Aspiring social workers enroll in MSW programs to advance their professional careers by gaining social worker licensure, improving their earnings potential, and enhancing their ability to serve society.
Some individuals focus on pursuing accelerated MSW programs. These programs have the same curriculum as a traditional MSW program, but the duration is shorter, giving graduates the edge to enter the workforce faster.
What Is an Accelerated MSW Program?
A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a graduate-level degree program made for students who want to become social workers or advance their career in the social work field. The program has a curriculum that provides students with advanced knowledge and skills to provide support and care to individuals or a group of people. MSW program usually lasts for two years, but students who want to complete their studies quickly may opt to pursue an accelerated MSW program.
An MSW accelerated program is a graduate-level degree path where students complete their master’s program in as little as one year. While the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) might be a general admission requirement for accelerated MSW programs, you can find some accelerated MSW programs without BSW requirements. These programs would still accept you if you meet other admission criteria. Individuals may also find some accelerated MSW programs online.
Students participating in the accelerated MSW program usually find the program rigorous and concentrated since the curriculum of traditional MSW programs is condensed into a shorter time frame.
Why Earn an MSW
Earning a bachelor’s degree might not be a high enough credential to fulfill your career goals. The MSW provides advanced knowledge in the field of social work, which may be useful to grow your social work career. With it, you can specialize in your desired social work field, expand your skill set, and serve your society better. An MSW degree is also a requirement to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in many states, which will impact your career and earning potential.
Advantages of an Accelerated MSW Program
- Career progression. Since accelerated MSW programs last for a shorter time frame than traditional MSW programs, students can enter the labor force faster. They can advance their skills, get licensure and certification, and raise their wages on a shorter time line.
- Specialization opportunities. Students can take advantage of the predefined curriculum and focus on their specific area of interest in social work. For programs that offer specialized tracks, students can tailor their education to match their ambitions.
- Increased earning potential. If you look at average salaries, you’ll discover that MSW degree holders often earn more than BSW degree holders because they take on supervisory roles. Since the MSW qualifies them for licensure, they also have a higher earning power.
Reasons to Pursue an Accelerated MSW Program Online
Many MSW accelerated programs are conducted in person. You can also participate in the program without being physically present. Here are some of the benefits.
- Flexibility. Pursuing an accelerated MSW program online has a lot of flexibility since you can study at your own pace and location. This helps people fit learning activities into their busy schedules.
- Accessibility. With an online accelerated MSW program, you can access the program with just your computer device and internet access, without having to commute to a campus location.
- Cost-effectiveness. Another reason to pursue an online accelerated MSW program is the cost-effectiveness factor. Students won’t have to worry about extra expenses like housing and transportation.
How Much Does an MSW Cost?
Cost is an important element for students to examine before enrolling in MSW accelerated programs. Both traditional and online MSW degree tuition fees vary by institution.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduate tuition and fees at public universities cost $12,394 per year while private graduate schools cost $26,621 per year. One major factor influencing the cost is whether a student is in-state or out-of-state. Generally, it is advisable to apply in-state if saving money is your main motivation. Another thing that determines the cost of MSW programs is whether the institution is public or private.
Accelerated MSW programs, which usually have shorter time frames, may have higher tuition costs per semester, but they can be more cost-effective in terms of total tuition paid. When looking at cost, students should remember that additional expenses like books, software, and other materials may add up.
Accelerated MSW Curriculum
The accelerated MSW curriculum primarily covers the courses and fieldwork requirements with an average of 52 hours of study. While the curriculum might vary based on the program, here are some of the courses to expect.
- Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families—Exposes students to methods they can use to effectively assist individuals and families facing various challenges
- Theories of Individual Development—Investigates psychological theories to understand everything related to human growth, cognition, and behavior
- Family Theory for Social Work Practice—Examines family system theories to strengthen students’ ability to work with families and gives insight into interventions and support strategies
- Problems in Biopsychosocial Functioning—Analyzes different issues that might affect human well-being and explores how to integrate biological, psychological, and social factors to devise intervention plans
- Child Development from Infancy to Adolescence—Covers the stages of child development and provides insights into the unique needs of children as they grow to become adults
- Comparative Psychodynamic Theories for Clinical Social Work Practice—Explores various psychodynamic theories and their applications in clinical social work, thus enhancing therapeutic skills
- Racism in the United States: Implications for Social Work Practices—Explores the historical and contemporary impact of racism, equipping students to address its systemic effects in their social work practice
- Agency and Community Practice—Covers organizational structures and community dynamics and helps students develop the skills needed to lead and collaborate within social work agencies and communities
Five elective courses may come from any of the following sequences.
- Social Work Practice Sequence—This sequence focuses on the practical aspects of social work. It may involve courses that teach you how to interact with clients, conduct assessments, and develop intervention plans.
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment—This course sequence examines the psychological and sociological factors that influence human behavior within the context of social work.
- Social Welfare Policy and Services—This sequence is centered on understanding the policies and systems that shape social services. You may study the history of social welfare, current policies, and how they impact individuals.
- Research—The research sequence is designed to equip you with research skills relevant to social work.
Note that this is not a complete list, and the same list of courses is not offered in all MSW accelerated programs. This list should give you a glimpse of what to expect. Ensure that you visit the program website you intend to apply for to get their complete list of courses.
