The 25 Best Master of Social Work Degree Programs

social workA Master’s in Social Work (MSW) is one of the best degrees you can have for helping others and getting paid to do so. Social workers serve individuals, families, and communities. They can work for themselves, corporations, schools, and the government.

Direct-service social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives, while clinical social workers diagnose and treat behavioral, mental, and emotional issues. Those with an MSW degree usually are employed as case workers, counselors, or therapists.

Full-time students typically complete work on their MSW degree in two years. However, many schools offer advanced-standing MSW programs to students with a bachelor’s degree in social work. These programs take less than two years to complete.

Salaries

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary in 2011 for social workers was $53,900.  The annual mean wage for social workers in industries with the highest level of employment for the occupation was the following, in descending order: Federal executive branch; general, medical, and surgical hospitals; local government; state government; and individual and family services.

The median salaries by skill/specialty of employees with a Master of Social Work degree are shown below:

  • Counseling: $49,500
  • Case Management: $54,267
  • Geriatrics: $40,976
  • Spanish language: $45,750
  • Psychiatric: $51,000
  • Operations Management: $64,709
  • Fundraising: $49,500
  • Program Management: $57,250

(Source: PayScale, April 2012)

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Employment Growth

The BLS forecasts a 25% employment growth for social workers, faster than the average for all occupations. The expected job growth is due to an increase in demand for social services and healthcare, but will vary by specialty. The BLS forecasts a 34% employment growth for healthcare social workers, 31% for mental health and substance abuse social workers, and 20% for child, family, and school social workers.

Some of the employment opportunities for people with an MSW are shown below:

  • Aging
  • Public welfare
  • Child welfare
  • Justice corrections
  • School social Work
  • Health care
  • Employment/occupational social work
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Community organization
  • Mental health/clinical social work
  • Management/administration
  • International social work
  • Research
  • Politics
  • Policy and planning
  • Adoption and foster care agencies
  • Private practice
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Advocacy and coalition groups
  • Domestic violence agencies
  • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing homes/skilled nursing facilities
  • Homelessness & hunger advocacy networks
  • Women’s shelters
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Military counseling offices
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Senior centers
  • Social and human services centers

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MSW programs include classroom learning and practical field experience. There’s a large number of Master of Social Work degree programs to choose from, so it’s not easy selecting a school. We’ve thoroughly evaluated the top schools. We base our rankings on academic quality, reputation, awards, rankings, internship opportunities, and facilities.

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university of michigan1. University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

The University of Michigan School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #1 by U.S. News & World Report and as #3 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.”

The MSW program prepares students to serve society at the local, state, national and international levels. The faculty includes internationally recognized experts. The comprehensive Master of Social Work degree program offers nine concentrations. Students choose a concentration in a practice method and a practice area.

The University of Michigan School of Social Work provides a Peace Corps Master’s International program, which allows students interested in working with children and youth to integrate 27 months of Peace Corps service into their MSW program. Students with an undergraduate degree in social work can enroll in the advanced-standing program, which takes 45 credit hours to complete.

The School of Social Work offers dual degree programs that combine social work with either business administration, information, public health, law, urban planning, or public policy. The school also provides student-initiated combined master’s programs with social work and other units.

Practice methods include:

  • Interpersonal Practice
  • Community Organization
  • Social Policy and Evaluation
  • Management of Human Services

Practice areas include:

  • Children and Youth in Families and Society
  • Aging in Families and Society
  • Health and Mental Health
  • Society, Community and Social Systems

university of chicago2. University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

The School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago is ranked as tied for #3 by U.S. News & World Report and as #1 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The School of Social Service Administration is one of the oldest graduate schools of social work in the country.

The AM degree from the School of Social Work Administration is equivalent to an MSW, but has a wider educational and experiential foundation. It combines direct social work practice with interdisciplinary research, policy development, and social science theory. The school prepares students to become leaders in the human services field by fostering a commitment to social and economic justice.

The master’s degree program provides a strong foundation in policy, as well as direct practice with families, individuals, communities, and organizations. Students select a clinical concentration or a social administration concentration. The School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago provides two elective options: clinical practice and social administrative.

washington university3. Washington University (St. Louis, MO)

The Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis is ranked as tied for #1 by U.S. News & World Report and as #9 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” A leader in its field, the Brown School of Social Work has influenced policy strategies at local, national, and international levels. The school provides training in policy, practice, and research.

