MSW: Master of Social Work

West Chester University

West Chester Campus

Reynolds Hall
West Chester University
West Chester, PA 19383
Phone: 610-436-2664

PASSHE Center City

701 Market Street, Concourse Level
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: 267-386-3015

Curriculum Overview


Foundation Social Work Practice

The Foundation curriculum prepares students for beginning professional social work practice with individuals and families from a social justice perspective. Students develop a bio-psycho-social-cultural-political lens on human behavior through which they engage in strengths-based, collaborative practice. This perspective is reinforced through the integration of self-reflection, professional ethics and empirical evidence across the Foundation curriculum. The application of Foundation practice skills occurs in concurrent field experiences, during which students demonstrate competency in engagement and assessment. With a year-long focus on these core practice skills, students are well-prepared to advance to Concentration practice where they demonstrate competency in intervention and evaluation.


Direct Practice with Individuals and Families

Direct Practice with Individuals and Families is an approach to social work grounded in human rights and social justice. Graduates of the West Chester University MSW program are trained to work with individuals and families using strengths-based, research-informed and community-oriented assessment, intervention and evaluation skills to enhance resiliency, support recovery, and build capacity with individuals and families.


Programs of Study and Course Requirements

The MSW Program consists of 54 semester hours of core courses plus six additional hours of electives. Full-time students complete the program in two years and part-time students complete the program in four years. For full-time students, this is typically five courses per semester, one of which is the field placement. Daytime and evening sections are offered for each required course. Certain electives are also offered in the summer. No academic credit can be awarded for life or work experience.

The required courses are designed to be taken in a set sequence. Students are expected to follow this sequence; failure to do so jeopardizes timely completion of the program.

Full-time, two-year program

The full-time MSW program is designed to offer students the opportunity to complete the degree in two years. Students take a total of 20 courses, including two field placements (596, 597, 598, & 599) over the course of four semesters.

       Course sequence

  • Year 1 fall: SWG 501, 511, 541, 554, 596
  • Year 1 spring: SWG 502, 533, 555, 564, 597
  • Year 2 fall: SWG 534, 561, 562, 598, plus elective
  • Year 2 spring: SWG 535, 542, 563, 599, plus elective

Part-time, four-year program

The MSW Program offers a part-time option for students, designed for completion within a four-year curriculum with the option of accelerating for completion within three years. Students take two or three designated courses per semester and have a field placement during the second and third years. There is no field placement in the first or fourth years of the part-time program.

Part-time students must be aware that in their second and third years they are required to complete a specific number of field practicum hours: 16 hours per week in second year and 20 hours per week in the third year. In some cases, students with very inflexible schedules can negotiate to do 12 hours per week over a longer period of time. In all cases, students must accept the commitment to daytime hours for field. There may be some field hours in the evening, but these placements are limited because many agencies and field instructors do not offer evening hours.

       Course sequence

  • Year 1 fall: SWG 511, 541
  • Year 1 spring: SWG 533, 555
  • Year 2 fall: SWG 501, 554, 596
  • Year 2 spring: SWG 502, 564, 597
  • Year 3 fall: SWG 561, 562, 598
  • Year 3 spring: SWG 542, 563, 599
  • Year 4 fall: SWG 534, plus elective
  • Year 4 spring: SWG 535, plus elective

Full-Time, Advanced Standing program

The MSW Advanced Standing program allows students who have received a Bachelor of Social Work degree from a CSWE-accredited undergraduate program within the past five years to complete the MSW degree in one calendar year. To be eligible, students must meet the GPA requirements, and have strong recommendations from their undergraduate program directors.

Advanced Standing students start in the summer with three "bridge" courses. After successfully completing the summer coursework, they enter the full-time Concentration year curriculum in the fall.

      Course sequence

  • May - July:

    • Summer Session I: SWG 503, 511
    • Summer Session II: SWG 564
  • Fall: SWG 534, 561, 562, 598, plus elective
  • Spring: SWG 535, 542, 563, 599, plus elective

Part-time, Advanced Standing program

Part-time Advanced Standing students start their first year with the same summer "bridge" courses the full- time Advanced Standing students. Part-time students then take an additional two academic years to complete the Concentration-level course work. Field placements are in the fall and spring semesters of the first year, concurrent with the advanced practice courses, and immediately following the first summer session. There is no field placement in the second academic year of the program.

      Course sequence

  • May - July:

    • Summer Session I: SWG 503, 511
    • Summer Session II: SWG 564
  • Year 1 fall: SWG 561, 562, 598
  • Year 1 spring: SWG 542, 563, 599
  • Year 2 fall: SWG 534, plus elective
  • Year 2 spring: SWG 535, plus elective


Students who wish to explore social work before formally applying are invited to take up to two elective courses. Credit for these courses will be applied toward degree requirements upon matriculation. This opportunity may be particularly useful for career changers who wish to get a sense of the social work profession. Interested individuals should contact Program Director Dr. Page Buck about this option.


