Interview with Professor Craig Stanley – Director of the MSW Program at Florida State University (FSU)

About Professor Craig Stanley, MSW, LCSW: Professor Stanley is the Director of the MSW Program for the College of Social Work at Florida State University. He has been the director of the program for the past four years and has been at FSU for over 12 years. During that time, Professor Stanley has taught classes at the undergraduate and graduate level. Currently, he teaches FSU’s Chemical Dependency elective and their Evaluation of Practice course in both the online and face-to-face formats.

Professor Stanley has also been the Director of MSW Admissions and the Director of Distance Learning Programs at FSU. Prior to joining FSU, he worked in residential substance abuse treatment and also in community mental health settings. Professor Stanley earned his MSW from FSU and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of Florida. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education Administration with a minor in Instructional Systems and Design. Professor Craig Stanley was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Currently, there are less than 20 universities offering online MSW programs. How long has the program at Florida State University been offered and how is it structured?

[Professor Stanley] The FSU College of Social Work created the first online MSW Program to receive CSWE accreditation. The program has been operating for over ten (10) years now. Currently, we offer only the advanced-standing, clinical concentration in the online format with a program of study designed for part-time students. Our courses are all asynchronous. This format allows students to work on their courses at a time of day that is most suitable to their schedule. We settled on the part-time program of study because we find that most of the students we are serving are juggling family and work commitments in addition to their academic load. Each fall and spring, we admit a new cohort of students.

We use the same admission standards for all of our students regardless of whether they participate in a campus setting or the online setting. The online curriculum includes the same required courses as the on-campus program. Due to the fact that the program is a bit smaller than our campus-based program, elective options are more limited for the online students. However, we have been able to mount enough electives to allow students to pursue most of our certificate programs, as part of their online curriculum, if they choose to do so. If a student has an issue that requires them to stop attending classes for a period of time, we work hard to create a revised program of study that will allow them to rejoin the program when they are ready to address course work again. Craig Stanley was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] FSU’s online MSW program has a clinical concentration. For students who are just starting to research online MSW programs, can you briefly describe the difference between clinical social work and direct-service social work?

[Professor Stanley] There are a number of ways that social workers interact with their clients. Social work practice may include working with individuals, families, groups, and communities. All of these forms of practice may involve direct services or direct practice. Basically, this means that the Social Worker is interacting directly with the clients he or she is serving.

Not all direct service requires that practitioners have earned an MSW. Many MSW programs offer an advanced curriculum that allows practitioners to develop their knowledge and skills in a particular method of practice, an area of practice, or both.

Clinical Social Work programs offer a focused type of direct practice instruction. Clinical social workers typically have a desire to work with individuals and families in a therapeutic clinical setting (e.g. treatment facilities, hospital settings, and private practice settings). They are trained in providing assessment, diagnosis, treatment planning, and direct intervention to the clients that they work with. Their instruction includes components that will help them towards achieving Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) status.

Each state sets its own requirements for licensing. States typically require a certain amount of hours of clinical instruction and field experience in order for students to meet the educational requirements for the LCSW. This is a good reason for someone who is considering direct practice in a clinical setting to choose a clinically oriented program.

[] For students who want to become licensed clinical social workers, licensing requirements vary by state. What advice do you have for students in terms of researching the requirements in their state of residence and how does FSU help with the process?

[Professor Stanley] I would encourage students to become familiar with the agency that regulates licensing in the state in which they wish to practice. They should find the websites of those agencies and read about the educational requirements that are necessary to qualify for a license. We work with our out-of-state students to help them find this information and interpret it. However, we also encourage the students to double-check any interpretation with a representative from their home state’s agency. Our College provides a service that organizes and mails materials requested by state agencies as part of a student’s application for a license. [Find social work licensing boards by state]

[] Field Education is a major component of MSW programs and requires a significant time commitment from students. Many online programs are geared towards working professionals, how do you recommend students balance field education with other responsibilities?

[Professor Stanley] The field component can be one of the biggest challenges to our students who have many obligations and responsibilities in addition to school. We structure placements so that they can be completed over the final two semesters of the program. This obligation requires 16 hours a week at the placement. Our field faculty works with students to try and find placement opportunities that meet their educational needs as well as their schedule demands. This may include looking for agencies that offer evening and weekend hours with supervision.

We encourage students to be candid with their family members about this part of the education. We find that communication and planning, in preparation for a field placement, is extremely important to students who will need to delegate some of their family responsibilities during this time.

As soon as students start the program, we encourage them to have conversations with their supervisors about their upcoming educational journey. Because many of them are in jobs where their education will benefit the agency and the clients they serve, supervisors have been willing to work with them on creating flexible and creative schedules. Many of our students bank their leave time to allow them to take some time off at their job in order to complete field hours. We advise students of strategies, like these, that have been successful for their predecessors.

Some of our students plan on making a change in their career once they complete the MSW degree. Many of them complete a full-time placement during their final semester of the program. During this semester, they enter the job market. Many times, they are hired by the agency in which they are completing their field placement.

[] What advice do you have for professionals who are considering earning a MSW (and possibly entering the field of social work for the first time)?

