FAQ: Can you get a Master of Social Work (MSW) without a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)?

Short Answer: Yes. For students who are interested in earning an MSW and starting a career in social work, a BSW degree is not required.

MSW programs are typically offered in two different formats depending on a student’s undergraduate degree. Traditional standing MSW programs are for students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a field other than social work. Advanced standing MSW programs require students to have completed a BSW degree from an undergraduate program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The majority of schools that offer campus-based or online MSW programs offer traditional standing tracks. Currently, all 56 schools that offer online MSW programs offer a traditional standing track.

(On OnlineMSWPrograms.com, we classify any online MSW program that requires two or fewer visits to the campus per year as an online program. Online programs that require more than two visits per year are classified as hybrid MSW programs on the site.)

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While some online MSW programs do require students to have completed a minimum amount of professional experience in the field of social work, many accept students with varying educational backgrounds. Many MSW programs ask students to complete a personal statement as part of the application process and want to understand why a student wishes to pursue a career in social work. For students who are looking to change careers and/or have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, the personal statement is a great opportunity to explain why they wish to pursue an MSW. In addition, students who lack professional experience in the field of social work may want to consider volunteering at a social services or human services agency as a way to demonstrate their desire to work in this field.

Traditional standing online MSW programs can typically be completed in two years when pursued full-time or two and a half to four years when pursued part-time. All MSW programs (online or campus) require students to complete field education hours at a local agency under the supervision of a field instructor. Traditional standing programs require at least 900 hours of field education, depending on the program. Students who wish to pursue licensure as a clinical social worker post-graduation must complete a master’s degree program that has been accredited by the CSWE. Several schools offer related programs in human services that are not CSWE accredited and cannot be used towards licensure as a clinical social worker.

Last updated: April 2020