year.
General Curriculum for an Advanced Standing MSW Program
Micro, Macro, and Advanced Generalist Advanced Standing MSW Programs
Advanced standing MSW program concentrations can be divided into three categories: micro/clinical social work (also referred to as direct practice social work), advanced generalist social work, and macro social work. Concentrations in areas such as child welfare social work and adult mental health are typically considered micro social work because they train students to work directly with patients in individual and small group settings. In contrast, concentrations in social work policy, program development, and innovation/entrepreneurship are generally considered to be macro social work because they concern developing social service interventions that impact large-scale communities. The advanced generalist social work specialization allows students to combine macro and micro social work classes so that they are equipped to design interventions for individuals and small groups as well as organizations and larger communities.
Common concentrations for advanced standing MSW programs include but are not limited to:
- Adult Mental Health and Wellness (Micro)
- Advanced Generalist Practice Social Work (Advanced Generalist)
- Advanced Social Work Policy (Macro)
- Child and Family Welfare Social Work (Micro)
- Clinical Social Work (Micro)
- Health Care Social Work (Micro or Macro Depending on Program)
- Social Justice Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Macro)
- Social Work Program Development and Evaluation (Macro)
- Substance Abuse (Micro)
- Violence and Injury Prevention (Micro)
To illustrate how the curricula for advanced standing MSW programs differ by concentration, below are three curriculum examples for Child and Family Welfare (micro), Social Justice Innovation and Entrepreneurship (macro), and Advanced Generalist Social Work (advanced generalist). Examples are for full-time programs with summer admission that can be completed in one year.
Child and Family Welfare BSW to MSW Program
Social Justice Innovation and Entrepreneurship BSW to MSW Program
Advanced Generalist Social Work BSW to MSW Program
Note: Advanced generalist MSW programs typically allow students more curriculum flexibility compared to specific concentrations, enabling students to take classes in both micro and macro social work and to create their own concentration in effect using their electives. As a result, the example above is one representation of many possible pathways for students in advanced generalist programs.
With the above categories in mind, prospective students should note that not all advanced standing MSW program concentrations are strictly micro, macro, or advanced generalist. For example, students who concentrate in children and families or clinical social work may take classes in program development and evaluation, or policy analysis and advocacy, in order to impact the larger social and political institutions that contribute to or mitigate the challenges their clients face. On the other hand, students who specialize in policy or program development may also want to take classes in direct practice so that they can work with and better understand the populations they wish to serve on a broader scale.
To ensure that they select a program with the concentration and coursework that best meets their professional interests and goals, prospective students of advanced standing programs should thoroughly research programs and be very intentional when applying. Unlike traditional MSW programs, advanced standing programs begin with coursework in a student’s chosen concentration, which leaves little time for exploring different potential concentrations. In fact, most advanced standing MSW programs expect students to articulate their desired academic concentration and future job in their application.
Field Education for Advanced Standing MSW Programs
As the signature pedagogy of the discipline, students’ field education gives them invaluable experience in work settings that are directly applicable to their future careers. While traditional MSW programs require between 900 and 1200 hours of field practicum (divided between a foundational year and a specialized year), advanced standing MSW programs generally require between 450 hours and 750 hours of field education.
Unlike the field practicum that students complete as part of their BSW program or during the first year of a traditional MSW program (which typically gives students more generalist and entry-level social work experience), advanced standing field education typically aligns with a student’s selected concentration. For example, a student who has focused on policy development and/or advocacy might work for a human rights agency or think tank, while a student whose concentration is in clinical social work might complete his or her practicum at a community health center, hospital, or behavioral health care agency.
Advanced standing MSW students must begin preparing for their field practicum well before the start of the first full term of their program. Depending on the program they choose, students might be expected to find their own practicum site and supervisor, and to contact the field education office of their program to receive approval; this process can take several months, particularly in areas with a limited number of openings at social work agencies and related organizations. As a result, the earlier students begin their search for a suitable field practicum site and supervisor, the better.
Other programs match students to potential field practicum sites in their area, and only require students to pass an interview with their potential supervisor at the site to ensure a good match. These programs will often notify students of their field placement assignments prior to the beginning of the first term of their advanced standing program.
For programs that match students to placements, it is important for students to be proactive and speak with field education directors about their educational and career goals. This will help to ensure that students are placed in agencies that align with their desired field post-graduation. This is especially important for students who wish to eventually become licensed as clinical social workers, as some states require students to have worked in specific settings for licensure. As clinical social work licensing requirements vary by state, students interested in licensure should review their state’s licensing requirements to determine any curricular or field education requirements that can or should be completed during their MSW program.
