Your MSW Pathway

Columbia School of Social Work offers more degree options than any other social work school. To assist you in making the best choices for you, we created this overview page focused on the three main steps (two required, one optional) that will put you on the pathway to a Columbia MSW and a satisfying social work career.

1) Choose a Platform and a Program (Mandatory)

Most students select our Two-Year full-time residential program, but we offer a number of alternatives as well as an online learning platform.

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2) Choose a Social Work Specialization (Mandatory)

Students select one of four practice methods to concentrate on in their second year (three of which offer special programming tracks), along with one of seven fields of practice.

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3) Choose a Dual Degree or Minor (Optional)

We offer eight dual degree programs in partnership with other Columbia University graduate schools and affiliates, along with three minors.

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1) Choose a Platform and a Program

2 Platforms

On Campus
Live in the New York City metro area and attend classes at the School of Social Work Building, a few blocks away from the main Columbia University campus in Morningside Heights. Your practicum assignment will be with one of the 800+ agencies and organizations in the School’s ever-expanding network, including hospitals, courts, substance abuse clinics, prisons, community health clinics, and international governmental organizations such as the UN.

Receive a world-class education from the Columbia School of Social Work with the Online Master of Science in Social Work. In your second year, you can pursue a method area of specialization in Advanced Clinical Practice, Policy Practice, or Leadership Management and Social Entrepreneurship for Social Justice. You can also choose a field of practice in Health, Mental Health and Disabilities, or Family, Youth and Children’s Services. Most classes are live (synchronous), though professors utilize a “flipped classroom” model for teaching. While coursework is completed online, you will do your Practicum Learning in person, most likely in the metropolitan area closest to where you live.

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8 Programs


(On-Campus and Online)

Our full-time Two-Year program, consisting of two years of consecutive fall and spring semesters, is the most frequently chosen path. As a student in the Two-Year program, you spend two days each week in the classroom and three days each week in practicum. In your first year, you receive a foundation in major social work practice methods, social work research, and psychological and social theory. In the second year, you select a specialization area and field of practice for more specialized training and fieldwork. A wide range of elective courses helps you to develop additional expertise in areas such as family or group interventions; treatment of children, adolescents and young adults; responding to trauma; working with veterans and their families; or managing a nonprofit agency. By the time you graduate, you are prepared for specialized social work practice in the area of your choice.

For First Year FAQs, click here.
For Second Year FAQs, click here.


(On-Campus Only)

A popular alternative to the Two-Year Program is the full-time 16-Month Program. As a 16-Monther, you begin full-time study in January (spring semester) and are able to complete the requirements for the MSW in four consecutive terms by continuing through the summer. Requirements mirror those of our Two-Year Program: four terms of consecutive full-time enrollment, and the same number of classroom credits and Practicum Learning hours.


  • The 16-month Program cannot be taken online. All other programs are available both residentially and online.
  • Compared to students in the Two-Year Program, 16-Monthers are more limited in their minor and dual degree options.

For more information and FAQs, click here.

Advanced Standing

(On-Campus and Online)

The Advanced Standing Program is a path designed for those who have earned a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited social work program. (Applicants must have received the BSW degree within the five years prior to applying to Columbia.) As an advanced-standing student, you are on an accelerated track and can earn your MSW in just one year. The program begins with a summer intensive that prepares you to enter the CSSW curriculum in the fall as a second-year student, with a specialized program of courses and practicum work.

For Advanced Standing FAQ, click here.

Part-Time to Full-Time (Extended)

(On-Campus and Online)

The Part-Time to Full-Time (Extended) Program is the ideal pathway for those who would like to combine part-time with full-time study. It allows you to complete the course and practicum instruction requirements for your MSW program in three or four years. In the first year, you take a reduced course load and have no practicum work. In your final two years, you continue to take a reduced course load while adding practicum instruction component. Students who opt for this program appreciate having the flexibility to balance other responsibilities, such as work or childcare, while easing into full-time graduate studies. NOTE: Once you begin Practicum Learning, you must plan to be at your placement site three days per week (21 hours). Weekend or evening only placements are not available.

For more information and FAQs on the Part-Time to Full-Time (Extended) Program, click here.

One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency)

(On-Campus and Online)

Our One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency) Program is a path designed for those who already have more than two years of full-time experience in a social services agency. As a One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency) student, you can continue working at your agency full-time while taking classes part-time for the first two years. In year three, you may be able to remain at your agency to complete your practicum requirement. Some students, however, choose to leave their agency for a placement arranged by the School. NOTE: If you are working at an agency that has hosted a Columbia student for a practicum placement, you may be eligible for a 50% tuition discount.

