Masters of Social Work


San Diego State University School of Social Work offers 1, 2, 3, and 4-year plans for obtaining the MSW degree.  In addition, the School of Social Work also offers two dual degree programs: Master in Social Work Degree / Master in Public Health Degree (MSW/MPH) and a Master in Social Work Degree / Juris Doctor Degree (MSW/JD).

The mission of the MSW program is to prepare versatile leaders for professional, ethical, and advanced specialist social work practice. The program focuses on evidence-informed practices, advancing equity and social justice, promoting human rights, and engaging in social action to enhance individual and community well-being. The program prepares graduates to meet the evolving needs of the diverse US-Mexico border-connected region, Tribal and Indigenous communities, and beyond.

The goals of the graduate program are to implement the mission by preparing advanced practitioners in the specialized areas of Direct Practice or Administration/Community Development who

  1. are well-grounded in the values and ethics of the profession;
  2. have multiple competencies that can be used in a wide variety of settings, with systems of various sizes and with diverse and vulnerable populations;
  3. are able to critically examine issues of social, economic and environmental justice and are committed to the realization of human rights;
  4. utilize research evidence in practice decision making;
  5. are committed to lifelong professional development;
  6. are prepared to be leaders in the profession.

The Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) adopted a competency-based framework for baccalaureate and master’s degree programs in social work education in the United States. The curricula for BASW and MSW degrees within the SDSU School of Social Work are based on the nine competency-centered learning outcomes and are designed to build capacity for student achievement from generalist (BASW) to advanced specialist (MSW) practice.

  1. Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior
  2. Advance Human Rights and Social, Racial, Economic, and Environmental Justice
  3. Engage Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ADEI) in Practice
  4. Engage in Practice-Informed Research and Research-Informed Practice
  5. Engage in Policy Practice
  6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  7. Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  9. Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

The MSW Program is organized around two distinct methods of concentrations, Direct Practice/Clinical or Administration and Community Development, and focus areas (mental health, children/youth/families, and health/aging). The first-year foundation courses present an orientation to social work practice and provide the necessary base upon which to build the more advanced body of knowledge, practice principles and skills offered in the second year.

All students must complete a multiple choice exam at the completion of 31 units of work (i.e., qualifying exam). In the final year of the program, students choose between completion of a thesis (Plan A) or a Comprehensive Exam (Plan B). A data driven article suitable for publication is also an option for eligible students under Plan A . Those who select the thesis will be required to complete a substantive research project directed by a faculty thesis committee recruited by the student. Students selecting the comprehensive exam must pass a 4-hour multiple choice exam.

A detailed description may be found in the Social Work section of the SDSU Graduate Bulletin.

Included are admission requirements, course and electives listings, and detailed program requirements. 

MSW Advanced Specializations

The MSW Program is organized around two distinct methods of concentrations:

  • Administration and Community Development Advanced Specialization
  • Direct Practice / Clinical Advanced Specialization

The Administration and Community Development (A/CD) Advanced Specialization includes two required core courses (SW 740 and SW 720 Civic Engagement) and also electives which will enable students to specialize in either Administration or Community Development. In their final year, A/CD students take courses including civic engagement, core management functions and processes, advanced evaluation/research or a thesis, advanced social policy, and a field practicum. Two A/CD electives are offered in the spring: SW 745, an administration course which includes leadership and organizational change, and SW 758, a community organizing and problem solving course.

Administration students will also be able to receive, upon completion of core administration courses and designated electives, an Advanced Certificate in Social Work Administration and/or a Certificate in Human Services Management. (These are described in the Degrees & Programs/Certificates and Credential Programs.)

Administration internships are available in administration settings in community-based organizations, the County Health and Human Service Agency, and hospitals. Community Development internships include grassroots community agencies and nontraditional settings such as libraries, community development corporations, neighborhood associations, environmental agencies, and theatres.

The Administration specialization educates students who can upon graduation assume positions as supervisors, program managers, or staff workers such as analysts, program specialists, or program evaluators in public and not-for-profit human service agencies.

