The Catholic University of America

Become a Master of Social Work

The Master of Social Work program at NCSSS seeks to prepare advanced practitioners who, consistent with their chosen concentrations, act as agents of change to promote individual and societal well-being. The goals of the M.S.W. program, in keeping with the goals of the school and grounded in the liberal arts, ensure the education of social workers whose practice is rooted in traditional values and theory but is also current with the demands of the changing practice environment. The curriculum is designed so that all students in the M.S.W. program will develop competencies as social work practitioners. 


Link to CUA Announcements (catalogue)

The M.S.W. curriculum is comprised of foundation knowledge (30 credits) and advanced knowledge (30 credits). Its concentrations educate three types of advanced social work practitioners: (1) clinical social workers who will be effective practitioners; (2) those whose indirect practice reflects a depth and breadth of knowledge and skill for advanced policy analysis, planning and management, and community organization; and (3) unique practitioners who are capable of direct and indirect practice and who are also fully licensable as clinicians. M.S.W. students may complete the 60-credit M.S.W. program within a minimum of two years and a maximum of five years. During the graduate program, students complete 12 credits of field placement (two placements over four semesters) and 48 credits of course work.

Full-time students complete the 60-credit M.S.W. program in two academic years. All part-time students must take at least six hours of academic credit per semester. All students must have completed or be concurrently registered for SSS 570, 571, 581 and 605 when registering for SSS 673; similarly, they must have completed or be concurrently registered for SSS 572, 582, 590 and 606 when registering for SSS 674. Part-time students may have to take course(s) during summer sessions, depending on the number of credit hours taken during fall and spring semesters. While we make every effort to offer many courses during late afternoon and evening hours, it is imperative that students understand that they will not be able to complete the entire M.S.W. curriculum only during evening hours. Part-time students generally complete the M.S.W. program within three to five years. Students in the part-time online clinical program generally complete the program in three and half years.


Human Behavior and Social Environment course (571) Utilizing an ecological and systems perspective, examines the bio-psycho-social-spiritual human development across the life cycle. Normal development with a framework for the micro, mezzo and macro theories will be examined. Developing theories of strength and resilience, the impact of economic forces at the micro and macro levels will be emphasized.

Human Behavior and Psychopathology (572) Utilizing a "life course perspective" to focus on human growth and development, this course critically analyzes pathological human behavior. It integrates and compares normal development with pathology and places an emphasis on how multiple dimensions of person and environment are influenced by time to produce unique life journeys. As in SSS 571, strength and resilience, all forms of diversity and oppression, and the impact of social and economic forces are emphasized as salient influences on life course trajectories and pathology.

Diversity in a Multicultural Society (570) Utilizing a strengths perspective, this course examines the resilience of populations-at-risk, particularly people of color, persons with disabilities, and gays and lesbians. It focuses on diversity in a global environment, including issues of discrimination, institutional racism and economic deprivation. It intends to enhance/develop self-awareness and sensitivity for a culturally competent social work practice. Social Welfare Policy and Services I (581) presents the historical and contemporary context for understanding social work practice. Students learn the political and organizational processes that are used to influence policy as well as develop skill in analyzing policy. Social Welfare Policy and Services II (582) teaches students how to analyze social policy, to understand the legislative and budget processes and to develop and implement advocacy strategies to effect social policy change. The course is focused on effecting policy change with and for vulnerable and stigmatized populations and issues of power and oppression are considered throughout the semester.

Social Work Research (590) - Provides a basic understanding of the research process and methods used by social scientists. Students learn to develop a systematic approach to practice problems, to formulate specific research questions, and to select and interpret appropriate statistical techniques. The generalist model of social work practice is introduced through the two Generalist Practice courses (605 - Individuals, Families and Groups, and 606 - Groups, Organizations and Communities) and integrative seminars (673/674). Supplementing supervised practice in the field, the seminar provides the opportunity for practicing skills through role play, case and project presentation and seminar discussion. The seminar instructor serves as the liaison between the field agency and the school, maintaining and enhancing that link.


Upon completion of the foundation curriculum, M.S.W. students choose among the clinical, social change, and combined concentrations, and the clinical health specialization. Students select courses depending on the chosen concentration, and are placed in an appropriate agency or organization for their advanced field internship.


