Can You Earn an MSW Without a BSW? (MSW Requirements Explained)

Can You Earn an MSW Without a BSW? (MSW Requirements Explained)

If you are an aspiring social worker who has or is working toward a bachelor’s degree outside of social work you may be asking yourself: Can I earn an MSW without a BSW? The short answer is yes. 

There is a path to becoming a social worker for graduates who don’t have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Most standard Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs are geared toward those with diverse academic backgrounds who may have an undergraduate degree in another discipline. For those with a BSW, there is typically an advanced standing MSW option. This article will outline common Master of Social Work requirements for admission and completion of these programs.

A BSW Is Not Required for a Standard MSW Program

A standard MSW program is designed for aspiring social workers who do not have a BSW to complete their degree. Mixing classroom study and practical experience, graduates leave prepared to make a difference in people’s lives locally and globally. The two-year course load of a traditional MSW covers some of the introductory concepts that are taught to BSW graduates in their undergraduate program. 

For both standard and advanced standing students, there are two options: on-campus or online MSW programs. The online option may offer students more flexibility and allows them to participate in the program that best suits their career goals. Regardless of whether they study online or on campus, students are not limited to working in the same state as their MSW program. Many states require students to have completed a master’s degree through a program accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE).

Be sure to check the licensing requirements in the state where you reside and the state where you may wish to practice. 

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A BSW Is Required for an Advanced Standing MSW Program

An advanced standing MSW program is designed for those who already have a BSW. It will typically take approximately 32 semester hours compared to 60 hours for a standard MSW program. This recognizes the student’s preparation as an undergraduate. Check the requirements for advanced standing programs — as some may have rules about when you need to have earned your BSW, such as within the past five years — and how the undergraduate degree was accredited. If you pursue your MSW at the same institution as your BSW, you may be able to opt out of some classes. For example, BSW holders at Baylor University are not required to take introductory seminars for its MSW advanced standing program. 

Common Prerequisites for Master’s in Social Work Degree Programs

Prerequisites for social work master’s programs often differ slightly among institutions, but there are many common elements outlined below. In many cases, the admissions standards are the same for online and on-campus programs. MSW programs like those offered by Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work take a “holistic approach to the admissions process” and review each application for characteristics of a competitive applicant. Check with the school you’re applying to for exact program prerequisites. 

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree From an Accredited Institution

MSW online programs are designed for recent graduates and professionals who want to further their careers and help vulnerable populations. As such, a bachelor’s degree is a requirement. 

For the standard program track, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university is required. This track is for those with an undergraduate degree in a discipline other than social work.

For the advanced track, a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program at a regionally accredited college or university is required. Additionally, it is common for advanced standing tracks to require students to have earned their degree within the past five years.

In either case, programs like Baylor’s also look for undergraduate coursework that provides a solid liberal arts background.

Take a Number of Prerequisite Classes During the Undergraduate Program

Because social work is a holistic discipline, MSW programs may consider your undergraduate coursework during the admission process—even for traditional MSW tracks. The Baylor Online MSW program focuses on “service, justice, and empowerment as you work to become a culturally responsive and compassionate social worker.” While not a prerequisite, competitive applicants to Baylor’s MSW program will have completed coursework that provides a strong liberal arts background. Common undergraduate degrees that prepare students for an MSW include sociology, anthropology, human biology, psychology, and political science. 

Meet GPA and GRE Requirements

Academic testing and performance standards vary for MSW programs. Some programs don’t require a GRE score, and there may be varying GPA requirements. In some cases, a GRE score could be considered to offset a GPA below the admission standard, which may range from 2.5 to 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. For example, the Baylor MSW program does not require a GRE score for admission. It considers a 3.0 or higher GPA as a “characteristic of a competitive applicant.” The school considers GPA along with the other application materials, so a high GPA may not overcome deficiencies in other areas. 

In addition to your GPA and GRE score, the admissions process typically involves other master’s in social work requirements to support your application. These may include the following.

  • Application: Use the institution’s recommended forms for applying.
  • Essays: Demonstrate effective written communication and critical-thinking skills.
  • Letters of recommendation: High-quality letters written by academic and professional references should speak directly about your preparation for graduate school. Ensure that at least one letter is from a professor with direct knowledge of your academic capabilities.
  • Transcripts: Submit records from all previous institutions. Students finishing undergraduate studies may provide transcripts of grades earned in the first semester of the final year. Students who attend an institution outside the United States may have to follow specific procedures to submit transcripts.

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How long does it take to earn an MSW without a BSW?

Full-time MSW programs for those without a BSW typically take two years to complete, or 60 semester hours, including fieldwork hours. Some programs can be attended part time or accelerated. Baylor University offers online class options from 16 to 36 months to earn the MSW. Both traditional and advanced standing programs can be accelerated. Check with your institution to see if their advanced standing MSW can be completed part-time. 

Can I get a master’s in social work with a bachelor’s in psychology?

A bachelor’s in psychology is generally accepted for standard MSW programs but not for advanced standing programs, which require a BSW. Baylor University’s MSW program accepts BA in psychology graduates as well as other bachelor’s degree holders who otherwise meet the admissions requirements, including a solid liberal arts foundation.

How many credits is a master’s in social work?

The number of hours for your MSW will vary by the institution and whether you’re in an advanced standing or standard track. For example, Baylor University’s advanced standing track requires 32 credit hours and 550 hours of supervised fieldwork. The standard track requires 60 credit hours and 1,030 hours in internship fieldwork. 

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Citation for this content: Baylor University’s online master’s in social work program.