School of Social Work

Master of Social Work

The program of study which leads to the Master of Social Work degree consists of 60 units (46 units of course work and 14 units of field practicum). The program is available at these locations: University Park, Orange County Academic Center in Irvine, Skirball Academic Center in West Los Angeles, San Diego Academic Center in Rancho Bernardo and Virtual Academic Center via the Internet and can be completed in a full-time (two-year) program or part-time (three- or four-year) program. In addition, some classes are offered at City Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The basic foundation curriculum introduces students to the range of social welfare problems and programs, and to the varieties of human behavior with which social work is concerned. At the same time, students learn the methods by which the social worker, the social agency and the organized community work with people and problems. Field instruction, under supervision in a social agency, is scheduled for two or three days a week, enabling students to apply theory to practice. All content areas include content on diversity, social work values and ethics, and economic justice and populations at risk. At the completion of foundation requirements, students are expected to have acquired a sense of professional responsibility and the ability to use knowledge on behalf of the individual, the group and the community.

The concentration curriculum builds on the generic social work knowledge obtained in the foundation study by offering a choice of five advanced practice concentrations: families and children; health; mental health; community organization, planning and administration (COPA); and social work and business in a global society. Students can complete all foundation courses in Orange County, as well as course work for the concentrations offered, which is determined by student interest but is typically families and children; health; and mental health concentrations. If a student’s concentration is not offered, classes must be taken at the University Park Campus. The San Diego Academic Center offers all foundation courses, as well as all course work for the mental health and COPA concentrations. Students in the Virtual Academic Center may select the COPA; families and children; health; mental health; and social work and business in a global society concentrations. The Skirball Academic Center offers selected courses in the concentrations. Students who attend first-year courses at the Skirball Academic Center will take some or all concentration courses at University Park.

There are also five sub-concentrations at University Park: social work practice (1) with older adults; (2) for systems of mental illness recovery; (3) in school settings, which meets the academic requirements for the Pupil Personnel Services Credential necessary for social work practice in the public schools of California; (4) in public child welfare; and (5) in military social work and veteran services. The San Diego Academic Center offers the social work practice in school settings and the military social work and veteran services sub-concentrations. Students in the Virtual Academic Center may select the military social work and veteran services sub-concentration. Students designate their choice of concentration in the final semester of the foundation year. The basic second-year curriculum (required courses and field instruction placement) will be determined by this choice of concentration; elective courses are available as part of the concentration-year curriculum. Students in all concentrations are required to enroll in SOWK 611 Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice.

This system of curriculum offerings provides a strong educational program with a continuing commitment to a generalist base and a focused set of concentrations, in combination with a range of options to meet special interests. This program enables graduates to move into the social work community with a combination of knowledge and skills in a broad arena, as well as in-depth knowledge and skills in a particular method, population or area of service.

The curriculum builds on a liberal arts foundation which all entering students are required to have. The applicant should have a range of undergraduate courses in the humanities and the social and physical sciences.

General Requirements

The Master of Social Work degree requires a minimum of 60 semester units of courses, including field education (1000 clock hours).

The degree is not awarded solely on the basis of credits earned but also requires evidence of competence in both theory and practice. At their discretion, the faculty may require courses or fieldwork or both beyond the minimum requirements.

Time Limit

The master’s degree program requires two academic years of full-time study or a structured part-time program which must be completed in a maximum of four years.

Grade Point Average Requirement

In accordance with the requirements of the Graduate School, a grade point average of 3.0 (A = 4.0) is required for admission to the School of Social Work. Likewise, the university requires an overall GPA of 3.0 for graduation from the master’s degree program.

Course Requirements

Course requirements are organized in five interdependent content areas that continue throughout the two years: social work practice; social welfare, policy and services; human behavior and the social environment; research; and fieldwork.

A typical foundation program includes two courses in social work practice; two courses in social welfare, policy and organizations; two courses in human behavior; two semesters of fieldwork; two semesters of fieldwork seminars; and one course in research methods.

Students typically choose their concentration in the final semester of the foundation year and must enroll in three courses required by the concentration they select. Additionally, students in all concentrations must take two semesters of field instruction, three elective courses and SOWK 611 Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice. Each student completes an individualized study plan, which is approved by the concentration faculty.

Academic credit is not granted for life experience or work experience in lieu of the field practicum or any other courses in the curriculum.

REQUIRED COURSES Units
SOWK 503 Human Behavior and the Social Environment I 3
SOWK 505 Human Behavior and the Social Environment II 3
SOWK 534 Policy and Practice in Social Service Organizations 3
SOWK 535 Social Welfare 3
SOWK 543 Social Work Practice with Individuals 3
SOWK 545 Social Work Practice with Families, Groups and Complex Cases 3
SOWK 562 Social Work Research 3
SOWK 586ab Field Practicum 3-3
SOWK 587ab Integrative Learning for Social Work Practice 2-2
SOWK 611 Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice 3
SOWK 686ab Field Practicum II 4-4

Plus 9 additional units of concentration courses and 9 additional units of Social Work electives

Field Education

Field education is an integral part of the Master of Social Work curriculum. Two year-long field education courses are required. In the foundation year, the field courses include: 16 hours per week in field placement and participation in a field seminar on campus. In the concentration year, students are typically in placement 20 hours per week. Field education takes place in selected agencies and centers, which represent the complete range of social services. Field placements are approved on the basis of the quality of their professional practice, commitment to social justice and to addressing social work problems, interest in participating in professional education, and ability to make personnel and resources available. Field instructors, who are employed by either the agency or the school, are responsible for teaching students in their field placements. The assistant dean for field education is administratively responsible for all field assignments.

