Full-Time Master of Social Work Program (MSW)

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Our students find that the teaching of Social Work Practice knowledge, values, and skills with an analytic approach fosters the ability to acquire and translate knowledge into sound professional social work practice with individuals, families, groups, communities, and/or organizations.

The first year (or Generalist Practice Year) is designed to provide you with foundational social work knowledge, values, and skills necessary for solid social work practice and to prepare you for advanced practice within the advanced generalist specialization.

In the second year (or Advanced Practice Specialization Year), students complete the advanced generalist specialization with a focus in:

  • Aging;
  • Child, Youth and Family Welfare (CYFW);
  • Health; or
  • Mental Health.

It is not possible to focus in more than one area. In addition, through the courses they choose, students deepen their social work practice knowledge, values, and skill base within that framework with either a direct practice or indirect practice emphasis.

In our MSW Programs you will find:

  • A unique approach to Field Education
  • Advanced standing available for BSW students
  • Advanced generalist specialization
  • A generalist approach and social problem focus to graduate education for practice
  • More than 100 agencies and organizations provide opportunities in which to learn practice
  • Prominent faculty in their fields of study
  • State-of-the-art interview practice and videoconference rooms
  • Dual or double degrees available (must be accepted into both programs, e.g., Law and Social Work, Public Policy and Social Work)
  • A world-class university with excellent libraries and student resources
  • The City of Madison – a safe, beautiful, and progressive place in which to live

Length of Program

The length of the graduate program will vary according to the student’s prior preparation and the number of credits completed each semester. Typically, for students without a BSW, completion of the MSW Program requires four full-time semesters of study. For students who do have a BSW and meet criteria, minimum time for completion of the MSW program is two full-time semesters if admitted with full advanced standing.

Part-Time Load

Students may enroll in the Full-Time MSW Program on a part-time basis (less than 8 credits) but must carry a load of a minimum of two courses each semester and must complete one full-time semester of 8 credits or more. In these circumstances, students need to carefully plan their course of study with a Social Work advisor, and enroll in courses according to prerequisites and sequences (e.g., generalist courses must be completed prior to specialization courses).

The first year of the MSW Program is called the Generalist Practice Year.

The first year curriculum is generalist and direct practice in orientation. It is designed to provide you with foundational social work knowledge, values and skills and to prepare you for the Advanced Generalist Specialization.

GENERALIST PRACTICE YEAR COURSES

  • SW 400 Field & Integrative Seminar I (fall)
  • SW 401 Field & Integrative Seminar II (spring)
  • SW 441 Generalist Practice with Individuals, Families & Groups (fall)
  • SW 442 Generalist Practice with Communities & Organizations (fall)
  • SW 605 Field of Social Work (fall)
  • SW 606 Social Policy (spring)
  • SW 612 Psychopathology for Generalist Social Work Practice (spring)
  • SW 650 Research Methods in Social Work (spring)
  • SW 710 Diversity, Oppression and Social Justice in Social Work (spring) *
  • SW 711 Human Behavior in the Environment (fall)

Note: *SW 710 was previously listed as SW 640 Social Work with Ethnic and Racial Groups. The course was renumbered and renamed in fall 2019.

In a broad social justice framework, advanced practice (students continuing from the Generalist year) or advanced standing (students entering the Program with a recent BSW) MSW students complete a generalist advanced practice specialization in one of four social problem focus areas.

Aging Focus Area

The Aging focus area prepares students to work successfully in a variety of settings that tackle the unique and intersecting issues related to health, aging, and disability.

All students in this focus area learn advanced practice skills in brokering, care/case management, assessment, and interdisciplinary teamwork. They develop knowledge and skills around cutting-edge social work topics such as consumer-directed care, consumer-centered assessment, and end-of-life care.

Students also learn about current services and policies related to health, aging, and disability, and critically examine opportunities for policy and program improvements. Students who graduate with this focus area are well-trained to take professional positions in a variety of settings from community-based service programs and organizations, to hospitals and residential facilities, to policy positions at the state and national level. Students may specialize in one or both of these areas by:

  1. participating in field units devoted to this area of specialization, or social policy (aging placement)
  2. choosing among specialized advanced practice electives within the focus area (e.g., Aging and Mental Health, Social Work Practice in Health Care, or Social Work and Developmental Disabilities).