The fieldwork requirement for MSW programs is to ensure that students practice what they may have learned theoretically in the real world. This practice is distributed as courses across the program curriculum. It usually lasts for 900 to 1,200 total hours.
The field requirements between traditional MSW programs and accelerated MSW may vary. The major difference is in the time of completion. The accelerated MSW fieldwork requirement is usually completed in a shorter time than the traditional one, thus making the process rigorous. Regarding placement of students, the accelerated MSW program usually has fewer options than the traditional one.
What Are the Admission Requirements for MSW Programs?
While the admission requirements for different programs may vary, these are the general requirements.
General Admission Requirements
- Bachelor’s Degree—Many MSW programs require a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) to gain admission. Some MSW programs without BSW requirements do exist, but may take longer to complete.
- Grade Point Average (GPA)—MSW programs often require a competitive GPA that may range from 3.0 to 4.0.
- Prerequisite Courses—Some programs may require prerequisite courses like sociology, psychology, or statistics.
- Relevant Experience—While this may be compulsory, some MSW programs appreciate applicants with previous social or human service experience.
Requirements for Accelerated MSW Programs Without a BSW
The requirements for accelerated MSW programs for students without a BSW are the same as those of the MSW general admission requirements. To apply, you don’t necessarily need to have a bachelor’s degree in social work. However, you may be required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), though many schools have begun to remove it from their requirements. You can visit specific programs’ websites to check for specific requirements.
Accreditation for Accelerated MSW Programs
The body in charge of MSW programs is the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which uses the Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) to determine accreditation. EPAS eligibility criteria include program mission and goals, explicit curriculum, learning environment, and assessment.
When a program is accredited, it means that it has met the CSWE’s quality standards. So, instead of students doing the hard work of evaluating accreditation status, they only need to confirm that it is accredited. Aside from that, graduating from an accredited program is a requirement for licensure.
To know if a program is accredited, you can check the program’s website or check the CSWE website.
Career Options for People With MSWs
Individuals with MSW degrees can venture into any of the following career paths:
- Clinical Social Worker—Clinical social workers provide therapy and counseling services to people with concerns about mental health and emotional well-being.
- School Social Worker—People in this field collaborate with educators and families to support students with learning or behavioral issues.
- Healthcare Social Worker—Healthcare social workers assist patients in managing medical challenges as well as helping them cope with illness.
- Substance Abuse Counselors—These social workers help people overcome addiction by offering therapy and support.
MSW Salary and Job Outlook
A social worker’s salary can vary based on several factors, including employer and location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual average salary for social workers was $55,350 in May 2022 with the lowest 10% earning less than $36,600, and the highest 10% earning more than $87,300.
Here’s the BLS annual average salary breakdown based on the social work role:
- Healthcare: $60,280
- Mental health and substance abuse: $51,240
- Child, family, and school: $50,820
- Other social workers: $61,420
Here’s the annual average salary breakdown based on industry:
- Hospitals: $66,300
- Local government: $62,390
- Ambulatory healthcare: $58,690
- State government: $52,640
- Individual and family services: $46,670
Social work professionals are still very much in demand as the BLS has projected employment of social workers to grow 7% from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations. About 63,800 projected openings for employment will be available each year from 2022 to 2032.
Scholarships and Financial Aid Information for Accelerated MSW Programs
Even if the field of social work is rewarding in the long run, the associated costs may hinder students with poor financial support from reaching their desired positions. This is where scholarships and grants come in. Here are some types of scholarships students can apply for:
- Academic Scholarships—These scholarships are based on your academic achievements. They often require a minimum GPA.
- Merit-Based Scholarships—Merit-based scholarships consider a combination of academic achievements, leadership skills, and community involvement. They are usually competitive but can provide substantial financial support.
- Field-Specific Scholarships—These scholarships are only available for specific fields within social work, like child welfare, healthcare, or mental health.
- Federal and State Grants—Students can also look out for scholarships offered within their state or apply for available federal grants.
- Work Study Programs—Some universities provide on-campus work-study opportunities that allow you to earn money while gaining valuable experience within the university.
Accelerated MSW FAQ
How Much Can You Earn With an MSW?
The amount you earn with an MSW has many contributing factors which are not limited to your role, industry, and location. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers’ annual salary was about $55,350 in May 2022.
How Long Does it Take to Earn an Accelerated MSW?
Accelerated MSW program durations can be as short as a year, unlike the traditional MSW that lasts for at least two years. However, the downside of the accelerated MSW may be the rigorous curriculum.
Is Getting an Accelerated MSW Worth It?
Whether an accelerated MSW is worth it depends on your personal goals. However, one of the primary advantages of an accelerated MSW program is that it is time-saving, thus allowing you to enter the workforce sooner.
Can I Earn an Accelerated MSW Entirely Online?
Yes, there are many accelerated MSW programs online. Earning an accelerated MSW degree online can have advantages like flexibility, accessibility, and more. It can also have downsides like limited social interaction and self-motivation requirements to complete the courses.
Explore Accelerated MSW Programs
While traditional MSW programs may help you advance your career as a social worker, accelerated MSW programs can help you achieve your goals faster because you spend less time completing the program.
Meanwhile, it is advisable to be mentally prepared for the rigor that comes with an accelerated program. Also, if your chosen program is online, you should explore the pros and cons that come with studying remotely.