Concentrations in Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Social work is a broad and very diverse field that aims to address social hardships at the individual, group, and societal (local, state, and national) levels. Social workers can work at the micro level, counseling and supporting people suffering from psychological, emotional, medical, social, financial, and familial challenges; at the mezzo level, working with groups within social service agencies and other organizations; and/or at the macro level, developing and implementing social research projects, completing non-profit work aimed at addressing large-scale social problems, and advocating for positive social change or increased support for certain vulnerable populations.

Given the many different areas of social work, and the various levels at which social workers can enact social change, some MSW degrees offer concentrations to help social work students gain academic and internship experiences that are relevant to their desired career path in social work. These concentrations typically fall into one of three main categories: micro, macro, or a combination of both. According to the Council on Social Work Education’s 2018 Statistics on Social Work Education in the U.S., common MSW concentrations include:

Clinical/Direct Practice Social Work (Micro)

This concentration typically trains social work students to have the knowledge and skills to identify, evaluate, and treat different mental and emotional challenges that individuals face. Clinical social work generally emphasizes a person-in-environment approach that aims to help people understand and address their psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems within the context of their family, professional lives, and social circles.

Advanced Generalist (Micro and Macro)

This concentration allows students to gain experience in and knowledge of both clinical and more community-focused social work practices. Advanced generalist programs may be advantageous for students who want knowledge of and training in both micro and macro level social work; however, students should keep in mind that advanced generalist programs do not generally go as in-depth into certain areas of micro or macro level social work, when compared to concentrations that focus solely on one type of social work practice. In addition, advanced generalist concentrations tend to vary in terms of course content and how much they emphasize clinical social work methods versus strategies for larger scale change, so students should research different advanced generalist programs to see which ones best fit their academic and career interests.

Community Development, Management/Administration, and Policy (Macro)

MSW concentrations in community development, management/administrative leadership, and social work policy generally train students to understand how social problems develop and persist at the local, state, and/or national levels, and to address these problems through various strategies. Macro-level concentrations aim to prepare MSW students to help people collectively through community mobilization, education, and/or political advocacy. Students who concentrate in one or more of these macro-level fields during their MSW program may work in such settings as non-profit human services agencies, community centers, and political advocacy organizations.


More specific concentrations within a given MSW program typically fall into one of the categories described above. For example, MSW concentrations in child and family welfare, school social work, substance abuse, or military social work generally offer classes and internship experiences that aim to train social work students to assess, diagnose, and address individuals’ psychological, emotional, social, cultural, and familial challenges, and these concentrations would thus fall under the category of micro-level or clinical social work. On the other hand, MSW concentrations in social work research, policy advocacy, or program development and management concentrations fall into the macro-level social work category.

Students who are deciding between different academic concentrations in their MSW program should consider whether they wish to eventually earn their LCSW credential, and to make sure to select a course of study that allows them to fulfill all of the academic requirements for licensure. For example, some macro social work concentrations might not include enough clinical coursework or assign students a suitable internship to allow them to meet the requirements for clinical social work licensure in their state of residence. If students select a concentration that does not fulfill all of the academic and internship requirements for licensure, they will typically have to complete these requirements post-graduation if they wish to earn their clinical social work license.

Note: During their research of graduate social work programs, students should also check with their state’s board of social work licensure to obtain up-to-date information about licensing requirements.


Online MSW Program Concentrations

Typically, the number of concentrations that online MSW programs offer is much more limited in comparison to campus-based programs. While some social work schools offer upwards of 10 different concentrations within their campus-based MSW program, our research indicates that online MSW programs do not offer more than five different concentrations, and that in fact only one online MSW program offers that many. However, as more schools begin offering online MSW programs, the number of concentration options appears to be growing.

Many online MSW programs offer only one concentration option, typically either “Advanced Generalist” or “Clinical Social Work.” However, most programs do provide electives and/or advanced courses in specific areas of social work, such as Substance Abuse Counseling, Gerontology, and/or Criminal Justice. For students looking for more specialized online MSW programs, several options do exist. We found and have listed accredited schools that offer online concentrations in a variety of specialty areas, including:

  • Children, Youth and Family Social Work
  • Administrative Leadership
  • Mental Health and Adult Social Work
  • Community Social Work (including programs which emphasize the needs of the Hispanic community)
  • Community Organization, Planning and Administration

As noted above, licensing requirements for clinical social workers vary by state and are determined by state-specific social work licensing boards. In some states, students may not be required to complete a MSW program with a clinical social work concentration to become a LCSW. If specialized coursework is required, students may have the option to complete that coursework during or after their MSW program.

Check out our page on online clinical social work programs for more information. Students interested in pursuing a career in clinical social work should review their state’s requirements and speak with an admission advisor before applying to ensure that the program meets the necessary requirements.

