Earning a graduate degree can be personally and professionally rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges. Going to grad school means being out of the workforce for several years. Grad school also requires a big investment of time and money, which can be in short supply for adults. These challenges hold true for anyone considering a Masters of Social Work (MSW) degree. Although the traditional two-year MSW offers a faster path to becoming a licensed clinician or counselor than does a Masters in Psychology (which is a three-year program), an MSW is a demanding degree to pursue.
Because social work is a regulated profession, and graduates need to become licensed to practice in most jobs, the MSW has strict graduation requirements. One of those requirements is the completion of a back-to-back fieldwork experience. This involves 60 credits and approximately 900-1200 hours. Those pursuing an MSW without an undergrad degree in social work have no way of shortcutting that process. Although many online options exist, the MSW still takes two years to complete, and the fieldwork requirement is mandatory.
However, some schools have condensed their traditional two-year programs into intensive courses of study. These programs offer a 16-month accelerated MSW program. The value of an accelerated track is that students get back into the workforce much faster. Accelerated programs allow students to complete their coursework in four consecutive semesters over 16 months. What these programs have in common is a calendar schedule that includes a summer semester. Using the summer months as a period for continued study, rather than a period for time-off, makes all the difference in accelerated programs.
Some begin in September; these involve a four semester schedule of fall-spring-summer-fall. Other programs begin mid-year in January (which is considered the spring semester). these follow a semester schedule of spring-summer-fall-spring, with graduation in May.
Accelerated MSW students complete their fieldwork assignments just as they would in traditional September to May programs. But again, the difference is that their fieldwork – like their coursework - continues over the summer months.
The advantage of a 16-month accelerated MSW is that it is identical to the traditional two-year course of study, but students graduate a semester sooner. The disadvantages are that there is no break, accelerated programs move at an intensive pace, and some fieldwork experiences and selections may not be available over a summer semester.
Not all accelerated programs rely on the same criteria for admission. At some schools, a higher GPA is important. Prior work or volunteer experience in social work may also be essential. But these standards vary by school. You will need to do your homework to learn what options are available for accelerated study at the schools you’re interested in. If you think you may benefit from an accelerated program, consider performing volunteer work in a related social work field before of applying. A final word: the terms Advanced MSW and Accelerated MSW may get tossed around and confused with one other.
Technically, an Advanced MSW might also be considered an “accelerated" program. But this is only because students admitted into Advanced Standing MSW programs must already hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). This BSW “accelerates" them, because prior studies and fieldwork experiences count for some of the qualifications an MSW would otherwise need to meet. In this way, BSW coursework and experiences play double duty, meeting MSW requirements as well. This is what makes for an “advanced" student: ultimately, an MSW candidate who jumps more quickly to graduation. Because of the intensive prior experience of the BSW, advanced MSW programs can typically be completed in only one year.