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Graduate Studies Calendar 2023-2024 Program Descriptions Social Work SOWK Master of Social Work (Thesis-Based)
Master of Social Work (Thesis-Based)
1. Degree and Specializations Offered

Master of Social Work (MSW) - thesis-based

The Master of Social Work program is accredited by the Canadian Association of Social Work Education.

The objective of the Master of Social Work (MSW) program is to prepare students for advanced professional practice in social work. The thesis-based route may be appropriate for students who intend to proceed to doctoral studies and/or anticipate a career requiring advanced program evaluation or research skills. This full-time program is available for both BSW graduates and graduates from other disciplines.


  • Clinical Social Work Practice (CSWP)
  • International and Community Development (ICD)
  • Leadership in the Human Services (LHS)

Program Delivery

The MSW thesis-based program in all three specializations will be offered by distance (online) learning with in-person residencies in Calgary or Edmonton.

Students not attending residencies may be required to withdraw from the course or the program.

Please consult the website for specific program delivery information.

2. Admission Requirements

In addition to Faculty of Graduate Studies requirements for Admission, the Faculty of Social Work requires:

a) A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree* or a four-year bachelor’s degree from another discipline. The undergraduate degree must be conferred prior to the start of the MSW program and must be from a recognized/accredited post-secondary institution.

*The Faculty of Social Work recognizes BSW and BISW degrees accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and international credentials deemed equivalent to a Canadian BSW degree by the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW).

b) A minimum GPA of 3.00 (on the University of Calgary four-point system). This is based on the last two-years of the undergraduate degree consisting of a minimum of 60 units.

c) The equivalent of two years of full-time paid work or a minimum of 3000 hours of paid and/or volunteer work in the human services field.

d) A program proposal outlining the applicant's social work perspectives and educational goals.

e) A thesis proposal providing a rationale for selecting the thesis route and a preliminary research proposal describing the research problem to be investigated and the proposed research methodologies (e.g., quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, participatory action research, arts-based, etc.), and the study’s potential contribution to social work research and practice. Students applying to the thesis route are strongly encouraged to discuss this option with the PhD/MSW Thesis Program Coordinator.

f) For applicants required to present proof of proficiency in English, a minimum TOEFL score of 97 (Internet-based test with no section less than 20); IELTS score of 7.0 (Academic version with no section less than 6.0); a CAEL score of 70 (70 in writing and speaking; 60 in reading and listening); or a PTE with a minimum score of 68 (Academic version). This requirement can also be met by completing the Academic Communication Certificate with a minimum grade of “A-“ in academic writing and oral communication courses and B+ in other courses.

g) Two references, one academic and one professional. Applicants unable to provide an academic reference are advised to submit a second professional reference and provide a rationale in the application.

Note: MSW applicants are allowed to apply to only one program location and one specialization. Once admitted, students are not permitted to switch specializations and/or topics within their chosen specialization. Requests to defer an offer of admission are not normally considered.

3. Application Deadlines

For application deadlines, see the Future Students webpage:

4. Advanced Credit

Advanced credit is not normally granted for the Master of Social Work degree.

5. Program/Course Requirements  
5.1 Foundation Course Requirements

For students with a bachelor's degree in a discipline other than social work:

Nine foundation courses (27 units), as follows:

*Foundation students in the thesis-based MSW are not eligible for credit by special assessment.

Foundation courses must be completed before students advance to specialization-specific courses and the two research courses (Social Work 670 and 672).

5.2 MSW Course Requirements

For Students with a BSW or completed foundation courses:

A total of 30 units of coursework. The coursework consists of:

a) 12 units of Advanced Social Work Practice courses;
b) 12 units of specialization courses (topics may vary from year to year and by location);
c) 6 units of research courses.

a) Advanced Social Work Practice (ASWP) Courses:

b) Specialization Course Requirements:

Clinical Social Work Practice (CSWP) Specialization

Within the CSWP specialization, there are several topic areas. Each consists of 12 units (four courses) which address a particular subject within the broader field of Clinical Social Work Practice. Students must complete all four courses in the selected topic area.

