Advancing your education doesn’t have to take a long time. Earning your Master of Social Work, or MSW, degree can allow you to work in clinical roles, move up into leadership positions in agencies and advocacy, open your own private practice and earn a higher salary. That’s a lot of career improvement potential from a degree that typically takes just two years to earn. At the fastest schools, students can complete their graduate studies in social work even faster, often in one year or less.
Accelerated Master’s Programs in Social Work
How quickly you complete the requirements to earn your MSW depends on the pace at which you take your classes. Although part-time studies may be the only viable option for working professionals, taking a leisurely course load and studying only during the fall and spring semesters will make it take longer to get your degree.
Accelerated programs do the opposite. Students take more than the typical load of courses per semester, often in shorter sessions, and they usually study year-round. Graduate school is challenging, and the heavy workload makes an accelerated MSW program particularly demanding. However, students can graduate several months ahead of schedule.
The on-campus MSW program at Simmons University in Boston, MA, typically begins in the fall and stretches through the spring, summer and following fall semesters for a total length of 16 months, although spring start dates are also possible. Students complete a heavy course load of 16 to 17 credits per semester for a total of 65 graduate credits.
The accelerated MSW program at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University follows a similar structure. Students start in the spring, taking generalist practice courses during the first two terms and developing the skills for specialized practice in clinical social work during the fall and second spring semesters. The 65-credit, 16-month program includes 1,200 hours of supervised fieldwork.
Due to the rigorous requirements of accelerated format programs, these programs are highly selective, often requiring applicants to have excellent grades and professional work experience in the field.
MSW Programs With Advanced Standing
Some of the fastest graduate programs in social work are programs with an advanced standing policy. In these programs, applicants can apply to begin their coursework with what would otherwise be the second year of graduate studies. Essentially, they skip the foundational coursework taken during the first year of graduate school and move right to the specialized coursework, studies of clinical models and practices and supervised clinical field experiences.
Choosing an advanced standing MSW program can shorten the time it takes to get your degree by a lot. The University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers an advanced standing online MSW that takes 12 months to complete. The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice can be completed in just 10 months. Full-time students in the advanced standing online MSW program offered through Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service can finish their graduate studies in just eight months.
Not all MSW programs offer advanced standing, but the ones that do require students to have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree from an undergraduate program accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).
Dual-Degree BSW/MSW Options
Advanced standing isn’t the only way to get an early start in graduate school. Many colleges and universities now offer dual-degree programs that allow undergraduate students to jump right into their master’s-level studies. These 4+1 programs apply the credits gained through graduate-level coursework taken during undergraduate studies to both degrees, condensing six years of study into five.
In Widener University’s accelerated BSW/MSW program, undergraduate students apply to the graduate program as juniors and begin taking graduate classes during their senior year. This program reduces the total number of graduate credits from 39 to just 30.
Simmons University’s dual degree program is unique in that it is a 3+1 program, taking just four total years to earn both degrees. However, the residential program requires students to live in Boston, MA, throughout their studies and, because Simmons University’s undergraduate programs are open to women only, is not an option for male students.
Another benefit of choosing a dual-degree program is that the application process may be more seamless than it would be if applying as a new student. Often, dual degree programs don’t require exams like the GRE and may waive application fees.