Within social work, there are a number of graduate degrees. Many students know what the Master of Social Work is, but what about the MSSW or MSSA? What is the difference between all of these different graduate level social work degrees? Read on to find out the key differences of each degree program.

What is the Difference Between the MSW, MSSW, and MSSA Degrees?

Reviewed by Anna Shull, MSW

Anna Shull is a social worker working in mental health with incarcerated adolescents. For more from Anna, you can subscribe...

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The social work field requires that social workers are well-educated and competent to engage in socially-justice and ethical practice. In order to become social workers, individuals must complete specific education requirements. In order to fulfill these requirements, there are various education programs available to choose from.

For example, in order to engage in clinical social work practice, a Masters degree is required. However, these Masters programs may have many different names, which frequently causes confusion. While the most common social work Masters program is called the Master of Social Work (MSW), other names for this program may include the MSSW (Master of Science in Social Work) and the MSSA (Master of Science in Social Administration). Despite the difference in name, each of these programs is equivalent in terms of providing social work education to students. Additionally, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has accredited multiple MSW, MSSW, and MSSA programs.

Finally, in addition to the program title, additional differences between these programs may include program structure, curriculum and/or concentration options.

What is each program?

Despite the different titles, each of these programs are equivalent in terms of social work education and eligibility for licensure.

What is the MSW?

The first program, the MSW, stands for Master of Social Work. This degree is the most common Master’s level degree in the social work field. Examples of CSWE Accredited MSW programs include Boston University School of Social Work, Columbia University, Simmons University, and Boston College School of Social Work.

What is the MSSW?

The second program, the MSSW, stands for Master of Science in Social Work. Universities that offer this type of program include The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Tennessee: Knoxville.

What is the MSSA?

Finally, the MSSA is the Master of Science in Social Administration. One example of a MSSA program is the MSSA program at Case Western Reserve University.

What can you do with each degree?

As previously explained, each of these social work Masters programs provides equally adequate education to prepare social workers to enter the field and obtain licensure because each of these programs hold an equivalent CSWE accreditation. Therefore, graduates from all three programs are eligible to work in the same occupations and positions within the social work field.

Graduates of Masters-level social work programs are able to work in both clinical and non-clinical settings. Masters-level social work graduates are also able to work in a variety of sectors across the field. These occupations include medical social work, mental health treatment, school social work, community development, child protection, and government work.

Additionally, all Masters-level social work graduates are eligible to obtain a clinical social work license (may vary by state of practice), regardless of which type of Masters-level social work program completed.

What types of specialty tracks do each have?

The specialty tracks offered to students enrolled in these programs vary by university. Programs may offer concentrations, specializations, certificate programs, or any combination of the three. There is frequent overlap in concentrations and specializations among these programs and the study focuses are generally quite similar. However, some programs may offer specialized practice options that are unique from other programs.

For example, common concentrations for MSW programs include:

  • Clinical practice social work programs
  • Macro practice social work programs
  • Children, youth, and families social work programs
  • Mental health social work programs
  • Aging social work programs
  • Trauma Social Work programs
  • Some MSW programs also offer additional certificate programs, such as School Social Work and Military Social Work.

    Concentrations for MSSW programs include specialized clinical practice and organizational development. For example, the University of Tennessee: Knoxville allows students to enroll in either the Evidenced-based Interpersonal Practice concentration or the Organizational Leadership concentration. Providing these two options allows students to choose between a clinical focus or a macro focus.

    Students enrolled in the MSSA program at Case Western Reserve University can choose between two concentrations and multiple specializations. The concentration options are community practice for social change and direct practice, and the specializations include aging, substance use, and mental health.

    What kinds of courses are offered at each program?

    In addition to concentrations and specializations, the courses and graduation requirements for MSW, MSSW, and MSSA programs are also quite similar. In order to be well-prepared and competent social workers, students are required to complete courses that align with the social work competencies outlined by the CSWE. These include foundational courses, such as research, social justice, policy, and human behavior.

    The clinical/advanced courses offered at each program may also be similar to one another. For example, common introductory clinical courses include clinical practice with individuals, clinical practice with groups, and psychopathology. Clinical electives may vary by institution, program, and program track. For example, students enrolled in the MSW full-time program at Boston College School of Social Work may take courses on trauma practice with children and Dialectical Behavior Therapy . The MSSA program at Case Western Reserve University offers advanced elective courses such as Social Work with Child Abuse & Family Violence.

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    In addition to courses, students are also required to complete a specified number of field education hours during the program. This is a requirement by the CSWE, which means that students enrolled in MSW, MSSW, and MSSA must fulfill this requirement in order to graduate.

    What are the graduation requirements for each program?

    Across all three programs, students generally must complete a combination of foundation courses, advanced courses, elective courses, and field education in order to graduate. Students must also maintain a specific cumulative GPA during the program.

    Specific credit amounts and GPA requirements can be found on each program’s website or by contacting each program’s office of admission,