The Master's Program

The SSA Master of Arts program prepares you to be a leader in the fields of clinical social work and social administration practice. The AM degree, artium magister (master of arts), from SSA is equivalent to an MSW, but with a broader educational and experiential foundation that combines direct social work practice with policy development, interdisciplinary research and social science theory. The comprehensive and interdisciplinary nature of the AM degree translates into greater flexibility and choice in your future career.


The SSA master's program has been continuously accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and its predecessor organizations since 1919. The rigor and quality of an SSA education have earned us a spot among the top graduate schools of social work in the world.

The Individual & Society

The goal of all SSA coursework and fieldwork is to frame individual distress in a larger social context. To be an effective social worker—a real force of positive change in people's lives—you must be able to recognize and understand the diverse and intersecting causes of distress: psychological, biological, familial, political, economic and social. This broader understanding will inform the clinical methods you use to help people overcome their own unique challenges, prevent problems from occurring in the first place, and find new hope.

Clinical & Administration Concentrations

The SSA Master's Program begins with a first-year core curriculum that introduces you to the chief methods of social intervention (direct practice, policy and research), the diversity of human experience, and the fundamentals of human behavior and development. You are then asked to choose between two academic concentrations:

  • Clinical Concentration – Learn the major prevention and treatment approaches of direct clinical practice and engage with real clients through clinical fieldwork in hundreds of agencies and organizations across Chicago.
  • Social Administration Concentration – Take advanced coursework in the economics, politics, organization, and delivery of social welfare services and participate in administrative fieldwork at government agencies and community development organizations.

The SSA Master's Program offers the flexibility to customize your education to your specific career goals. Choose from elective courses within SSA and throughout the University in a wide variety of social work and related fields. Explore opportunities to study abroad. You can also leverage the interdisciplinary strengths of the University of Chicago by combining your AM degree with a Master of Public Policy, an MBA or a Master of Divinity.


The Core Curriculum

The core curriculum is central to the educational program at the master's level. It brings together all students, whatever their career interests, for a solid introduction to the fundamentals of social policy formulation and program implementation, social research, and direct practice. The core curriculum prepares students for generalist practice through mastery of the core competencies of the profession as articulated by the Council on Social Work Education. It places particular emphasis on understanding and working with culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged populations. After completing core studies in the first year, students who choose clinical practice begin their concentration with an established awareness of the broader contexts of individual distress and helping responses, while social administration students enter their concentration with a corresponding understanding of social work intervention at the direct practice level.

The First Year Core

Required courses in the first two quarters of the first year provide students with a common foundation of knowledge concerning social welfare issues, human development, direct practice intervention strategies, and social research and practice behaviors related to these areas of knowledge. This foundation provides the background for concentration in advanced practice in clinical work or in social administration. Fieldwork placements in the first year are continuous for three quarters. They provide direct practice experience with distressed people and the institutions established to help them.

Clinical Concentration

Two-thirds of our students enter the clinical concentration, which prepares students for advanced practice with individuals, families, and small groups. The basic principles and values of practical thought serve as an orienting perspective, emphasizing theoretical diversity and comparative approaches to growth and change. Defining features of the program emphasize the use of both scientific and humanistic domains of understanding: the crucial role of the practitioner-client relationship; students' progressive narrative and experiential learning; and the importance of diverse client narratives, empirical findings, and methods. Students consider the strengths and limits of different approaches in light of the values and concerns of the broader social work profession as they develop a critical reflective practice.

The program also emphasizes the ways in which social, cultural, political, and economic conditions shape the experience of vulnerability, need, and problems in living, and the role of advocacy as practitioners work to create more humane and responsive organizations and communities. Direct practitioners serve a variety of roles in a wide range of settings, and graduates assume supervisory, management, and consulting responsibilities over the course of their careers.

Social Administration Concentration

The social administration concentration prepares students for professional practice in community, organizational, and governmental settings. Students are prepared for research, management, and advocacy positions in federal, state, county, and municipal government; private non-profit and for-profit organizations; policy research institutes; community-based organizations and action groups; electoral politics at all levels of government; and non-governmental organizations working in a variety of international contexts. The social administration concentration provides students with advanced instruction in analytic and strategic intervention related to the institutional conditions – economic, political, and organizational – that shape social welfare. It enables students to develop practice competencies needed to analyze, research, and advocate for client groups and constituencies, and to plan, implement, and evaluate programs and policies at various levels of intervention.

Electives & Programs of Study

SSA's Master of Arts program prepares you to be a leader in the fields of clinical social work and social administration practice. Our curriculum is flexible. The comprehensive and interdisciplinary nature of our two-year AM degree (equivalent to an MSW) translates into greater opportunities and choice in your future career. In addition to the core and required courses in the clinical social work and social work administration concentrations, students take electives. Sixty percent of our students design their own elective coursework and field placements; the other forty percent apply to and complete a Programs of Study.

