I want to do a dual program that is both a masters in social work and a masters in nonprofit business management because I want to start my own social service nonprofit one day. Are there any programs that would match this?


Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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There are some programs that would match your interests and goals. There is a trend towards dual MSW/MBA programs as businesses recognize the need for managers who possess the qualities and skills that social workers embody.

Here's an example of how a social worker might bring a unique lens to the workplace or any situation or problem. Consider the idea of a wheel, the kind you put on a bike or car. Most people look at a wheel and see the hub as the center - it's the wheel of the wheel. What's around it, is secondary to the hub. But for a social worker, the spokes extending out from the hub are as integral to, and sometimes more important than the hub. This is the unique outlook you may develop if you pursue the MSW degree - it's spokes driven. It's looking outward to expectations, boundaries, assumptions, and even to what's been dismissed or diminished. In a more traditional, clinical setting, those spokes look like family members, job, co-workers, relatives, and any other influences - and they may be included in helping the individual improve the quality of his or her life. The point is, to hone in on what is really going on, social workers are trained to engage a broad sphere of impacts and influences whatever the setting and focus of their work.

I bring this up because a social work degree is often compared to, or pursued in place of a psychology degree. Again, it's this spokes-driven engagement that differentiates the degree from those who practice psychology. Psychologists focus on the individual and only the individual. Their training is different. By comparison, social workers can step into a range of roles - and wear many hats - whether it's delivering psychotherapy (sometimes in multidisciplinary settings with psychologists), stepping into managerial positions, leadership roles in non-profits or health care, employee assistance programs (EAPS) at Fortune 500 companies and working in specialized settings: schools, hospitals, mental institution, prisons, rehab centers, drug treatment centers, assisted living facilities, military bases and other institutions. Social workers also easily pivot from role to role. You could provide counseling at your nonprofit, and also run it. And then launch an EAP. Or run a health care facility.

Because of the versatility of the social work degree, it's possible you may pursue a MSW/MBA program, or a MSW and Nonprofit Management program and wind up going in a different direction once you're been introduced to all of the exciting opportunities. You don't share why you have the goals you do, just that you have them. Are you currently involved in a social service nonprofit? Have you developed an innovative program? Or a more effective delivery system for services? Do you desire the skills of the business degree so that your nonprofit can benefit from the efficiencies and funding approaches a business education may expose you to? Is obtaining the credentials of a social worker integral to your goals?

Getting the MSW makes you eligible to graduate as as certified professional, be eligible for third party reimbursement from insurance companies, and put a shingle on your door to open a psychotherapy practice. Without a doubt, these are some of the strong pulls to this graduate degree. But MSW programs also give you several method areas to choose from - and several fields of practice to concentrate in. I assume you have researched why you need or want the MSW. I'm jumping ahead, but some of the stand-alone MBA programs I suggest below are excellent and may be more than adequate in helping you establish that nonprofit agency - though you would lack the licensed social worker training and credentialing (LCSW).

Of note, Columbia's social work school allows you to "minor" in business at the Columbia Business school. I don't know if you have considered a business minor at any number of MSW programs that offer this - or if that would be acceptable. It might provide you what you need and save you a lot of time and tuition dollars. What I like about this option at Columbia in particular, is that both graduate programs are among the nations best. Further, Columbia Business School is also ranked tops for nonprofit management. Four classes at their business school, and maybe one more you might petition to take as an elective, might give you the business "creed" you need. And you only need to be admitted to the Social Work School where the bar is somewhat lower.

I do want to suggest programs that are a "match" for what you are asking for. Without more information I am somewhat limited. One of the sticky wickets is that I don't know your GPA or test scores. I've gone the route of MSW/MBA programs because there are so many options for you; it's really a very powerful joint degree. The nonprofit tracks in these MBA programs can go toe-to-toe with a masters degree in Nonprofit Management, plus the MBA could advantage you more. However, the top MBA programs with expertise in the nonprofit sector are also among the nations most elite. They have developed unique tracks and focuses in nonprofit, but winning admission to them may not be easy.

I don't want to in any way diminish MSW programs, but they are typically much easier to get into than say Stanford Business School which is one of the worlds best business schools and also renown for it's nonprofit focus. Although many schools offer the joint degree, you will need to win admission to each graduate program. Further, I don't know your financial circumstances, but you will be taking on a lot of debt. Some MSW programs allow you to complete the degree in a year and a half. Columbia offers this option. And they do have a MSW/MBA option. You may want to research programs that fast-track either the MSW or MBA.

Here are some of the MBA programs highly ranked for their focus on nonprofit business management: Columbia University, Duke, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame, USC, Fordham, U Mich, and Harvard. Again, It's possible that one degree - the MSW or the MBA may need to take precedence. Because I don't know the back story behind your goals it's tougher for me laser in. My feeling is that many social work programs could meet your needs and that social work degrees are less brand-driven. As for business schools with the academic focus you're looking or, there is only a select group that would work. And when it comes to the MBA, I believe that students should go to the very best school they can for some guaranteed return on investment

As for the dual degree, working off the list above, U Mich offers the MSW/MBA. So does Columbia, UC Berkeley, USC, and Fordham. USC's MSW is limited to a particular area of concentration - global policy and practice. Berkeley also has a Master of Social Welfare, not quite social work. Moving to nonprofit business programs, the University of Pennsylvania offers a MSW/Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership. It's an incredibly compelling program and the University of Pennsylvania School of Social work is standout. I'm not sure this fits with the plan. However, if they let you take a few classes at the Wharton Business school, this would be a knockout combo.

Again without knowing more about your thinking, it's difficult to help you further. My feeling is that there are several paths you may pursue: the MSW/MBA with a concentration in nonprofit business, a Masters in Public Health, a Masters in Social Work that offers a minor in business. or a Masters in Nonprofit Business Management. The latter degree while on point with your goals is less frequently paired with the MSW, but pursued more in a side-by-side track.

There's no doubt, you're off to create meaningful services and programs. The question is, how do you get there? I hope the above helps.

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