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Master of Social Work

Program summary

Prepare for a career as a clinical social worker with the values, knowledge, and skills to serve the needs of our diverse society. Choose one of two clinical specializations and gain practical skills in engaging, evaluating, and intervening on behalf of individuals, families, and groups.

Flexible Format

Complete most courses 100% online, with an in-person field education practicum.

Application deadline

Apply by July 1 to start August 26

Credits and costs

60 Credits$1,017 per credit

CSWE Accreditation

Program has applied for pre-candidacy for accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education.

Gain Skills and Knowledge to Lead Change as a Professional Social Worker

  • Effectively engage, evaluate, and intervene on behalf of individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations.

  • Combine progressive clinical computer simulations and instructional techniques with applied field experiences in real-world settings.

  • Address growing societal needs related to children and families or mental health and substance use.

  • Study models and practice skills covering the lifespan, including trauma-informed therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, play therapy, family and group therapy, holistic therapy, and telehealth/digital practice.

  • Demonstrate mastery of the knowledge, skills, ethics, and values necessary for clinical social work practice.

Earn Your Master of Social Work Degree with Online Courses

The courses in this 60-credit online program examine social work across the lifespan and emphasize cultural competence in working effectively with diverse populations across varying geographic settings.

The curriculum is divided into two levels — generalist and advanced. The required generalist curriculum includes knowledge, values, processes, and skills essential for the practice of social work. It includes social work methods, human development theory, social policy, and research methods. This foundation of knowledge is built upon by the advanced curriculum found in both the Children and Families specialization and the Mental Health and Substance Use specialization.

You will also be required to complete 12 credits of field education practicum courses.

Required Courses (36 credits)

  • 3

    This course is designed to introduce social research methods in the context of social work practice.

  • 3

    This advanced research course builds on material covered in the foundation research course about the design, development, and execution of sound scientific practices.

  • 3

    This course will provide first-year MSW students with foundational concepts, knowledge, values, and skills in clinical social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

  • 3

    This course will provide an in-depth exploration of the foundational concepts and knowledge of the ethics, values, techniques, skills, and roles in clinical social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities by generalist and clinical practitioners.

  • 3

    This course explores conceptual frameworks in human development throughout the lifespan.

  • 3

    This course surveys the history of social welfare policy, services, and the social work profession in the United States.

  • 3

    This course will provide students with foundational concepts, knowledge, values, and skills in clinical social work practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

  • 3

    This foundation practice course is the second in a two-course sequence designed to provide MSW students with foundational knowledge, values, and skills in social work practice with families, groups, organizations, and communities.

  • 3

    This course will explore the origins and development of selected social variables characterizing the diversity dimensions (including race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, gender expression, geography, and nationality) in contemporary U.S. society.

  • 3

    The Diagnosis and Assessment in Clinical Social Work Practice course addresses the etiology, nature, course, and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders across the life development cycle.

  • 3

    The Essential Skills for Clinical Social Work Practice course is an advanced graduate course intended for second-year MSW students to reflect, review, and consolidate their graduate studies into a coherent and structured plan of practice as social work professionals.

  • 3

    This course provides students with knowledge in clinical social work practice in the area of urban versus rural settings.

Children and Families Specialization Courses (12 credits)

  • 3

    This course will examine core theories, dynamics, functions, policies, and ethics associated with the management of private and public child welfare services — analyzed and examined with a particular focus on the knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary to successfully lead organizations providing such services in the environment of today and the future.

  • 3

    This course covers the major problems of at-risk children and youth, including cognitive, communication, behavioral and emotional problems, attachment disorders, trauma, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities noted in the current DSM.

  • 3

    The course examines state and federal laws that govern the funding and operation of child welfare systems; the history of child welfare policies; and the legal, political, and social forces that influence the structure and function of child welfare systems in the United States.

  • 3

    This course will cover trauma theories and treatments, and conduct an in-depth critical examination of different populations affected by trauma, including child abuse survivors, war veterans, domestic violence survivors, victims of accidents or crimes, and communities and schools that are devastated by abuse, neglect, and addiction.

