Social Work

Best Dual Degrees for Social Workers

Best Dual Degrees for Social Workers
Some programs prepare students for work with more vulnerable populations; others focus on business or public policy. Image from
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies December 13, 2022

Social work spans disciplines that range from child welfare and healthcare to public policy and human services. A dual degree can help MSWs become more effective in their chosen area of specialization.

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Social work education delivers a comprehensive understanding of how to care for people effectively by appreciating individual and group challenges in social and physical environments. Evolving from early social welfare efforts, social work practice stresses advocacy for social justice in the delivery of essential services and assistance. It focuses on helping vulnerable people and communities cope with unique social conditions to improve their health and well-being.

For those in social work practice, building strength by broadening skills and competencies means reaching those who need help in new ways. For some, pursuing a dual degree program provides a deeper understanding of how human services overlap with other specialty areas that include criminal justice, child welfare, law, education, and public health. Creating these connections enables practitioners to see how to effect social policy and healthcare change.

Social work students face abundant options when choosing among dual degree programs, each offering a unique perspective from which to learn. Some programs prepare students for work with more vulnerable populations; others focus on business or public policy. Social work education can prepare a student for clinical practice and direct services or administration and management. Specializations can also boost career opportunities.

Finding the best dual degree program is a personal pursuit, as the right MSW program should fit your interests and goals. Whether you want to apply your skills within the structure of the legal system to design and direct public health or work in the business world to organize support and structure for employees in a corporate framework, a dual degree MSW can bolster your skill set to make it possible.

In this article, we will take a look at the best dual degrees for social workers and explore the following topics:

  • Best dual degrees for social workers
  • How hard is it to complete a dual degree program?

(Written by Nedda Gilbert)

Whatever your aspirations, the decision to pursue a dual MSW degree is an aspirational one. That’s because there are unique challenges in pursuing a cross-disciplinary degree. It requires a significant commitment, and an investment of time and finances.
To begin with, you’ll likely have to apply and be admitted to each graduate school independently. You’ll also find that while there may be coursework savings and overlap between the two schools, you’ll still be taking on a lot of work.

Furthermore, you may find yourself bouncing back-and-forth between your two programs. This might challenge your budding professional identity, or feel unsettling. Program specifics vary by school, but you may find yourself alternating semesters or years in one school, and then returning back to the other.

Finally, the logistics of completing the dual degree could add stress. You may find yourself navigating tight coursework restrictions and requirements. Although the specifics of any MSW dual degree program will vary by school, here are some basic advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages to pursuing the dual MSW degree:

  1. You will obtain two grad degrees in less time than it would take to pursue each program individually (saving valuable tuition dollars and time)
  2. You will stand out in your job search
  3. You will stand out as a professional
  4. You will be able to pursue diverse, creative, and innovative jobs
  5. You will advance to leadership roles more easily
  6. You will likely earn more with an MSW dual degree

Disadvantages to pursuing the dual MSW degree:

  1. It will take more time and money to pursue two degrees
  2. You will need to be admitted to both programs
  3. You will be taking on a lot of work, which may cause more stress
  4. You may feel disconnected from each school and from your peers
  5. You may be overwhelmed by coursework requirements and restrictions

Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? If so, then you may be ready to take on the demands of pursuing two advanced degrees at the same time. A joint MSW degree may be just right for you.

The decision to pursue a dual MSW degree is a personal and financial one. Importantly, it should reflect your career goals and ambitions. Although you will have to consider the extra tuition costs involved in obtaining a dual degree, overall there are significant cost savings in completing both degrees in a condensed time period.

MSW Dual Degree Options

MSW Dual degree programs offer exciting opportunities for study. But one size does not fit all. Some programs admit large cohorts of students. Others programs are quite small, and admit just a few students per year. Additionally, depending on the program, some students pursue an individualized course of study, and work closely with academic advisors in each program to create their appropriate paths.

Some of the more common dual MSW’s you can pursue are:

  • MSW/Master of Divinity (MDiv)
  • MSW/Juris Doctor (Law)
  • MSW/Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • MSW/Master of Education (M.Ed.)
  • MSW/Master of Public Administration (MPA)
  • MSW/Master of Public Health (MPH)

Some of the more unique dual MSW degree options are:

  • MSW/Master of Service in Nonprofit Leadership
  • MSW/Master of Bioethics
  • MSW/Master of Science in Criminology
  • MSW/Master of Science in City Planning
  • MSW/Master of Arts in Jewish Nonprofit Management
  • MSW/Master of Urban and Regional Planning
  • MSW/MA in Women’s Studies
  • MSW/Master of Science Program in Adventure Therapy

As you can see, dual degree MSW programs come in many different flavors and sizes. You will need to do your homework to find the dual degree program that best suits your needs and career goals.