Focus Area Chair

Tracy Schroepfer, MSW, PhD

Required and Elective Courses

Advanced Practice:

  • SW 821 SW Practice in Aging and Mental Health (fall)

Policies and Services:

  • SW 875 Health, Aging, and Disability Policy and Services (fall)

Macro Practice:

  • SW 840 Advanced Macro Practice (fall, spring)

Field Unit Options:

  • Social Work Practice with Older Adults
  • Social Work Practice in Policy and Administration

Focus Area Relevant Elective Courses:

  • SW 644 SW and Developmental Disabilities (fall, spring)
  • SW 648 End of Life: Implications and Challenges for Practice (spring)
  • SW 842 Consultation and Supervision in Social Work  (spring)
  • SW 854 Crisis Intervention in Social Work (spring)
  • SW 873 SW Practice in Health Care (fall)
  • SW 929 SW and Substance Abuse (spring)

In a broad social justice framework, advanced practice (students continuing from the Generalist year) or advanced standing (students entering the Program with a recent BSW) MSW students complete a generalist advanced practice specialization in one of four social problem focus areas.

Child, Youth, and Family Welfare Focus Area

The Child, Youth, and Family Welfare focus area is intended for students with an interest in school social work, child welfare, or advanced generalist social work practice with children, youth, and families in other contexts and systems (e.g., juvenile justice, community-based services). The focus area exposes students to the policies and practice philosophies of multiple service systems, the ways in which these varied systems intersect, and models of coordinated service delivery for families involved in multiple systems. Students are exposed to innovative prevention and intervention strategies designed to reduce risk and promote resilience in children, youth, and families from diverse backgrounds and family structures.

Focus Area Chair

Ellen Smith, MSSW

CYFW Plan of Study

Required and Elective Courses

Advanced Practice

  • SW 741 Interventions with Children, Youth and Families (fall)

Policies and Services (Take One Course):

  • SW 920 Child, Youth and Family Policies and Services (fall)
  • SW 921 Child Welfare Policies and Services (fall)

Macro Practice:

  • SW 840 Advanced Macro Practice (fall, spring)

Field Unit Options:

  • Social Work Practice in Public Child Welfare
  • Social Work Practice in Community Agencies
  • Social Work Practice in County Human Services
  • Social Social Work Practice in Educational Settings
  • Social Work Practice in Policy and Administration

Others if child, youth, and/or family focused placement:

  • Social Work Practice in Developmental and other Disabilities
  • Social Work Practice in the Juvenile & Criminal Justice Systems
  • Social Work Practice in Mental Health

Focus Area Relevant Elective Courses:

  • SW 646 Child Abuse and Neglect (spring)
  • SW 656 Family Practice in Foster and Kinship Care (spring)
  • SW 742 Assessing & Treating Children and Adolescents (fall)
  • SW 822 Family Law: Marriage and Divorce (fall, spring)
  • SW 842 Consultation and Supervision in Social Work (spring)
  • SW 923 Family Violence (spring)
  • SW 924 Family Problems in Social Work (spring)

In a broad social justice framework, advanced practice (students continuing from the Generalist year) or advanced standing (students entering the Program with a recent BSW) MSW students complete a generalist advanced practice specialization in one of four social problem focus areas.

Health Focus Area

The Health focus area prepares students to work successfully in a variety of settings that tackle the unique and intersecting issues related to health. All students in this focus area learn advanced practice skills in brokering, care/case management, assessment, and interdisciplinary teamwork. They develop knowledge and skills around cutting-edge social work topics such as consumer-directed care, consumer-centered assessment, and end-of-life care.

Students also learn about current services and policies related to health, aging, and disability, and critically examine opportunities for policy and program improvements. Students who graduate with this focus area are well-trained to take professional positions in a variety of settings from community-based service programs and organizations, to hospitals and nursing homes, to policy positions at the state and national level. Students may specialize in one or both of these areas by:

  1. participating in field units devoted to each of these specialized areas (health, aging, developmental disability, or social policy field units)
  2. choosing among specialized advanced practice electives within the focus area (e.g., Aging and Mental Health, Social Work Practice in Health Care, or Social Work and Developmental Disabilities).

