Master of Social Work Curriculum

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Chalkboard with Be Part of It written on it

The Master of Social Work (MSW) prepares students to recognize and handle complex issues professional social workers may encounter in their career, at the client-, group- and organizational level. Through a comprehensive MSW curriculum, MSW programs help students develop advanced competencies and skills required to become successful social work practitioners.

The Skills of a Social Worker

Today’s social worker needs to possess a diverse toolbox of skills to counsel their clients, create effective interventions, and navigate the complex nature of the client, community and organizational relationships. Below is a list of common skills social workers should possess and how MSW programs can help professionals develop and sharpen those skills.

  • Communication: Social workers must have the capacity to clearly express themselves to diverse groups of people and organizations. An MSW program helps students to strengthen and advance their writing, verbal and visual communication skills to become more effective communicators.
  • Time Management: Because of the broad and demanding nature of social work, it is essential for social workers to manage their time efficiently. An MSW program teaches students how to create and handle their schedules effectively, prepare to deal with schedule disruptions, and manage the overall demand of their professional time.
  • Project Management: A social worker’s caseload may be filled with a wide range of situations featuring diverse circumstances. An MSW program provide students with the cognitive tools, techniques, and strategies necessary to coordinate multiple projects while potentially working for multiple clients or employers simultaneously.
  • Leadership: Because social work involves ethical advocacy, social workers must possess a strong ability to organize and act on behalf of an individual or group. MSW programs enable students to sharpen their personal functional and empathetic qualities essential for leading people or organizations.
  • Cultural Humility: Social workers must be sensitive to cultural differences and have an ongoing curiosity and openness to learning about their clients’ and colleagues’ cultural backgrounds and heritages. MSW programs teach students how to identify, respect and learn from cultural differences and apply them to their work.

MSW Curriculum at a Glance

The curriculum of MSW programs introduces students to the foundational theories behind and the practice of social work practice. The curriculum is divided between core coursework, academic concentration and elective classes, and a supervised field practicum. Core classwork provides students with an understanding of the dynamics of the social worker-client relationship, human behavior, multiculturalism, social work skills for assessment, intervention, and treatment, social policy, and evidence-based practice. After developing a framework for the social work field, students transition into competency- and concentration-based electives in specific areas of the profession. Although the focus of these classes varies by program, examples include clinical practice, working with children and youth, family systems, mental health, community development, and advanced generalist practice.

Through their foundational and concentration coursework, graduate students gain exposure to social welfare policy and the dynamics between social, economic, cultural, health, and political institutions and systems. In addition, students develop skills in case management, administration, and organizational management. Through a hands-on field experience – sometimes called an internship or practicum – students complete a multi-week supervised learning project where they interact with clients in a real-world environment. Collectively, the curriculum in MSW programs offers students an opportunity to become leaders in their field, be equipped to promote their client’s well-being, serve as advocates for social justice, and empower others.

Specific classwork varies by institution, but the list below includes a sample list of classes students may take while enrolled in an MSW program:

  • Structural Oppression I: Students gain a fundamental understanding of the impact of the various forms of oppression.
  • Social Work Methods with Individuals: Students study the essential practices of social work at an individual level, from building client rapport to conducting situational assessments.
  • Social Work Methods with Organizations, Communities, and Legislatures: This course emphasizes developing familiarity with the social work practice at an organizational level, from grant writing to participating in social advocacy.
  • Social Work History and Social Welfare Policy: Students examine the history and evolution of the social work field in the United States.
  • Elements of Evidence-Informed Practice: Students prepare to gather, evaluate and process research and evidence needed to govern crucial practice decisions.
  • Intervention Approaches with Individuals: This concentration course teaches students how to develop and implement a range of varying methods of social intervention.
  • Social Work Administration: Students learn how to provide administrative support and serve as a leader to other social workers.

Enroll in a High-Quality MSW Program

The MSW curriculum offered at the University of Nevada, Reno is designed to help students develop the fundamental skills needed to navigate and thrive within the constantly evolving field of social work. These skills can provide a firm foundation for a thriving career within social work. Completing this degree can enable students to make a difference in the community or in the lives of individuals in need.

To learn how you can pursue a rewarding career that revolves around helping the less fortunate improve their lives, find out more information about the University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Social Work program.


Suggested Readings

Master of Social Work Program Overview

Managing The Costs of a Master of Social Work

University of Nevada, Reno Online Master of Social Work



Bureau of Labor Statistics

Taylor & Francis Online

National Association of Social Workers

Clinical Social Work Association