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School of Social Work—Master of Social Work

The leadership required from social work professionals demands an MSW practitioner who possesses a repertoire of specialized knowledge and skills and whose practice is informed by the values and ethics of the profession. Social workers in the 21st century confront a variety of new challenges, as well as many that have long existed. MSW practitioners, who work with and on behalf of individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities, are faced with the need to develop innovative interventions in a rapidly changing practice environment. Such new, creative solutions to society's problems will be realized only if social work professionals have had a rigorous and thorough education.

The goal of the MSW program is to prepare graduates with the specialized knowledge and skills needed to engage in empirically supported and culturally competent advanced social work practice—either direct practice with individuals, families, and small groups, or community organization and social administration—that reflects the social work profession’s values, traditions, and philosophy. To accomplish this goal, the MSW program faculty have identified specific program objectives. Graduates of the MSW program will be able to:


  1. Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior
  2. Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
  3. Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
  4. Engage In Practice-informed Research and Research-informed Practice
  5. Engage in Policy Practice
  6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  7. Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  9. Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities


MSW Admissions

The following section details admissions information particular to applicants to the MSW program.

Persons seeking admission to the Master of Social Work (MSW) program must exhibit the leadership potential and professional capabilities essential to function effectively in the profession and must meet minimum academic requirements. An applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
  • A minimum of a B average (3.00 GPA on a 4.00 scale) in all undergraduate work. Applicants whose GPA is below 3.00 may be considered for admission under provisional status (see
  • A minimum of 60 undergraduate (or undergraduate plus graduate) credits in the liberal arts, of which 30 credits must be in the social and behavioral sciences and 30 credits must be distributed between the humanities and natural sciences. Course credits are counted from among the following:
    • The Humanities: English, fine arts, languages, literature, philosophy, religious studies, speech.
    • Social and Behavioral Sciences: anthropology, black studies, child development, economics, geography, history, legal studies, political science, psychology*, social work, sociology, studies in non-Western cultures.
    • Natural Sciences: biology, computer science, mathematics, psychology*, statistics.
      *Note: Psychology courses may be counted as either natural or social science credits.
  • Successful completion of a course in descriptive statistics.

Academic and field education credits are not granted in the MSW program for life, volunteer, or employment experience.


Persons who were once enrolled as degree students in the graduate program and who have voluntarily withdrawn from the program for more than one year must submit an application for readmission. The application process in these instances is the same as for new applicants. The statute of limitations may prevent the student from applying some graduate credits already completed as progress toward graduation.


Application and Admission Materials

Completed applications include the school online application form, transcripts, three letters of reference, a written statement, a resume, an agreement to participate in field education form and a $40 application fee. Applicants may request an interview, but this is not required. The director of admissions and student affairs may also request an interview.

Applications and other admissions information are available from:

Office of Admissions
School of Social Work
Online applications are accepted at:

Application materials may also be downloaded from the School of Social Work Web site or applications may be completed directly online. These materials are available at

Selection of Skill Concentration

Applicants are required to designate one skill concentration chosen from either Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA) or Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups. The appropriateness of the concentration selection is evaluated on the basis of the applicant's resume and written statement. If the applicant is uncertain about which concentration to select, the matter should be discussed with the director of admissions before an application is submitted.

Students indicate in their application to the MSW program the skill concentration they intend to complete. To request a change to these concentrations after beginning the MSW program, students must show that the change would contribute directly to their educational goals and career plans. Students also must be able to demonstrate in a projected plan of study that they will be able to complete all classes and field requirements in the new skill concentration within four years of their date of entry into the MSW program, as specified by the Council on Social Work Education. Such requests should be made and finalized no later than the end of the Drop/Add period of the second semester of matriculation for full-time students and the third semester of matriculation for part-time students.


Admissions Interview

Admissions interviews may be initiated by the admissions officer of the school in some special circumstance. Decisions on applications for admission are usually made without such an interview. All applicants are welcome to seek information-sharing interviews.

