Course of Study

The curriculum at the master’s level has been developed with a strong conviction that preparation for professional practice necessitates the integration of knowledge, values and skills. This integration is purposefully facilitated by structuring classroom instruction and field experiences so that they can mutually support and reinforce students’ educational learning objectives.

Curricular Structure

The MSW curriculum is divided into two parts: the foundation curriculum, which provides an orientation to the profession and a basis for understanding practice with individuals, families, groups, and communities, and the advanced curriculum, which enables students to focus on their chosen area of practice (clinical or macro).

Foundation Curriculum
The Foundation portion of the MSW program provides the base for the Advanced portion of the curriculum. Foundation courses introduce students to a generalist orientation, one that seeks to make explicit social work concepts and principles that under gird work with individuals, families, groups, communities and systems. The foundation curriculum also seeks to broaden the students’ perception and involvement beyond the level of the individual and family by looking at groups, organizations and communities within the context of the environment.

The Foundation Curriculum is comprised of six courses:

  • SWRK 601: History and Philosophy of Social Work and Social Welfare
  • SWRK 602: Human Behavior in the Social Environment
  • SWRK 603: American Racism and Social Work Practice
  • SWRK 604 + Field Placement: Foundations of Social Work Practice I
  • SWRK 614 + Field Placement: Foundations of Social Work Practice II
  • SWRK 615: Introduction to Social Work Research

Satisfactory completion of the foundation coursework is required before students can pursue Advanced curriculum coursework.

Advanced Curriculum
In the Advanced portion of the MSW program, students select a method of concentration (clinical or macro practice). Students take a required year-long practice course in their concentration plus at least one practice elective in their chosen concentration. As in the foundation portion, the advanced portion of the curriculum is concerned with the holistic nature of social work practice. Students learn to intervene in a variety of social-environmental systems impinging on people, focusing their learning on mastery of relevant concepts and methodological approaches appropriate to the practice context. Major emphasis in the field experience may be on either clinical practice or macro practice. The field experience in conjunction with classroom theory provides students with professional preparation that can be used following graduation in a variety of settings. The Advanced Curriculum is comprised of three courses:

  • SWRK 704 / 714 + Field Placement: Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice I and II
  • SWRK 708 / 718 + Field Placement: Advanced Macro Social Work Practice I and II
  • SWRK 713: Understanding Social Change: Issues of Race and Gender

Students in the clinical concentration are required to take SWRK 760: Mental Health Diagnostics as one of their electives. Students may choose when to take this course.

In response to the dynamically changing digital landscape and the Grand Challenge for Social Work’s call to harness technology for social good, SP2 has integrated training and assignments for macro concentration students on the opportunities and risks presented by the advent of big data and the digital turn. In partnership with the Initiative on Culture, Society, & Critical Policy Studies, students are taught how to think about big data, surveillance, and integrated data systems as macro practitioners while remaining anchored in the social work code of ethics.

Field Education
Field Education is integral to the MSW degree. As social work’s “signature pedagogy”, Field Education is an essential component to the process of becoming a professional social worker. SP2 students are required to complete field education/internships as part of the MSW curriculum, and spend three days per week at their field placements during both the foundation and advanced years. Part-time students spend a reduced number of hours in field placement each week, but continue their internships for part of the summer. During these field experiences students learn first-hand the intricacies of social work practice and policy. Field education allows for a unique opportunity to integrate classroom learning with hands-on experience. They see the practical application of their professional degree in action. Each student is placed with a field instructor who provides on-site agency supervision. SP2 is affiliated with over 600 area agencies and, as a result, the opportunity for practical application of social work theories, skills, and values is extensive.

Read more about Field Education.

Content Areas

Students are required under the accreditation standards of the Council of Social Work Education to take courses in the areas of social welfare history and policy, research, human behavior and the social environment (individual and social processes), American racism, and social work practice. All courses in the MSW program fall within one of these curricular areas (also known as sequences). The faculty views the profession of social work practice holistically. It seeks to integrate these essential curricular elements, i.e., sequences, into a unified whole.

Social Policy
Social welfare policies provide the institutional, political and social framework within which social work practice operates. The main goals of the Social Policy sequence are to help students develop an understanding of the history and value base of this framework as well as the programs, agencies and institutions which seek to deliver services with maximum effectiveness to their clients and to help students learn how to influence system changes that will further client interests.

Required Social Policy coursework:

  • SWRK 601: History and Philosophy of Social Work and Social Welfare
  • A policy option

Human Behavior in the Social Environment (HBSE)
The principle objective of the HBSE  course is to provide the student with information and theory about human growth, development and behavior across the life span. This information is set within a context of knowledge relevant to functioning within micro (individual and family) mezzo (small groups and neighborhoods) and macro (small and large organizations and communities) levels of human interaction.

Required HBSE coursework:

  • SWRK 602: Human Behavior in the Social Environment

Social Change and American Racism
The inclusion of racism and social change content in professional education makes contemporary and relevant many basic concepts that have been the hallmark of the School’s educational heritage. Racism is a complex and pervasive problem which has an integral relationship to all social work endeavors that affect individual functioning and the quality of life.  Racism content taught by this sequence has extended the scope and meaning of the concept of service and the concept of agency function to address current needs and issues. Sexism and other forms of oppression are also addressed by this sequence.

Required Social Change coursework:

  • SWRK 603: American Racism and Social Work Practice
  • SWRK 713: Understanding Social Change: Issues of Race and Gender

Social Work Practice
Social Work practice courses are central to the education of students in the School of Social Policy & Practice. In the Foundation year the courses emphasize using students’ field practice experiences and material from the field to illustrate and examine practice principles, concepts and issues in developing a professional use of self within the functional, structural, and ethnic-sensitive frameworks. Advanced year practice classes are designed to deepen the understanding of practice theories and frameworks and their application in relation to one of two concentrations–clinical or macro practice.

Required Social Work Practice coursework:

  • SWRK 604 / 614: Foundations of Social Work Practice I  and II + Field Placement
  • SWRK 704 / 714: Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice I and II + Field Placement OR
    SWRK 708 / 718: Advanced Macro Social Work Practice I and II + Field Placement
  • SWRK 7xx: Practice Elective in the student’s area of concentration (clinical or macro).

The research curriculum aims to ensure that students will acquire the basic research skills for strengthening their practice; acquire an appreciation of the role of research in theory development; know the range of methodological strategies available for social work research; develop a commitment to the use of research in the student’s own area of specialization as well as in dealing with problems of racism and other oppressions in contemporary American society.

Required Research coursework:

Individualized Learning

Penn’s MSW curriculum is set up to allow students to pursue both breadth and depth in their social work education. The choices afforded through the policy option, research option, practice elective, and four additional electives offer students a number of opportunities to customize their course of study. The flexibility in this portion of the curriculum provides space for students to pursue a dual-degree, enroll in a certificate or specialization program, participate in international coursework, create an independent study, or simply choose a variety of courses that best prepares them for their post-graduation goals.

Enhanced Learning Opportunities

In addition to the time spent in regularly scheduled classes and in the field, the Penn curriculum fosters student growth through additional learning opportunities outside the normal classroom space. Content learned in the classroom is enhanced through activities such as program-wide special lectures by experts in the field; a critical, in-depth orientation prior to the start of classes that positions students to engage deeply in conversations about intersectionality and identity; and extracurricular volunteer opportunities like the United Community Clinic.

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