Focus Area Chair

Tracy Schroepfer, MSW, PhD

Health Plan of Study

Required and Elective Courses

Advanced Practice:

  • SW 873 SW Practice in Health Care (fall)

Policies and Services:

  • SW 875 Health, Aging, and Disability Policy and Services (fall)

Macro Practice:

  • SW 840 Advanced Macro Practice (fall, spring)

Field Unit Options:

  • Social Work Practice in Developmental and other Disabilities
  • Social Work Practice in Health
  • Social Work Practice with Older Adults
  • Social Work Practice in Policy and Administration

Focus Area Relevant Elective Courses:

  • SW 644 SW and Developmental Disabilities (fall, spring)
  • SW 648 End-of-Life: Implications and Challenges for Practice (spring)
  • SW 746 Interdisciplinary Care of Children with Special Health Care Needs (fall)
  • SW 821 Aging and Mental Health (fall)
  • SW 842 Consultation and Supervision in Social Work (spring)

In a broad social justice framework, advanced practice (students continuing from the Generalist year) or advanced standing (students entering the Program with a recent BSW) MSW students complete a generalist advanced practice specialization in one of four social problem focus areas.

Mental Health Focus Area

The Mental Health focus area prepares social workers for advanced practice roles in community mental health and substance abuse services organizations, particularly those that address the needs of the most marginalized, oppressed, and disadvantaged members of our communities. A recovery orientation, consumer empowerment, and cultural competence are woven into the mental health focus area curriculum.

Although the focus area embraces a life course perspective, it primarily focuses on clinical social work practice with children, youth, and adults who are living with, or at risk for, serious mental health and substance abuse problems. Students must become familiar with conceptual and theoretical frameworks for understanding the nature, etiology, course, and consequences of major mental disorders, and both evidence-based and emerging models of clinical social work practice. Effective social work practice also requires an understanding of how social policies and mental health and substance abuse funding streams affect service delivery systems and consumers of service and their families, particularly members of marginalized, oppressed and underserved populations.

Focus Area Chairs

Tally Moses, MSW, PhD
Angela Willits, MSW, LCSW

Mental Health Plan of Study

Required and Elective Courses

Advanced Practice:

  • SW 835 Advanced Practice in Mental Health (fall)

Policies and Services:

  • SW 836 Mental Health Policies and Services (spring)

Macro Practice:

  • SW 840 Advanced Macro Practice (fall, spring)

Field Unit Options:

  • Social Work Practice in Mental Health
  • Social Work Practice in Policy and Administration

Focus Area Relevant Elective Courses:

  • SW 624 Social Work Practice with Groups
  • SW 648 End of Life: Implications and Challenges for Practice (spring)
  • SW 712 Psychopathology for SW Practice in Mental Health (fall)
  • SW 742 Assessing & Treating Children and Adolescents (spring)
  • SW 821 Aging and Mental Health (fall)
  • SW 842  Consultation and Supervision in Social Work (spring)
  • SW 854 Crisis Intervention in Social Work (spring)
  • SW 870 Assessing and Treating Adults (spring)
  • SW 923 Family Violence (spring)
  • SW 929 Social Work and Substance Abuse (spring)

Students enrolled in the Full-Time MSW Program may earn a dual degree or double degree while pursuing graduate education at the School of Social Work.

Dual degrees are degrees earned between the School of Social Work and the professional Schools of Medicine, Law, Veterinary Medicine, or Pharmacy. All other combinations of graduate degrees would fall under the double degree category. Below, read more detailed information about these two options.

Please note: It is the student’s responsibility to understand the curricula for both degree program options and to work individually and collaboratively with an advisor from each program to discover how the two programs may work together, maintaining the integrity of the curricula of both programs.

DUAL DEGREES

Students enrolled in the Full-Time MSW Program may earn a dual degree—an MSW from the School of Social Work and an MPH, MD, JD, DVM or Pharm.D. from one of the following schools:

School of Medicine and Public Health

  • MPH
  • MD

Law School

  • JD

School of Veterinary Medicine

  • DVM

Pharmacy School

  • PharmD

To receive a dual degree students must:

  • Apply to and be admitted into both programs;
  • Complete the specific degree requirements for each school; and,
  • Fulfill the Graduate School minimum credit requirement for the Graduate Degree.

