Sep 23, 2023  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024

Social Work (MSW)

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The program of study that leads to the Master of Social Work degree consists of 60 units. The program is available at these locations:

  • University Park Campus (campus-based and some online classes)
  • Virtual Academic Center (VAC) (all online classes via the Internet)

The MSW program can be completed in a full-time (four semesters) program or part-time/extended (five or more semesters) program. 

The basic generalist 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. Practicum instruction, under supervision in a social agency, is scheduled for two or three days a week for most students, 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.

This curriculum is organized around three specializations:

  1. Children, Youth and Families (CYF)
  2. Adult Mental Health and Wellness (AMHW)
  3. Social Change and Innovation (SCI)

Students will select one of these specializations upon completion of the generalist curriculum, take required courses and electives focused on their chosen specializations. Students take six required specialization courses, a required diversity course, and three electives focused on the student’s individual interests.

Specific course content includes:

Children, Youth and Families (CYF)

This specialization prepares students to address the needs of vulnerable children, youth and families from the earliest years of childhood through adolescence and the transition to adulthood. Course work focuses on promoting wellness and preventing trauma, as well as which kinds of service programs are showing the best results for families from a variety of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Students are trained to serve families in a variety of service settings, including health, mental health, early education, schools, child welfare and juvenile justice.

Adult Mental Health and Wellness (AMHW)

This specialization is focused on enhancing the health and well-being of younger and older adults within families, agencies, institutions, communities and other environments, and eliminating disparities. The curriculum offers course work in mental health and substance use, integrated primary and behavioral health care, wellness and recovery, promotion of healthy aging, social welfare policy, and program and policy evaluation and analysis.

Social Change and Innovation (SCI):

This specialization prepares students to lead bold, large-scale solutions to social problems and drive positive change in organizations, businesses and government agencies. Students can customize their learning experience by taking courses on social change, advocacy, organizational planning and development, workplace interventions, military social work, and evaluation research. 

This system of curriculum offerings provides a strong educational program with a continuing commitment to a generalist base and a focused set of specialized content, 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 both practice methods and a specific client population, setting or system.

The curriculum builds on a liberal arts foundation that 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 practicum education.

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 practicum work or both beyond the minimum requirements.

Time Limit

For most students, the master’s degree program will be completed in four semesters of full-time study.

Grade Point Average Requirement

A grade point average of 3.0 (A = 4.0) is required for admission to the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. In some instances, applicants with less than 3.0 may be considered for conditional admission through a special review. An overall GPA of 3.0 for graduation from the master’s degree program.

Course Requirements

All newly admitted MSW students will follow a program that includes one course in social work practice; one course in policy; one course in human behavior; one course in research methods; one course in diversity; four semesters of practicum education; six specialization-specific core courses and three electives.

Course requirements are organized into one semester of generalist practice course work and three semesters of specialized practice course work. Academic credit is not granted for life experience or work experience in lieu of the practicum or any other courses in the curriculum.

Additional Requirements

Practicum Education

Practicum education is an integral part of the Master of Social Work curriculum. Two year-long practicum education courses are required. The school works closely with thousands of community agencies, organizations, businesses and other practicum partners to ensure students receive valuable hands-on practice experience that complements their classroom learning. Students must complete two practicum internships, or 1,000 practicum hours in order to be awarded the Master of Social Work degree. The first placement requires 16 hours a week at a practicum agency that aligns with a student’s specialization and includes a two-hour practice lab in the first semester. In these labs, students will be trained to apply three evidence-based interventions: motivational interviewing, problem-solving therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. In the second semester, students will participate in a two-unit practicum seminar while completing 16 hours a week at a practicum agency. In the second year of the program, students will increase their practicum time to 20 hours a week, and in some cases, they may be able to remain at their original practicum site if the organization can facilitate advanced learning experiences. Additionally, second-year students will participate in a one-unit practicum seminar where they will learn to apply evidenced-based interventions specific to their specialization.

Practicum education takes place in selected agencies and centers, which represent the complete range of social services. Practicum 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. Practicum instructors, who are employed by either the agency or the school, are responsible for teaching students in their practicum placements. The Associate Dean of Community and Clinical Programs is administratively responsible for all practicum assignments.

Each placement in practicum 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.

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

Research Requirement

The research requirement consists of one foundation course. In the generalist course of study, SOWK 546  is designed to impart knowledge of research methodology and statistics. Students are required to enroll in courses that combine research skills with evaluation and program development in their specialization.

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 practicum work 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 Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a Military Social Work and Veteran Services program 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 requirements of the Master of Social Work degree, the program in Military Social Work and Veteran Services will offer a series of specialized courses focusing on the needs of military personnel, veterans and their families. Students will take two courses in special topics that focus on this area of practice. Individuals pursuing the Military Social Work and Veteran Services program options 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.

Advanced Standing Option

The Suzanne Dworak-Peck 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 3.00 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 will bypass 23 units of the MSW program and be required to complete 37 units total of the following course work:


Our Advanced Standing Program is offered both on-campus and online through our Virtual Academic Center and can be completed in three semesters (full-time) or five semesters (part-time).

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