Adult Mental Health and Addictions
Individuals, Families and Groups
Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Trauma-Informed Practice
Clinical Gerontology Practice
Community-Informed Practice for Health and Wellbeing

International and Community Development (ICD) Specialization

Within the ICD specialization, there are two topic areas. Each consists of 12 units (four courses) which address a particular subject within the broader field of International and Community Development. Students must complete all four courses in the selected topic area.

International Social Development

Leadership in the Human Services (LHS) Specialization

Students must complete all four LHS specialization courses.

Note: The four courses in ASWP and in each specialization topic are offered in a prescribed sequence and deviation from the curriculum plan is not normally allowed. Please note that not all specialization topics are offered every year. Students should consult the timetables and program curriculum plans located on the web for sequence and availability of specialization topics:

c) Research Courses:

All four specialization courses are prerequisites or co-requisites to Social Work 670 and 672.

Students may elect to complete Social Work 660 Advanced Practicum, but it is not a mandatory component of the thesis-based degree. Students who wish to complete Social Work 660 must have completed all the ASWP, specialization and research courses and must declare their intention to pursue a Practicum in writing to the Director of Field Education by March 1st of their final year of coursework (6-8 months prior to the expected start of the Practicum).

Note: Students who begin the MSW thesis program and then want to switch to the course-based MSW may be able to do so prior to beginning the thesis research courses and at least 8 months prior to the start of Advanced Practicum. Students who switch must comply with the program requirements of the respective program. Program transfer must be requested and approved by both the Faculty of Social Work and Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Flexible Grade Option (CG Grade)

The Faculty of Social Work Master of Social Work thesis-based program will allow students to pursue the Flexible Grade Option (CG Grade) in graduate courses offered by the faculty, with the exception of:

Students may choose the CG grade for a course taken extra to load.

The use of the CG grade will not affect students' eligibility for internal awards.

6. Additional Requirements

Participation in student orientation sessions held prior to the start of the program is mandatory for incoming students.

7. Credit for Undergraduate Courses

Credit for undergraduate courses will not be awarded.

8. Time Limit

Expected completion time varies based on the program location, specialization and delivery model selected by the student at the time of application.

As established by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (see Time Limits), maximum completion time is four years for a thesis-based MSW (for both BSW degree holders and non-BSW degree holders).

9. Supervisory Assignments

For incoming MSW thesis students, the PhD/MSW Thesis Coordinator will act as the interim supervisor. Before the end of April of the first year, each student must designate a faculty member as permanent supervisor. MSW thesis students will work with their supervisors to determine if a co-supervisor and/or supervisory thesis committee is preferred. This decision should be made prior to start of Social Work 670. The arrangement must be approved by the Graduate Program Director.

Within the first two months of working together, MSW thesis students and their interim and/or permanent supervisors are required to complete and submit to Student Services in the Faculty of Social Work the signed Student-Supervisor checklist and the Intellectual Property checklist. These become part of the student's permanent record. If a change occurs in supervision, a new Student-Supervisor checklist must be completed, signed and submitted to Student Services within two months of the change.

10. Required Examinations

MSW Thesis Examination

The final examination for the thesis-based MSW involves an oral defence of the thesis. The thesis examination is conducted by the student’s examining committee, which must be declared at least one month before the oral examination.

In addition to the Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations for Thesis Examinations, the program requires the following MSW examining committee composition:

  • thesis supervisor,and, if applicable, co-supervisor/supervisory thesis committee,
  • a faculty member from the Faculty of Social Work, and
  • an Internal Examiner (external to the Faculty of Social Work).
11. Research Proposal Requirements

Students must have proposal approved by their supervisor and/or committee (if appropriate). A copy of the proposal becomes part of the student’s record with the Faculty of Social Work. Once the proposal has been approved, students can proceed with applying for ethics certification.

12. Financial Assistance

Financial assistance may be available to qualified students. For information on awards, see Awards and Financial Assistance for Graduate Students, the Graduate Awards Database, and consult with the Student Services Office in the Faculty of Social Work.

13. Other Information

A computer is required for all programs in the Faculty of Social Work. Further information will be sent out to newly-admitted students prior to the commencement of their studies.