Financial Assistance for MSW Students

Financial assistance for MSW students is very limited. Scholarships and grants (as opposed to loans) are available directly from the School of Social Work and are awarded to full-time graduate MSW students on the basis of academic achievement. The school administers a select number of awards that include both merit and need-based criteria. Loans are administered by the University's Financial Aid Office. For more information please visit the University's Web site at

Additionally, the Master of Social Work program has a variety of paid field placements that are available on a very limited basis.


MSW Degree Requirements

The MSW curriculum is designed to be a two-year, full-time program. The MSW degree requires the satisfactory completion of a minimum of 60 credits—42 in class work and 18 in field practica—with a minimum GPA of 3.00. Although MSW students must take their required courses for a letter grade, elective courses offered and taken in the graduate program of the School of Social Work may be taken for a letter grade or an H/S/U grade. All graduate field instruction courses shall be taken for S/NC grades. No student will be permitted to graduate with a C, F, or U grade in a required course or an NC grade in the field practicum. Specific requirements for each of the skill concentrations are detailed in the student handbook and on the school's Web page,


MSW Academic Standards: Probation

A student in the MSW program will be placed on academic probation if:

  1. after completing at least nine (9) quality point credits, the student’s cumulative GPA falls below 3.00;
  2. the student receives a grade lower than a B- in a required course (including the five foundation courses, the required concentration skill courses, the second-level human behavior, policy, and research courses, and any specific courses needed to fulfill specialization or certificate requirements), or
  3. the student receives an NC grade for field placement (SWGEN 2099, SWINT 2099, or SWCOSA 2099).

The MSW program director will send a letter to the student and the student’s advisor notifying them of the student’s placement on academic probation. The letter will advise the student and the student’s advisor of the date and location of an academic review meeting, to be convened by the MSW program director, to discuss the terms of the student’s academic probation. A copy of this letter will be placed in the student’s folder. Depending on the outcome of the meeting, a student placed on academic probation may be required to modify the student’s course of study in the MSW program, including changing the academic courses for which the student is registered and/or delaying entry into or suspending field placement.


Part-Time MSW Students

Students pursuing a part-time course of study must complete the MSW degree in four academic years. Part-time students are expected to take their foundation courses (the equivalent of the first fall term for full-time students) on a part-time basis during the first year and then begin concentration courses and field instruction, on either a part-time or a full-time basis. Part-time students who have completed 21 credits of course work must begin their first field placement; enrollment in further courses after 21 credits is reached is contingent on the initiation of the field placement. Part-time students doing field instruction must complete a minimum of 12 clock hours each week, with at least eight of those hours done during the regular work day of the agency. In order to earn their MSW degree in four years, all part-time students must recognize that they will need to enroll for a minimum of two courses per term in two of the three terms during the academic year. The following options are acceptable:


  1. Two courses (3 credits per course) or
  2. One course (3 credits) plus a minimum of 3 field credits or
  3. A minimum of 6 field credits (equivalent to two courses)

Advanced Standing and Exemptions for MSW Course Work

Students entering the MSW program may be granted advanced standing, receive transfer credit, or be exempt from specific course requirements. The definition for each is:




Advanced Standing is defined as the awarding of academic credit toward a degree by the School of Social Work for prior baccalaureate course or field work completed at an undergraduate social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education when such work is evaluated as entirely comparable. A maximum of 12 course credits and 6 field work credits may be considered.

Transfer Credit is defined as the awarding of academic credit toward a degree by the School of Social Work for post-baccalaureate course or field work completed at an accredited academic institution when such work is evaluated as entirely comparable.

Exemption is defined as the waiving of a required academic course by the School of Social Work following an evaluation of the student’s previous course work that is determined to be essentially identical to the required course being waived. Such an exemption does not, however, reduce the number of credits required for graduation.

Specific details and limitations regarding this policy and related procedures are described in the Student Handbook and on the School of Social Work Web site,

Consistent with the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE’s) Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards, the School of Social Work’s MSW program does not grant advanced standing, transfer credit, or exemption for prior life, volunteer, or employment experience.

