COSA Gerontology Certificate

Age-Friendly Scholars

The focus on social work practice with older adults has been in place at the School of Social Work since 1980 and continues to attract numerous MSW students. The COSA-Gerontology Certificate is designed to increase students’ understanding of the aging process and to provide skills to practice with organizations and communities and to advance advocacy on behalf of older adults and their families. Knowing how to work as a social work professional in the field of aging offers many opportunities in an era when that segment of the population continues to increase rapidly.

Through courses and a specialized field placement experience, COSA-Gerontology Certificate students are exposed to the various roles and settings that constitute contemporary macro social work practice with older adults and their family members. Emphasis is given to understanding client and family strengths; diversity among the older adult population; the social, cultural, community, and policy contexts of aging; and how these factors inform, and may be influenced by, social work practice.

This certificate is available only to students currently enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work’s MSW Program at the Oakland campus. MSW students complete required and elective courses along with a specialized practicum placement leading to the COSA-Gerontology Certificate within the normal MSW requirements and need not exceed the length of the degree program. As a University of Pittsburgh-recognized certificate program, receipt of the COSA-Gerontology Certificate appears on graduates’ MSW diplomas.

With careful planning starting at the time of initial matriculation into the MSW Program, students completing the COSA-Gerontology Certificate also may be able to fulfill the requirements for the COSA-Human Services Management Certificate or the COSA-Community Organizing Practice Certificate. COSA students interested in pursuing either of these certificate combinations should work closely with their academic advisors to ensure that all requirements for each certificate are met. Those interested in either of these certificate combinations are encouraged to consult the course of study models for these programs. 

COSA-Gerontology Certificate Curriculum

Required Courses

Students pursuing the COSA-Gerontology Certificate must fulfill all MSW Program and COSA specialization requirements and must complete specific courses that support the certificate as part of their course of studies. Therefore, in addition to Human Service Management (SWCOSA 2084), Community Organization and Planning (SWCOSA 2088), Human Behavior and the Urban Environment (SWBEH 2008, a second-level Human Behavior course), a second-level Research course (SWRES 2033 or SWRES 2045 or SWRES 2047 or SWRES 2051), and elective coursework, students seeking the COSA-Gerontology Certificate must complete:

SWWEL 2039           Social Policy & Gerontology (Policy II)
(serves as the second-level Social Welfare course in lieu of SWWEL 2087)

SWBEH 2077            Human Behavior: Adult Development & Aging
(serves as an elective)

In addition, COSA-Gerontology Certificate students must complete two gerontology-related electives:

  • One of the two gerontology-related electives must be a COSA skill elective course (SWCOSA 2040 or SWCOSA 2086 or SWCOSA 2090 or SWCOSA 2096) where the student completes a project or assignment with a gerontology focus.
  • The other gerontology-related elective can be:
    • Another COSA skill elective course in which the student completes a project or assignment with a gerontology focus.
    • A gerontology elective course offered as part of the University Certificate in Gerontology, a certificate administered by the University Center for Social & Urban Research (UCSUR). Offerings may vary and include courses from various schools/departments in the University. Students selecting this option would use these three credits to fulfill an elective requirement for the MSW, as permitted by MSW Program policy. Please see the website for current options UCSUR (@PittCSUR) - Graduate Certificate in Gerontology
    • A course that is not part of the UCSUR-administered gerontology certificate but that is relevant to practice in aging may be taken if approved by the Certificate Chairperson in advance. Students selecting this option would use these three credits to fulfill an elective requirement for the MSW, as permitted by MSW Program policy.

For the two gerontology-related electives, students will submit to the Gerontology Certificate Chairperson a form with information about the assignment and topic.

Review sample course of study models for the COSA-Gerontology Certificate

Required Practicum

Students pursuing the COSA-Gerontology Certificate must complete a specialized practicum placement (SWCOSA 2099; 12 credits - 720 clock hours) in a program, unit, or agency that has a primary focus on aging. COSA students work with programs, organizations, or community groups that serve older adults. These options include, but are not limited to, long-term facilities, hospitals, hospices, area agencies on aging, community-based family service agencies, senior centers, residential settings, mental health settings, advocacy organizations, and community-based specialized day health centers that have activities relevant to the student’s specialization and interests.

Certificate Declaration Form 

If not already declared as part of the admission application, an MSW student should submit a Certificate Declaration of Intent Form as soon as possible after beginning the MSW Program to affirm their interest in pursuing the COSA-Gerontology Certificate as part of their MSW studies.

Financial Aid

Students pursuing the COSA-Gerontology Certificate are eligible for the same financial aid and loan options available to all MSW students. In addition, COSA-Gerontology Certificate students are encouraged to apply to the Hartford Program Partnership in Aging Education Fellowship.

Career Opportunities

MSW graduates who completed the COSA-Gerontology Certificate have a variety of career paths open to them at the local, state, and national levels. Bringing their advanced COSA knowledge and skills to the field of aging, graduates’ employment options include foundations; Area Agencies on Aging; government agencies and departments; senior centers; residential settings; planning organizations; and policy and advocacy organizations, such as Generations United and AARP. Regardless of employment setting, graduates draw on their specialized preparation in macro social work practice to ensure that necessary policies, programs, services, and community supports are available to older adults and their family members.

The School’s Resources

The long, rich history of the MSW Program’s focus on gerontology has created an array of unique learning opportunities for current students. There are dedicated faculty whose focus and passion are to enhance the lives of older adults through their research, teaching, and advocacy. Special experiential trainings, such as the Ageless Wisdom program, give students not only advanced preparation, but also the experience of “being” an older adult through simulation exercises. A wealth of field placement opportunities is available to COSA-Gerontology Certificate students; they also can avail themselves of unique university and community interdisciplinary training and fellowship opportunities, such as those from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Schools of Medicine and Pharmacy. The School of Social Work serves as the research wing of Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh, an internationally recognized organization dedicated to making this region Pittsburgh and Allegheny County more inclusive and accessible for older adults.

Contact Us

Students should speak to their academic advisor if interested in pursuing the COSA-Gerontology Certificate or they can contact: 

Dr. Rafael Engel
Gerontology Certificate Chairperson


Interested in learning how to apply for admission to the MSW Program?