Field internship learning experiences are essential to the achievement of the objectives of the M.S.W. curriculum. In the M.S.W. program each student has the opportunity for a practicum/internship in two different agency or program settings. In the foundation year, utilizing the generalist model of practice, students gain practice experience with individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations using a range of intervention modalities. Their learning experiences in the practicum support what they are learning in the classroom. Direct engagement in service activities enables the student to experience the discipline of professional relationships; to apply human behavior, research and social policy curriculum content to the theory and practice of social work; to develop the self-awareness required for a professional level of performance; and to learn to integrate social work knowledge, values, skills and ethics within the context of a professional social work practice setting. In the advanced year, students practice in agency settings with assignments and activities focused in their chosen area of concentration. Clinical students gain practice skills at an advanced level, learning to differentially apply explanatory theories to the assessment of client systems, to distinguish the appropriate treatment modality for particular client problems, and to differentially apply practice models to treatment planning and intervention. Social Change students learn to differentially apply macro theories to their practice and they gain expertise and skills in social management/administration, social planning and/or policy analysis as macro methods of practice. Combined concentrators have both micro and macro practice learning opportunities, acquiring depth in the methodology of both clinical and macro social work practice.

With some exceptions (e.g. advanced standing students), students complete four semesters of Field Education (over two academic years). Students are in the field placement 16 hours per week in the foundation year (total of 480 hours) and 20 hours per week (total of 600 hours) in the advanced year (up to 24 hours per week for combined concentrators). Most students are assigned to agencies on Wednesdays/Thursdays during the foundation year, and Tuesdays/Wednesdays and 1/2 days on Thursdays during the advanced year. A limited number of flex-time placements are available to part-time students. These placements all require at least some daytime hours for staff meetings and training; many require one eight-hour block of time per week during regular working hours, with other hours scheduled on evenings and weekends. Students should be prepared to travel to and from the practicum either by car or public transportation. In placing foundation-year students, the Office of Field Education considers their prior experience, interests and educational goals, as discussed in the field application. In the advanced placement process, the Office of Field Education assists students by providing agency information via a Web-based search engine. Students research agencies of interest and appropriate to their selected concentration, submit their preferences to the Office of Field Education and are then referred for interviews. Students in Field Education are required to pay an additional fee for malpractice insurance ($34/year) and to furnish proof of health insurance coverage. Some agencies may have additional requirements, e.g., immunization verification, police clearance or drug screening.


Classes are offered Monday through Friday throughout the day and evening, with classes meeting once a week.Most foundation courses are offered on Mondays and Tuesdays, with most foundation field placements on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Advanced curriculum courses are scheduled around field placement hours, which are usually on Tuesdays,Wednesdays and half-days on Thursdays. Many but not all foundation courses have evening as well as daytime sections. In the advanced curriculum, some Theory and Practice courses as well as some electives are offered only during daytime hours. Limited course offerings are usually available in two summer sessions (mid-May through early August). For students who seek additional flexibility in scheduling, an online clinical MSW degree program is now offered.


The Master of Social Work degree is conferred upon students who have: 1. Satisfactorily completed 60 credit hours in accordance with the curriculum requirements as specified by the NCSSS faculty. Some students, who have received a B.S.W. degree from a C.S.W.E.-accredited school of social work, may meet the requirements with fewer than 60 credit hours by being awarded up to 30 credits. Transfer credits may be accepted in accordance with the school's policy. 2. Successfully passed a foundation comprehensive examination during the university-designated comprehensive exam period in which the student is enrolled in the foundation field/seminar (SSS 674). Passing the foundation comprehensive is required for a student to proceed to the advanced curriculum. 3. Designated any two scholarly papers that are already required in advanced courses and will have been completed and graded to fulfill the University writing requirement.

I decided to return to school for an M.S.W. after having worked for five years as an activist on international issues. I chose NCSSS because of its highly regarded clinical program. The more I researched M.S.W. programs, the more impressed I was with NCSSS's reputation - both locally and nationally. The generous financial aid that I was awarded made it possible for me to pursue my degree full time. I was especially pleased with NCSSS's commitment to social justice and professional ethics. The values of the social work profession were instilled in us from the very beginning of the program, which I believe helped me to make the transition from "activist" to "social worker" very easily. I feel that my decision to get an M.S.W. - and to get it from NCSSS - was a wise one, one that has already expanded my opportunities and the ways in which I can continue to contribute to society.
- Lisa Zimmerman, M.S.W. 2001


Qualifying examinations are offered to allow students to waive up to nine semester hours in the following areas: Social Welfare Policy and Services I (581), Human Behavior and the Social Environment I and II (571, 572) and Social Work Research (590). Students must apply to the M.S.W. program chair and be accepted to take the examinations. All students take the examinations on the same day in August, January or May. Students must take any qualifying exams within the first two semesters of their entrance to the school. They must verify that, through previous course work, they have mastered the course material. The Council on Social Work Education mandates that life or previous work experience cannot be used as justification for application for a qualifying exam. A student must earn a grade of 85 or above on a qualifying examination to waive that course. No other course need be substituted, making it possible for a student to graduate with fewer than 60 credits.