Mental Health and Substance Use Specialization Courses (12 credits)

  • 3

    This course provides students with knowledge of assessment based on the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association; psychotropic medications; and social worker roles when interacting with people with mental health issues and interdisciplinary teams.

  • 3

    This course will provide students with foundational concepts, knowledge, values, and skills in clinical social work practice with mental health and substance abuse.

  • 3

    This course focuses on contemporary policy issues related to mental health and substance use, including social determinants of mental health, treatment and access to care, rights and privacy, systems transformation, and disparities in care.

  • 3

    The course explores the multi-systemic impact of trauma and substance use on the functioning of individuals, families, and communities.

    • Prerequisite

      MSW 885

Field Education Practicum Courses (12 credits)

  • 1–3

    This foundation practicum course emphasizes professional social work roles, skills, ethics, and regulatory standards.

  • 1–3

    This field practicum focuses on clinical practice experience by integrating classroom knowledge and professional skills.

  • 1–3

    This field practicum offers increased independent clinical practice in an agency setting.

  • 1-3

    This course emphasizes integrating classroom knowledge with clinical practice and the development of the capstone project.

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Advance Your Career

Penn State’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program can help you gain social work competencies, knowledge, and skills and prepare you to enter a diverse employment market centered on helping individuals, families, communities, and organizations. Master’s-level social workers often enjoy increased career flexibility and opportunities.

Job Titles Related to This Degree

The following roles are often held by people with this type of degree:

  • Child Protective Services Social Worker
  • Child Welfare Services Director
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Health Care Social Worker
  • Hospice Social Worker
  • Social Services Director
  • Social Work Case Manager
  • Substance Abuse Counselor

Employment Outlook for Occupational Fields Related to This Degree

Estimates of employment growth and total employment are provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and are subject to change. While these occupations are often pursued by graduates with this degree, individual outcomes may vary depending on a variety of factors. Penn State World Campus cannot guarantee employment in a given occupation.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Healthcare Social Workers

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Social and Community Service Managers

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Counselors, All Other

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Social Workers, All Other

employment growth (10 years)
total employment

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

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From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Ready to Learn More?

Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?

Apply by July 1 to start August 26. How to Apply 

Costs and Financial Aid

Learn about this program's tuition, fees, scholarship opportunities, grants, payment options, and military benefits.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,017 per credit
12 or more$12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,027 per credit
12 or more$12,325 per semester

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

To view the detailed list of cost of attendance elements, select “World Campus” as the location on the tuition site.

Field Education Practicum Experience

Field education and classroom instruction hold equal importance in social work education. The field education practicum is where you will have the opportunity to apply the concepts, skills, and techniques learned in the classroom in actual clinical practice.

As a student in the MSW program, you will be required to complete a minimum of 900 hours of field practicum. Full-time master’s students will complete their 900 hours across four semesters — 225 hours per semester at approximately 15 hours per week. Part-time students can complete their field education experience in either 1-credit or 2-credit increments per semester, spending 5–10 hours per week, depending on their credit load.

There are two types of field practicum included in the program, a foundational field practicum that allows the student to gain general experience and an advanced practicum that allows them to focus on their chosen specialization.

The field education practicum will occur in a social service agency, hospital, school, or other appropriate facility in your local region. You’ll work closely with Penn State’s MSW field education director to identify an appropriate field placement that will align with your educational and professional goals while meeting the program’s standards.

Your final semester in the program will culminate with your last field education practicum credits. During this capstone experience, you will incorporate your course work and put the knowledge you have gained into practice. You will either (1) create and implement a project at your final fieldwork placement, or (2) critically analyze an issue in your field experience and develop a solution.

This capstone project will also give you the opportunity to contribute to the knowledge base of the profession and to develop and enhance your professional presentation skills through the design and delivery of an oral presentation and the writing of an executive summary describing the project.

Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Accreditation

The Penn State World Campus MSW program has applied for pre-candidacy for accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Board of Accreditation (BOA).

Set Your Own Pace

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Whether you are looking to finish your program as quickly as possible or balance your studies with your busy life, Penn State World Campus can help you achieve your education goals.

Our online courses typically follow a 12- to 15-week semester cycle, and there are three semesters per year (spring, summer, and fall).

