Majors & Specializations

Tailor your MSW degree to your passions with a choice of two majors and the option to further specialize in one of five key areas.

Majors

Select either a Clinical Practice or Macro Practice major. Clinical Practice majors may also choose to minor in Macro Practice.

Highly skilled clinical social workers are needed in a variety of settings including mental health and community health centers, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, substance treatment centers, family services, child welfare and children’s services, schools, geriatric facilities, housing agencies, criminal justice and more.

Clinical Social Work practitioners learn how to use their professional relationships to engage in purposeful conversations and therapeutic activities while working with clients dealing with challenging life circumstances. Through course work, field education, and supplementary programs, students develop competencies in assessment and diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for a variety of emotional and behavioral problems.

Numerous social work skills, human behavior theories, and evidence-based practices are taught to inform student learning. Students study four frameworks for differential assessment and intervention: cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, and family systems. In addition to training in individual intervention skills, students also learn to work with families and groups as key parts of clinical practice, providing a bridge between social work with individuals and small or large systems.

Guiding principles for clinical social work practice presume the worth and dignity of all people, a strengths perspective, the need for client confidentiality, and client empowerment and self-determination in decision-making.


This program is ideal for those committed to championing change initiatives and tackling the root causes of social problems. Transform your passion into partnership with communities and organizations, drawing on the most relevant knowledge, policies, and strategies designed to improve living and social environments.

Macro social work promotes human development and social justice through work with communities and organizations. It encompasses a broad range of knowledge and skills that enable practitioners to lead and contribute to a wide array of public and private sector organizations that are dedicated to addressing critical social issues with diverse populations.

At BUSSW, macro social work education emphasizes service and action to advance core values including:

  • social and economic justice
  • participatory democracy
  • human dignity, equality, and freedom
  • respect for diversity
  • community empowerment
  • asset-oriented practice

Through course work, field education, and supplementary programs, students learn theory and develop skills in community organizing, human services management, and planning and program development. Students and faculty work together to understand and develop ways to overcome racism and intersecting oppressions based on gender, class, sexual orientation, identity, ability, and other social factors.

Clinical Practice majors may also choose to minor in Macro Practice.

Specializations

Interested in deepening your knowledge and expertise in a specific area of focus? Choose from one of our five specialization areas. Students pursuing specializations will enroll in advanced electives, as well as complete an integrative seminar and advanced field placement. Information about specialization requirements and coursework is available on the BU Bulletin.

The Children, Youth, and Families specialization recognizes the integration of the development of children and youth within the family unit and larger social environment.  Families, in all forms, are integral to human development and manifest numerous cultural values and attributes that are transmitted to the next generation.  Children and youth are foundational target populations in social work, with particular focus on promotion of their healthy growth and development.  Additionally, the protection of children, addressing child and family mental health through prevention and treatment programs, and community-based youth initiatives are among major practice areas within the social work profession.


The Behavioral Health specialization at Boston University School of Social Work combines theory and skill development to enable MSW graduates to promote behavioral and mental health in multiple domains, including healthcare, public health, and community based settings. Students learn to advance health equity as members of interdisciplinary teams and prepare for professional leadership to assure behavioral health service systems address social determinants of health, as well as needs of specific individuals, families, and communities.  Program graduates enter the workforce understanding the unique role of social work to enhance prevention and intervention with diverse populations facing multiple challenges in an ever-changing practice environment.  The specialization emphasizes a broad definition of behavioral health, including physical, psychological, and social dimensions, not just the absence of injury or disease, and seeks to reinforce core social work values including social justice, human dignity, and empowerment of individuals and communities.


Aging is a lifelong process involving a complex interplay between biological, psychological, social, economic, and political factors.  This specialization applies principles of social justice to analyze conditions that impact the lives of older adults and examines the role of power, privilege, and structural inequality in producing health disparities across the life course.  Social workers play a vital role in working with individuals, families, and organizations as well as local, state, and national communities to optimize opportunities for health, economic wellbeing, and quality of life of older adults.


Trauma exposure is nearly universal. The field of trauma has exploded in the last several decades with advances in neurobiology, increased attention to evidence-based and evidence-informed interventions in trauma, and widespread recognition of violence across multiple contexts. Because trauma is a rapidly evolving field, social workers need integrated and cutting edge training to work with and on behalf of diverse populations who are affected by wide ranging traumatic experiences, including gender and race-based violence, interpersonal and/or community violence, natural disasters, combat trauma, and terrorism. Specialization students will learn the foundations of trauma informed and multi-level practice and policy, and apply this knowledge to prevention, intervention, and policy-making to mitigate the impact of violence and trauma on individuals, families, communities and societies.


Within two years of graduating, MSWs will advance to supervisory and management roles. The L-GWHSM specialization, with pathways in group work and human service management, is designed to prepare students to take on such leadership roles. Students in both pathways will gain important skills in the areas of assessment, planning and prevention. Upon completion of this specialization, students will be prepared to facilitate various types of group modalities, and apply management skills to achieve social change at multiple levels. The specialization is available in the second year for students who are clinical or macro majors.