Prepare for entry into specialized social work practice.

Columbia School of Social Work offers a program of rigorous coursework that informs and enriches each student’s practicum experience.

Social Work Courses and practicum Requirements

The MSW program at Columbia University prepares students for entry into specialized social work practice. Our curriculum emphasizes:
  • promoting social and economic justice, particularly for populations at risk;
  • practicing with diverse populations; and
  • evaluating practice outcomes.
The MSW is earned by completing a progressive sequence of courses in accordance with the standards of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the School’s accrediting body. All students are required by the CSWE to take courses in:
  • human behavior and the social environment,
  • social welfare policy and services,
  • research,
  • social work practice, and
  • practicum learning.
This last requirement, practicum learning, is the most distinguishing feature of a specialized social work degree. All MSW students are required to apply their academic training within a professional setting. Columbia MSW students complete a combined total of 60 credits, of which 42 credits come from coursework and 18 credits (almost a third) from practicum learning. These 18 credits represent 1,200 fieldwork hours. Students have to complete two practicum practicums, one at the generalist level (600 hours) and the second at the specialist level (600 hours). NOTE: Advanced Standing and Transfer Program students are required to complete 600 hours of practicum learning (they enter the program as specialized-year students). One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency) students must complete 900 hours.

Generalist Year

With few exceptions, the following generalist-year courses are required of all MSW students:
  • Required background (or “core”) courses:
    1. Human Behavior and the Social Environment I & II
    2. Students are required to complete six credits in the Human Behavior and Social Environment content area. The first semester course adopts a developmental life-course and social systems framework in an examination of how environmental and historical influences, current social movements, societal belief systems, social structures, and political processes affect bio-psychosocial aspects of human development. The course focuses on the application of these theories in tandem with a scholarly examination of social forces that shape human agency, opportunity, health, and behavior. The second semester course requires students to select two “mini” courses on a range of topics, all of which have a pronounced focus on issues of power, privilege, oppression, identity, and social justice. Mini course topics have included Mass Incarceration and Re-entry, Immigrants and Families, Stigma and Mental Health, Global Health, and Gender and Sexuality, to name a few.
    3. Social Work Research
    4. This course can be waived by examination. If waived, a student will be able to take three additional elective credits in graduate-level coursework. In this course, students will learn how to understand and appreciate a scientific, analytic approach to building knowledge for practice and for evaluating service delivery in all areas of practice. Different theoretical bases and methodological procedures for social work research are addressed, as are basic statistical procedures and technological advances in quantitative and qualitative designs. Ethical standards of scientific inquiry are emphasized with attention to protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable and oppressed populations. Ultimately, students are expected to be able to access, critically evaluate, and appropriately use empirical research to inform and evaluate their practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
    5. Social Welfare Policy
    6. This course can be waived by examination. If waived, the student is required to complete three additional credits in policy-related graduate-level coursework. This course provides students with an overview and assessment of current domestic social welfare policies and programs, and the factors that influence their development. Special attention is given to income maintenance, personal social services, and in-kind benefits.
  • Three generalist practice courses:
    1. Foundations of Social Work Practice: Decolonizing Social Work
    2. In this foundations course, participants will learn generalist and justice-based frameworks and skills for social work intervention. Emphasis is placed on an analysis of power, race, oppression and privilege; the impact systems of oppression have at the micro-, mezzo-, and macro-levels; and how these systems may influence social work practice. Coursework focuses on anti-Black racism and covers the intersectionality of anti-Black racism and issues concerning LBGTQ+ rights, genderism, Indigenous People/First Nations People & land rights, Latin-x representation, xenophobia, Islamophobia, undocumented immigrants, Japanese internment camps, indigent White communities (Appalachia), and anti-Semitism. All coursework aims to foster self-awareness and develop mindfulness practices; increase capacity to mitigate oppressive systems in social work agencies and organizations; provide skills for community building within and outside the classroom. Social work skills for anti-oppressive practice are developed through the use of experiential exercises and feedback. practicum practice is integrated into classroom content and discussion. (Must be taken concurrently with T6010 Practicum Learning or T6011 Reduced Residency Seminar.)
    3. Direct Practice with Individuals, Families & Groups
    4. This course builds upon the knowledge and skills acquired in T7100 Foundations of Social Work Practice. Students learn to critically examine, select, apply, and evaluate major theoretical models of direct social work practice with individuals, families, and groups in a culturally competent manner. Particular emphasis is placed on the linkage between assessment and intervention, the critical evaluation of self in one’s own practice, and the use of empirical knowledge to guide practice decisions. (Must be taken concurrently with T6010 Practicum Learning or T6011 Reduced Residency Seminar.)
    5. Advocacy in Social Work Practice
    6. This course builds on the knowledge, values, and skills provided in Decolonizing Social Work. Coursework focuses on better understanding and applying a justice-based framework to mezzo- and macro- social work practice within organizational, community and political systems. The intersections of white supremacy, institutionalized power, anti-Black racism, oppression, and privilege will be discussed.
      Participants will learn to critically analyze and assess organizations, communities, social policies and political systems; develop interventions, advocate for, and work collaboratively to achieve change and build capacity in organizations and communities and to influence social policies and political processes; extend their understanding of distributive justice, human and civil rights and the dynamics of oppression, and the role of advocacy and social change action in pursuing social and economic justice.
      (Must be taken concurrently with T6010 Practicum Learning and T7102 Direct Practice with Individuals, Families & Groups, or T6011 Reduced Residency Seminar. RRP students may request an exception to take this course in the summer, when not enrolled in T6011.)
  • Practicum Learning (two terms): In the first year, our Practicum Learning Department matches students with agencies that provide experience with direct social work practice.
  At the completion of the generalist year, on-campus students select from four methods and seven fields of practice (a total of 28 options) in preparation for their specialized practice year. At that time, academic and practicum advisors play an important role in ensuring that students will spend the remainder of their studies gaining skills for the area of specialization where they most want to make a difference. *Online students can choose from three methods (all but IPP) and two fields of practice. NOTE: Within three of the method areas—Leadership Management and Social Entrepreneurship for Social Justice, Policy Practice, and Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice—we offer specialized programming tracks: the Accelerated Policy Program and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Program.
  • Information on the DBT Program can be found here.

