Micro, Mezzo, and Macro Practice

The UW-Madison School of Social Work prides itself on offering a comprehensive and integrative approach to social work education. Because each area of social work informs the other, we expose students to social work at all levels—micro, mezzo, and macro—instead of setting them on tracks that prioritize one area over another. An understanding of social work at all levels is crucial for students to grasp the breadth of the social work field and to leave the program as effective, well-rounded social workers.

Although we do not offer separate tracks in micro, mezzo, and macro, there are opportunities for students to narrow their focus through specific coursework and field placements in the area(s) of their choosing. We find that while many students enter the School with a specific career in mind, many leave with a different idea of their place in the field of social work. ­


When most people think of social work, they picture clinical, individualized (micro) practice, but that only paints one picture of social work. Too often excluded from the idea of social work is macro practice, or the work that promotes systemic change.

Macro practice explicitly embodies social work’s commitment to social justice and social change by promoting structural solutions to systemic inequalities and various forms of oppression that go beyond individual adaptation and resilience.

It is crucial that everyone in the social work field—even micro level social workers—understand macro practice, as it deals with the systems that affect clients every day.

Students interested in macro practice end up as policy researchers, advocates, or analysts; community organizers, educators, or outreach specialists; research associates or analysts; program development specialists; and more. Professionals in these careers might not be called “social workers” but it is from a social work foundation that they are able to be effective in what they do.

“To me, macro practice makes up the foundation on which social work sits.  We work with the larger aspects that make it possible for direct practitioners to work on the ground with individuals in need.  We have the ability to look at policies and practices and identify gaps and areas that need to change in organizations, communities, and institutions.  It allows me to grasp the intersectionality of the work we are doing and motivates me to continue working hard to see these changes come about.”  -Amanda Carrizales, Recent Graduate


SW 800/801: Policy & Administration Field Unit

SW 840: Advanced Macro Practice

SW 842 Consultation and Supervision in Social Work

SW 852: Influencing Political Systems for Social Change

SW 887: Nonprofit Leadership

Thanks to Laura Dresser’s 2017-18 field unit class for sharing content from their “Macro Matters” Change Agent Project.