Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

Current social work students and those considering a career in social work should know a bit about how social work education is organized and delivered in the U.S. The Council on Social Work Education accredits and re-accredits social work programs across the United States. They also hold an annual conference, provide training to social work educators and practitioners, and sponsor research.

The Annual Program Meeting is CSWE’s signature conference which brings together social work educators, students, deans, and directors. Social work students at the graduate and doctoral levels are highly encouraged to attend the APM which moves to different locations each year. At this annual meeting, students can network with faculty and administrators from various schools and with each other. There are many specialized issue area tracks meeting participants can take part in and students and faculty alike are encouraged to present their research via posters and presentations.

According to CSWE, as of October 2019, there were:

  • 529 accredited baccalaureate social work programs
  • 271 accredited master’s social work programs
  • 15 baccalaureate social work programs in candidacy
  • 31 master’s social work programs in candidacy

Accreditation Process for Schools of Social Work

The CSWE publishes a set of standards a school of social work needs to meet to be accredited or reaccredited. These standards are called the Educational Policy and Accreditation Process (EPAS) and were most recently revised in 2015. The standards outline curricular requirements for schools and degree offerings. The CSWE itself accredits schools of social work following standards set by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). There are federal and state laws that also govern accreditation of schools of social work as well as other higher education programs.

CSWE provides standards each social work school and degree program must meet. Schools must meet these standards in organizing their generalist practice curriculum and specializations. Nine required social work competencies that must be met by social work students are listed in the EPAS. The knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes are described for each competency along with behaviors that are needed to fulfill these dimensions of each competency. Social work schools are responsible for organizing their programs in such a way that students are being prepared to develop these competencies.

During the accreditation process schools also must describe how their fieldwork program will enable students to connect classroom learning to practice in the field. Schools must describe how their field program is organized and how it prepares students for generalist or specialized practice. Schools have an opportunity to revise their mission and goals during the re-accreditation process. Some schools may have focused missions such as educating students of color or preparing students to work in specific fields of practice or communities.

How Social Work Education is Organized within Colleges and Universities

Those considering pursuing a career in social work should understand how social work education is organized within institutions of higher education. Typically schools of social work are independent of other schools, but at the undergraduate level, social work degree programs may fall under a particular department such as human services.

Young people may consider a career in social work as early as high school or college. If high school students already are familiar with the field – perhaps a parent or relative is in the field – they may want to consider applying to a college that has offers as undergraduate degree in social work (Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work – BSW). The BSW degree enables undergraduate students to work in certain positions requiring only undergraduate social work training.

The BSW also will prepare students for graduate-level social work training and for earning their MSW (Master’s Degree in Social Work). College graduates who have earned a BSW may be eligible to enter an MSW program with advanced standing. This means that they are on an accelerated track to obtaining their MSW. They may only need one year of coursework and fieldwork, on top of their BSW education and training, to get their MSW.

College graduates without a BSW will want to explore all their options for obtaining an MSW. It takes graduate social work students about two years full-time, or three to four years part-time, to obtain their MSW. Students should consider their scheduling and academic needs in choosing a social work graduate program. Questions they should ask themselves include: Do I need a part-time or full-time program? Do I want to relocate to attend school or find a program locally? Do I want to learn online in or in a classroom? What kinds of specializations am I interested in– macro practice, community organizing, research – if I’m not sure I want to pursue a clinical career? What areas of study do I want this school to be strong in – gerontological social work, child welfare, family therapy, marriage therapy, working with traumatized clients, etc.? Finally, students may want to consider whether schools offer financial aid or scholarships and they will want to look at programs’ reviews and rankings.

Doctoral Level Social Work Education

The terminal degree for social work practice is not the MSW. The Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) degree traditionally has training practitioners to reach the highest levels of clinical and macro practice. It is a more of an applied practice degree than the PhD in social work which focuses on evaluating social policy, social work clinical practice, social work and human service administration, and community programs. DSW programs, at present, are not accredited by CSWE and there are fewer than twenty DSW programs in the country.


Social work education is a mammoth industry. There are hundreds of programs and the demand for social work education services continues to grow. As the number of social work jobs available across the country increases, more young people are considering a career in social work and more older people are considering a second career in social work. There is a lot to know and learn about social work education; for example many students are unaware of what CSWE has to offer them and their schools. Social work education is a well-regulated industry, as it should be. The highest standards should be met by all schools educating future social workers as tomorrow’s social work professional must be prepared for the multitude of challenges they will meet at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels in the decades to come.

Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero

B.A. Political Science| Vassar College

M.A. Urban Affairs | University of Delaware

Social Policy | Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service Doctoral Program

January 2020

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