Director’s Welcome

Headshot of Dr. Jerri Bourjolly

Welcome to the University of Pennsylvania and the Master of Social Work program at the School of Social Policy & Practice. Dating back to its beginning in 1908, the School has one of the oldest social work programs in the country.  We appreciate your interest and invite you to learn more about our academically rich program.

Penn’s MSW program promotes the profession of social work by educating students to become leaders for social change and justice.  We prepare them to be highly competent professionals who are skilled at providing effective service, integrating interdisciplinary knowledge, theory, and social work values with practice to address social needs locally and globally.

The Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers states: “the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”

For over one hundred years, the School has prepared individuals to embody these aspirations and the University’s goal to develop knowledge that is applied and pertinent to today’s social issues and to become leaders in the field. We hope you will consider joining the ranks of our esteemed alumni body and envisioning how a Master of Social Work degree from Penn can shape your career. There is no “typical” career track for our graduates. Rather, students structure their course of study to follow their passions and uniquely prepare them for their chosen niche in social work. Alumni work in a strikingly diverse range of positions, both domestically and internationally, in local, state, and federal governments, for private, non-profit, or religious organizations, in private practice or philanthropic foundations, and in fields ranging from education and criminal justice to healthcare, the arts, and veterans affairs, to name just a few.

Whatever your personal circumstances, Penn’s MSW program offers you a lifelong foundation for your career goals. Our students arrive at Penn on many different paths: some come directly from their undergraduate studies; others work or volunteer for several years after college; still others are mid-career professionals who either want to advance their social work career or undertake a career change. Students in our most recent MSW cohort hail from 26 states and 8 countries, with undergraduate majors that range from Anthropology, Behavioral Health, and Comparative Literature to Sociology, Urban Education, and Women’s & Gender Studies. Roughly 30% of our new MSW students self-identify as students of color, and dozens are among the first generations of their families to attend college, having traveled to Philadelphia, with their cohort-mates, from 118 different undergraduate institutions the world over.

For all of our students, Penn’s MSW program is an intense yet practical academic experience that blends our classroom curriculum with a robust urban internship and rich extracurricular opportunities on campus and in Philadelphia. One of the hallmarks of our program is our social change sequence, a two-semester course series focused exclusively on racism and oppression. While recognizing this rich academic history, we simultaneously respect the ever-evolving professional landscape and consistently revise course offerings to reflect current needs. For example, recently developed courses include “Animal-Assisted Interventions,” “Practice with the Affordable Care Act,” “LGBT Communities and Social Policy,” “Housing Policy and Social Inclusion,” and “Clinical Consultation with Children and Families,” (in which students observe family therapy sessions in real-time and participate in clinical debriefings afterwards).

Although the course of study is demanding, students also find time to benefit from, and contribute to, the campus community. Students are representatives on governance and curriculum committees, and all students are invited to monthly meetings with the Dean and Associate Deans. Students attend interdisciplinary lectures at Penn’s twelve graduate schools on topics ranging from law to medicine to business to communications. Film screenings and discussions at SP2 are hosted by the Dean’s Office, and monthly social gatherings are organized by the Office of Student Affairs. Support on campus comes in a variety of forms, from academic support offered at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center, to social and campus engagement at Penn’s cultural hubs (The Greenfield Intercultural Center, La Casa Latina, the LGBT Center, Makuu: The Black Cultural Resource Center, Pan-Asian Community House, and the Penn Women’s Center), to residential communities for those who live on campus.

We understand that a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania is an investment accompanied by a large financial responsibility. We are committed to both educational excellence and access.  Ninety percent of SP2 students applied for and received financial assistance directly from the School, and many of our MSW students qualify for federal work-study funds that are then distributed through their field placement. Students who have questions about the affordability of a Penn degree are encouraged to talk to our Director of Financial Aid.

I wish you all the best in your decision to pursue a master’s degree in social work, and I look forward to meeting you at an Open House or when you arrive for New Student Orientation.


Dr. Joretha Bourjolly
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
MSW Program Director

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