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3 Types of MSW Degrees

Whether you’re considering a career in any of the types of social work, or you’re already working in the field and are looking for ways to do more, you may be curious to know about the different types of MSW, or Master of Social Work, degrees. 

Essentially, there are three types of master’s degrees that social workers can pursue for direct practice, clinical practice, or community practice. However, the various courses of study are quite similar. That said, depending on your specific interests and social work career goals, knowing the differences between these degrees can help you choose the social work program that’s right for you.

To that end, follow along to find out everything you need to know about the three kinds of MSW degrees. 

#1 Master of Social Work 

Although degrees in social work exist for undergraduates, like Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degrees, some jobs within the profession may require further education as a condition of employment. Often, this means obtaining a master-level degree in social work. Generally, these degrees are called Master of Social Work or MSW degrees.

Explore our MSW Program

What is an MSW? An MSW program, or one of the different types of social work degrees, is typically required if you hope to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or LCSW1. LCSWs are able to provide clinical social work like mental health therapy and perform some advanced clinical functions on behalf of their clients, which is part of what makes master-level training and education so crucial. An on-campus or online MSW program gives you a deeper understanding of human behavior within the social environment for you to be effective in social service. 

What can you do with a master’s in social work? Beyond being a preferred credential for many jobs in social work, this degree can help guide your interests in the field, acquaint you with the various focuses, and help you choose the path that’s most aligned with your interests. For more about MSW vs LCSW, check out our blog.

Social work degree programs could include the following focuses: 

  • Micro social work – This branch of social work usually involves working with people on an individual basis2. Work may involve helping those in need to find social services, providing counseling or trauma and addiction recovery services, and more.
  • Mezzo social work – Mezzo social work involves working with groups of people who are united by a common experience. For example, mezzo social workers frequently work with groups of victims of domestic violence, unhoused people, or those who struggle with addiction. 
  • Macro social work – In this line of social work, you’ll provide the necessary support and resources to professional social workers who work on a smaller scale. You may work for organizations like neighborhoods, shelters, lobbying firms, or international associations. 

If you hope to hold management or supervisory positions or work as a social worker who advocates for social justice and social welfare, pursuing an MSW could be a helpful step in the right direction. 

#2 Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW)

The Master of Science in Social Work or MSSW degree is actually quite similar to the standard MSW degree. In fact, depending on your program, you may enroll to pursue an MSSW yet take similar courses as someone working toward an MSW.

As part of an MSSW program, social work students are usually required to take courses and receive training in subject areas that reflect the standards for accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).3

#3 Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA)

If your social work career goals include working on the administrative side, you could consider a Master of Science in Social Administration, or an MSSA degree. These social work education degrees typically take a macro approach to the study of social work, focusing on the support that professional social workers provide to larger communities. 

MSSA degree programs are often structured to prepare students to work in the highest level of social work. They’re typically designed to make social work students experts in all the various aspects of social work, from organizational methods to the roles and responsibilities of individuals.4

Additionally, some MSSA programs allow for more focused study of a range of social work issues, such as:

  • Youth and child services
  • Family services
  • Addiction recovery

A master's degree in social work with a focus on social administration could help prepare you to be a leader in the social work practice field. You’ll learn about how services are provided to the people who need them during your MSW field education. Plus, you could even gain experience supervising and managing those services and organizations to help communities in need.

Explore Our Degree at Alliant International University

If your goal is to impact the world through social work, pursuing an MSW is a resume-building step toward finding a position where you can thrive and do the work you love. When you pursue that degree at Alliant, you have the opportunity to learn from professionals, hone your skills, and gain experience that can help you perform at the highest levels. 

The online Master in Social Work degree program at the Alliant California School of Professional Psychology offers online course instruction for working professionals who want to advance. Plus, you’ll find social work practice-based training that prepares you for work with individuals, groups, and organizations.  

Find out more about Alliant MSW program today, and learn how to get a master’s in social work

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  1.  “Types of Social Work Degrees.” National Association of Social Workers.… Accessed May 20, 2022.
  2. “Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Degree Program Guide.” Social Work License Map.… Accessed May 30, 2022.
  3. "Difference Between MSW, MSSA, and MSSW.” Social Work Degrees. Accesed May 31, 2022.
  4. “What is an MSSA (Mast of Science in Social Administration)?” MSW Online.… Accessed May 30, 2022.

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