Pre-Social Work at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from UHM’s Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work website, National Association of Social Workers (NASW) website, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) website, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) website,, and the UHM 2017-2018 Catalog.

Social Work Programs in Hawai`i: UH Mānoa Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work, Hawai’i Pacific University School of Social Work

Field Description

Social work promotes individual and collective well-being through advocating for justice, providing effective programs and services, and enhancing individual and family development. Founded on principles of human rights and social justice, social work’s primary responsibility is to the most vulnerable groups and individuals of our society. Social workers view differences among people as enriching the quality of life for all.

Social workers help people prevent and overcome social and health problems such as poverty, mental illness, child abuse and neglect, elder abuse and neglect, emotional instability, illness, economic uncertainty, domestic violence, homelessness, and drug abuse. Social workers enhance opportunities for individuals, especially for those who have been historically oppressed, and seek to maximize individuals’ and groups’ participation in society using theories of human behavior, relationships, and social systems.

Social workers work directly with individuals, couples, families, and groups to make the most effective use of their abilities and to identify and overcome obstacles preventing them from participating fully in society. Social workers may also work with communities, organizations, and social systems to improve services and to administrate social and health programs. When adequate services do not exist in a community, social workers sometimes develop new services.

Work Setting

Social workers practice in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals and clinics, schools, public welfare departments, family and child welfare agencies, mental health clinics, gerontology and geriatric programs, legal administration, immigrant and refugee centers, private practice, and so on. They also practice in a wide variety of formats, from assisting individuals to advocating for specific populations, from home visits to office appointments, from working with people to filing reports. Some social workers also teach or conduct research in academia.

Related Careers: counseling, clinical psychology, occupational therapy, law, health administration.

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Social Work Programs

Year of Schooling Required to Become a Social Worker:

4 to 11 years of education

  • Bachelor’s Degree (4-5 years);
  • Master’s Degree (2-3 years);
  • Doctorate (3+ years).

Upon graduation from a social work program, students are awarded the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Master of Social Work (MSW), Doctor of Social Work (DSW), or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work, depending on the program in which they enrolled. All graduates of accredited programs are eligible for licensure and professional practice, although certain areas of social work are restricted to those with advanced degrees.

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Degree Conferred

The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) provides students with the knowledge, skills, and values of the profession, integrated with a liberal arts education. The BSW prepares students for beginning-level generalist practice and for advanced study in social work.

The Master of Social Work (MSW) prepares students for advanced practice or specialization, and is required to provide certain services such as therapy or to work in certain settings such as psychiatric hospitals or mental health clinics.

The Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work prepare social workers for leadership roles in social work and social welfare. Both programs require additional years of study in areas such as clinical practice, administration, and research, however they differ in that the DSW is oriented toward clinical practice and the PhD is oriented toward research or teaching.

The Licensing Examination(s):

Licensure requirements for social workers are set by individual states, and vary depending on applicants’ degree level. Most states require, in addition to state-based requirements, that students obtain a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Examination, a national licensing exam. Most social workers must be licensed to practice.

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Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the schools you are interested in attending.

The following guidelines pertain only to the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at UH Mānoa.

Bachelor’s Level: UHM’s School of Social Work builds its curriculum upon a foundation of liberal arts education and typically admits students at the Junior level. To be admitted to the BSW program, applicants must:

  • be admitted to UH Mānoa;
  • have completed UH’s General Education Core requirements (special consideration is given to second-semester sophomores requesting early admission);
  • have a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.5 or higher;
  • be able to provide evidence of motivation for and commitment to social work education (e.g., personal, volunteer, or social-work-related experience); and
  • have completed, or be in the process of completing, the following courses with a grade of ‘C’ or better:
SW 200The Field of Social Work3 cr.
PHIL 110 or 111Introduction to Deductive Logic or Introduction to Inductive Logic3 cr.
PSY XXXAny Psychology course (e.g. PSY 100)3 cr.
POLS XXXAny Political Science course (e.g. POLS 110)3 cr.
UHM and UHCC classes approved to satisfy this requirementApproved biological science course emphasizing human biology

Visit here to see the School of Social Work’s current list of prerequisites. Note that the School offers recommendations for GenEd core courses. Finally, contact the School if you have questions about which courses to take or about the evaluation of transfer courses.

The School of Social Work accepts students for the BSW program in both Fall and Spring. The deadline for submission of applications for Fall admission is February 1st and the deadline for Spring admission is October 1st.

