Penn State launches first Master of Social Work program

Penn State’s first master’s degree in social work will be offered online and welcome its initial group of students in the fall 2024 semester.

Students in the new Master of Social Work program can choose between two areas of specialization, one in children and families and another in mental health and substance use. The Master of Social Work program is specifically designed to prepare graduates for clinical social work roles, making them eligible for licensing at various levels, such as Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).

The degree program is being offered by the Penn State College of Health and Human Development online through Penn State World Campus.

Applications are being accepted through July 1 to start in Penn State’s fall 2024 semester.

Preparing social workers to address societal issues

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment opportunities for social workers will grow 7% faster than average for all other occupations through 2032.

The Penn State Master of Social Work is a 60-credit program that has been designed to address issues facing today’s clinical social workers and prepare them with a strong foundation through graduate course work and clinical experience.

“Our collective focus as a college is centered on improving the lives of others,” said Craig Newschaffer, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State. “Social workers play a critical role connecting individuals and families in need to the systems and safety nets in their communities that support them through challenging times. This new graduate program prepares future leaders who are committed to inclusivity, enhancing human well-being, and social justice for impactful careers in service to others.”

The program is tailored for individuals who have a bachelor’s degree and who want to pursue a career in clinical social work. Those with backgrounds in psychology, human development, and sociology are encouraged to apply, but those with a bachelor’s degree in any field will be considered.

Students who are accepted can enroll either as a full-time learner, with nine or more credits, or part-time, with less than nine.

The courses will be taught by the faculty from the College of Health and Human Development’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. The faculty members have doctorates and decades of experience in social work and are recognized for their expertise in the clinical specialization areas of children, youth, and families and mental health and substance use.

Course work designed for real-world application

The curriculum consists of 36 credits of required courses, 12 credits of a chosen specialization, and 12 credits of supervised clinical practice. The fieldwork director will help ensure enrolled students secure a field placement before the beginning of each semester.

Required courses include foundations in clinical social work practice, clinical social work across the lifespan, diverse populations in clinical social work practice, and more.

In the children and families specialization, students will take courses on social work practice with these populations, policy issues, and trauma and treatment. In the mental health and substance use specialization, students will learn about the social work practice in this area as well as policy issues and trauma and treatment.

Associate teaching professor Rukmalie Jayakody is the director of the social work master’s program. She said course work will address the growing inequality in the U.S. as well as the dramatic challenges facing families.

Students will study geographic variation and how different situations are handled in different settings.

“We think it’s really important for students to navigate and learn about how much the geographic context impacts where they’re working and influences how they work with clients and refer them to services,” Jayakody said.

Students will participate in fieldwork related to their specialization at different points throughout the program and complete 900 hours of fieldwork before earning their degrees. The clinical fieldwork must be supervised by a licensed Master of Social Work professional in the student’s local area.

“The idea is to integrate what they’re learning in their courses to their fieldwork,” Jayakody said.

A Penn State degree online

For more than 25 years, Penn State World Campus has offered a Penn State education online, and the Master of Social Work joins its comprehensive portfolio of more than 175 degree and certificate programs.

The College of Health and Human Development is composed of one school and seven departments offering undergraduate and graduate degree programs consistently ranked among the top of their kind in the nation. A growing number of its courses and academic programs are offered online through Penn State World Campus to expand its reach, impact, and access. Across all its academic, research, and service activities, the college’s collective goal is improving the health, development, and quality of life of society.

Learn more about the Master of Social Work that is offered online through Penn State World Campus.