Advanced Standing Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

From hospitals to government agencies and private practices, social workers help improve the lives of others, by equipping them with the resources needed to strategically solve everyday problems.

For some social work jobs, only a bachelor’s degree is needed. However, for more specialized jobs, you’ll be required to have an advanced degree and the appropriate license. Clinical social workers for example, must earn a master’s degree in addition to obtaining post-master’s supervised clinical experience to allow them to effectively assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral illnesses. Clinical social workers must also hold a state practice license.

If you have a bachelor of social work (BSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and are thinking of working in a role that requires a graduate degree but don’t have one yet, there is a graduate degree track designed for students like you called an advanced standing MSW degree program. Advanced standing MSW programs are different from traditional MSW programs in that they can typically be completed in a shorter amount of time. The advanced standing MSW program allows you to skip the general studies portion of traditional MSW graduate coursework because it builds on your BSW courses typically taken in the first year.

Advanced standing MSW programs are often completed on-campus, online, or in hybrid enrollments. The hybrid models may require students to travel to campus once or twice each semester. All advanced standing MSW programs have a practicum, field placement, or internship requirement.

Should I Pursue an Online Advanced Standing MSW?

There are a number of benefits that come with pursuing an online advanced standing MSW program. Ultimately, earning this type of degree could help you meet your career goals. But you also want to make sure that your degree program accommodates your current needs.

Ask yourself questions. Do you have personal or professional commitments to attend to? Does daily travel to and from campus work for you or would you rather complete your coursework from the comfort of your home? Are you looking for the same reputation and credibility of a traditional MSW program? Is the financial investment worth it?

Take time to weigh the pros and cons of the programs you’re considering before making a decision. Time commitment, accreditation, cost of attendance and career advancement all matter but one or two of these factors might dictate your decision process.

Career Benefits of an Advanced Standing MSW

Employment of all social workers is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, while job growth among mental health and substance abuse social workers will reach 18%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The demand for mental health and substance abuse social workers in particular is expected to expand over the years. To remain relevant in a competitive and fast-growing hiring field, you might decide to earn your graduate degree. Or you may have had your eye on a social worker role that requires applicants to have a graduate degree for consideration, for a while. Once you have completed your advanced standing MSW program, you can begin to search for these types of positions.

Social workers who have earned an MSW from a CSWE-accredited university program qualify to become clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). Titles for these levels of social workers vary by state boards. An MSW also allows social workers to specialize in a specific field of practice. Common areas of specialization include clinical, school, child and family, and gerontological social work. Additionally, qualifying social workers are eligible to apply for certain specialty certifications offered through the National Association of Social Workers.

Online Advanced Standing MSW Student Benefits

The most significant student benefit of pursuing an online advanced standing MSW is saving time. An online MSW program builds on prior knowledge obtained in BSW programs.

Traditional MSW programs can take up to three years to complete. Advanced MSW programs typically take less time and may allow you to save money too.

What to Expect from an Advanced Standing MSW Program

With advanced standing MSW programs you are not obligated to take general course requirements, as they have already been obtained through a BSW program. Students in advanced standing MSW programs engage in upper-level coursework and specialized instruction. The specifics of the program vary by university.


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 be eligible for acceptance into the program, students may need to meet the following requirements:

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

Some advanced MSW programs may require some social work field experience before beginning the program.


MSW curriculum will vary from school to school but the end goal is the same: to prepare prospective social workers for licensure and create positive change within their communities through their work.

Because advanced standing students enter an MSW program with experience and credits, coursework for these programs are less generalized and more specialized in nature, with most classes falling within these categories: theory, practice, policy, and research.

Advanced standing MSW coursework may include the following, and more:

  • Advanced Standing Seminar
  • Social Work Practice
  • Social Work in Child and Family Settings
  • Social Work and Aging
  • Policy and Programs

Many courses will also offer a practical component, giving students real-world experience. Every school of social work will have different requirements for advanced MSW program graduation. Be sure to check with your preferred program for more information on that.

Structure and Length

Some advanced standing MSW programs can be completed in just a year. Credit requirements for a program will also vary, depending on how many BSW credits can be applied to your MSW. Credit requirements typically range from 30 to 43 credit hours, with the average being 33 credits.

There is also a range of structural learning offered. There are programs that are fully online, while others offer mostly online with some live, in-person sessions. Full time and part time options are also offered with most programs.

Students attending classes full time may 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. Part-time students often take a little longer to earn their degree. They can expect to finish their degree program within two and a half years, though most complete it in two years.

Field Placement/Internship

Like traditional MSW students, advanced standing students will need to complete a field education component before they are eligible to graduate from the program. 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.

For students enrolled in a full-time program, this component is likely to take place in the form of an internship that may last as long as two semesters. These students may 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.

Advanced Standing MSW Program FAQs

To figure out which type of graduate MSW program is the best fit for you, you will need to know and understand the difference between a traditional MSW and advanced standing MSW program, as well as the admissions requirements for each of the degrees.

What is the difference between a traditional and advanced standing MSW program?

Traditional and advanced standing MSW programs have different admissions requirements. The most notable being that students entering a traditional MSW are not required to hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Students however are required to hold a bachelor’s degree, in any field of study, from an accredited university.

Both time or length of program differ for traditional and advanced standing MSW programs. Students in traditional MSW programs take more generalized, core curriculum courses, while students in advanced standing MSW programs enroll in coursework that is specialized, shortening their time to graduation.

Can I get an MSW without a BSW?

Yes. A bachelor’s degree in any field of study and from an accredited university is accepted in order to earn a traditional MSW. However, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is required for all advanced standing MSW programs.