Course descriptions

Foundation Courses

The foundation component of the WCU MSW Program consists of 10 courses taken during the first year for full-time students and during the first and second year for part-time students.

  • 501 and 502 Foundation Practice I and Foundation Practice II
  • 596 and 597 Field Practicum I and Field Practicum II
  • 511 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Dialectic of Oppression and Liberation
  • 554 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Individuals and Families
  • 555 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Organizations and Communities
  • 564 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Mental Health and Illness
  • 541 Social Welfare Policy and Services
  • 533 Methods of Social Work Research

SWG 501 Social Work Practice I

This course provides an introduction to professional social work practice, including its models, purposes, methods, values and ethics. It incorporates a problem-solving framework and the ecological or social systems perspective in working with individuals and families and stresses the influence of diversity on practice.

SWG 502 Social Work Practice II

This course focuses on change theories, intervention strategies, and extended knowledge and skills for working with groups, organizations and communities in addition to work with individuals and families.

SWG 511 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: The Dialectic of Oppression and Liberation

Within the context of a diverse and stratified society, this course examines the impact of discrimination and oppression on members of special groups, i.e., ethnic minorities, women, elderly, disabled, and gays and lesbians while considering the effects of diversity on human behavior and attitudes. It also considers the richness of human diversity.

SWG 533 Methods of Social Work Research

This course provides students with a theoretical foundation in the methods of social work research. The characteristics of scientific inquiry, the structure of theories, problem and hypothesis formulation, models of research design, sampling, measurement, and the logic of causal inferences are taught.

SWG 541 Social Welfare Policy and Services

This course emphasizes the historical, economic, political and philosophical foundations of American social welfare policy. It highlights the historical quest for social justice advanced by the social work profession.

SWG 554 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Individuals and Families

This course uses a developmental perspective to explore the interaction of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural systems, and the influence of human diversity as determinants of human behavior at the various stages of the life cycle on a micro level.

SWG 555 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Organizations and Communities

Utilizing both critical and systems approaches, this mezzo/macro level course will focus on assessing the impact of diversity, culture, and oppression on organizational and community development. Multi-centric models of organizational and community behavior will be explored and implications for social work practice examined. Special emphasis will be on functioning within the bio-psycho-social-ecological context.

SWG 564 Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Mental Health and Illness

Using a bio-psycho-social-spiritual template for analysis, this course examines major childhood, adolescent, and adult psychiatric disorders. The impact of the medical model, the DSM-IV and managed care are evaluated in light of social work values and practice.

Concentration courses

Concentration content consists of 10 courses taken during the second year of full-time study and the third and fourth years of part-time study. The advanced curriculum prepares students for evidence-based, direct practice with individuals and families in a variety of practice and organizational settings.

  • 534 Advanced Research Methods
  • 535 Applied Research Seminar
  • 542 Advanced Social Welfare Policy Analysis and Change
  • 561 Advanced Social Work Practice: Individuals
  • 562 Advanced Social Work Practice: Families
  • 563 Advanced Social Work Practice: Communities
  • 598 & 599 Field Practicum III and Field Practicum IV
  • Two electives

SWG 534 Advanced Research Methods

Under the direction of a faculty member, the MSW candidate develops a research proposal including Introduction/Problem Statement, Literature Review and Proposed Methodology. In this course, particular attention is given to preparing the student in understanding the importance of ethical research methodology and adding to the body of knowledge for evidence-based practice.

SWG 535 Applied Research Seminar

Under the direction of a faculty member, MSW candidates in the seminar complete and defend the research project that was developed in SWG 534 which demonstrates command of theory integration and research methodology as it applies to social work practice. Successful completion of this capstone course satisfies the Office of Graduate Studies requirement for a comprehensive examination for a Master's degree. See below for more information about the Capstone Research Project.

SWG 542 Social Policy Analysis and Change

This course emphasizes advanced level critical and comparative analysis of social policy. Theories of social and organizational change, administration and legislative advocacy are also reviewed and applied to policy implementation.

SWG 561 Advanced Social Work Practice with Individuals

Building on the collaborative approach learned in the foundation year, this course focuses on theory-driven practice. Particular attention is given to attachment /object relations, cognitive/behavioral and social constructionist theories. Attention will be given to short term and crisis oriented interventions with diverse individuals. In addition to in-class time, students are required to complete a web-based certificate course in Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT).