The school offers several options for working toward the M.S.W. degree: the full-time two-year program, the part-time program, the online clinical program, and the advanced standing program. The school also offers, together with the Columbus School of Law, a J.D./M.S.W. program. In all cases students must meet the minimum residency requirement of the school.


The full-time option is a four-semester (two academic years) program, which provides for a sequential learning experience of course work and concurrent field experience.

I was looking for a program where I would be able to connect with the faculty and be known by name. I found this and more during my graduate study at NCSSS. I was introduced to a variety of social work experiences that stretched me and ultimately led me to a career that I had not thought of before the program.

- Patty A Prince, M.S.W. 2002


The part-time program allows students to complete their M.S.W. degree requirements in four years, usually completing course work in the first and third years, and field placement and concurrent Theory and Practice course work and Field Education seminar in the second and fourth years. Students may fulfill degree requirements by taking some of their courses in the evening, or some in summer sessions, depending on availability of courses. Students who enroll for the minimum requirement of six credits each fall and spring semester will be required to enroll in some summer sessions. Part-time students complete 18 hours within a calendar year to meet residency requirements. During the first semester of graduate study each part-time program student, in consultation with a faculty adviser, develops a plan of study for completion of the degree. Students must complete the program within five years.

I began the M.S.W. program at NCSSS apprehensive about my ability to complete the program while continuing to work full time as an elementary school teacher. I was especially unsure about being able to complete the required hours in two year-long internships. I successfully completed the program in three years thanks to my determination and faith; support from family, friends and my employer; and the flexibility of NCSSS. I'm especially grateful for the guidance and assistance of NCSSS' Office of Field Education. I look forward to working as a school social worker, extremely well prepared, thanks to NCSSS.
- Quiana Riley, M.S.W. 2001


The online clinical program is great alternative for students looking to further their education while maintaining flexibility with their schedule and while continuining to work. The rigorous carriculum of our online MSW includes all aspects of clinical practice with each individuals, families, and groups. Throughout your tenure, you will get extensive preparation in understanding and application of theory in evidence-based practice.

The online clinical MSW program includes the same feature that make the on-campus program unique, including small class sizes; a hands-on, responsive faculity; student input in identifying field placements; and emphasis on understanding and application of theory in evidence-based practice.


Advanced standing status may be awarded to graduates of social work baccalaureate programs meeting certain admissions requirements outlined in the Graduate Admissions section. Advanced standing students must meet the university residency requirement, completing 18 hours within a calendar year.

NCSSS Transition Course for Advanced Standing Students

All students accepted with advanced standing status will be required to take an on-line course the summer prior to their enrollment. This course is designed:

  • To assist the students in preparing for the transition from undergraduate to graduate social work education.
  • To strengthen the student's knowledge of theory for generalist social work practice competency that will enhance their advanced year concentration.
  • To create a community for advanced standing students to support one another and connect with current NCSSS students.
  • To provide the students with a faculty member who helps with the transition, serves as their advisor, and assists the students with the necessary preparation for their advanced year.

    The cost and timetable for this course are finalized by May 1st.


Under special circumstances and with the approval of the M.S.W. chair, students may transfer up to six semester hours from other accredited universities. Students transferring from another C.S.W.E.-accredited M.S.W. program may transfer a maximum of 30 semester hours. M.S.W. courses completed at other universities will be evaluated as to their relevance and similarity to NCSSS courses. All courses that are applied toward the degree must have been successfully completed within five years of entrance into the program must be from an accredited graduate program, and the student must have earned a grade of B or above.


The National Catholic School of Social Service and the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America offer a dual-degree program in which qualified full-time students may obtain both a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) and a Juris Doctor degree (J.D.). Students are able to earn both degrees in approximately four years and a summer, rather than five years, because of credits shared by both programs. Students are assigned faculty advisers within each school. Applicants for admission to the dual-degree program must meet the separate admissions requirements of each school and must be accepted by each school independently. Interested applicants may contact the Admissions Office of the National Catholic School of Social Service and the Admissions Office of the Columbus School of Law, both at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. 20064.