For more information and FAQs on the One-Year Residency for Working Professionals (Reduced Residency) Program, click here.


(On-Campus and Online)

The Transfer Program is the path for those who have already completed a full year of practicum and course work at another CSWE-accredited graduate school of social work in the United States within five years of the term for which you apply. Students who are accepted into the Transfer Program can expect to complete their studies within one year. You will enter the School as a second-year student and follow the second-year course of study in your chosen method area specialization and field of practice.

Since Transfer students enter the program as a second-year student, applicable FAQs may be found here.

Five-Term International

(On-Campus Only)

The International Students Program is the preferred pathway for international students who are unfamiliar with the U.S. social welfare system and who speak English as a second language. It requires five terms of attendance (the extra term is in the summer between your first and second years). As an international program student, you will be enrolled in a Professional Immersion Seminar during your first (fall) term and then begin Practicum Learning and corresponding practice courses in the subsequent spring term. You will continue with Practicum Learning and courses during the summer term (late May through the end of July or early August).

NOTE: Depending on your language proficiency level, you may also be invited to attend a special six-week course for non-native English speakers, called “English for Professional Purposes: Social Work,” during the summer before your first term starts. This course includes English-language instruction (speaking, reading, writing, and comprehension) as well as an introduction to key concepts in social work and social work institutions (e.g. self awareness, the U.S. social system, social welfare policy, and an overview of social services).

For more information and FAQs on the International Students Program and special summer course, click here.


(Online Only)

The Part-Time Pathway, which is offered online only, provides the opportunity to pursue the Master of Science in Social Work (MSW) degree as a part-time student throughout the program. Students in this pathway fulfill the same 60-credit program and 1,200-hour Practicum Learning requirements as Two-Year (Full-time) Program students but earn their MSW degree through part-time study over a period of up to 4 years. Students in this pathway can and must complete all degree requirements within four calendar years from the point of matriculation.

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2) Choose a Social Work Specialization

4 Areas of Specialization

Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice

(On-Campus and Online)

Develop clinical skills by learning state-of-the-art approaches to promote the resilience and well-being of individuals and families.

Professional Areas:
Medical social work | Substance use treatment | Mental health care | School social work

Employers include:
Hospitals | Inpatient treatment facilities | HMOs | Nursing homes | Hospice and palliative care facilities | Senior centers | Community health clinics | Inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities | Methadone maintenance clinics | Community development agencies | Family service agencies | Schools (elementary and secondary, public, private, charter) | Special education placement offices | Head Start centers | College/university counseling services | Victim services agencies/programs | Domestic violence centers | Correctional facilities | Community mental health centers | Community crisis centers | Religious institutions | Private practice

Integrated Practice & Programming

(On-Campus and Online)

Develop skills that span social work practice at individual and community levels, including program planning, advocacy, and evidence-based interventions.

Professional Areas:
Community organizing | Social service administration & management | Development & grant proposals | Private or charitable foundations

Employers include:
Community development agencies | Community coalitions | Community action programs | Neighborhood coalition programs | Social justice organizations | Human rights organizations | Advocacy programs | Minority and religious representation groups | Family service agencies | Child welfare agencies (public and private) | Mental health departments | Employee assistance programs | Probation departments | Hospitals | Public welfare agencies | Adoption agencies | Day care centers | Foster care agencies | Foundations (private or charitable) – e.g., The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Habitat for Humanity

Policy Practice

(On-Campus and Online)

Develop the skills for conducting policy analysis, policy advocacy, and research on behalf of a just society.

Professional Areas:
Policy & planning | Policy research | Politics (state, local, national)

Employers include:
Social service agencies | Community organizations | Public interest groups | Local, state & federal government | Voluntary health and welfare councils | Advocacy groups and organizations | Development corporations | Think tanks | Trade associations | Nonprofit organizations | Professional associations | International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) | Schools of social work | Government agencies | Consulting firms | Foundations (private or charitable) with mission of influencing social policy | Political campaigns | Political parties | School boards

Leadership, Management, and Entrepreneurship for Social Justice

(On-Campus and Online)

Develop the skills for organizational management in governmental and non-governmental agencies, as well as for the creation of new ventures that address compelling social problems.

Professional Areas:
Administration & management | Human Resources | Employee Assistance Program (EAP) | Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) | Philanthropy | Social marketing | Social enterprise & social entrepreneurship

Employers include:
Not-for-profits | Social enterprise businesses | Social service agencies | Community organizations | Hospitals | Corporations (multinational and nations) | Mid-sized businesses | Schools | Government agencies | Employee assistance programs (independent or employed by corporations, businesses, labor unions, and organizational consulting firms) | Marketing firms | Advertising agencies | Public relations firms | Marketing departments within businesses or corporations.

