Master of Social Work (MSW) Specializations


The University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work offers two Master of Social Work (MSW) degree specializations—Direct Practice and Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA). Upon admission into our MSW program, students must choose one of the social work specializations, which directs students’ courses of study, required coursework, practicum education placements, and the available certificate offerings. 

As students become better versed in social work specialties, they are empowered to narrow their professional focus and gain essential practicum knowledge, skills, and methodologies required to serve their communities and excel as social workers.

Specialization Objectives

Built upon a foundational generalist curriculum, both MSW specializations prepare graduate students for autonomous social work practice at an advanced level. 

Each master’s in social work specialization equips students to:

  • assume specific practice roles,
  • use research to inform social work practice,
  • advocate on behalf of groups that have been historically marginalized and oppressed,
  • practice with diverse populations, and
  • apply advanced practice theories, methods, and strategies. 

Review a complete list of MSW course schedules and descriptions.

Direct Practice Specialization

Pitt’s Direct Practice specialization prepares graduate students to engage in direct practice social work, serving the diverse needs of individuals, families, and organizations. Throughout the specialization coursework and practicum placements, students become skilled at implementing evidence-informed methods and infusing their practice with self-reflection and cultural sensitivity.

In addition to their generalist curriculum, students pursuing a Direct Practice specialization must take the following:

  • two direct practice skill courses,
  • two direct practice skill elective courses,
  • one specialized human behavior course,
  • one policy analysis course, and
  • one research course with content pertaining to direct practice.

Direct Practice students must also fulfill 12 credits, totaling 720 hours, of specialized practicum. Practicum placements must be conducted in a program or public or private agency providing direct practice care to at-risk families and children. 

After completing their MSW degree, Direct Practice students are qualified to work in integrated healthcare settings, senior services, and more.

The Direct Practice specialization is available at Pitt’s main campus, Bradford, and Johnstown campuses. 

Review the Direct Practice curriculum guide to learn more about course requirements.  

Community, Organization, and Social Action Specialization

The Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA) specialization provides graduate students with a comprehensive degree path that emphasizes leadership and organizational management in the social work profession. COSA students receive specialized training in human services management, community development, integrating evidence-informed practices into organization administration, and more.

The COSA specialization curriculum provides holistic training and ensures students emerge as leaders in public, private, and profit and nonprofit organizations. During their time in the program, students must take the following:

  • two core skill courses,
  • two skill elective courses,
  • one specialized human behavior course,
  • one policy analysis course, and
  • one research course focusing on COSA-related content.

As a part of the COSA specialization requirements, students must complete 12 credits of specialized practicum, which equates to 720 hours. 

The COSA specialization is only offered at Pitt’s main campus.

Review the COSA curriculum guide to learn more about course requirements.



Students earning their master’s in social work degree can deepen their expertise by enrolling in certificate programs. Adding a certificate allows graduates to explore other social work specialties and strengthen their MSW degree to support their post-graduate success.

Learn more about our available MSW certificate programs

Direct Practice Certificate Programs

Students enrolled in the Direct Practice specialization can choose from five certificate programs. They include: 

COSA Certificate Programs

COSA students can choose from three certificate programs, including:

Other University certificate program(s) available to students:

​Change Your Social Work Specialization

To switch your MSW specialization, complete the Change of Specialization Request Form and submit it to the School of Social Work’s Registration & Records Manager.

Select Your Master of Social Work Specialization Today

Pitt’s MSW specializations provide graduate students with highly-focused training and practical experience that supports their long-term career goals.

Ready to get started? Begin your MSW application. Or request more information about our graduate school resources.