Each placement in field education is made on an individual basis which takes into consideration the following: geographic location, previous experiences, future goals, professional interests, special needs and stipend requirements. In these placements, students engage in selected and organized social work activities that provide practical experience in applying skills learned in the classroom.

Foundation field placement is arranged by the school with the view of building a generalist foundation in direct services through providing practice experiences in a continuum of modalities including work with individuals, families, small groups and communities and with a diversity of client populations and treatment issues. All students are also required to complete an assignment related to the organization in which they are placed. The generalist experience also encompasses a range of theoretical concepts and models to develop breadth of learning and establish a broad base for practice. The foundation year field course is a prerequisite for entry into the concentration placement.

The school, the agency and the student collaboratively decide on the concentration field placement with the view of developing the special knowledge and depth of skill needed for professional practice in a designated area of concentration. This advanced experience is designed to build on the student’s foundation year and to develop knowledge and skills within the concentration the student has selected.

Students must participate in an appropriate practice class concurrently with the field course and in a field seminar during the foundation field course. Satisfactory performance in both foundation and advanced field courses is required for all students earning the Master of Social Work degree, including those enrolled in dual degree programs.

The number of field placement options for non-driving students is limited. Students are encouraged to have access to an automobile for field placement.

A student must complete and receive credit for a minimum of 450 hours in the foundation year and 550 hours in the concentration year of field placement in order to be awarded the Master of Social Work degree.

Research Requirement

The research requirement consists of one foundation course. In the foundation year of study, SOWK 562 is designed to impart knowledge of research methodology and statistics. In the concentration year, students are required to enroll in core concentration courses that combine research skills acquired in the foundation year with evaluation and program development in their concentration field of study.

Transfer Students

Applicants who have recently completed part or all of the first half of graduate study at a Council on Social Work Education-accredited school of social work may apply as transfer students. In addition to materials described in the section on application procedures, transfer students should forward course syllabi and a bulletin of the school for the year in which the course or courses were taken.

Transfer credits may be applied for those courses determined to be equivalent to USC’s first-year courses or to meet the expectation of the second-year electives. The grade point average for any course taken at another school of social work must be at least 3.0 on a 4.0 grading scale. Where foundation courses are similar, but not equivalent, transfer students may be permitted to take a waiver examination for possible exemption from those courses. Transferred credit for fieldwork will be computed on the basis of clock hours completed as well as on the breadth and depth of contents covered.

Military Social Work and Veteran Services

The School of Social Work offers a Military Social Work and Veteran Services sub-concentration in the MSW curriculum targeting military personnel, spouses and other military dependents and military retirees who wish to maintain a post-military career affiliation with the armed forces; military veterans who wish to provide professional services to their military comrades; and civilian personnel who are committed to assisting military personnel, their families and military veterans with adapting, coping and managing the stresses and strains of military life and post-military life.

Course Requirements

Beyond the basic professional social work foundation course requirement of the Master of Social Work degree, the sub-concentration in Military Social Work and Veteran Services will offer a series of highly specialized courses focusing on the needs of military personnel, veterans and their families. Students will take three courses in special topics that focus on this sub-concentration. Individuals pursuing the Military Social Work and Veteran Services sub-concentration will also be able to select from a variety of highly relevant elective courses that will serve to enhance their training and future service delivery capabilities.

Field Instruction

Students must complete a 600-clock hour internship in a military hospital, base/installation family services unit, Veterans Affairs, Vet Center, etc.

Advanced Standing Option

The School of Social Work offers an advanced standing option for students who have graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CWSE)-accredited BSW program within the past five years. To be eligible for the advanced standing option, students must have successfully completed their BSW with a minimum GPA of 3.25 for the last 60/90 units of undergraduate work. A cumulative 3.5 GPA for all social work courses with a grade of B or better is required for admission.

Students admitted to advanced standing must successfully complete three 2-unit intensive courses (SOWK 600 Assessment in Social Work Practice, SOWK 606 Neuropsychological Development and SOWK 604 The Role of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work) in one six-week session prior to their first academic semester. Students who successfully complete these courses will be given credit for foundation year requirements (31 units) and advance into the concentration year or second year of study to complete the additional 29 units required for graduation. Students who do not pass the bridge courses will not be given the 31 units of credit, but may opt for the 60-unit MSW program and enter the foundation year or first year of the program.

Advanced standing allows students to bypass the foundation year and enter the concentration year of studies. The concentration curriculum builds on the generic social work knowledge, which they obtained through their BSW experience, by offering a choice of five advanced practice concentrations: (1) community organization, planning and administration (COPA); (2) families and children; (3) health; (4) mental health; and (5) social work and business in a global society. Students in all concentrations are required to enroll in SOWK 611 Leadership in the Social Work Profession and Organizations: Theory and Practice. Advanced standing students may also complete one of the following five sub-concentrations at the University Park Campus: (1) social work practice with older adults; (2) systems of mental illness recovery; (3) school social work, which meets the academic requirements for the Pupil Personnel Services Credential necessary for social work practice in the public schools of California; (4) public child welfare; and (5) military social work and veteran services. Please note, some academic centers do not offer all concentration and/or sub-concentration areas of studies.

The advanced standing option consists of 35 units (27 units of course work and 8 units of field practicum). The option is available at these locations: University Park Campus, Orange County Academic Center in Irvine, San Diego Academic Center in Rancho Bernardo and Virtual Academic Center via the Internet and can be completed in three semesters. In addition, some classes are offered at City Center in downtown Los Angeles.