Advanced Standing Online Master of Social Work Programs

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Advanced Standing Online Master of Social Work ProgramsAdvanced standing is a graduate degree track that gives social work students the opportunity to receive credit toward a master’s degree for credits earned while working toward a bachelor’s degree. It saves students a great deal in time and money and allows them to enter the professional workforce significantly sooner than they otherwise could.

Most advanced standing programs allow students to complete what’s typically a two-year degree in just a single year. By applying what they’ve already shown proficiency in to their advanced degree, students can shave as much as a full year off the time they spend earning their MSW.

An advanced standing program allows students to skip the general studies portion of their graduate coursework in favor of higher level classes. This is often done in situations involving special concentrations within the degree being earned (public health, substance abuse, family and children, etc.) where the student may have obtained an extensive undergraduate background.

Who is an Advanced Standing Program For? 

The advanced standing program may be a good fit for students who excelled throughout their undergraduate degree and want to apply their success toward their future education goals.

For MSW candidates, advanced standing programs can be completed either online or in person at a brick and mortar campus location. Some programs have a minor component of campus requirement and may ask students to travel to campus once or twice per semester.

Advanced standing programs are often more competitive than traditional graduate degree tracks. Students should be prepared for steep competition when applying to an advanced standing MSW program and may want to consider applying to multiple programs to increase the chances of acceptance.

Students who are eligible for enrollment in an advanced standing program must have completed their bachelor’s degree within the last several years. Specific timelines may vary from school to school, but the average cutoff tends to fall somewhere around the five to eight-year mark. The degree must have been earned at an institution with accreditation from then Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) in order to count toward a MSW.

The advanced standing MSW program may be an attractive option to students who want to build on their recently earned Bachelor of Social Work degree without devoting the next several years of their lives to continuing their educations.

Program Specific Admission Requirements

The admissions process for advanced standing MSW programs can be incredibly competitive. It’s important for students to have an idea of what the advanced standing MSW program might require and entail in order to stay in the running for a spot in the coveted degree program.

In order to be eligible for acceptance into the program, students will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Completed a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE accredited university
  • Meet the program’s minimum GPA requirements (may vary by school but typically 3.0 or higher)
  • Complete a number of prerequisite courses prior to application
  • Submit a transcript of undergraduate studies
  • Submit a personal statement and letters of recommendation
  • Pay the program’s application fee

Applicants must have completed some social work field experience before beginning the advanced standing MSW program. Some schools may also require varying levels of personal endorsement from faculty members of the school where you earned your bachelor’s degree. You may also be required to complete an in-person interview prior to admission.

When applying to a school’s advanced standing program, be sure to submit all paperwork in a timely fashion. If you haven’t yet completed all of the necessary prerequisites at the time of application, be sure to remain in touch with admissions office as to when your paperwork will be completed.

Structure and Length

Students on the advanced standing MSW track must first complete a required seminar or introductory period before joining their classmates for their fall semester. After that, they can move on to taking higher level classes and completing their field work requirements.

Though the exact number of credit hours required for students to graduate may vary from school to school, most advanced standing programs range anywhere from 30 to 48 credit hours (the traditional MSW program requires 60 to 66 credit hours to complete).

Students pursuing an advanced standing MSW have the following structure options when formatting their degree.

Full Time Education

Students attending classes full time can expect to complete their advanced standing MSW within 12 to 18 months. Many programs hold classes year-round, so students can keep earning credit hours as quickly as possible.

Most full time advanced standing programs only offer summer admission. Upon being accepted, students will enroll in bridge courses to make sure they’re ready to join their classmates for the fall semester (these students will be in the second year of their MSW program).

Part Time Education

Students who are attending classes part time can expect to finish their degree within two and a half years of beginning coursework (though most complete it in two years). While some schools offer summer admission, many part time MSW programs begin in the fall and/or winter. This makes it easier to join a program, though the competition is still fierce for admission.