[Professor Stanley] Social Work is a wonderful profession with a wide variety of opportunities. However, many people enter an MSW Program with a limited understanding of what the profession of social work is about. They want to help people, but they have a limited understanding of what this means from the social work perspective. I think that it is advisable for a person to research what social workers do. If possible, shadow a social worker or volunteer in an agency in which social workers serve clients. This can help you to gain a better understanding about whether or not the profession is for you. It would also be good for a person to read through the NASW code of ethics.

Social work education has a lot to do with personal growth. If you are not willing to take critical look at yourself in an effort to grow, an MSW education may not be for you. This means that a potential student must be willing to face and deal with challenges that will push them out of their comfort zone.

[] For students who have already decided they want to pursue a MSW, but are unsure about online education, can you briefly explain the pros and cons to pursuing a MSW online?

[Professor Stanley] Online education can be very robust and it is extremely flexible. Discussions that typically can only last for minutes in a campus-based class can continue for an entire week in an online class. In online classes, students have time to pick quotes and citations that support their points. They have time to develop more thoughtful responses to their peers – this is not always possible in a campus-based class. In an online class, a student cannot sit in the back of the class and never speak up. Online classes also allow working students, who may have family obligations, to pick the time of day that is best to address their course work. While the online format might seem a bit cold and distant, many students form relationships with one another during their studies. They have traveled from as far away as North Dakota to participate in graduation and meet their peers, face-to-face, for the first time.

Online education has been demonstrated to be an effective mode of education. However, online education may not be for everyone. In my experience, online students must be well organized and self-motivated. They must possess good verbal and writing skills. Unlike campus-based programs or synchronous online classes, there is not established class meeting time. If a student does not structure their time and map out their semester, it is easy to fall behind quickly. If they do not reach out for support when they need it, it may be hard for an instructor to determine if they are not getting a concept or if they are having a problem.

[] Online education requires discipline from students to stay on track and keep up with coursework and assignments. What systems are in place to ensure that online students do not fall behind? Do you have any recommendations for online students in terms of staying on track with coursework?

[Professor Stanley] An online program does require a great amount of self-discipline and organization. I encourage students to map out their assignments and other responsibilities on a calendar to keep track of when things are due. I also encourage students to spend a bit of time in their course sites daily. Waiting to address the week’s work, all at once, can be overwhelming. Students are encouraged to plan and prioritize time spent on their course work. If this is not done, school work is the first thing to get forgotten when life gets busy.

[] At this time, FSU only offers an online MSW program for advanced standing (those who have earned a Bachelor of Social Work) and transfer students, are there plans to offer a traditional standing online MSW program in the future?

[Professor Stanley] The faculty has voted to move forward with the development of a traditional MSW program that we hope to launch within the next year.

[] Online programs have really helped to open the door to higher education for more individuals, especially those who do not have access to a local university. Currently, FSU only accepts students from specific counties in the following states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Are there plans to expand the program to more states in the future?

[Professor Stanley] Initially, we used money from a federal grant to help us establish ourselves in areas that were underserved by MSW degree granting institutions. That grant has a lot to do with the areas in which we currently offer the online program. We have been fortunate in that we have been able to sustain operations in those areas long after the grant funding ended. We employee Area Coordinators, in each of those areas, who work to help students navigate the field process. They also develop and maintain relationships with agencies for field placements. We believe that having a person, on the ground in those areas, is imperative to offering a sound field component.

We want to continue serving the areas in which we are already established. We will look for other opportunities that will allow us to provide access to potential students who might not otherwise have a program in which they can participate. We will only consider expansion into areas in which we believe we can offer high quality field placements with excellent supervision.

[] For students who are ready to apply to the Online MSW Program at FSU, what advice do you have in terms of preparing their application? I know the program requires a personal statement and a series of interview questions.

[Professor Stanley] The application is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are a good fit for our MSW program and that you can handle the academic load of a graduate program. With that in mind, make sure that all of your materials paint the most favorable picture of you as a potential student for our program. The personal statement is a great opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills and to tell us about how you believe you would fit into the profession. Make sure to highlight all of your work and volunteer experience in your resume so that you get full credit for both. Also, keep in mind that we use all of the materials in your applicant folder to reach an admission decision. If you wish that you had obtained a better undergraduate GPA or scored higher on your GRE, do not let that deter you from making an application.

[] Finally, with more universities starting to offer online MSW programs, why should students consider FSU?

[Professor Stanley] As I stated earlier, we were the first MSW Program to receive CSWE accreditation for the online format. This means that we have the most experience in providing online MSW instruction. We have had time to learn and improve over the years. We offer our program in an asynchronous format. This is different than many of the other online MSW programs that require you to be online at a certain time. The asynchronous format gives you the maximum amount of flexibility in terms of integrating your classes into your schedule. With few exceptions, most of our online classes are taught by the same faculty who teach our campus-based classes. Finally, we are very student friendly. We understand that students in our program need our support and guidance. You will find that both the faculty and staff are very responsive to email and phone calls. We are here to help when you need us.

Students who are interested in getting more information about Florida State University’s advanced standing online MSW program can visit Florida State University’s website or contact the College of Social Work at (800) 378-9550 or by email at

Thank you Professor Stanley for your time and insight!

Last Updated: April 2020