Specialized Practice Year

Students take the following courses during their specialized year:
  • Two practice courses in the chosen area of specialization
  • T7113 Advanced Clinical Practice in a Field of Practice three credits. Prerequisites: T7102 Direct Practice with Individuals, Families & Groups; T7103 Advocacy in Social Work Practice. Must be taken concurrently with T6020 Second Year practicum Work. Open only to students pursuing the Clinical method area. The course offers students in-depth exposure to differential assessment and intervention. Students register for this course by their designated field of practice: Aging; Contemporary Social Issues; Family and Children’s Services; Health, Mental Health and Disabilities; International Social Welfare; School-based and School-linked Services; and World of Work. All sections explore direct practice modalities for individuals, families, and groups: case management; core themes; and a variety of clinical interventions.
    T7114 Clinical Practice with Populations, Clinical Intervention Modalities, and Professional Practice Issues 3 credits. Prerequisite: T7113 Advanced Clinical Practice in a Field of Practice. Must be taken concurrently with T6020 Second Year practicum Work. Open only to students pursuing the Clinical method area. This course builds on the general framework of Advanced Clinical Practice (T7113) to address problems in a particular field of practice. Students select two seven-week mini-courses in which they consolidate their developing knowledge and skills through in-depth study of service delivery to specific client populations, the application of specific intervention methods, or selected clinical practice issues. Topics are updated annually to reflect new developments in clinical practice.
  • A required course in the field of practice related to the final-year practicum placement
  • T6910 Health, Mental Health, and Disabilities: Issues, Policies, Research, and Programs 3 credits. Open to M.S. students in the first term of their second-year practicum placement. This is the required course for students whose field of practice is Health, Mental Health, and Disabilities. This course takes a problem-identification and problem-solving approach to the delivery of social work services in health, mental health, and disabilities, with content about the social policies and organization structures that characterize our current health-care system.
  • A specialized research course
  • T7501 Clinical Practice Evaluation 3 credits. Prerequisite: T6501 Social Work Research. Required for all students in Advanced Clinical Practice. This class introduces students to tools that document the effects of social work intervention and measure the effectiveness of social work practice. Students will learn to 1) critically assess procedures to identify and clarify problems for intervention, 2) identify and use methods that have proven value from rigorous research when available, and 3) conduct ongoing practice evaluation. They will also learn basic measurement, how to select and use self-monitoring, standardized, observational, and unobtrusive measures of client change along with single case design options, data plotting, and visual analysis of data.
  • Practicum Learning (two terms): During the specialized practice year, students have more choice in their practicum internship assignments as the focus shifts to their chosen area of specialization.
  • Remaining classroom courses are taken as electives.
  • Students enrolled in the Accelerated Policy Program and the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Program, mentioned above, have additional required coursework.

Other Program Options

If you opt to complete the degree in a year, 16 months, or more than two years, your curriculum will vary somewhat from the standard (two-year) schedule outlined above. The same requirements, however, will need to be met. See Study Plans (PDF: 63 pages) for more detailed information on our core curriculum and its variations according to program. For more information about the Online MSW curriculum, please visit the Online Master of Science in Social Work site.