Note: For some states that have specific course requirements (for example, the State of California requires students to have taken courses in several subjects including Child Abuse Assessment and Reporting), students may be able to complete those post-graduation if they did not take them during their MSW program.
Types of Advanced Standing MSW Programs: Campus, Online and Hybrid
Students can pursue an advanced standing MSW program through traditional campus-based programs, online programs, and hybrid programs that combine in-person and online instruction. Students should determine which type of program best fits for both their learning style and their personal and professional obligations, as each has its own advantages and disadvantages, which are briefly discussed below.
To find campus-based MSW programs that offer advanced standing tracks, click on the state links below to visit our campus section of the website. To find online advanced standing MSW programs, see our comprehensive list of programs at the bottom of this page.
Note: Prospective students should keep in mind that, regardless of whether they choose a campus-based, fully online, or hybrid advanced standing MSW program, all of these program types require students to complete their field practicums in-person at an approved social work agency or similar setting. For more information about field practicums for MSW programs, please refer to our Field Education page.
Campus Advanced Standing MSW Programs
Campus-based advanced standing MSW programs require students to attend lectures, seminars, advisor meetings, and examinations on a physical campus. Such programs are ideal for students who want the opportunity to connect in-person with professors and classmates, and who benefit from the more formal structure that campus programs provide. Students who plan to utilize on-campus resources: research facilities, career counseling, academic tutoring… might want to consider a campus-based program as well. Additionally, being physically part of a larger academic community can provide a highly supportive environment for students’ learning.
On the other hand, campus-based advanced standing MSW programs can be limiting in that they require students to adhere to a weekly schedule of lectures, seminars, and discussion sections (even if they offer night and/or weekend classes). For students who do not reside on or near campus, additional time must also be spent commuting to campus, which can pose a challenge for students who have jobs or personal obligations. In particular, for students who live far away from universities, campus-based advanced standing MSW programs may not be an option, because they require students to either travel long distances or relocate for graduate school, which some students may not be able to do.
Online Advanced Standing MSW Programs
Online advanced standing MSW programs remove the need for students to attend weekly classes in person, and are therefore more flexible than their campus-based counterparts. MasterofSocialWork.com defines an online program as one that requires two or fewer visits to the school’s campus per year. That said, there are also 100% online advanced standing MSW programs that do not require students to attend any on-campus sessions. However, all MSW programs invariably require students to complete their field practicum requirements in person.
With the advent of new online learning technologies such as Blackboard, Zoom, and Canvas, many online advanced standing MSW programs feature interactive classes and live video discussions where students can meet synchronously to supplement pre-recorded lectures and/or other asynchronous readings and assignments. For social workers who are working full-time or part-time, the option of taking classes online and not having to commute to campus can help them maintain a work schedule while completing their graduate degree. Furthermore, online advanced standing MSW programs have the benefit of allowing students to attend an MSW program that is far from their place of residence. This is particularly advantageous for students living in less metropolitan areas that might not have as many schools of social work. Online programs also allow students greater access to concentration options, which may be ideal for students who want to specialize in specific fields of social work.
While online advanced standing MSW programs offer many advantages in terms of providing students with more flexibility, they are just as rigorous as campus-based programs. In addition, online programs require students to be highly autonomous, dedicated, organized, self-motivated, and skillful in time management. Without the set structure of campus-based classes, some students might find it challenging to manage their other obligations in conjunction with their graduate studies.
Hybrid Advanced Standing MSW Programs
For students who are looking for a more flexible program that still provides opportunities for connecting in-person with faculty and peers, hybrid advanced standing programs can be a good option. Hybrid programs vary in terms of the amount of online vs. campus instruction they include. MasterofSocialWork.com classifies hybrid programs as those that require three or more trips to campus annually (these campus visits are independent of MSW field education requirements, which must be completed in-person at a preapproved site). Within this definition, there are programs that have courses with online and campus-based components, as well as programs that have fully online courses and fully campus-based courses. Furthermore, there are programs that are almost completely online, but which require students to attend several campus intensives during the year.
Hybrid advanced standing MSW programs have many of the benefits and potential drawbacks of both their online and their campus-based counterparts. Hybrid programs provide the benefits of in-person instruction and mentorship that campus programs typically provide, just to a lesser extent. At the same time, hybrid advanced standing MSW programs are significantly more flexible than fully on-campus programs. As there is no set structure for hybrid MSW programs, schools vary in the amount of on-campus and online instruction, therefore, students interested in hybrid programs should research them carefully to fully understand any in-person requirements.