Organization of the MSW Curriculum

The MSW program entails both class and field requirements distributed across foundation and skills concentration curricula. The MSW foundation curriculum is the same for all MSW degree students. All students must complete the school's designated class and field requirements for one of two skills concentrations: Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA) or Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups. Students must complete the MSW Foundations requirements before being permitted to take concentration courses.

A change in concentration after matriculation is not advisable. (See Selection of Skill Concentration for further details on changing concentrations.)


Foundation Requirements

All MSW students must complete the MSW Foundation requirements listed below before being permitted to take concentration skill courses; second-level human behavior and the social environment, social welfare, or research courses; skill electives; and concentration field practicum, unless they are exempted via Advanced Standing credit or examination or an academic plan that is approved by the advisor and the program director.

The foundation course requirements (15 credits total) are:


SWRES 2021 Foundations of Social Work Research 3 credits
SWBEH 2063 Human Behavior and the Social Environment 3 credits
SWWEL 2081 Social Welfare 3 credits
SWGEN 2098 Generalist Foundations of Social Work Practice 3 credits
SWGEN 2034 Foundations of Social Work Practice with Diverse Populations 3 credits


In addition to the five courses listed above, students must complete 6 credits of Foundation Field Work. Students entering with advanced standing may be exempted from part or all of the Foundation Field Work requirement.

Skill Concentration Curricula

Upon completion of the foundation requirements, students begin course work in either of the two skill concentrations: Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups or Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA). In each skill concentration, students can opt to choose a University of Pittsburgh certificate program, or a School of Social Work certificate program.


Direct Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups

Direct practice skills form the basis of service in family and children’s agencies, mental health and mental retardation programs, health services, work with juvenile delinquents and adult offenders, and substance abuse treatment. Through course work and field practicum, students in the direct practice concentration acquire the knowledge and skills needed to engage in direct practice with diverse populations of individuals, families, and small groups. Practice approaches include psychodynamic-psychosocial, cognitive-behavioral, and social systems. Consistent with an emphasis on client strengths and the values and traditions of the social work profession, students become skilled at mobilizing a variety of formal and informal support systems to assist clients in addressing their needs and realizing their potential.

Direct practice certificates entail a specific "package" of courses and field placement experiences that permit students to tailor their education and professional preparation.

Six certification programs are available to direct practice students. Direct practice students in the MSW program can elect to pursue a certificate in:

  • Children, Youth and Families Certification (School of Social Work Certificate)
  • Gerontology (University of Pittsburgh Certificate)
  • Home and School Visitor (School of Social Work, School of Education, and PA Department of Education Certificate)
  • Human Services Management Certificate (School of Social Work Certificate)
  • Integrated Health Certificate (University of Pittsburgh Certificate)
  • Mental Health Certification (School of Social Work Certificate)

Students are not required to pursue a certificate. Those who choose to do so, must declare their choice of a certificate program no later than the end of the first term of full-time study. Individuals intending to complete the Home and School Visitor certificate must declare their interest in their application for admission to the MSW program. Information about curriculum requirements, specialization, and certificate programs are available on the school’s Web site,


Information about certificate programs is available on the school’s Website,

Community, Organization, and Social Action

The Community Organization and Social Action (COSA) concentration prepares socially active and civically engaged students for leadership careers in community service, community change, and community development organizations. Students can pursue specialized course work along one of two tracks—community organization or social administration—but many prefer to combine studies in both specialization areas. Many courses incorporate service learning and applied research that draw on field internships to enhance learning experience and build a professional portfolio. The COSA concentration also provides opportunities for networking with other students through a COSA student group and with faculty, field faculty, alumni, and seasoned community leaders from the greater Pittsburgh region, both in the field and at the school. Information about curriculum requirements is available on the school’s Web site,

MSW students in the COSA concentration can elect as part of their graduate studies to obtain a certificate in human service management.

Information about the human services certificate program is available on the school's Web site,



MSW Courses

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