Dual Power: How to Evaluate and Select the Best MSW-MPH Program for Your Future

Published on: May 26, 2024

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field of healthcare social workers is expected to grow by almost 10% in the next decade1. This fusion of public health and social work prepares individuals to have an in-depth understanding of macro healthcare systems paired with the micro training to empower vulnerable communities. Research shows that interdisciplinary collaboration is associated with better patient care and increased patient access2. The Council on Social Work Education has accredited over 60 MSW/MPH dual degree programs that will equip future health care workers with the education and skills they need to become changemakers in their communities. MSW MPH dual degree programs can vary in program structure, geographic location, mode of delivery, and much more. 

This article provides information, guiding questions to consider, and profiles of ten MSW MPH dual degree programs in the United States.

Understanding MSW-MPH Dual Degree Programs

A dual degree is two separate degree programs that students complete in tandem with each other. Many schools will allow students to double-dip courses, which means they can use an elective from one degree to complete a requirement for the other. MSW MPH dual degree programs integrate social work and public health disciplines. According to the National Association of Social Workers, social work is a field that helps improve people’s lives.

It is one of the fastest growing professions in this country, with a 12% growth in workforce expected within the next decade3. According to the CDC, public health is “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health” through organized efforts and informed choices4. Dual degree MSW MPH programs prepare graduates for careers promoting wellbeing, whether at the micro (individual clinical) or macro (community and/or policy) level. 

There is a synergy between social work practice and public health principles. Social workers and public health professionals both strive to increase health equity and enhance people’s overall well-being. Some social workers may focus their work at the individual level, and some public health professionals may focus on disease prevention. Still, there is constant overlap and collaboration between the professions.

According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), there are 12 ‘Principles of Ethical Practice in Public Health’. These essentially state that public health professionals should strive to “prevent problems from happening or recurring through implementing educational programs, recommending policies, administering services and conducting research”, which contrasts with many other professions in the healthcare system that are focused on treatment and more downstream interventions5. The field of social work incorporates many of these public health principles into their practice. According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, the social work profession has similarly committed to focusing on prevention and well-being at a macro level6. The early foundations of social work were “public health-oriented,” facilitating a synergistic relationship between the two professions6

Pursuing a concurrent or joint degree in social work and public health is advantageous for many reasons. Since both fields are focused on human and societal well-being, completing the dual degree program is a natural educational pathway. Research has proven that cross-disciplinary thinking is advantageous to solving complex problems7. With social work and public health both focusing on highly complex problems, such as reducing maternal mortality, having formal training across disciplines will not only make someone a more attractive candidate for future jobs, but will also increase their functionality in the workforce.

The Value of a Dual Degree in Social Work and Public Health

Obtaining a dual degree in social work and public health has numerous benefits. 

Most programs will guide students through exploring the combined impact on community health, social justice, and population health. Because the dual degree provides formal training across two disciplines, students gain interdisciplinary skills at the individual, community and population health level and learn how to make systems-level change. Many MSW programs focus on micro-level social work to prepare students for clinical practice. MSW education would focus on individual or community-level health behaviors and neglect the importance of targeting health systems or policy.

Similarly, many graduate public health programs focus solely on macro or population-level health systems, broad policy development, and social justice. MPH programs alone may not adequately prepare professionals to enter the workforce with critical people skills like trauma-informed care, motivational interviewing, active listening, and everything that makes your therapist so good at their job. Leveraging the best parts of both degrees allows individuals to be prodigious and unstoppable changemakers in the field.

Criteria for Evaluating Dual Degree Programs

1. Accreditation and reputation of graduate school programs

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, is an independent accrediting agency that accredits public health programs in the United States. Similarly, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits social work programs. Students can search prospective programs to learn basic information about the program, history, areas of specialization, and links to official program websites.

U.S. News & World Report also releases ratings of the best social work and best public health programs for their academic quality and ranks them against all other accredited programs. While this is a good starting place, you shouldn’t rely solely on the U.S. News & World Report ranking system to determine reputation of a graduate school program. You can read this article to better understand MPH program rankings, and this article for advice to help guide your evaluation and selection process. Essentially, it’s important to ask yourself a number of questions to gauge the reputation of a graduate school program. Some initial guiding questions are below.

  • What are the hire rates post graduation?

  • What kind of networking opportunities does the program support?

  • Are there scholarships, work-study, or other financial aid available for students?

2. Curriculum structure: core subjects, field education, and specializations (e.g., health policy, environmental health, mental health)

It’s important to consider the curriculum structure when looking at prospective MSW MPH dual degree programs. Graduate school programs incorporate electives into their curriculums as well as different areas of focus. Compare specific course offerings to see what is most interesting to you. If you are interested in policy, make sure your future program has courses focused on policy.