SWG 562 Advanced Social Work Practice with Families

This course builds on the collaborative approach learned in the foundation year and includes advanced knowledge and skills for work with families. Focus will be on three major theoretical approaches to working with families including family systems, eco-structural family therapy, and solution-focused family therapy. Students will also learn about child-centered play therapy approaches to working with children in the context of family. Attention will be given to short term and crisis oriented interventions with diverse families in urban and rural settings.

SWG 563 Advanced Social Work Practice in Groups, Organizations and Communities

This course focuses on approaches to social change in communities including the social planning, community development and social action models of community organization. Emphasis will be placed on advocacy, empowerment and social justice with locale, identification and interest communities.

SWG 596 Practicum I

This course is a structured field experience at an approved agency for 224 hours for the semester. Students begin to develop the role of beginning professional social worker employing methods of social work practice utilizing the generalist model. [This course is taken concurrently with SWG 501: Social Work Practice I].

SWG 597 Practicum II

This course involves a structured field experience at an approved agency for 224 hours for the semester. Students continue developing the role of professional social worker and skill in using methods of social work practice while utilizing the generalist model. [This course is taken concurrently with SWG 502: Social Work Practice II.]

SWG 598 Practicum III

This course involves a structured field experience at an approved social agency for a total of 280 hours for the semester. Students incorporate advanced level assessment, intervention, and evaluations skills with individuals and families as they continue to develop as an advanced social work professional. [This course is taken concurrently with SWG 561: Advance Social Work Practice with Individuals, and SWG 562: Advanced Social Work Practice with Families.].

SWG 599 Practicum IV

This course involves a structured field experience at an approved social agency for a total of 280 hours for the semester. The student's experience in field practice culminates through coordinating within the professional role: theory-integrated practice with individuals and families, knowledge of the impact of social policy, the role of research in practice, and the influence of diversity and oppression.

More detailed courses descriptions can also be found in the Graduate Catalog.


Capstone research project

Students receiving an MSW degree from West Chester University are required to successfully complete a comprehensive evaluation. The Graduate Social Work Department has elected for students to complete a year-long, student-directed social work research project to meet this University requirement through coursework in SWG 534 and SWG 535. This comprehensive project provides students the opportunity to integrate theoretical knowledge and skills from their human behavior in the social environment classes, advanced social work practice classes, and advanced social policy classes in the development and implementation of the research.

Throughout the year-long project, advanced social research methodology professors mentor students in the conceptualization of a research problem, formulation of the research design, implementation of the research, analysis of the data, and writing and presenting the findings. All students are required to adhere to the highest ethical standards of research with human subjects as addressed in the NASW Code of Ethics and the National Institutes of Health, Office of Extramural Research, "Protecting Human Research Participants."

Most students conduct their research at their field practicum sites. Students must have permission from their research faculty mentor, the practicum site (either an Institutional Review Board or the equivalent), and the West Chester University, IRB/Human Subjects Committee, if necessary, before conducting their research. At its best the research process is a "win-win-win" situation: - the student satisfies the MSW capstone research project requirement, the practicum site gains evaluative data about their programs and/or services, and West Chester University enhances its reputation as an institute of higher learning at which students conduct research of the highest caliber.

Many of our students have presented their findings at regional, state, national and international conferences. Some have published their findings in academic journals. Some students have secured jobs which utilize their research expertise. Some have gone on for a Ph.D. or J.D. and developed as scholars and researchers, further contributing to the knowledge base in social work practice, policy and research.



Students take two electives to round out their knowledge with courses that offer in-depth training in emerging practice areas. Electives are offered throughout the year in both semesters and condensed, week-long formats. Advanced electives are available for matriculated, concentration students only. Several electives are available to pre-matriculation students who may seek permission from the instructor under special circumstances.

Within the MSW department, typically five electives are offered in the following areas, pending sufficient enrollment:

SWG 570 - Substance Use Disorders

This course reviews the major theoretical approaches to understanding chemical dependency and its impact on individuals, families, groups and communities. The pharmacology of drugs and alcohol and the nature of addiction are included, as are the influence of culture, ethnicity, gender, the peer group, and social deviance. The principles of self-help and therapeutic communities are applied.

SWG 571 - Older Adults

This course reviews the status and position of older adults in society, the community, and the social service delivery system. There is a focus on social work assessment and intervention with elderly clients regarding issues of health, chronic illness, intellectual and emotional status, depression and dementia, relations with the family, care-giving, social networks, poverty, retirement, death, and bereavement.