The school reports that it provides the most flexible curriculum of any graduate school of social work. The curriculum provides a strong understanding of the fundamentals and also allows students to create their own courses of study. Students can select their concentration and select when and where to do field work. Students have numerous opportunities for experiential learning via over 400 domestic and international field placement options.

Students with a BSW may be awarded between three and 19 credit hours of advanced standing for their BSW course work. Also, nearly four $4 million in scholarships are provided every year.

The Master of Social Work degree program provides six concentrations:

  • Management
  • Social & Economic Development
  • Gerontology
  • Children, Youth & Families
  • Mental Health
  • Health

columbia4. Columbia University (New York, NY)

The Columbia University School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #5 by U.S. News & World Report and as #2 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The school has a world-renowned faculty.

The Columbia University School of Social Work offers a two-year program, a 16-month program, an advanced-standing program, a reduced-residency program, and an extended program. Students with an undergraduate degree from a Council on Social Work Education–accredited BSW program can take the advanced-standing program and complete the MSW program in only one year. The Master of Social Work program includes 1200 hours of field instruction.

Students choose one of four advanced-practice method concentrations:

  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice
  • Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming
  • Policy Practice
  • Social Enterprise Administration

Students learn to provide direct social work services to client populations. Situated in the diverse city of New York, the school offers numerous local opportunities for social work delivery, research, and policy development.

Students select one of seven fields of practice:

  • Contemporary Social Issues
  • Aging
  • Health, Mental Health, and Disabilities
  • Family, Youth, and Children Services
  • School-Based and School-Linked Services
  • The World of Work
  • International Social Welfare and Services to Immigrants and Refugees

university of washington5. University of Washington (Seattle, WA)

The School of Social Work at the University of Washington is ranked as tied for #3 by U.S. News & World Report in social work and as #29 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The MSW prepares students to enter into a concentrated area of social work practice. The Master of Social Work degree program offers a broad understanding of social welfare, as well as a strong foundation in social work knowledge, skills, and ethics. The program also provides advanced study of social work interventions.

Students have internships with human service providers in Seattle. The advanced year prepares students for advanced professional practice in an area of concentration in a way which fosters social work leadership and a commitment to a just and diverse society, effective social interventions, and public service. The School of Social Work at the University of Washington provides a 10-month advanced-standing program for graduates of baccalaureate programs in social work or social welfare. Students can complete the program in one year.

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berkeley6. University of California Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

The School of Social Welfare at the University of California Berkeley, is ranked as tied for #7 by U.S. News & World Report and as #12 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” With a nationally and internationally recognized faculty, the School of Social Welfare at the University of California Berkeley, performs research on major world, U.S., and California issues. Via the school’s Center for Social Services Research, professors and graduate students perform research to identify best practices, improve service delivery, and design innovative social interventions.

Via the field placement program, students in the master’s degree program contribute hours of vital support to human service agencies and their low-income clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

The MSW program trains students for a range of leadership positions, as well as advanced-practice roles in their profession. The program prepares students for professional responsibility in the field of social welfare, as well as the institutional systems which comprise it, especially public social services and publicly supported voluntary social services.

Students select one of six concentrations:

  • Direct Practice in Child and Family Services
  • Direct Practice in Child and Family Services/Title IV-E Child Welfare Program
  • Direct Practice in Gerontology Services
  • Direct Practice in Community Mental Health
  • Management and Planning
  • Direct Practice in Health Services

Besides a Master of Social Work degree, the school also offers the following programs: MSW/PhD, MSW/MPW, MSW/JD Concurrent degree, Title IV-E MSW Child Welfare Training program, and a MSW/IAS dual degree program.

ut7. University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

The School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin is ranked as tied for #7 by U.S. News & World Report and as #19 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The school provides a master’s degree in social work for people interested in social work practice, administration, policy, and teaching.

The students can choose a concentration in Clinical Social Work or Community and Administrative Leadership. Students receive 1020 hours of field practicum. Internships are available at selected organizations, government agencies, and nonprofit and for-profit agencies. Internships are provided both in Texas and out of state, as well as abroad. Students have research opportunities with local and state service organizations and the larger community.