If you like environmental health, global health, reproductive health, etc., make sure these course offerings are included in your prospective curriculums. Additionally, look at the timing of course offerings.  Some programs have courses in the evening, which may be preferable for someone that works full time; alternative, if you are looking to have a part time job in the evenings, daytime course offerings may be better for you. 

Most programs will publish their curriculums online so you can view the core subjects and courses, required field education, and specializations. If these aren’t listed online, request more information through the administrator’s contact information. There will be different options for where you can complete your field education, so if you have a specific location or environment in mind, make sure your program allows that. 

For example, if you are interested in mental health, you should seek out your field placement in an inpatient psychiatry unit. If you are interested in biomedical sciences, choose a public health program focusing on research. If human behavior fascinates you, you could complete your fieldwork at a large health system, helping to implement a healthy behavior intervention. There are endless options with these MSW MPH programs, so make sure you find a school and program that has the curriculum and fieldwork opportunities you desire.

3. Graduate certificates and continuing education opportunities

Many social work licensures also require continuing education hours for specific topics, such as child abuse, addiction, human rights, etc. There are many opportunities to complete the continuing education requirement, such as online courses, conferences, workshops, and symposiums. Additional graduate certificates are also available for both social work and public health practice. These include subject areas such as social impact, trauma informed care, and many more.

The University of Pennsylvania, for example, has a continuing education certification in social impact strategy that MSW graduates can complete mostly asynchronously and online. The University of Pittsburgh has a 25 hour self-paced continuing education course focused on understanding systemic racism and healing racial trauma. Graduate certificates are often school-specific, so take a look at university websites to explore their graduate certificate offerings.

4. Research opportunities and faculty expertise

Many schools will offer research opportunities as part of their MSW MPH degree programs. 

Most programs require students to complete a capstone project, many of which result in peer-reviewed publications. Graduate school also provides ample opportunities to conduct research with fellow students and faculty that similarly result in publications. These could be through paid opportunities, such as a graduate assistantship, or unpaid opportunities with a group of professors or fellow students. Additionally, many schools will offer summer or research fellowships and scholarships, so reach out to your program administrators to express interest in research. 

In terms of faculty, your graduate school professors are often established and renowned individuals in the field. Look your prospective faculty-members up on Google Scholar and see if they have any publications or research experience that interest you. Take a look at their bios or Linkedin profiles to assess their career paths and prior work experience. You will spend much of your time in graduate school learning from your professors, so choose a school that has the best teachers for you.

These faculty will be your advisors and resources while you are in each program; take advantage of their knowledge and networks, and choose a program with professors with common interests, research publications, and applied practice experience that appeals to you.

5. Resources and support systems: career services, student services policy, business administration, and health services

Graduate school offers many built-in resources and support systems. 

These include career services, student services, health services, and business administration services, such as networking opportunities and professional development courses. Most schools will offer academic counseling, fieldwork and research placement, and various professional development opportunities. You will likely be assigned to an academic counselor who will help you navigate graduate school and the job hunt experience. Some schools may offer career coaching, resume-building workshops, interview practice sessions, etc.

Additionally, look into your school’s facilities and health services. If you attend an in-person graduate program, you will likely spend a lot of time around your school. Is there a gym or field you can work out in? Are there health insurance benefits? Is there healthy food accessible? These dual degree programs are typically at least three years of your life, so make sure you choose a program with resources and established support systems.

How to Choose the Right Program for You

Identifying your career goals and aligning them with program offerings

If you know exactly what you want to do with your career, great. If you don't, that is more than okay, most of us don’t have our full career trajectory mapped out. Before pursuing graduate education, however, it is important to identify your career goals so you can align them with program offerings. Many graduate public health sciences dual degree programs will let you concentrate in specific subject areas. For example, if you are interested in social welfare, pick a program specializing in that content area. If you are interested in how the social environment affects health services policy, it’s helpful to seek out a program that incorporates content into their curriculum. 

The importance of field education and real-world experience

Field education, otherwise known as field practicum or field placement, is a crucial part of social work education. It provides students with real-world experience in a hands-on setting under the supervision of experienced social workers. This allows students to integrate theory into practice and experience what it is like to practice social work with heightened guidance and support. Field education opportunities typically occur in settings like health systems or hospitals, schools, community-based organizations, or social service agencies. 