Penn State’s online Master of Social Work program can be completed in a full- or part-time plan of study. The time to completion as a full-time student is two years, taking five courses each semester for four semesters (fall and spring only). For part-time students, you will work closely with your academic adviser to setup an appropriate plan of study.

Convenient Online Format

This program's convenient online format gives you the flexibility you need to study around your busy schedule. You can skip the lengthy commute without sacrificing the quality of your education and prepare yourself for more rewarding career opportunities without leaving your home.

A Trusted Leader in Online Education

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Penn State has a history of more than 100 years of distance education, and World Campus has been a leader in online learning for more than two decades. Our online learning environment offers the same quality education that our students experience on campus.

Professional Licensure / Certification

As a social worker, you will be eligible for licensing at multiple levels. The social work license in most states is called either a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).

Many U.S. states and territories require professional licensure/certification for employment. If you plan to pursue employment in a licensed profession after completing this program, please visit the Professional Licensure/Certification Disclosures by State interactive map for more information.

Information for Military and Veterans

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Are you a member of the military, a veteran, or a military spouse? Please visit our military website for additional information regarding financial aid, transfer credits, and application instructions.

Note: This program is under review for GI Bill® eligibility, and you may experience delays attempting to use GI Bill benefits toward this program until it has been officially approved.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

How to Apply to Penn State

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Apply by July 1 to start August 26

Application Instructions

Deadlines and Important Dates

Complete your application and submit all required materials by the appropriate deadline. Your deadline will depend on the semester you plan to start your courses.

  • Fall Deadline

    Apply by July 1 to start August 26

Steps to Apply

  1. For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

    The program requires an undergraduate degree with a broad liberal arts foundation from an accredited college or university.

    All applicants are expected to have earned a minimum average of a B (3.0 GPA on a 4-point scale) in all undergraduate work.

    Advanced Standing

    Starting in fall 2025, students who have received a social work degree (BSW) within the past five years and have a minimum 3.25 GPA from a Council for Social Work Education–accredited undergraduate program are eligible for advanced standing. Students who are granted advanced standing during the admissions process can receive credit for the required generalist courses offered during Year 1 of full-time study. The number of advanced credits granted depends on the comparability of the student’s undergraduate courses to the Penn State World Campus MSW program’s courses and on the grades earned in those undergraduate courses (i.e., must be a B grade or higher).

    In addition, students entering with advanced standing can receive 6 field education credits. The 6 credits of field education are granted based on the number of hours of field experience completed at the undergraduate level, provided that the undergraduate social work practicum totals a minimum of 400 hours and the student achieved at least a B grade.

    Consistent with the Council for Social Work Education’s Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards, the Penn State World Campus MSW program does not grant course credit, transfer credit, or exemptions for prior life, volunteer, or employment experience.

  2. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

    Official transcripts from each institution attended,regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

    Test Scores — GRE test scores are not required for admission to this program.

    English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

    References (3) — You will need to initiate the process through the online application by entering the names, email addresses, and mailing addresses of the three references. Upon submission of your application, an email will be sent to the recommenders requesting they complete a brief online recommendation regarding your commitment for success in an online program. Please inform the recommenders they must submit the form in order for your application to be complete.

    Students applying for Advanced Standing must include their field supervisor as one of their references.

    Program Specific Materials

    Résumé or Curriculum Vitae (CV)

    Goal Statement — In 1,000 to 1,500 characters (not including spaces), outline your personal career goals and reasons for wanting to enroll in the program. We seek students passionate about helping their communities and striving for economic and social justice. Applicants must exhibit potential and professional capabilities essential for effective functioning in the graduate school environment. Applicants must also have personal qualifications essential for effective social work practice, including sensitivity and responsiveness in relationships, concern for the needs of others, adaptability, good judgement, critical thinking, creativity, integrity, and skill in oral and written communications.

  3. To begin the online application, you will need a Penn State account.

    Create a New Penn State Account

    If you have any problems during this process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

    Please note: Former Penn State students may not need to complete the admissions application or create a new Penn State account. Please visit our Returning Students page for instructions.

  4. You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

    • Choose Enrollment Type: "Degree Admission"
    • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus

    Checking Your Status 
    You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form. 

    Technical Requirements  
    Review the technical requirements for this degree program. 