Best dual degrees for social workers

Social workers with an MSW make $50,390 per year on average, but obtaining another graduate degree can increase those earnings substantially. An additional Master of Arts or Sciences degree can also broaden dual degree students’ appeal across industries.

This article outlines some of the best pairings for MSW dual degrees you can pursue at a single university’s school of social work and the skills you’ll acquire from each degree program.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Juris Doctor (JD)

Advocating for vulnerable populations is a crucial tenet of social work. Combining an MSW with a Juris Doctor prepares graduates to navigate the complex legal system for their clients. Professionals can either practice social work with honed legal skills or work as attorneys with training in clinical social work. Graduates can also work in various specialties, including forensics, juvenile justice, child advocacy, corrections, legislative advocacy, and public policy.

Tulane University’s School of Social Work allows dual degree students to choose from a 16-month full-time, 32-month part-time, or 12-month advanced standing timeline to finish their MSW/Juris Doctor (JD) degree. Students develop interdisciplinary legal and psychosocial skills to work collaboratively with individual clients, couples, families, and groups.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Business Administration (MBA)

While not viewed as a traditional dual degree pairing, an MSW/MBA degree combination helps graduates develop strong management and decision-making skills to apply to their human services training. This combination is a powerful tool in the increasingly competitive philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. In the for-profit sector, economic and evidence-based strategic planning models give these graduates advantages with program design and outreach.

The School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania offers a joint degree with the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business that emphasizes business-led management methods, economic and cost-benefit analysis, and outcome assessments.

Adding an MBA to your MSW program can bolster your social work competencies with skills in management, leadership, budgeting, funding, and long-term strategy. This dual graduate degree is optimal for those seeking top leadership positions with social work organizations. Here are some additional reasons to pursue these credentials.

Advance your career

Dual-degree holders work for the government, social welfare institutions, hospitals, philanthropic foundations, and other nonprofit organizations. Many occupy social work leadership positions like
social work administrator and social service manager. Some become lobbyists for social service organizations; at University of Pennsylvania, dual-degree students pursue internships in policy research and development careers.

A social work administrator makes budget and policy decisions for their organization. Focus areas include evaluating existing programs and areas of need. Administrators can work in various settings, including government welfare agencies, universities, health centers, hospitals, employee assistance programs, law firms, and mental health facilities. While it is possible to ascend to the administrative level with only a bachelor’s degree, employers typically seek candidates who have completed a relevant graduate program.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports that professionals with dual MSW degrees are more likely to hold leadership positions with titles that include the terms director, executive director, or vice president. If you’re interested in planning, fundraising, policy making, and assuring the long-term viability of a social service organization, these are the roles in which you can pursue those goals.

Social service managers perform similar tasks as administrators. They work with budgets and implement policies. However, these professionals often spend more time evaluating active policies and writing proposals than approving them.

Pursue a niche focus

Using your dual-degree program to develop a specialization area can broaden your career opportunities. Students can pursue a formal concentration or develop a concentration through electives. One University at Buffalo alumna pursued a healthcare management specialization during the MBA portion of her joint degree. From there, she sought a healthcare facility leadership position. Today, she works to ensure that the hospice where she works is adequately financed and well-managed.

Earn more money

Advanced administrative positions command higher salaries than direct practice roles. PayScale says the average social worker earns around $50,000 per year while social work managers make nearly $67,000. Social work administrators with a master’s degree earn an average salary of $76,000 annually, with top-paid professionals making close to $100,000. Those with a dual degree can earn even more.

Salaries also vary by location. The national average for social service program directors is over $100,000 annually, according to Program directors in New York City earn over $123,000, while Sioux Falls, South Dakota those in earn just under $92,000.

Keep up with the times

According to the University of Pittsburgh MSW/MBA website, social work organizations are changing to operate more like traditional businesses. Organizations are altering their organizational structures, data management and human resource practices, and market analysis methods. Business-minded social workers who can lower costs and increase effectiveness may soon be in high demand.

Move out of client service settings

Social work has an unusually high turnover rate. Social workers frequently deal with difficult situations, including child and domestic abuse, crime, natural disasters, and war. Studies show these traumatic incidents can lead to secondary traumatic stress (STS) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Child and family social workers turn over at exceptionally high rates. The Virginia Mercury reports that Virginia social workers are leaving in droves, partly because of poor pay and hours. The article estimates around two-thirds of separating family services specialists don’t make it longer than five years.

Leaving direct practice allows social workers to continue helping others without putting themselves in danger.

Improve the field overall

MSW/MBA holders in high-ranking administrative positions can make lasting changes to the field of social work. Social work leaders can utilize their business acumen to improve workplace efficiency and implement cutting-edge policies with a lasting impact. Better policies can improve the lives of clients and social worker retention rates.

Can I get an MSW/MBA online?

It’s possible to earn an MSW/MBA online. These programs typically cover the same coursework and lead to the same positions as in-person degrees. It’s worth noting that many of the top schools, including Penn, do not offer online programs. If school ranking is essential to you (it may not be), consider earning your degree in person.

