Social Work

What Is Social Work Macro Practice?

What Is Social Work Macro Practice?
Macro social workers engage in program development, lobbying, and policy analysis; they often work for government agencies or large nonprofit organizations to develop social policy. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella February 22, 2022

Macro social workers analyze issues impacting communities and society and advocate for social change on a public policy level.

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Clinical social workers who engage in direct outreach may be the profession’s public face, but they’re far from the only type of social work professionals. Social work thought leaders divide the field into three categories: micro, macro, and mezzo. Micro-level social work—the process of conducting one-on-one assessments, formulating appropriate interventions, and providing human services to improve clients’ well-being—is the most commonly practiced. Mezzo-level social workers perform similar services, but work with groups of people rather than individuals. Many micro- and mezzo-level social services professionals hold a Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) credential in addition to their social work master’s degree.

Macro-level social work is different. In
“Why Macro Practice Matters,” Michael Reisch defines it as “a collective and collaborative form of social work, which seeks to create purposive change.” Macro social workers analyze issues impacting communities and society and advocate for social change on a public policy level. Because they don’t engage in direct practice, macro professionals don’t need an LCSW credential.

If you’re thinking about a career in this field and want a more detailed answer to the question what is social work macro practice?, read on. This article covers:

  • What is social work macro practice?
  • What is a social work master’s?
  • What top schools offer a social work master’s?

What is social work macro practice?

Macro social work tackles large scale social issues. Macro social workers engage in program development, lobbying, and policy analysis; they often work for government agencies or large nonprofit organizations to develop social policy.

What is the difference between micro and macro social work?

Micro social workers focus on individuals, while macro social workers address systems. Professionals in both fields fight for social justice objectives like widespread access to mental health resources, but in different ways. Macro social workers offer policy recommendations to address social problems and push for initiatives that improve social work practice as a whole; they don’t conduct interpersonal interventions. Clinical social work often means implementing the contributions that macro social workers make.

What are examples of macro social work?

According to Reisch, government social welfare/health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid are examples of macro social work. Awareness campaigns around social issues like HIV/AIDS and homelessness also fall into the category of macro social work.

Consider mmigration, a crucial issue in contemporary social work. Macro social workers help establish the field’s position on immigrants and refugees in America. They determine the services social workers provide for these populations. Macro social work organizations engage in advocacy; they work with (or against) the federal government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to achieve goals on behalf of these groups.

What skills and credentials does a social worker need for macro social work?

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) defines nine competencies for macro social work:

  • Demonstrate ethical and professional behavior
  • Engage diversity and difference in practice
  • Advance human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice
  • Engage in practice-informed research and research-informed practice
  • Engage in policy practice
  • Engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities
  • Asses individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities
  • Intervene with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities
  • Evaluate practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities

The CSWE relies on a “competency-based education framework” to provide macro social work education. Macro social workers typically, though not always, earn a Master of Social Work (MSW). As in most high-stakes, high-responsibility roles, employers typically favor candidates with advanced education and extensive experience.



University and Program Name Learn More

What is a social work master’s?

A Master of Social Work is a graduate-level social work degree. Graduates can go on to earn a Licensed Clinical Social Worker credential and pursue a clinical career; the degree can also lead to a PhD in Social Work (typically for those seeking careers in academics and research) or a Doctor of Social Work (DSW), the field’s professional doctorate.

Many practicing social workers have achieved an MSW. According to a 2017 report to the CSWE, 45 percent of social workers hold an MSW. You do not need a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) to be admitted to an MSW program.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

According to the CWSE, most programs take two years to complete. A BSW can reduce the required time by qualifying you for advanced standing (where you can apply BSW credits toward your master’s). Advanced standing programs, like the one at Virginia Commonwealth University, typically take only one year to complete. Part-time MSW students may take three or more years to complete the degree.

Admission requirements/prerequisites

You do not need to hold a BSW to apply to MSW programs. Many programs accept candidates with any undergraduate degree; some may require coursework (if not a major) in a social science. As previously noted, a BSW may exempt you from some foundation courses and hasten completion of the degree.

Your application will likely need to include a personal essay, letters of recommendation, transcripts from any previous undergraduate and graduate education (with a minimum GPA of 3.0), and a resume. Some schools require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores, although an increasing number of programs are implementing test-optional policies.


Curricula vary among different programs, although all pursue a common goal: training future social worker in the core ethics and practices of the profession. Tulane University, for example, includes foundational courses in the history of social welfare, social justice, and community organization. Most programs also offer specialization-focused coursework.

You’ll complete fieldwork during an MSW—current social workers may be able to use their current jobs as a field placement. If not, your school should help you find a placement appropriate to your professional goals.


The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) identifies 16 specialization areas including administration, child welfare, policy, and mental health. No MSW program offers all 16 specializations. Many offer only a few, and some don’t offer specializations at all. At Rutgers University – New Brunswick, students can choose between clinical practice and management and policy.

What top schools offer a social work master’s?

The best social work program for you is one that meets your professional, personal, and economic needs. You’ll need to do your research to determine which programs excel in your intended area of specialization. The degree programs offered at the schools listed below offer specialized coursework in macro social work fields.

Boston University

At the Boston University School of Social Work, students in the macro focus complete one foundational course (Communities and Organizations: Analysis and Intervention), then pursue subjects like community organization, program evaluation, advocacy, and management. Outside of coursework, students perform community assessments and outreach. The macro track is offered online and in person. If you don’t want to complete an entire focus on macro social work, you can pursue a macro minor, which only requires two courses.

New York University

NYU students who complete the macro focus area can work for large and small organizations, including nonprofits, governments, and research institutions. Graduates with this degree are well-prepared to create and evaluate programs. NYU’s MSW focuses heavily on research, including opportunities to work with faculty leaders driving the field of social work forward. Finally, students learn clinical intervention techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy.

University of Houston

The University of Houston offers three options for its MSW—online, in-person, and hybrid. Graduates can pursue clinical practice or macro social work careers. While the in-person program caters to full-time students, the hybrid and online programs offer more flexibility. Macro-focused students can work with large groups and take leadership and policy coursework.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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