The Dreaded MSW Statistics Class
March 11, 2021
Are you haunted by the idea of number crunching? If you planned to leave your math anxiety in the rearview mirror by selecting a career in social work…
Well, we have some bad news. While the overwhelming majority of Master of Social Work (MSW) coursework and training is focused on soft subjects related to human behavior, accredited programs require that students take at least one foundational statistics class. And there is no way around this.
Although social work is not driven by quantitative study and analysis, being able to look at data in a mathematical manner is essential to understanding social work research and trends. To be a social worker, you must be competent in drawing conclusions and in parsing out relevant data from research studies. Research tells a story, and you will need to be able to read it. Depending on your specialization, you may also have to conduct your own research. If that is the case, being competent in data analysis will be invaluable.
So with that in mind, take a breath. Only one dreaded statistics class is required to graduate with an MSW — and you are more than capable of completing it.
Statistics Class Requirements: Easier Than You Think
In some MSW programs, passing this class may be a prerequisite. The good news? MSW administrators understand that statistics is a tough haul. They are not looking for you to excel in the subject, but merely to become competent. So there is typically some leniency when it comes to meeting the requirement.
You may be able to take a statistics class at an undergraduate school, or through an accredited online program, as long as you receive academic credit. Some online statistics classes that may satisfy your school’s requirement include The Institute for Statistics Education and Duke University via Coursera.
There will likely be no limitations on how much time can have passed since you took the course, though some schools place a five year limit. If you took a stat class as an undergrad, you probably meet the prerequisite. If not, you may want to take this course well before you apply for your MSW so that you can focus your primary studies once you’re enrolled.
In most MSW programs, any course with the title of "statistics" will meet your requirement. Some regular math classes may also be accepted, as long as they include statistical concepts such as chance variation, probability sampling, techniques in statistical decision, inferences about major population characteristics, and interpretation of data. A syllabus may be required for verification of content, and the final decision to approve or deny any class rests with your specific school.
Still concerned? Many programs will allow you to take the class as a Pass/Fail. Other programs may only require a grade of "C." Additionally, at some MSW programs, you may have the option to take an exam and place out, which will exempt you from having to take the class. At Columbia’s Graduate School of Social Work, for example, students can take an exam covering the following topics:
Ratios, percentages, and proportions
Types of variables and measurement levels
Common statistical symbols
Computation of descriptive statistics
Correlation and coefficient of determination
Inferential test selection and data interpretations
Effect sizes and hypotheses
How to Survive MSW Statistics
Many MSW students find that having to take just one statistics class with a generously low grade requirement takes the pressure off. But if you’re really concerned, another option is to hire a student tutor or find a study group. You may also find the book Statistics for People Who (Think They) Hate Statistics by Neil J. Salkind to be a useful resource. Again, the final decision on your statistics requirement, and the ways in which you are permitted to complete it, rests with your school.
Statistics is not necessarily math as you know it — or as you fear it! Because of the interpretive nature of statistical data, you may even find yourself enjoying what you learn.