Administration is defined as a combination of management and leadership. Management, covered primarily in SW 740, includes functions such as strategic management, social entrepreneurialism, program design, information systems, program evaluation, financial management, and supervision. Leadership, covered primarily in SW 745, includes visioning, inspiring and motivating staff, organizational change, advanced supervision, and the creation of learning organizations. Effective administrators design and manage programs and management processes, using evidence-based practice and management knowledge, and provide change leadership to continually improve agency operations and respond to human needs and the opportunities/challenges in changing health and human services ecosystem.

SDSU Administration concentration graduates are now serving as chief executives, managers, and analysts in community-based and advocacy organizations and hold middle to upper management positions in governmental human service organizations. Others are consultants in areas including funding, program and staff development. Several are professors or university administrators.

Community Development is defined as a set of practices or values which are significant in ameliorating marginalized communities and strengthening democracy. It involves changing the relationships between ordinary residents and people in powerful positions, so that everyone can take part in constructing solutions to the problems affecting their communities. Community Development starts from the principle that within any community, there is a wealth of knowledge and resources which, if used creatively, can achieve long-lasting changes. Community Development practitioners are key in this process. They are the individuals who are out in the community, working with the residents to help strategize and create solutions to eradicate social and economic inequities in their neighborhoods. They may also civically engage stakeholders, constituents/clients, and communities to undertake collective action and to make a collective impact on county, state, nation-wide and global levels.  

The first course in the advanced year, SW 720 Civic Engagement, builds upon community change theory and community analytic skills learned in the Generalist Year through in-depth coverage and application of civic engagement practices. The spring course, SW 758 Community Problem Solving, provides opportunities for class projects in partnership with organizations in the community, with a special emphasis on advanced organizing methods. Students have opportunities to not only develop programs, write grants, and research evidence based interventions, but also to get involved with community residents to assist with strategizing and carrying out long-lasting community-driven changes. Students are evaluated based on their ability to develop community projects that benefit residents and further the mission of the organization with whom they are interning. This option produces well-rounded social workers who are capable of being successful in any setting, including global ones.

The Advanced Direct Practice Advanced Specialization includes core advanced clinical courses which prepare students to be advanced social work practitioners in public and non-for-profit social service agencies. Graduates are able to practice in a variety of agencies and with clients from diverse backgrounds. The focus of the concentration is interpersonal conflict and social functioning, with an emphasis on evidence based intervention methods that are used with individuals, families, and groups.

The Advanced Direct Practice courses are taught concurrently with the SW 750 Field Practicum and Field Lab. Students are in an approved field placement for two semesters providing direct practice services to individuals, groups, and families while taking the advanced courses.

The Advanced Direct Practice Advanced Specialization is conceptualized as providing the knowledge and skills which work primarily with individuals, families, and groups that experience a wide range of problems in interpersonal relationships, social functioning, and access to community resources and services. The Advanced Direct Practice Advanced Specialization builds on the generalist practice knowledge, skills, and values students learn in the foundation year (SW 630 and SW631).

The Advanced Direct Practice Advanced Specialization courses (SW 739 & SW 744) provide greater depth and specificity to the foundation  course content by placing an emphasis on developing a deeper knowledge of empirically supported theoretical models for understanding human behavior(e.g., Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy), as well as how to create and evaluate planned change. Using a problem-solving framework, students develop advanced skills in assessment/diagnosis, intervention/treatment, and evaluation, within the context of the social policies that shape nonprofit service delivery systems.

At the end of the Advanced Direct Practice courses, students demonstrate identification with the profession of social work and have a good understanding of their legal and ethical responsibilities. Students demonstrate their abilities in culturally sensitive bio-psycho-social assessments and identifying and responding to high risk factors. Students will also be familiar with various clinical disorders, identify empirically validated treatment models and demonstrate an ability to correctly apply an intervention and evaluate its effectiveness.

Information Above

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SDSU Social Work

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5500 Campanile Drive
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