As social workers, we so often concern ourselves with the “next step” — for our clients, for our organizations, for our communities.
But what about for ourselves? How can we continue to meet our calling in the face of new challenges? How can we continue to develop our voices as social workers?
In our Master of Social Work program, students seek to answer these very questions. Through intensive, specialized coursework, research and field experience, our students can truly find their focus as advanced practitioners and position themselves to make immediate impacts in the lives and communities they touch.
What we offer
Our small class sizes afford our students the room and time to connect with their instructors and each other, to fully contemplate where their true passions lie and to reflect on their shared experiences. And through it all, they’re given the tools and encouragement to embrace their own unique insights and fashion themselves into the practitioners they most want to be.
Our home in VCU’s Academic Learning Commons provides our on-campus students with a centrally located hub that allows us to deliver our educational mission through state-of-the-art technology and flexible learning spaces. Also, with new graduate research space, students have access to the materials, supports and technology they need to further their own independent, community-engaged research goals.
The primary goals of the M.S.W. Program are to provide:
- Generalist knowledge, skills, ethics and values essential for work with individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations
- A program that prepares students for work in areas of specialization in either clinical social work or social work administration, planning and policy practice in a range of settings
- An educational environment where students:
- Apply the profession’s values and ethical principles
- Gain a greater understanding of implications of diversity through education on identifying cultural strengths and ways to counteract individual and institutional prejudice, oppression and discrimination
- Apply research methods to analyze and critically evaluate professional practice, programs and service delivery systems
- Gain a greater understanding of advocacy and involvement in advocacy to effect social and economic justice
Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) through 2027, an M.S.W. degree from VCU instills mastery of the knowledge, skills and values necessary for advanced social work practice.
The nine core competencies of social work education as defined by CSWE Educational and Policy Standards are:
- Demonstrate ethical and professional behavior.
- Engage diversity and difference in practice.
- Advance human rights and social and economic justice.
- Engage in practice-informed research and research-informed practice.
- Engage in policy practice.
- Engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
- Assess individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
- Intervene with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
- Evaluate individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
Our students are prepared to exhibit these competencies through coursework, field education, independent study and more. View the M.S.W. curriculum in detail.
Regular standing, full time (two years)
The on campus full-time option requires students enroll in four three-credit courses and one three-credit field placement each semester over two years, ultimately completing 60 credit hours. After one year of generalist study, students enroll in specialized courses in either clinical social work practice or social work administration, planning and policy practice.
Students will complete two field practice placements, one in the first year and another in the second year. Students typically dedicate 14 hours per week to their generalist placement during the first year and 21 hours per week to their area of specialization placement in the second year. Students should anticipate these hours to be met during regular business hours.
Regular standing, part time to full time (three years)
This part-time option allows students to start the program part time over five semesters for the generalist curriculum and then switch to full time for two semesters for the specialization curriculum. Students in this track will complete their field placements during the second and third years of study. Students should anticipate these hours to be met during regular business hours.
Regular standing, part time (four years)
This part-time option gives students the flexibility to complete their degree requirements over a four-year period, with six credits taken each semester. This option includes two summers. Part-time students complete the two required field placements during the second and fourth years of study, making full-time employment during this time very difficult. The part-time program cannot be completed entirely at nights and on weekends due to field placement requirements and daytime scheduling of courses.
Students complete two field practice placements, one in the generalist year and another in the area of specialization year. Students typically dedicate 14 hours per week to their generalist placement and 21 hours per week to their area of specialization placement through a variety of field options. Students should anticipate these hours to be met during regular business hours.
Advanced standing (one year) – B.S.W. required
The advanced standing option is open to applicants who have earned a B.S.W. degree from a CSWE-accredited institution during the previous five years and have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0. This program leads to a Master of Social Work upon completion of 42 credit hours, taken over the course of three continuous semesters (summer, fall and spring for on-campus students). Advanced standing is a full-time program only and cannot be pursued part time. It is available on campus starting in the summer and can be completed in one year.
Students complete 12 credits of generalist study in the summer that include three classes and a field placement. For on-campus students, classes are typically held on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and fieldwork takes place on Thursdays and Fridays. Advanced standing students have only one field placement that lasts through the summer, fall and spring semesters. After completion of the summer session, advanced standing students join full-time students in the regular standing option to complete their area of specialization curriculum in the fall and spring.
The foundational generalist curriculum helps students develop the skill base that fosters competencies needed to work in a variety of social work settings. It includes courses in social work practice, human behavior theory, social policy, social and economic justice, research and agency-based field instruction.
After one year of generalist study, students enroll in specialized courses in the concentrations of clinical social work practice or social work administration, planning and policy practice:
- The clinical social work practice curriculum focuses on key evidence-based interventions, including how to solve problems, resolve emotional and interpersonal conflicts, develop and use social networks and resources, and maintain achieved capacities and strengths.
- The social work administration, planning and policy practice curriculum is offered only on campus. Courses prepare graduates to become leaders skilled in formulating, implementing, analyzing and evaluating policies, plans and programs for complex and ever-changing local, state, national and international environments.
For the M.S.W. advanced standing option, students will complete one field experience.
In the regular standing program, students will experience two field placements. In the generalist placement, students are expected to demonstrate generalized professional knowledge, values and skills studied in the generalist curriculum. In the second placement, students are placed in agencies according to their area of specialization.
To earn the M.S.W. degree in the advanced standing option requires 42 credits of full-time graduate study. Students in advanced standing do not complete the generalist curriculum but instead take 12 credit hours during the summer prior to entering the concentration curriculum.
The regular standing format for the M.S.W. degree requires the completion of 60 credit hours of graduate study (two years of full-time study). The first 30 credit hours (the generalist curriculum) may be taken in one academic year on a full-time basis or may be extended to a maximum of two years in the structured part-time format.
Students in both the regular and advanced standing formats select a concentration for the last 30 credit hours, which can be completed in one academic year on a full-time basis or extended to a maximum of two years in the structured part-time format. Students are usually in a field instruction practicum two days each week during the generalist curriculum and three days each week during the concentration curriculum. Course credit for work or life experience is not granted in lieu of M.S.W. course credit hours.
An M.S.W. degree enables our students to empower others and effect change in prevalent areas such as:
- Child welfare
- Community organizing
- Corrections/criminal justice
- Developmental disabilities
- Domestic violence
- Health care – inpatient and outpatient services
- Immigration services/refugee services
- International social work
- Military (active duty and veterans) social work
- Nonprofit management
- Policy practice
- Private practice
- Psychiatry/mental health
- Public welfare
- School social work
- Trauma and crisis intervention
Ready to learn more?
Complete a certificate, certification or dual degree
Our students can combine their M.S.W. studies with other programs to earn special certificates in Aging Studies, Gender Violence Intervention or Nonprofit Management. Clinical M.S.W. students can earn the School Social Work Certification, offered through the Virginia Department of Education. Students also can do dual-degree study to combine their M.S.W. with law, divinity or public health degrees. Find out more about our certificate, dual-degree and certification options.
I chose VCU after a thorough search and comparison of other social work programs. VCU’s social work program is nationally ranked, and upon visiting for an informational session, I felt the support tremendously.”
Koren Satchell (she/her), M.S.W. graduate and scholarship recipient
VCU’s B.S.W. and M.S.W. programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education — the accrediting body for all schools of social work at both the baccalaureate and master’s levels.
All programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education measure and report student learning outcomes. View our most current results for M.S.W. student learning outcomes.