Considering program format: traditional vs. online/hybrid

Some MSW MPH dual degree programs have hybrid or online options. As you may know, hybrid and online learning has increased over the last decade8. There are many pros and cons to consider for hybrid learning: they are advantageous for individuals who are working full or part-time, have families, or want to spend time away from campus; however, virtual learning can pose challenges, as it may be difficult to fully engage and feel supported by your cohort, network, and establish meaningful connections in the field.

Consider the following tips if you want to complete one or part of your dual degree program online or in a hybrid environment.

  • Participate in discussions:

    make sure you stay engaged in your virtual classroom and online discussion boards to maximize your learning while in the program.

  • Do research on the alumni network:

    it will likely be more challenging to network remotely, so make sure your school promotes networking opportunities that are accessible to you.

  • Connect with peers:

    online learning can feel lonely. Make sure you are going out of your way to connect with peers, faculty, and staff at the school to feel supported and engaged in your learning.

Financial considerations: tuition, scholarship, and financial aid

It is no secret that graduate education is expensive. According to the financial institution Discover, the average cost of a master’s degree is slightly over $65,0009. It is also no secret that both public health practitioners and social workmasters aren’t the highest earners. Entry-level public health jobs that are available to both masters and bachelors level practitioners include community health workers and health educators. As of 2021, average salaries for health educators was around $60,000, and for community health workers, around $46,60010.

For social work graduates, Salary.com reports the national average for entry-level social workers to be just over $68,60011. This doesn’t negate the value of a graduate degree, and a study comparing salaries of jobs targeting master’s degrees versus bachelor’s degrees found that earnings moving from a bachelor’s to a master’s increased by 20%12. While this is promising, you don’t want your MSW or MPH program to break the bank, so it’s important to take finances and scholarships into consideration when looking at graduate degrees.

Graduate assistant and teaching assistant positions:

Most graduate schools offer GA and TA positions to students in exchange for stipends and/or free or reduced cost of tuition. Individuals are often paired with a specific course or professor and assigned research, grading, or similar entry-level work. Typical hours can range from 5-20 and are often completed asynchronously. These positions are advertised on university websites, so look at your prospective program’s opportunities and reach out to the administration team if you are interested.

Public service loan forgiveness:

is a federal program that forgives loans for government workers or non-profit employees. After paying a percentage of one’s loan proportional to their salary for 120 months or 10 years (non-consecutively), the remaining balance of an individual’s loans is forgiven. Many hospitals and health systems are categorized as non-profit organizations and, therefore, will qualify their employees for public service loan forgiveness.

MSW scholarships:

there is a list of social work scholarships that students are eligible for. Many schools will offer financial aid for their students, as well as targeted scholarships like social work scholarships for minority students, military financial assistance, social work scholarships for women, and more.

MPH scholarships:

there is an abundance of public health scholarships that you may be eligible for. In addition to school-specific scholarships, there are over 70 private, non-profit, and government sponsored scholarships available for students studying public health. Many scholarships target specific concentration areas, such as public health practice, environmental health, and health services policy.

MPH Making an Impact

Start Your Research: Dual MSW/MPH Programs to Consider


  1. https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-13/projected-employment-growth-for-community-and-social-service.htm

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9859360/

  3. https://www.socialworkers.org/News/Facts/Social-Workers 

  4. https://www.cdc.gov/training/publichealth101/public-health.html

  5. https://www.cdcfoundation.org/what-public-health

  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4888782/pdf/nihms789930.pdf 

  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminlaker/2022/02/01/do-you-want-to-solve-complex-problems-cross-disciplinary-thinking-helps/?sh=2a1cd33c2e5a 

  8. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/education/online-colleges/online-learning-stats/ 

  9. https://www.discover.com/student-loans/college-planning/how-to-pay/costs/grad-school-cost 

  10. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm 

  11. https://www.salary.com/research/salary/posting/entry-level-social-worker-salary

  12. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/pay-salary/how-much-does-degree-increase-earnings

About the Authors

Written by:

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML, is a program manager at one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. In her current role, she aligns and expands programming with needs identified in the federally mandated community health needs assessment, and deploys organizational resources to support community health improvement. Prior to this role, she was a community health educator for an advocacy nonprofit organization in Philadelphia. She has co-authored multiple research papers on criminal justice and substance abuse, and will be presenting on law enforcement assisted diversion at the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Ms. Henkin holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master in Law (ML) from the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Health Sciences from Ithaca College.

Opinions and information published by the author on MastersPublicHealth.com are of her own and do not necessarily represent the views of opinions of her employer.

Kerra Henkin headshot

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Program Manager

Education: University of Pennsylvania

Knowledge: Community health education

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on MastersPublicHealth.com are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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