  5. 5. Complete the application.

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

Contact Us

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Have questions or want more information? We're happy to talk.

For general questions about Penn State World Campus or how to apply, contact:

World Campus Admissions Counselors
Phone: 814-863-5386
[email protected]

For specific inquiries about the Master of Social Work program, contact:

Rukmalie Jayakody
Program Director
[email protected]

Learn from the Best

This program is offered in partnership with the Penn State College of Health and Human Development. Courses are collaboratively developed and taught by faculty with combined social work experience in clinical treatment, child welfare, mental health, substance use, trauma, policy, and research.


  • James H. Andrews

    • Degree
      MSW, Social Work (Clinical and Administrative), Rhode Island College
    • Degree
      B.A., Psychology, Rhode Island College
    • Degree
      B.S., General Management, Rhode Island College

    James H. Andrews is an associate professor of social work and is the field education director of the Penn State World Campus MSW program. He is a licensed clinical and certified forensic social worker who has been in practice for nearly 40 years as a clinical social worker, therapist, administrator, risk manager, expert witness, consultant, trainer, and educator. He is very active in his professional association, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). He provides forensic social work and consultation services through his private practice. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. His areas of research are threat assessment and violence prediction.

  • Rukmalie Jayakody

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Joint Program in Social Work and Sociology, University of Michigan
    • Degree
      MSW, University of Michigan
    • Degree
      M.A., Sociology, University of Michigan
    • Degree
      B.A., Sociology, Boston College

    Rukmalie Jayakody is an associate teaching professor of sociology. Professor Jayakody’s research and teaching interests focus on families as well as poverty and inequality. Her work has examined the role of mental health and substance use in welfare receipt, the impacts of poverty on child development, the strengths of African American families, and family structure changes in the United States. She has also examined inequality based on ethnicity in Vietnam and the impacts that economic changes have on families. Jayakody’s teaching interests mirror her research focus. She has taught undergraduate classes on social and economic impacts on families and graduate classes on family and social policy and quantitative and qualitative research methods.

  • Janet Melnick

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Human Development (Social Work Specialization), Marywood University
    • Degree
      MSW, Marywood College
    • Degree
      B.S., Human Services, University of Scranton

    Dr. Janet Melnick is a teaching professor of human development and family studies and the program and field coordinator for the HDFS program at Penn State Scranton. Dr. Melnick was the assistant coordinator of the social work field program at Marywood University prior to moving to Penn State. Prior to working on her doctorate, she was in clinical practice and administration in local agencies that specialize in work with the elderly and did consulting work for Robert Wood Johnson.

  • Annjane Ross

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Administration and Leadership Studies, Indiana University of Pennsylvania 
    • Degree
      MSW, Marywood University
    • Degree
      B.S., Psychology, University of Maryland

    Annjane Ross is a registered play therapist, licensed clinical social worker, and supervisor. Her vast clinical training in working with families and children across different life stages and her experience as a medical social worker in rural communities have given her valuable insights into families' challenges. Additionally, her 20 years of experience teaching social work in higher education demonstrates her dedication to educating and training future social workers to effectively support children and families in need. Her research interest focuses on family trauma.

  • Joseph A. Twumasi-Ankrah

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Sociology Administration and Leadership Studies, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    • Degree
      MSW, City University of New York, Lehman College
    • Degree
      B.A., English, State University of New York at Oswego
    • Degree
      Licensure, New York State Licensed Master Social Worker

    Joseph A. Twumasi-Ankrah, Ph.D., LMSW, is a licensed master social worker with years of experience addressing the mental health needs of urban and rural at-risk populations who deal with trauma, depression, and anxiety. Previously, Joseph was the social work site director for a New York City social work nonprofit organization based in low-performing public schools that provided mental health services to students dealing with various mental, behavioral, and emotional health challenges. With a teaching/research interest centering around diversity, mental health, substance use, child welfare, social justice, and school social work, Joseph strongly believes in providing the appropriate support services for the overall growth of each individual within society.

We Are Penn State Online

This is the real Penn State. You will take courses with curriculum developed by the same professors who teach on campus. You can expect the same caliber of academic quality that you associate with Penn State.

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?

Apply by July 1 to start August 26. How to Apply