NOTE: Within the above areas, there are two specialized programming tracks, as follows:


Accelerated Policy Practice
Students within the Accelerated Policy Practice Program begin taking courses in the Policy Practice method area in their first year, which in turn allows them to take more specialized and varied courses their second year. NOTE: The Accelerated Policy Practice Program is a selective program. Soon after being admitted to the School, students will be invited to apply for this specialization. The Policy faculty seek students who are certain they want to complete the Policy Practice method area and who have an outstanding undergraduate record as well as prior paid social work or social welfare experience.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Program
Students within the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Training Program—the first and only DBT training program within a school of social work—spend 12 months (from May of their first year through graduation a year later) pursuing a rigorous academic curriculum, including two required summer classes. In addition, they complete practicum-based DBT internship experiences at agencies in outpatient, inpatient, school-based, and prison settings, under experienced, intensively trained, and certification-eligible supervisors.


  • Students interested in becoming DBT interns should register their interest early by attending informational sessions in the fall of their first year.
  • Interns in the DBT program are required to complete 75 credits, 15 more than the 60 credits required for the traditional MSW degree.
  • Additional information about the DBT Program can be found here.

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7 Fields of Practice


(On-Campus Only and Online)
Providing and advocating for social services for older individuals and their families.
Prospective employers include:
Hospitals | Insurance companies | Nursing homes | Retirement communities | Senior centers | Agencies on aging | Senior volunteer programs | Senior housing facilities | Mental health centers | Adult day care centers | Home health care | Rehabilitation centers | Social service agencies

Contemporary Social Issues

(On-Campus and Online)

Developing service systems to address emerging social problems such as homelessness, substance use, and issues within the American criminal justice system.

Prospective employers include:
Criminal justice system (courts, police departments, district attorney offices, legal aid) | Detention centers | Correctional facilities | Family treatment centers | Social welfare agencies | Crime victims services | Domestic violence centers | Harm reduction agencies

Family, Youth & Children’s Services

(On-Campus and Online)

Connecting children, youth, and families with a broad range of preventive, protective, and other social services.

Prospective employers include:
Adoption agencies | Day care centers | Foster care agencies | Public & private child welfare agencies | Family service agencies | Youth development programs | Schools

Health, Mental Health & Disabilities

(On-Campus and Online)

Responding to the needs of individuals, families, and groups coping with acute chronic illness or mental health disorders in diverse healthcare settings.

Prospective employers include:
Adoption agencies | Day care centers | Foster care agencies | Public & private child welfare agencies | Family service agencies | Youth development programs | Hospitals | Mental health agencies

International Social Welfare and Services to Immigrants and Refugees

(On-Campus and Online)

Developing and implementing programs and interventions for populations in need abroad or for immigrant and refugee populations at home.

Prospective employers include:
NGOs | INGOs | Domestic and international relief organizations | Human rights organizations | Refugee relief organizations | International adoption agencies | Inter-governmental organizations | Employment services | Public & private child welfare agencies | Family service agencies

School-based and School-linked Services

(On-Campus and Online)

Designing, evaluating, and delivering programs that address issues relating to school failure and the need for more effective school-linked child and family services.

Prospective employers include:
Elementary and secondary public, private, and charter schools | Special education placement offices | Head Start centers

World of Work

(On-Campus and Online)

Assisting clients within the labor force with issues and conditions that interfere with their employment, including discrimination and unequal opportunity.

Prospective employers include:
Corporations | Non-profits | EAPs | Hospitals | Unions | Social service agencies

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3) Choose a Dual Degree or Minor

8 Dual Degrees

The School of Social Work has partnerships with eight different schools, for a total of nine possible dual degrees:

  1. Bank Street Graduate School of Education: MEd
  2. Columbia Business School: MBA
  3. Columbia Law School: JD
  4. Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation: MS, Urban Planning
  5. Jewish Theological Seminary: MA, Jewish Studies
  6. Mailman School of Public Health: MPH
  7. School of International & Public Affairs: MPA or MIA
  8. Union Theological Seminary: MDiv

For more information on dual degree programs, go to:

3 Minors

Students at the School of Social Work can elect to combine their required social work studies with minor studies in these three disciplines:

  1. Advocacy in the Criminal Legal System
  2. International Social Welfare
  3. Social Welfare Policy

For more information about our minors, go to the Student Handbook.

If you have further questions, please contact the Office of Student Affairs at