Online Advanced Generalist Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs
Online advanced generalist MSW programs combine courses in both micro-level/clinical and macro-level social work to prepare students for work in both arenas. Students who enroll in a CSWE-accredited advanced generalist program can expect to take courses that prepare them to engage with vulnerable populations at multiple levels, from direct practice with individuals and families to larger scale community programming and social leadership. For example, a graduate of an advanced generalist MSW program may have advanced training in individual counseling but also have experience in advocating for his or her clients’ access to health care services, or expertise in forming grassroots programs for community improvement.
Online advanced generalist MSW programs offer students the advantage of a more flexible format that allows them to more easily align their studies with their professional and personal obligations. This page outlines the structure of advanced generalist MSW programs, briefly discusses the instruction methods for online programs in this specialization, and offers examples of both full-time and part-time curricula.
Instruction Methods for Online Advanced Generalist MSW Programs
Online MSW programs use asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction, or a combination of both. Asynchronous instruction is defined as any instructional content that students can view on their own time, and includes pre-recorded lectures, self-guided assignments, and independent course readings. Synchronous instruction involves students being online at a specific times to attend a live lecture or discussion session, complete an assignment, or take a test. The majority of online programs deliver their course content using a learning management system (LMS) that places all course materials, student assignments, examinations, and means of contacting peers and course instructors on one interactive platform.
Programs vary in terms of both the type of LMS they use (ex. Canvas vs. Zoom) and the degree to which they use asynchronous vs. synchronous instruction. For example, some online advanced generalist MSW programs have exclusively asynchronous lectures but may host optional synchronous discussion seminars once or twice a month. Other programs may have weekly synchronous lectures via live web video, but record these sessions for students who must miss a lecture. For more details on instruction methods for online MSW programs, including pros and cons of synchronous vs asynchronous instruction, please refer to our FAQ entitled: Instruction Methods for Online MSW Programs.
Curriculum Details for Online Advanced Generalist MSW Programs: Foundational Courses
The curriculum for online advanced generalist MSW programs consists of foundational courses in social work practice, research, and theory, followed by more advanced electives that students take to effectively build their own “specialization” that combines micro and macro-level social work. Students of advanced generalist MSW programs are equipped to work independently in a wide variety of contexts, including child and family welfare agencies, community centers, non-profit organizations, health care centers, and political advocacy associations, among others. Foundational or core courses that students might take in an online advanced generalist MSW program include but are not limited to:
- Human Behavior and Development: The principal theories and frameworks underpinning social work’s understanding of human psychology, behavior, and development across the lifespan and within different sociological contexts. Human interaction at the individual, familial, group/organizational, and community levels is examined, as are issues of gender, ethnicity, race, disability/accessibility, socioeconomic status, and prejudice.
- Foundational Social Work Methods: The principles and methods governing the professional practice of social work, as well as the key values, ethics, and contexts of the discipline. Students learn how to engage with clients using cognitive-behavioral approaches, systemic/structural methods, and task-centered interventions.
- Social Work Research: An overview of the research principles and methods used in social work and social science research, and the stages of academic research, including the formation of a research question, the design of a research study, and quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.
- Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work: Diversity in all of its social dimensions is discussed, including ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, educational, and ability/disability. Students learn how to empower individuals within the context of social inequalities and injustices, and to help clients through interventions that operate at the individual and community levels.
- Social Welfare Policy and Advocacy: The history and current status of social welfare policies and institutions in the United States, and how they have translated into both systemic problems and solutions. The social worker’s role in policy advocacy and the navigation of government and community systems in the support of vulnerable populations.
- Foundational Field Practicum: Students complete a practicum under the supervision of a social work professional in a setting that is relevant to social work practice at the micro and/or macro level. In this practicum, students apply the concepts, skills, and methodologies they have learned in their foundational coursework to real work with clients or in a human service-related organization. In collaboration with their supervisor, students establish several learning outcomes that are tailored to their goals.
- Integrative Field Seminar: The accompanying field practicum seminar, wherein students discuss their practicum experiences with their peers and course instructor, and complete reflective exercises that help to solidify their learning outcomes.
Curriculum Details for Online Advanced Generalist MSW Programs: Advanced Standing Courses
After completing their foundational courses, students progress to their advanced coursework, which for advanced generalist programs is comprised of a mix of courses in micro and macro social work. Unlike other more focused specializations (e.g. clinical social work or macro social work), advanced generalist programs typically only have a few required courses beyond the core curriculum, and allow students to take electives according to their interests. Below are examples of courses—both required and electives—that students might encounter in an advanced generalist MSW program:
- Advanced Generalist Social Work Practice and Programs: Building off of the foundational courses, students learn how to build an holistic understanding of the needs of their target population(s) and how to address them at multiple points within the larger group, organizational, and societal systems in which they operate. Conducting assessments across these system levels, and collaborating with key community stakeholders in the design and implementation of larger interventions using social justice frameworks is also discussed.