SWG 576 - Child Welfare: A Resilience and Trauma-informed Approach

This course introduces students to the core concepts (theory, knowledge, and skills) informing evidence-based, trauma-specific assessment, intervention and referral services for children, adolescents and families receiving services through the child welfare system. Trauma is broadly defined and includes exposure to traumatic events such as abuse, neglect and witnessing interpersonal crime (e.g. domestic violence), and/or community violence. The course will address the level of functioning of primary care-giving environments and assess the capacity of the community and the child welfare system to facilitate restorative processes.

SWG 577 - Social Work in Disasters: From Mental Health Services to Recovery through Rebuilding

This course is a joint offering by the WCU MSW Program and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster/American Red Cross, Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter on the many roles that social workers can play in disasters from mental health services to recovery for individuals, families, and communities through rebuilding. Upon successful completion of this course, students will become certified volunteers in Southeastern Pennsylvania Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (SEPA VOAD), a part of a national collaborative of diverse organizations and citizens trained to meet community needs in the wake of a large-scale disaster. Once the student graduates and becomes a licensed social worker in good standing with their state licensing board, the student may qualify for the American Red Cross, Disaster Mental Health Services Team.

SWG 590 - Seminar in Social Work: Social Work with Veterans and Military Families, A Resilience and Trauma Informed Approach

This course explores the latest innovations in behavioral health and social services to Veterans and military family members including building resilience, trauma-informed assessment and intervention with individuals and families, prolonged exposure therapy, psychological first aid for military families, suicide risk assessment and prevention, assessment and treatment of military sexual trauma, assessment of family violence and child maltreatment in military families and other research informed assessment and intervention tools. Services for military family members including children, during and post-deployment will also be explored. The wide array of services available within the Veterans Health Administration and in the community will be discussed.

SWG 590 - Special Topic: Social Work Practice at the End of Life

Issues of illness, dying and the end of life are central to the human experience.  Yet our society struggles to openly address the emotional impact of this complex process. Social workers, in every kind of agency, will work directly with clients struggling to make sense of the end of life. The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with the complex issues that confront individuals and families as they face life threatening illness, dying, and death. We will explore current scholarly research, examine relevant historical perspectives, discuss the impact of culture on dying, and examine effective ways to clinically support families navigating an end-of-life journey. Students will leave this “hands-on” class with a broader understanding of the psychosocial impact of dying on families and the confidence to openly support these clients in a wide range of practice settings.

SWG 590 - Special Topic: Social Work in Health Care

This course focuses on the role of social workers and the social work profession in varied health care settings. Particular attention given to examining social determinants of health, working within an interdisciplinary team, health policy/payer sources, ethical concerns, and ethno-cultural awareness and competency. This course also provides students with a framework to understand and apply appropriate theoretical models to individuals, families, and groups within the health care setting. The importance of evidence-based practice and self-care will also be explored.  

SWG 590 - Special Topic: Grief and Loss Across the Lifespan

Loss is a formative aspect of human existence. From the moment of birth until the time of death, all humans experience a wide range of powerful, and often painful, losses. Where there is loss, grief frequently follows. Social workers, in diverse practice settings, are regularly asked to support individuals and families navigate the complexities of grieving. In this highly interactive class, students will develop an expert knowledge of contemporary models of grief theory, an understanding of the powerful intersection between professional and personal loss experiences, confidence in assessing the impact of loss on diverse individuals and families, and a toolbox full of creative clinical interventions to support clients grieving all kinds of losses. 


Interdisciplinary Offerings

Students on the main campus also have the opportunity to take electives in other graduate programs within the College of Health Sciences, the College of Education, and the College of Business & Public Affairs. Electives taken outside the department must be at the graduate level and must be related to social work practice. Students must secure the permission of the program director and the faculty member from the other department before enrolling in the course.

Possible electives, pending available space and requisite permissions include:

  • Advanced Educational Psychology - EDP 550
  • AIDS and Public Health - HEA 512
  • Cognitive and Behavior Therapy - PSY 527
  • Diversity within the Context of Disability - EDA 507
  • Eating Disorders - PSY 581
  • Environmental Modeling with GIS - GEO 538
  • Family Systems in Special Education - EDA 503
  • Foundations in Nonprofit Administration - PPA 531
  • Grant Writing - PPA 532
  • Human Sexual Behavior - PSY 530
  • Integrative Health - HEA 501
  • Issues in Autism: Diagnosis and Behavioral Treatments - PSY 521
  • Mind/Body Medicine - HEA 545
  • Nonprofit Evaluation and Assessment - PPA 534
  • Nonprofit Fundraising Essentials - PPA 533
  • Psychology of Women - PSY 565
  • Psychopharmacology - PSY 568
  • Special Topics: Concepts in Caring - HEA 517
  • Stress Management Techniques - HEA 511
  • Transcultural Health Practice - HEA 543
  • Women in Leadership: Critical Issues - PSY 530