TUITION

Tuition is determined by a combined fee schedule table. Assessed fees are roughly halfway between graduate fees and professional fees. Credit limits each semester coincide with the professional schools’ higher credit maximums.

DOUBLE DEGREES

Students enrolled in the Full-Time MSW Program may earn a double degree—two Master’s degrees from two separate departments.

A student completing a double degree earns two degrees—an MSW from the School of Social Work and a Master’s degree in another area.  Graduates receive two diplomas.  School of Social Work advisors work with students regarding the requirements to earn their MSW while an advisor from another department advises the same student to meet those requirements.

Students may apply for an additional program at the time of original application, add a program at any time during their enrollment, or reapply and pursue a second degree after completion of the first.

In all scenarios, regardless of whether double degree programs are completed consecutively or concurrently, students must:

  • Apply to and be admitted to both programs;
  • Fulfill the Graduate School’s minimum credit requirement for each degree;
  • Complete the specific degree requirements for each program, including minimum credit requirements for each;
  • Have no more than a 25% credit overlap between degrees, based on the lower credit requirement of the two programs; and,
  • Have an advisor from each program and both advisors must be informed of each other.

Approval of the double degree: At the time of graduation, each program will submit to the Graduate School a list of the courses being used to satisfy that program’s requirements. Both advisors must sign the course lists as indication of approval. The Graduate School will review the course lists for credit overlap between degrees.

International students must contact International Student Services (ISS), 217 Armory and Gymnasium (Red Gym), 716 Langdon Street, 608-262-2044, before adding a second degree program.

TUITION

Tuition for double degrees will be calculated based on the number of credits being taken in both programs at the graduate level.

For additional information, contact the Graduate School’s Office of Admissions and Academic Services, 217 Bascom Hall, 608-262-2433, gsacserv@grad.wisc.edu.

While there is no advanced research requirement in the MSW Program, students have the opportunity to pursue advanced research interests in the form of Independent Research Projects or a Master’s Thesis. Either of the following options is taken as an elective:

THESIS-RESEARCH: INDEPENDENT RESEARCH PROJECT (890)

  • One-semester, two-credit course that consists of an independent research project.
  • The project can be student or social work faculty-initiated, both of which are supervised by a social work faculty member.
  • In both student- and social work faculty-initiated projects, it is suggested that the plan of study be formalized by a learning contract entered into by both parties. A regular course syllabus could serve as an alternative to such a contract.
  • For student-initiated projects, it is expected that the student will conceptualize, carry out and report on a small-scale research project. The social work faculty member will provide guidance on research principles, methods and common pitfalls. The faculty member will also serve as the principle investigator on the student’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposal should the project require IRB approval. It is also expected that the student will turn in a paper to the supervising faculty for evaluation. The format and content of the paper will be agreed upon at the beginning of the project.
  • For social work faculty-initiated projects, faculty may involve students in carrying out parts of the faculty member’s own project. In these instances, faculty will provide students with a clear understanding of the research process in which they will be participating by discussing the rationale for the research, the steps taken to this point, and the steps that involve the student’s participation. The supervising faculty will help put the student’s “hands-on” experience into a larger context of social work research by providing relevant readings and discussions. Finally, students are expected to complete a written assignment related to their work on the project.

MASTER’S THESIS (890)

  • The thesis is a one-person four-credit research project carried for two semesters.
  • A letter of agreement between the student and supervising social work faculty member must be filed with an Advisor.
  • Complete details regarding the Graduate School’s requirements for Masters theses are found at The Graduate School’s Guide to Preparing Your Master’s Thesis.
  • The outline below provides a suggested guideline for the thesis.

SUGGESTED OUTLINE FOR 890 RESEARCH PROJECTS

  1. INTRODUCTION
    1. The issue
    2. Why the issue is important
    3. The research gap
    4. Purpose of the study
  2. LITERATURE REVIEW
    1. Review of the literature
    2. Theoretical framework
    3. The exploratory research question(s) or research hypotheses
  3. METHODS
    1. Sample description
    2. Data collection procedure
    3. Detailed description of analysis (qualitative or quantitative)
  4. RESEARCH FINDINGS
    1. Report of findings
  5. DISCUSSION SECTION
    1. Report findings addressing the research question(s) or hypotheses
    2. Limitations
    3. Implications for research, policy and practice