Master’s Level: Admission to the MSW program requires:

  • a completed bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, or the equivalent from a foreign institution;
  • a minimum 3.0 cumulative grade point average;
  • a liberal arts background;
  • a record of scholarship that indicates the ability to do satisfactory graduate work;
  • evidence of personal qualifications, motivation, and social work or related experience; and
  • the potential for successful graduate education and professional practice in social work.

The School of Social Work admits students to the MSW program in the Fall only; the application deadline is February 1st.

Doctoral Level: Admission to the PhD program is competitive, based upon evidence of potential for leadership and scholarly inquiry, and is decided on a case-by-case basis. For more information, contact the chair of the PhD program at UHM’s School of Social Work.

In addition to requirements set forth by the University of Hawai‘i Graduate Division, the Doctoral Program Committee of the School of Social Work looks for evidence of the following when reviewing applications:

  • Education: Applicants must have a Master of Social Work degree from a CSWE accredited school/program of social work prior to beginning the PhD program. (Students are urged to obtain 2 years post-MSW experience in social work which will allow them to teach social work practice courses at a CSWE accredited school of social work upon graduation.)
  • Scholarly capacity: Applicants should demonstrate excellent writing skills, and evidence of analytic skills, research interest, and capabilities.
  • Work experience: Applicants with at least two years of experience working with a multicultural population are preferred.
  • Career goals: Applicants’ interests and career goals should be compatible with the stated focus of the PhD program.

The School of Social Work admits students to the PhD program in the Fall only; the application deadline is January 15th.

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Experience and Personal Development

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgement, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree to gain more experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

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Researching Schools

There are now over 400 accredited social work programs in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.  For a list of accredited social work programs, please visit the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) website.

To find schools that are good a fit for you:

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 400+ schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your GRE scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into ‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety.”) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

Some graduate social work programs may require applicants to take a standardized test called the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the GRE is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills.  Remember that the verbal sections are not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in a social work program, but also the most difficult scores to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE assesses your knowledge and skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE is offered in computer-based and paper-based formats, and is offered year-round for computer-based administrations and up to three times per year for paper-based administrations.

GRE Scoring: The Verbal and Quantitative sections each receive a score between 130 and 170, in 1-point increments.  The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. GRE scores are often reported as percentiles, with the median score (50th percentile) among examinees being 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5  for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around the 50th percentile or higher are considered competitive for social work programs.

Official Test Preparation Material

Commercial Test Preparation Companies

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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Application Process

For all social work programs, students need to apply directly to the individual school or program.  Before applying, students are strongly encouraged to meet with an academic advisor to evaluate their résumés and applications. For schools with rolling admission, submit your application as early as possible.

To apply to UHM’s School of Social Work, visit for instructions and downloadable forms. Note that the website includes information on financial aid and on available scholarships.

As part of your application, you will need to submit:

Note: Application deadlines are February 1 (BSW, MSW) and January 15 (PhD) for the Fall semester , and October 1 for the Spring semester (BSW only).

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Financial Aid

Financial Planning is a crucial step in applying to social work programs. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after a social work program. To learn more about financial planning, click here.

WRGP: Hawai`i residents are eligible to participate in the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WRGP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state master’s, graduate certificate and Ph.D programs at participating WICHE institutions. WRGP selected students pay the resident tuition rate at the WICHE participating institution. No payments are made directly to students.

To be considered for the WRGP resident tuition rate, apply directly to the department or graduate studies department of the institution where you want to enroll, and identify yourself as WICHE WRGP applicant. WGRP students must fulfill the usual admission requirements and deadlines of the department and institution concerned. For a more information and for a list of participating schools, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE WRGP program, please visit

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Contact Information

UHM’s Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work
Gartley Hall
2430 Campus Rd
Honolulu, HI 96822

Phone: 808-956-7182

To schedule an advising appointment with a Pre-BSW Peer Advisor, contact: or call the phone number listed above.

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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for your social work programs.

Associations National Association of Social Workers

International Federation of Social Workers
Entrance Exam Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Researching Schools Council on Social Work Education (Contains Directory of Accredited Programs)
Applications Apply directly to your school(s) of choice
Programs in Hawaii UHM's School of Social Work
Current OpportunitiesHealth – Current Opportunities
EngagementHealth – Clubs and Organizations

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