Question: Are there any online advanced standing clinical MSW programs?

Answer: Yes, there are numerous online advanced standing MSW programs with a clinical social work specialization. These include online MSW programs with a formal specialization in Clinical Social Work, as well as online MSW programs with specializations that allow students to focus on the population(s) with whom they would like to work in a clinical capacity. Such specializations include online MSW programs in Adult Mental Health, Child and Family Welfare Social Work, Trauma, Substance Abuse, and other related areas. Advanced standing programs have the advantage of allowing students to apply their BSW coursework to their MSW degree, thereby saving time and tuition.

Online advanced standing MSW programs in clinical social work can save both time and tuition for graduates of Council on Social Work (CSWE) accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs who have a strong academic and professional background in social work practice. Advanced standing MSW programs allow students to transfer some or all of their BSW course credits to their MSW degree, thereby allowing advanced standing students to begin their specialized clinical coursework immediately upon enrollment in an MSW program.

Clinical social work is a specialized discipline that focuses on the assessment and treatment of individuals struggling with mental, emotional, and/or behavioral disorders, often within the context of trying familial, relational, cultural, or economic circumstances. As with other forms of direct practice social work, clinical social work utilizes a person-in-environment approach to support individuals holistically, taking into account not only their mental and emotional health but also their support systems.

Advanced standing MSW programs in clinical social work are typically comprised of courses that focus on the formal diagnostic process for mental and emotional disturbances, the use of clinical therapeutic modalities, the development of client care plans, interventions for individuals and groups, overseeing ongoing client care, and managing clients’ transitions from different modes of counseling or treatment. Many online advanced standing MSW programs in clinical social work also give students the option to further specialize in a certain sector of the population, such as adults, the elderly, children and families, or people suffering from severe trauma or conditions that need inpatient care.

Admissions Criteria for Online Advanced Standing MSW Programs in Clinical Social Work

Online advanced standing clinical MSW programs have rigorous admission requirements, and are reserved for applicants who have already earned their BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited institution in a specialization that relates to clinical social work. Some programs may also require students to have one or more years of professional experience in a clinical social work setting after completing their BSW. In addition to the above requirements, some online advanced standing clinical MSW programs might also require students to submit a letter of recommendation from their BSW field practicum supervisor(s).

As students of advanced standing MSW programs begin their advanced and specialization courses immediately upon enrollment, it is important for programs to know that the students they admit have a clear idea of their desired professional trajectory. In order to be competitive for these programs, it is encouraged that students begin preparing while they are still completing their BSW, by taking undergraduate classes in clinical social work and completing their BSW field practicum in a clinical-related setting. Advanced standing programs also generally expect candidates to have strong GPAs and undergraduate field practicum performance.

Programs may also require the following as part of a student’s application:

  • A letter of intent describing one’s interest in clinical social work and the school’s program in particular, and the goals one has for the program and post-graduation.
  • Transcripts of all undergraduate coursework.
  • Two or more letters of recommendation from faculty of one’s BSW program who can speak to one’s ability to excel in the program in question.
  • The passing of a background check and drug test (for field education clearance).

Prospective students of online advanced standing clinical MSW programs should bear in mind that even if they fulfill all of the aforementioned admission requirements, they are still not guaranteed admission to their program of choice. Moreover, depending on the MSW program they select and the BSW program curriculum they completed, students might not be able to transfer all of their BSW course credits to their MSW degree. Students of advanced standing MSW programs may therefore need to complete some foundational-year MSW or bridge courses before starting their advanced standing program curriculum.

Curriculum Details for Online Advanced Standing MSW Programs in Clinical Social Work

Online advanced standing MSW programs in clinical social work vary in terms of their curriculum, including course titles and sequencing, the number of course credits required to graduate, and the specific content of each course. For example, while many advanced standing clinical programs allow students to embark immediately upon their clinical specialization coursework, others require students to take one or two bridge courses before starting their advanced curriculum. These bridge courses generally introduce students to graduate-level research and writing skills.

Below is a sample chart outlining the program requirements for an online advanced standing MSW program in clinical social work. Please note that this example is meant for informational purposes only, and is not meant to exactly represent an existing MSW program.

Curriculum ComponentExample Courses and Field Education Requirements
Bridge Course
  • Graduate Research and Writing Skills
Advanced Clinical Courses
  • Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis
  • Clinical Practice with Children and Families
  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Methodologies
  • Social Work Practice in Integrated Care Environments
  • Leadership in Clinical Social Work
Elective Courses
  • Complex Social Work Cases
  • Diversity and Discrimination in Clinical Social Work Practice
Field Education Requirements
  • Advanced Field Practicum
  • Advanced Field Practicum Integrative Seminar

Sample Courses for an Online Advanced Standing MSW Program in Clinical Social Work

In general, online advanced standing MSW programs in clinical social work cover important topics, methodologies, and skills in advanced clinical social work methods, clinical practice with specific populations, risk assessment and mitigation, and the role of the clinical social worker in promoting diversity and social justice. Examples of courses that students can expect to complete in their advanced standing clinical curriculum include but are not limited to:

  • Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis: Using The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), students learn the essential methodologies, policies, and procedures for assessing and forming accurate and actionable diagnoses for clients suffering from mental, emotional, and behavioral disturbances.
  • Social Work Practice in Integrated Care Environments: The latest research and practices in integrated physical and mental health care, which encompasses primary care health interventions, mental and behavioral health care plan design and management, and the role of preventative care and community resources in building client resilience to co-occurring mental, behavioral, and physical health conditions.
  • Diversity and Discrimination in Clinical Social Work Practice: The roles that racial, cultural, sexual, financial, religious, and political diversities play in the formation of people’s identities and the structure and health of larger communities. How clinical social workers can engage clients in a way that is empathetic and tailored to their individual experience.
  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Methodologies: The treatment modalities that form the foundation of advanced clinical social work practice, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, harm reduction techniques, group therapy, experiential therapy, and supportive therapy. Students learn how to integrate various modalities to create a personalized and supportive treatment environment for their clients.

Field Education for Online Advanced Standing MSW Programs in Clinical Social Work

Online advanced standing MSW programs in clinical social work require that students complete their advanced field practicum in-person in a setting that is relevant to their desired work environment post-graduation. The goal of the advanced field practicum is to give students the opportunity to apply the concepts, methods, and skills they have learned in their specialization classes to a real professional experience under the guidance of a social worker who serves as their supervisor. As advanced standing MSW programs often have their students start their field practicum during their first fall term of enrollment, students generally must ensure that they have obtained a field practicum site and supervisor well in advance of the fall term in which they expect to start their MSW studies.

Advanced standing clinical MSW programs vary in terms of how they handle students’ practicum placement process. For some programs, the field education office staff interviews students to ascertain their field practicum preferences, and actively matches these students to clinical social work sites and supervisors in their area. Other programs expect students to contact and interview at various potential social work practicum sites before submitting a site and supervisor for the field education office’s approval. To learn the precise expectations around locating and securing their field practicum sites and supervisors, prospective students should contact the program and/or field education director at their programs of interest with any questions they might have.

For more information on the MSW field education, including advanced standing MSW practicums and how to best succeed in them, please refer to our comprehensive Guide to Field Education.