MSW vs MPH Degree Differences

People who want to make a difference in the lives of others have many potential career options to consider. Two of the most popular fields in this direction are social work and public health. The most effective way to qualify for a leadership position in either field is to earn a master’s degree: either a Master of Social Work, or a Master of Public Health.

Which is best? It boils down to which is best for you, given your specific career interests. An MSW offers the opportunity to work in leadership and management in social work, where you will work with vulnerable and disadvantaged people on an individual basis.

Alternatively, an MPH allows you to help vulnerable and underprivileged people on more of a macro level. You will be in a public health position where you can make large changes at the community level. These changes could prevent and alleviate many serious health problems and diseases.

Both degrees will allow you to advance your career in the service of others. To determine which is best for you – the MSW or MPH – keep reading to learn about similarities and differences.

What Is the MSW?

A master of social work degree provides you with the best career path in social work. You will have more opportunities to work in management, leadership and higher levels of responsibility.

You also will be able to become licensed as a clinical social worker, meaning that you can treat and diagnose mental health problems. Clinical social workers are able to earn a higher level of pay, and to really help needy individuals and families to overcome big challenges.

An MSW is mandatory for you to earn your clinical social work license, and it may be needed for you to develop professionally in other areas of social work.

If you are interested in a social work career, earning an MSW gives you the chance to focus on many subspecialties in the field:

  • Mental health: Learn skills so that you can provide mental health services to people who have serious mental health problems, as well as substance abuse problems.
  • Families and children: Discover how you can help to prevent crises in the family via counseling, advocacy and support.
  • Community organizing: Learn the skills and tools to become a community learner so that the entire community can come together for a vital cause.
  • Health: Help people in the health care system to get their emotional, social and financial needs met. Connect them with vital services that can help improve their health now and in the future.

MSW Online Degree Program

Aspiring social workers have numerous online MSW programs from which to choose. For instance, Catholic University based in Washington, D.C. has a two year, clinical master of social work that paves the way for students to become clinical social workers.

This program also will prepare you to pass your Licensed Graduate Social Work exam, which is the first step to becoming a clinical social worker. The university states that 95% of MSW students pass the exam on their first try. This is a sign that the clinical social work curriculum is of the best quality, and the faculty also is top tier.

Graduates of this CSWE-accredited program will be able to demonstrate a strong ability to apply advanced social work theories to every part of clinical practice. You will have the essential skills to treat families, individuals, couples and groups.

Your MSW curriculum includes the following classes:

  • Diversity in a Multicultural Society
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment
  • Human Development and Psychopathology
  • Welfare Policy and Service
  • Social Work Research
  • Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families and Groups
  • Social Work Practice with Groups, Organizations, and Communities

An important part of your MSW program is your field experience that will ready you for the reality of working as a clinical social worker. You will develop the real world abilities that you need to treat clients.

All of this will occur under the supervision of a clinical social worker with many years of experience. The university will work closely with you to find you an agency and supervisor in your local area.

MSW Program Accreditation

A key part of selecting your MSW program is ensuring that it is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This is the top accreditation organization in the field.

What Is the MPH?

A master of public health degree provides you with the skills and understanding to grasp the social, biological, environmental, behavioral and political factors that can affect the public’s health. An MPH will put you in a strong position to work in many areas of public health at local and state government agencies, public health offices, nonprofit organizations and more. You will hone your skills to create and change public health practices that can influence the entire community.

As you are considering an MPH and a public health career, take note of the myriad specialities in the field:

  • Biostatistics: Study the many risk factors for diseases and assess the efficacy and outcomes of many new therapies and solutions. Learn more.
  • Environmental health: Learn skills that you need to solve environmental problems that can affect the health of the public. Learn more.
  • Epidemiology: Be trained in epidemiological research so that you can design, analyze and run clinical studies that can be used to predict future disease patterns. Learn more.
  • Global health: Study how economics, policy analysis, infectious disease and finance are intertwined, and how to improve public health around the world. Learn more.
  • Health policy and management: Learn how to devise solutions to the most pressing challenges in the healthcare system. Learn more.

MPH Online Degree Program

An excellent MPH program to consider online is George Washington University. The university’s online MPH program is offered through the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Students have the choice of completing their online studies either full or part time. As a student, you will be able to choose several different completion options.

GW offers a special 12 month accelerated program that requires students to take 11.5 credit hours per quarter. The curriculum for this program is the same as the regular online degree and on campus programs. Students cannot work if they choose the 12 month option.

Another online option is the 18 month, accelerated program that requires each student to take 7.5 credit hours per quarter. Students may not work more than part time in this online MPH program.

Last, you also may earn your online degree at your own pace; the program is typically completed in two or three years.

Available concentrations are environmental and occupational health, global health, health communication, and health policy.

Required courses include:

  • Biological Concepts for Public Health (6001)
  • Principles and Practice of Epidemiology
  • Environmental & Occupational Health in a Sustainable World
  • Policy and Management Approaches to Public Health
  • Social and Behavioral Approaches to Public Health
  • Biostatistical Applications for Public Health
  • Introduction to the U.S. Health Care System
  • Global Health Program Evaluation
  • Planning & Implementation of Health Promotion Programs
  • Comparative Global Health Systems
  • Introduction to Public Health Communications & Marketing
  • Community Engagement and Advocacy
  • Practicum Experience

MPH Program Accreditation

Any online MPH program that you seriously consider should be accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. This is a highly respected public health program accreditation agency that is recognized by the US Department of Education.


The MSW and MPH degrees are excellent choices for professionals who want to work to make the lives of people better, as well as the overall community. Whether you earn an MSW or MPH degree, you will have a strong career outlook ahead of you.

Government statistics suggest that many public health professionals will see at least 6% increase in job demand by 2024. For social workers, this demand could be as high as 19% for those in the clinical specialty.