Online MSW Program Concentrations by Graduate School

Online MSW Program Concentrations by Graduate School
School Name Online MSW Concentrations
Adelphi University Advanced Generalist
Arizona State University Advanced Generalist
Boise State University Advanced Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families
Boston University Clinical or Macro Social Work Practice
California State University, Northridge Generalist with an emphasis on urban community practice
California State University, San Bernardino Advanced Generalist with Specializations
Campbellsville University Advanced Generalist, Clinical Social Work
Capella University Advanced Generalist
Sponsored: Case Western Reserve University Community Practice for Social Change; Direct Practice with two specialization options: Children, Youth and Families (CYF) or Mental Health/Adult (MHA)
Columbia University Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice; Advanced Clinical Practice and Programming; Policy Practice; Social Enterprise Administration
Delaware State University Advanced Generalist
Edinboro University Family Social Work Practice
Florida State University Clinical Social Work Practice
Sponsored: Fordham University - Individuals and Families

- Organizations and Community

- Evaluation

- Policy Practice and Advocacy

George Mason University Advanced Generalist, Focusing on Social Justice
Humboldt State University Generalist program that focuses on working with rural and indigenous communities
Indiana University Clinical and Community Practice
Louisiana State University Advanced Generalist Direct Practice
Loyola University Chicago Specializations in: Children and Families, Health, Leadership and Development in Social Services, Mental Health, and Schools.
Metropolitan State University Children and Families, Mental Health, Leadership and Management
Morgan State University Urban Children, Youth, and Families and Addictions
New Mexico State University Advanced Generalist Practice with Populations of the Southwest
Ohio State University Mental Health and Substance Misuse, Child and Youth Services
Ohio University Emphasis on Service in Rural Environments
Our Lady of the Lake University Generalist program with an emphasis on the Hispanic community
Portland State University Health Across the Lifespan, Practice and Leadership with Communities and Organizations
Rutgers University Clinical Social Work
Samford University Advanced Clinical Practice
San Jose State University Health and Mental Health; Children, Youth, and Families
Sponsored: Simmons University Clinical Social Work with specializations: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence; Mental Health and Addictions; Health and Aging
Temple University Concentrations in: Clinical Practice; Macro Practice

Specializations in: Children and Families; Health and Mental Health

Texas A&M University Advanced Generalist
Texas State University - San Marcos Advanced Practice Leadership
The Catholic University of America Clinical Concentration
Tulane University Advanced Generalist, with Certificates Available in Disaster Mental Health; Trauma Studies and Family Practice
University at Buffalo (SUNY) Evidence-based practice with a trauma-informed and human rights perspective
University of Alaska Anchorage Advanced Generalist
University of Arkansas Emphasizes a Multi-System Life Course Perspective
University of Arkansas, Little Rock Clinical Social Work
University of Central Florida Clinical Practice
Sponsored: University of Denver Mental Health and Trauma, Health, Equity, and Wellness
University of Georgia Micro Specialization with a Focus on Promotion of Social Justice through Evidence-Based Practice and Advocacy Tools and the Celebration of Diversity (PrOSEAD)
University of Houston Clinical Practice: Health and Behavioral Health
University of Iowa Advanced Generalist
University of Kentucky Advanced Generalist
University of Louisville Generalist with your choice of advanced topics: Alcohol and Drug Counseling, Gerontology, Mental Health, Military Social Work, Psycho-Social Oncology
University of Missouri Advanced Clinical Practice and Policy, Planning and Administration in Human Services
University of Nevada, Reno Advanced Generalist
University of New England (UNE) Integrated Clinical Practice Specialization
University of New Hampshire Advanced Generalist with Electives: Health and Mental Health; Addictions and Substance Abuse; Children, Youth, and Families; Disabilities
University of North Dakota Advanced Generalist
University of Northern Iowa Trauma Informed Practice
University of South Florida Clinical Social Work
Sponsored: University of Southern California (USC) Adult Mental Health and Wellness; Children, Youth, and Families; and Social Change and Innovation. Tracks in Military Social Work and School Social Work
University of Tennessee at Knoxville Evidence Based Interpersonal Practice (Clinical); Management, Organizational Leadership (Macro)
University of Texas - Arlington Direct Practice with Children and Families, Direct Practice in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and Direct Practice in Aging
University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley Administration and Community Practice, Direct Practice with Latino Individuals, Families and Groups
University of Utah Mental Health in Social Work
Walden University Advanced Clinical Practice, Military Social Work, Social Work in Healthcare, Social Work with Children and Families
West Virginia University Advanced Integrated Practice with Emphasis on Rural Service Delivery
Western Kentucky University Advanced Generalist
Western New Mexico University Advanced Generalist
Widener University Clinical Social Work Specializing in Trauma
Winthrop University Empowerment Practice
Yeshiva University Advanced Generalist

Last updated: April 2020

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