Students with a BSW from an accredited school complete 42 to 48 credit hours to acquire their MSW degree. The School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin provides portfolio programs, as well as four dual-degree master’s degree programs in collaboration with the LBJ School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas School of Law, the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the UT Health Science Center School of Public Health.

csw8. Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH)

The Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University is ranked #9 by U.S. News & World Report and #6 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” Students at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences can choose a concentration in Community and Social Development or Direct Practice.

Joint master’s level degree programs are provided in the areas of nonprofit management, law, bioethics, and business administration. Students who selected the Direct Practice Concentration specialize in one of five areas: Aging; Children, Youth, and Families; Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse; Child/Adolescent Mental Health; and Adult Mental Health.

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university-north-carolina9. University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, NC)

The UNC School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #5 by U.S. News & World Report. Besides studying a core curriculum, students select one of three concentrations: Direct Practice; Management and Community Practice, or a self-directed concentration.

The MSW program prepares students for direct agency–based practice, direct-community practice, management of nonprofit and public agencies, policy practice, as well as advocacy and leadership positions in the social work profession. Students are placed in government, nonprofit, and other human services agencies throughout North Carolina.

Students with a BSW degree may apply for advanced standing. Students in the advanced-standing program acquire an MSW degree after taking 40 hours at the UNC School of Social Work during one calendar year.

Students have the opportunity to expand their studies by participating in the UNC School of Social Work’s dual degree program partnerships with the Department of Public Administration, the School of Public Health, and School of Law, as well as with Duke University’s Divinity School.

pitt10. University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)

The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report and as #8 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” Students serve local, national, and international communities by developing and participating in collaborations with social agencies, government agencies, community-based organizations, and foundations.

Students participate in experimental and integrative learning in affiliated community organizations. Students are prepared to work with vulnerable children, youth, and families. The Child Welfare Education for Leadership project provides MSW education and training to employees of public child welfare agencies. Students can choose a concentration in Community Organization and Social Administration or Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Small Groups.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work offers the following dual, joint, and cooperative degree programs:

  • Master of Social Work/Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Social Work/Master of Divinity
  • Master of Social Work/Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work
  • Master of Social Work/Master of Public and International Affairs
  • Master of Social Work/Juris Doctor
  • Master of Social Work/Master of Public Health

Students serve local, national, and international communities by developing and participating in collaborations with social agencies, government agencies, community-based organizations, and foundations.

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fordham11. Fordham University (New York, NY)

The Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report. At the advanced level students select an area of concentration and a field of practice with families, individuals, and small groups. Students can select the Administration concentration or the Research concentration. The program includes field work.

Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education may qualify for advanced standing and complete the master’s degree in social work program in one year. Those with over three years’ experience working in a social work capacity may qualify for the Experienced and Employed Social Service Practitioner model and complete a single extended field placement at their place of employment.

The Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University offers areas of specialization:

  • Substance Abuse
  • Older Persons and their Families
  • Social Work and Law
  • Global Service

university-southern-california12. University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

The USC School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report and as #15 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The curriculum prepares students to provide leadership in complex and culturally diverse urban settings.

Students learn how to work effectively with a wide range of families, individuals, communities, and groups in the Los Angeles region, in southern California, and throughout the Pacific Rim. Students learn how to design and implement innovative, evidence-based, and compassionate solutions. Field internships are provided by 500 partner agencies situated throughout southern California.

While earning an MSW, students can obtain an MBA, a law degree, a master’s in gerontology, planning, management, Jewish nonprofit, public health, or public administration, or a Ph.D. The USC School of Social Work provides a 35–credit unit advanced-standing MSW program. The program waives the first-year foundation course requirements.

The school offers the following concentrations:

  • Families and Children
  • Community Organization, Planning, and Administration
  • Health
  • Mental Health
  • Work & Life

All concentrations require a field placement in addition to specialized coursework.

Subconcentrations are available in the following areas:

  • Older Adults
  • Military Social Work and Veteran Services
  • School Settings
  • Systems of Recovery from Mental Illness
  • Public Child Welfare

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wisconsin13. University of Wisconsin Madison (Madison, WI)

The School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin Madison is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report and as #4 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The MSW program at the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin Madison prepares students for advanced social work practice. The first year provides students with a foundation of knowledge, skills, and values required for solid social work practice, and prepares students for advanced social work practice in an area of concentration. In the second year, students specialize in a social problem area of concentration. Advanced practice concentration are available in Child, Youth, and Family Welfare; Health, Aging, and Disability; and Mental Health.