- Contemporary Issues in Social Work Practice and Policy: Contemporary challenges facing social workers at both the micro and macro levels, and how they can address them using a combination of theoretical frameworks, policy analysis and advocacy, and assessment skills. Case studies help inform students’ discussions of contemporary issues further.
- Social Work Practice with Small Groups: This course focuses specifically on advanced methodologies for working with multiple clients in group settings. Students examine, discuss, and analyze different case studies and learn how to apply tailored techniques to group work with children, adolescents, adults, and intergenerational groups such as families.
- Family and Youth Services: This course focuses on the systems, programs, and policies that support healthy families and child development, and address risk factors at the individual, familial, and social/community levels. A person-in-environment approach is employed to examine and discuss how federal, state, and community institutions interplay with family dynamics and decision-making.
- Social Work Services for the Aging and Elderly: Students focus on the special needs of the elderly, the process of aging, and the complex interplay between aging adults and their social environment which can lead to social, professional, financial, health, and emotional challenges. This course covers interventions at all levels for elderly populations, including direct therapeutic practice, optimizing social service systems, and designing and implementing programs to address the challenges that the elderly face.
- Community Social Work Practice: The theoretical and practice models that underpin community development and improvement. How to evaluate both rural and urban communities’ social, institutional, and physical characteristics with the aim of identifying and addressing challenges that vulnerable populations face.
- Advanced Field Practicum: Building off of the foundational practicum they complete in their first year, students complete their second year’s practicum at a location that is more closely tailored to their chosen academic track and professional goals. Moreover, students employ more advanced social work methods in their second year’s practicum, with the goal of approximating their real work environment post-graduation as much as possible. Depending on their goals for their advanced generalist degree, students who engaged in a micro-level social work environment in their first practicum may wish to complete a practicum in a macro-level social work setting for their advanced practicum, and vice versa.
- Advanced Integrative Field Seminar: In this seminar, students discuss their practicum experiences with their peers and instructor, complete written reflective exercises, and may also present to their class regarding their field experience and learning outcomes.
Curriculum Options for Online Advanced Generalist MSW Programs: Full-Time vs. Part-Time Programs
Most online MSW programs with an advanced generalist specialization offer students both full-time and part-time study options, to provide maximum flexibility to students who may need to work or fulfill personal obligations while earning their graduate degree. While a full-time MSW course of study typically takes students 24 months to complete, part-time programs may take 32 to 36 months or longer.
Below are sample full-time and part-time curricula for an online advanced generalist MSW program. Please keep in mind that the following curricula are meant to serve as examples only, and are not intended to exactly replicate the curriculum of an existing online MSW program.
Full-Time Course Schedule for an Online Advanced Generalist MSW Program (24 Months)
Part-Time Course Schedule for an Online Advanced Generalist MSW Program (32 months)
Field Education for Online Advanced Generalist MSW Programs
All online MSW programs, including online advanced generalist MSW programs, require students to complete their field education in-person at an eligible social work, social service, or social justice-oriented organization. In general, CSWE-accredited MSW programs require the completion of between 900 and 1200 field practicum hours, which students fulfill through one foundational practicum and one advanced practicum. During the terms that they are enrolled in field education, students generally complete 16-20 hours of practicum per week (however, for students who are enrolled part-time, their weekly hours of practicum may be lower).
Advanced generalist MSW programs combine training in micro and macro social work principles and methods. As such, students of such programs may wish to complete one of their practicums in direct practice, working closely with individuals, families, or small groups, and one of their practicums in a more macro-level social work setting, such as a political advocacy center, a research institution, or a non-profit organization specializing in community program development. However, as the advanced generalist specialization is typically customizable to a student’s academic interests, the practicum settings in which they complete their field education may vary. Students of online advanced generalist MSW programs should consult their academic advisors and field education director regarding their practicum placements in order to ensure that they align with the student’s professional goals.
Advanced generalist MSW programs vary in terms of how they handle field practicum assignments. For example, some programs actively match students to one or both of their practicums, while other programs may require students to locate and apply independently for their practicum sites. For in-depth information on the matching process, and steps to succeeding in MSW field practicums, please refer to our comprehensive Guide to Field Education.
Clinical Social Work Licensure
For students interested in clinical social work and clinical social work licensure post-graduation (clinical social workers must be licensed to practice independently in all 50 states), advanced generalist MSW programs can provide the training required for licensure. However, licensing requirements vary by state, and different states may require different courses and field education hours to be eligible for licensure. Therefore, students should review the licensing requirements in their state of residence and compare those to the curricula of MSW programs they are considering (and talk to a program administrator before applying), especially for programs offered by out-of-state schools.
Finally, some states may require students to complete a specific number of field education hours in clinical settings during their MSW program. For students in these states, it is important to ensure their field practicums meet these requirements, even if it means completing two placements in micro/clinical social work instead of one in a macro social work setting and one in micro social work setting.