Examples of self-designed elective coursework sequences include, but are not limited to:

  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health
  • Family and Child Welfare
  • Group Work
  • LGBTQIA Clients
  • Low Wage Jobs and Work Force Development
  • Mental Health
  • Trauma

Programs of Study

Programs of Study are faculty designed elective sequences that combine carefully selected courses and field placements geared toward a particular area of social work. Each Program of Study has prescribed requirements, either required courses or sets of courses from which you may choose. Importantly, each program combines course work with related field experience to allow you to connect theoretical learning with the development of competencies in a particular area of practice.

You must be accepted first to SSA and then by the individual Program of Study. SSA students apply to Programs of Study during the winter of their first year, with the exception of the GPHAP Program. Prospective students interested in the GPHAP Program must fill out an additional, separate application form that is due in early September.

Enrollment Options

The Master of Arts program, continuously accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and its predecessor organizations since 1919, prepares students for advanced professional practice.

The School of Social Service Administration’s master’s degree program aims to provide a sophisticated understanding of the person-in-environment and to develop competencies and practice behaviors to effect change. Individual distress is seen in a social context, influenced by biological, economic, familial, political, psychological, and social factors. This perspective recognizes that economic, organizational, political, and social factors shape the work of social welfare professionals. Effective helping requires a broad understanding of possible responses, ranging from short-term strategies for gaining new resources and skills to long-term social and psychological interventions. The professional must be aware of and able to act within the web of relationships that link individual well-being with wider social and political forces to achieve social and economic justice.

To achieve these goals, students develop the following core competencies:

  1. Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.
  2. Apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice.
  3. Apply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgments.
  4. Engage diversity and difference in practice.
  5. Advance human rights and social and economic justice.
  6. Engage in research-informed practice and practice informed research.
  7. Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment.
  8. Engage in policy practice to advance social and economic well-being and to deliver effective social work services.
  9. Respond to contexts that shape practice.
  10. Engage, assess, intervene, and evaluate with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

To facilitate the development of these core competencies and the knowledge and behavior to practice at an advanced level, the School’s program is organized into a core curriculum and an elective concentration in either clinical practice or social administration. No academic credit is awarded for life or work experience.

Master's Program Admissions

Requirements For Application

The application process for the Master’s Program is the same for all Full-Time, Part-Time, Extended Evening, and Advanced Standing Program students. Qualified University of Chicago college students who wish to pursue a joint AM degree in social work at SSA should consult with the AB/AM adviser in the College and with the Director of Admissions at SSA early in their second year.

Please note that SSA only admits students for the Autumn Quarter with the exception of students starting the Advanced Standing Master's Program, which starts in the summer. SSA does not defer admission.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and SSA's criteria for admission to the Master's Program must include an earned baccalaureate degree from a college or university accredited by a recognized regional accrediting association. Baccalaureate social work graduates entering master's social work programs are not to repeat what has been achieved in their baccalaureate social work programs. We require an undergraduate degree in social work (BSW) only if you are applying to the Advanced Standing Master's Program. ALL applicants must have completed at least one course in each of the following tracks:

  • Humanities (examples: fine arts, history, languages, literature, music, philosophy, or religion);
  • Physical and Biological Sciences and Mathematics (examples: biology, calculus, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, or statistics); and
  • Social Sciences (examples: anthropology, economics, education, ethnic studies, gender studies, human development, international relations, political science, psychology, social work, or sociology).

Most applicants have majored in psychology or sociology, though we do accept applicants from a wide variety of academic backgrounds.

Financial Aid

Over 95 percent of SSA master’s students receive merit- and need-based tuition gift aid. Each year, SSA awards full and partial tuition scholarships. To be eligible for SSA gift aid, you must fill out the SSA Financial Data section in the online application. Second- and third-year students may also re-apply for gift aid each year. 99% of returning students have their gift aid renewed.

The majority of our students use Federal financial aid in the form of student loans and work-study funds to bridge the gap between their SSA tuition gift aid and the cost of attendance. To be eligible for federal financial aid, you must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The institutional code for the FAFSA is 001774.

Program taught in:
Last updated February 18, 2019
This course is Campus based
Start Date
Oct 1, 2019
2 years
48,759 USD
Tuition per year: Full-Time AM Program (3 courses).
Apr 1, 2019
By locations
By date
Start Date
Oct 1, 2019
End Date
June 12, 2021
Application deadline
Apr 1, 2019

Oct 1, 2019

Application deadline
Apr 1, 2019
End Date
June 12, 2021