Students gain a field education in an agency setting. Exemptions for some or all of the generalist practice year courses may be granted to students who graduated from an accredited undergraduate social work program.

boston college14. Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA)

The Boston College Graduate School of Social Work is ranked #10 by U.S. News & World Report. Students have the option to create an individualized field by combining two or more concentrations. Students can also choose electives provided by the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work or from a consortium formed with other universities. All the concentrations require a field placement in addition to specialized coursework.

Students in the master’s of social work degree program select clinical or macro practice in one of four concentrations:

  • Global Practice
  • Children, Youth, & Families
  • Older Adults & Families
  • Health & Mental Health

The school offers dual degrees including the MSW/MBA, the MSW/JD program, and the MSW/MA in Pastoral Ministry. The advanced-standing program is available to students who have completed an undergraduate program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Students beginning the program in June complete the program in one calendar year, while students beginning the program in January complete the program in 16 months.

vcu15. Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA)

The VCU School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report. The school has an internationally recognized faculty. Students are prepared to work in a broad range of practice settings such as hospitals, family service agencies, mental health, criminal justice, policy practice, schools, and administrative settings.

Students select a concentration option in clinical social work or social work administration, planning, and policy practice. Students at the VCU School of Social Work are prepared to formulate, implement, and evaluate interventions, programs, and policies, as well as engage in development for the profession and influence community decision making. Students take field instruction. Students in the advanced-standing program are required to complete 39 credit hours taken over three continuous semesters.

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penn16. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

The Penn School of Social Policy & Practice is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report and as #5 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The MSW program promotes the profession of social work by educating students to become leaders for social change.

The master’s of social work program prepares students for professional social work practice in an array of systems and settings with diverse client populations. The MSW program prepares social workers for leadership roles in developing and providing services to families, individuals, communities, organizations, and groups.

In the second year of study, students choose a clinical or a macro practice method of concentration. Students are required to take a research course every semester. Students gain experience in the field practice component of the curriculum. The Penn School of Social Policy has an advanced-standing program. The school offers numerous dual degree programs which include an MSW.

ucla17. University of California Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)

The Department of Social Welfare at UCLA is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report and as #23 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” Students can select a minor or macro track. Each of the two years includes field placement.

The master’s in social work program has social work methods concentrations, including practice in organizations, communities, and policy settings, as well as social work practice with families, individuals, and groups. The school offers concurrent degree programs including MSW/JD, MSW/MA in Asian American Studies, MSW/MPH, and MSW/MPP.

The Department of Social Welfare at UCLA offers specializations in the following areas:

  • Children and Youth Services
  • Gerontology
  • Health Services
  • Mental Health Services
  • Nonprofit Sector Services

huntercollege18. City University of New York, Hunter College (New York, NY)

The Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report and as #25 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The school’s mission is to graduate excellently prepared and civically engaged social workers for New York’s diverse communities.

Students at the Silberman School of Social Work at CUNY have a choice of advanced concentration in three courses in one focus of intervention or methods concentration: Group Work; Clinical Practice with Individuals and Families; Organization Management and Leadership; or Community Organization, Planning, and Development.

u m baltimore19. University of Maryland Baltimore (Baltimore, MD)

The University of Maryland Baltimore’s School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report and as #27 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” Academic concentrations are available in Clinical as well as Management & Community Organization. The school offers dual degree programs featuring a Master of Social Work degree combined with one of the following degree programs: Jewish communal service/Jewish studies; Juris Doctor; MBA; or Master of Public Health.

Students have two different field placements in social services agencies, departments, or other service-delivery systems situated throughout Maryland and surrounding areas. The University of Maryland School of Social Work has a programmatic relationship with Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Cochin, India. Students can participate in a six-month field placement program in India.

Students are required to select one of the following specializations:

  • Families and Children
  • Aging
  • Health
  • Mental Health
  • Social Action and Community Development

The school also offers an Employee Assistance Program Subspecialization and a Child, Adolescent, and Family Health Subspecialization.

smith20. Smith College (Northampton, MA)

Smith College School for Social Work is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report and as #28 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The master’s of social work degree program specializes in clinical social work. The MSW program has a focus on working with individuals, families, and groups in a clinical setting. The students learn about clinical theory and practice, as well as social service and policy contexts of practice.

