Graduate Education in Social Work

Many social work students are interested in obtaining the Master of Social Work degree (MSW).  Northern Michigan University does not offer the MSW, but our graduates are admitted to MSW programs throughout the country

Finding An MSW Program

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is probably the best starting point for locating information on graduate education in social work. The Council's Web site has links to all accredited MSW Programs in North America.

MSW Options in the Upper Peninsula

Several distance education MSW programs are now available. CSWE provides a list of distance education MSW programs. [Note: Many have restricted service area and may not serve the U.P.] In recent years, NMU BSW grads have completed MSW degrees here in the Upper Peninsula through one of the following programs:

University of North Dakota—this school has been charging resident tuition, so it is one of the more affordable options.  Classes feature live instruction; student complete field placement here in the U.P. Perhaps the distance education option in the U.P. at the present time.

University of New England—A private school, so it is more expensive, but it does offer  a distance education option that permits students to complete the MSW locally.

Grand Valley State University—has offered their program as a distance education option at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  The program requires travel to LSSU for classes. Last class graduated 2008.

Michigan State University –offers a “blended clinical” program that involves on-line courses with participation in a local cadre of students. The program has required post BSW social work employment experience in the past.

Other Options:

The MSW is not the only path to a graduate level career in the human service field.  You might want to consider one of these other options.

Making the Decision

Making the decision to enter the labor market as a social worker after graduation or going on for further education is a personal choice. No choice is the wrong one; each individual’s life circumstances vary and influence this decision.

Benefits of Employment Prior to Graduate School:

  • having an income; utilizing the education one worked hard to get;
  • gaining professional experience and making professional contacts;
  • gaining exposure to working within a particular field of practice;
  • having professional experience as a resource base upon entering graduate school;
  • developing sense of self and community.

Benefits of Entering Graduate School:

  • motivation to continue schooling making transition less abrupt;
  • familiarity with demands required of a student;
  • being current with changing technology in academia;
  • establishing professional contacts;
  • better long-term earnings potential;
  • greater job flexibility and expanded therapeutic intervention strategies;
  • option to do solo practice or function in an administrative position

Preparation for Graduate School: Every graduate program has specific requirements for admission. One might require a certain test such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), while another may not. Universally, MSW programs will ask the student to provide a narrative statement regarding their interest in pursuing a career as a professional social worker or pose a series of questions to be answered by the prospective student. Generally, three letters of reference need to be obtained from individuals familiar with the student in differing contexts such as a college professor and an employer. Grades are important for acceptance purposes and maintaining at least a 3.0 in undergraduate is highly desirable. Some schools may offer an advanced standing program. Admission to advanced standing programs is competitive and most school require a 3.25 grade point average.

Planning for graduate school needs to begin early. Some schools only accept students once a year, while others admit on a more flexible basis. Either way, applying to grad school is time consuming and includes some expense. Schools vary in terms of the concentration areas offered. The student will save time and money by first investigating a number of schools, then identifying several schools that have the specialization areas that are of interest such as: administration, community planning and development, specific practice area of interest, research and the like. Think big when making application to graduate school; do not rule out a particular school because of its reputation and requirements. Schools like University of Michigan or the University of California at Berkeley, well known for their rigorous academic programs, are likely to have significant financial aid packages as well as scholarships. Like anything else, the more thorough one is in the initial phases of scouting out graduate programs that seem to have a good fit, the more satisfied the student will be with the final outcome.

Each school will have its own financial aid programs. Many offer teaching and/or research assistantships that defray the cost of education. Due to the changing demographic factors impacting who today's college students are likely to be, many MSW programs are offered on a part-time basis, via long-distance education or as Web-based courses