Schools with online MSW/MBA programs include:

What do you learn in a dual MSW/MBA program?

Dual-degree programs include both social work and business classes. Though curricula differ among schools—Penn reports that its students receive individually designed coursework—programs cover many of the same topics. The University at Buffalo core curriculum includes course titles that include:

  • Business Economics
  • Business Strategy
  • Financial Accounting for Managers
  • Management Communications
  • Marketing for Managers
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Statistical Analysis for Managers

Students also choose from elective coursework plus complete an internship.

Buffalo MSW students take classes that include:

  • Diversity and Oppression
  • Evaluation in Social Work
  • Scientific Methods in Social Work
  • Social Welfare History and Policy
  • Theories of Human Behavior and Development
  • Theories of Organizational Behavior and Development

They also perform fieldwork (an opportunity to develop a social work specialization). Students can pursue advanced coursework working with families, adults, groups, and more.

What are the admissions requirements for dual-degree programs?

General graduate admissions requirements include the following:

  • A statement of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Standardized test scores
  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Resume

Be sure to research the exact requirements of your chosen school(s). Many programs set academic standards, commonly a GPA of 3.0 or more; others are test-optional.

Dual-degree programs often impose specialized requirements in addition to the standard graduate admissions process. Many require students to apply separately to the MSW and MBA programs. Be sure to factor in this extra time commitment.

Additionally, programs may have work experience requirements. Penn, for example, only admits applicants who have already worked as supervisors or advisors.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Public Administration (MPA)

A Master of Public Administration prepares students for leadership roles in government, government-adjacent service agencies, and policy advocacy. The critical impact government action and policy exert on social work makes this dual degree pairing particularly valuable, particularly for social workers looking to exert influence at the macro level.

At NYU’s Silver School of Social Work and Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, dual degree students participate in coursework on diversity, racism, and oppression, social welfare, and human behavior in the social environment. Students also participate outside the classroom in field education and elective opportunities.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Public Health (MPH)

Social work that focuses on public health directs resources toward addressing the disparities that prevent progress and change in communities. It also seeks to define the most culturally appropriate and effective methods for improvement. Combining an MSW with a Master of Public Health (MPH) promotes the application of evidence-based research to community-based interventions.

Tulane University’s School of Social Work offers a combined MSW and MPH degree in collaboration with the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine (SPHTM). This dual program supports culturally relevant social work practice and an ethical approach to community-led, cooperative interventions.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Education (MEd)

Dual master’s in social work and master’s in education degrees offer another complementary set of skills. Program and curriculum design utilize similar approaches to inclusiveness, cultural competency, social justice, and many theoretical practices. In addition, dual-degree students will find overlap in coursework in human development, psychological assessment and measurement, problem-solving, and leadership.

CUNY Hunter College offers a dual degree master’s program focused on infant and family development and early intervention for families. Students learn clinical skills and theoretical applications from both degrees in cooperation with Bank Street College of Education. Graduates obtain education licensure and certification under state requirements upon completing the program.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Science in Criminology

Criminal justice and social work share similar critical assessment and analytical skills for evaluating policy and programming. Moreover, with a shared focus on violence prevention, police-community relations, and juvenile justice, these two master’s programs provide plenty of overlap in theory and practice.

At the University of Pennsylvania‘s School of Social Policy and Practice, students study the philosophy and history of social work and social welfare, evidence-based crime prevention, human behavior in the social environment, and quantitative methods for public policy. The school also offers the opportunity to apply for field placement in its Goldring Reentry Initiative case-management support program.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership

As nonprofit leadership adapts to a data-driven world, understanding how figures inform policy on clinical and large-scale initiatives adds enormous value to programming. Students develop the skills critical to running organizations on a local or global scale.

The University of Pennsylvania offers a combined MSW and master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and emphasizes mentorship within field placement positions.

Master of Social Work (MSW)/Master of Divinity

Becoming a pastoral psychotherapist or chaplaincy for the military, hospitals, or prison populations requires integrating the spiritual and social contexts. These professionals provide spiritual support and structure for clients as an additional resource for social work practitioners.

The joint MSW/Master of Divinity program offered by the Union Theological Seminary in partnership with Hunter College (MDiv/MSW) or Columbia University (MDiv/MSSW) draws on the “entwined histories of social justice and community empowerment” by recognizing the interconnectedness of oppression in society.



University and Program Name Learn More

How hard is it to complete a dual degree program?

The dual degree programs listed above are designed to work in concert but may have strict scheduling guidelines and requirements. Some operate within the same university. Programs can take less than two years to five years to complete.

Program design varies, so you’ll need to research how a dual degree program works with your schedule and goals. Then, armed with any of these dual degrees, you’ll enter the workforce as a highly educated and qualified candidate.

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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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