The curriculum emphasizes the promotion of service to society, social justice, and a greater appreciation of individual and cultural diversity in multicultural communities. The program includes field placement instruction and a community practice project. The school has a nationwide internship network. The Smith College School for Social Work offers an advanced-standing program for students with a BSW degree.

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boston-university21. Boston University (Boston, MA)

Boston University School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report. Students are prepared to integrate and apply clinical and macro practice methods in urban environments and diverse communities. Students are prepared for social work practice with families, individuals, organizations, groups, and communities. The MSW includes foundation and advanced-level courses and field education. In the advanced curriculum, students choose to specialize in clinical practice or macro practice.

Students at the Boston University School of Social Work obtain knowledge and skills from the advanced-methods courses in clinical or macro practice. Content on ethics, diversity, populations-at-risk, and social and economic justice is incorporated in the foundation and advanced courses. Also, students gain experience working with families, individuals, communities, and groups through field education.

Dual degree programs are available in social work and public health, social work and theology, and social work and education. The advanced-standing program is available to graduates of an undergraduate social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Students in the advanced-standing program receive 24 credit hours.

The field practicum of the MSW program allows students to develop competence in practice skills within the framework of social work values and ethics. The field practicum encourages the incorporation and application of principles and concepts learned in the classroom and the practicum agency.

nyu22. New York University (New York, NY)

The NYU Silver School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report. The MSW program teaches technical skills. The program has a focus on developing relationship-centered practice with groups, individuals, and families. An objective of the program is to develop an integrative, holistic approach to social work practice that allows versatility in the selection and application of intervention methods.

The MSW programs have an emphasis on clinical training. The practice classes have a high level of coordination with field learning. The NYU Silver School of Social Work offers dual degree programs including MSW/MA in Child Development, MSW/Executive MPA, MSW/JD, and MSW/MPH.

Graduates of an undergraduate social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education may apply for admission into the advanced concentration (second year) of the two-year program.

ohio state23. Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)

The College of Social Work at Ohio State University is ranked as tied for #26 by U.S. News & World Report and as #11 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The MSW program prepares students for advanced social work practice. The advanced concentration is highly applied and focuses on students obtaining expertise in one of several practice areas.

The College of Social Work at Ohio State University provides an extensive field practicum which incorporates theory, foundation, and advanced practice. The school offers dual degree programs, including joint social work and public affairs; social work and public health; and social work and city and regional planning.

msu24. Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI)

The School of Social Work at Michigan State University is ranked as tied for #26 by U.S. News & World Report and as #17 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate programs.” The major focus of the MSW program is on preparation for foundation and advanced practice in clinical social work (micro-level interventions), as well as organization and community practice/leadership (macro-level interventions). The master of social work program includes field experience.

The clinical social work concentration prepares students to practice advanced clinical skills in settings which focus on individuals, families, and groups. The Organization and Community Practice/Leadership concentration prepares students to practice a wide range of advanced skills for leadership, as well as change management in diverse organizations and communities.

The School of Social Work at Michigan State University also offers an advanced standing MSW program. The School of Social Work and the MSU College of Law provide a joint MSW/JD program.

uic25. University of Illinois Chicago (Chicago, IL)

The Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago is ranked as tied for #24 by U.S. News & World Report and as #26 by the Princeton Review‘s “Gourman Report of Graduate Programs.” The master’s of social work degree program prepares students for advanced social work practice in an area of concentration. Advanced curriculum content, tailored to the concentration, is offered in the areas of social work practice, social work research, human behavior in the social environment, social welfare policy, and services and field instruction.

Concentrations are available in the following areas:

  • Child and Family
  • Community and Urban Development
  • Mental Health
  • School Social Work

Interdisciplinary concentrations are available, including Interdepartmental Concentration in Gender and Women’s Studies and Interdepartmental Concentration in Violence Studies.

The advanced-standing option at the Jane Addams College of Social Work is available to those who have completed a baccalaureate degree program in social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. They may receive a maximum of 28 credit hours toward their MSW.

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