Field Education

Like traditional MSW students, advanced standing students will need to complete a field education component before they’re eligible to graduate from the program with an MSW. This field work requirement must be met under the supervision of a licensed field instructor. Students can expect to complete anywhere from 450 to 1000 hours of supervised field experience before they’re eligible to graduate from the program.

For students enrolled in a full-time program, this component is likely to take place in the form of an internship lasting over the course of two semesters. These students can expect to work an average of 20 hours per week gaining relevant field experience.

Part time students may experience a greater variance in field work requirements; these programs tend to deviate in detail more than traditional full-time programs. If this is a path you’re considering, be sure to contact an admissions officer at your school for program specifics.

Curriculum

The curriculum followed by advanced standing MSW programs can vary greatly from school to school, but the end goal is the same: to prepare a prospective social worker to gain licensure and work to create positive change within their community. Students will complete a course load and field work that will give them the supervised experience needed to confidently embark on their own career path.

One example of an advanced standing MSW program is the MSW@USC, the online MSW offered through one of our partner schools, the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

The advanced standing track requires 37 credits and is available to students who have a Bachelor of Social Work. These students are able to jump more quickly into field work, whereas students following the traditional path must first complete prerequisite courses before working with clients.

Students who attend class full time can complete the advanced standing MSW track in as few as 12 months by taking a full course load for three semesters.

In the MSW@USC program, students choose an academic department based on their professional interests: Adult Mental Health and Wellness; Children, Youth, and Families; or Social Change and Innovation. Here is sample curriculum for students who complete the advanced standing track full time in the Department of Adult Mental Health and Wellness:

Semester One

  • Research and Evaluation for Social Work with Adults and Older Adults
  • Policy in Integrated Care
  • Wellness, Recovery and Integrated Care

Semester Two

  • Explanatory Theories of Health and Mental Health
  • Social Work Practice in Integrated Care
  • Advanced Elective Course
  • Advanced Applied Learning in Field Education A
  • Integrative Learning for Advanced Social Work Practice A

Semester Three

  • Advanced Practice with Complex Social Work Cases
  • Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice
  • Advanced Elective Course
  • Advanced Applied Learning in Field Education B
  • Integrative Learning for Advanced Social Work Practice B

For students who take classes part time, the same advanced standing MSW curriculum might take five semesters instead of three and look similar to this:

Semester One

  • Research and Evaluation for Social Work with Adults and Older Adults
  • Wellness, Recovery and Integrated Care
  • Policy in Integrated Care

Semester Two

  • Social Work Practice in Integrated Care
  • Advanced Applied Learning in Field Education A
  • Integrative Learning for Advanced Social Work Practice A

Semester Three

  • Advanced Practice with Complex Social Work Cases
  • Advanced Applied Learning in Field Education B
  • Integrative Learning for Advanced Social Work Practice B

Semester Four

  • Explanatory Theories of Health and Mental Health
  • Advanced Elective Course

Semester Five

  • Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice
  • Advanced Elective Course

While not reflective of the specific classes offered by each program, this information provides a general sense of the class structure students might follow on their advanced standing MSW path.

Field Placement

Real world experience is an absolute must when completing the education path that leads to a career as a licensed social worker.

Field work usually consists of time spent under the watchful eye of an industry veteran. Oftentimes, graduates will stay remain employed by the organization they’re placed with following completion of their degree.

Some common field placement venues for advanced standing MSW students include:

  • Healthcare facilities
  • Schools
  • Counseling centers
  • Human services organizations
  • Hospice care

Typically, schools will handle the task of setting a student up with field work. They take into account the professional goals of the student they’re placing and find a match to teach them the correlating skills.

For traditional brick and mortar MSW programs, students will often complete their field work requirement in the same community in which they go to school. Administrators filling placement needs for online programs have contacts in social work organizations around the country, and usually have no problem finding field work for students no matter where they’re located.