I loved Coursera’s free online social work course from the University of Michigan so much that I decided to go to graduate school

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Emily Hein wearing a NYU t-shirt outside in New York City
The University of Michigan’s free online social work course (offered through Coursera) encouraged me to apply to grad school in the field. I applied shortly after finishing the class and will attend NYU’s Silver School of Social Work in the fall.

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The decision to go to grad school is a daunting one: Committing time, money, and effort to a major career decision that won’t actually manifest until years later feels slightly terrifying.

I had been curious about how I could fuse my background in journalism with my passion for mental health advocacy, so I took to Coursera and discovered the University of Michigan’s Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research MasterTrack (one of the school’s many online offerings). I enrolled in the free, self-paced introductory course to help me decide if I wanted to commit to the full MasterTrack, which takes about 6-8 months to complete, or even a longer degree.

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It was a small preview into the history and importance of social work, an opportunity for self-reflection and understanding my role in promoting social justice, and a test in balancing a full-time job with part-time learning. Three weeks later, I flew through nearly the entire intro course in two sittings – and felt ready to apply to part-time graduate programs in social work.

Sure enough, I recently committed to a part-time, on-campus Master of Social Work at NYU, and I feel exponentially more confident in that decision after taking the University of Michigan’s free online course.

Keep reading to learn about the free course, the University of Michigan’s social work MasterTrack program, and more:

Coursera Mastertrack

Course structure

Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change breaks its instruction down into four main sections:

  • What Is Social Work?
  • Integrated Themes of Social Work
  • A History of Social Work
  • Privilege, Oppression, Diversity, and Social Justice

All modules include videos from practicing social workers, alumni, and faculty from Michigan’s School of Social Work. This was the selling point for me: Hearing firsthand how each speaker has used their experience in social work to better understand others’ perspectives, empower those they work with, and advocate for the communities they care so deeply about.

However, it’s important to note that the vast majority of the course is presented through these video accounts. The videos are accessible and include captioning, but there are far more of them than there are discussion opportunities, quizzes, or interactive materials (although there are multiple occurrences of these other learning tools as well).

Timing and cost

The course is estimated to take about 12 hours to complete, and when I enrolled, it was suggested that I dedicate one week to each module – or three hours each week – to learning. Because I found the course material very engaging, I completed more than half the course in four hours on a Saturday night. The remaining modules were completed in two smaller chunks on weeknights. It’ll depend on your learning style how you want to spread out your study time.

Coursera Social Work certificate

The course is free to audit, though you can also pay $49 for a certificate of completion to add to your LinkedIn or resume. I appreciated having the graded quizzes and certificate for accountability and career development, and the assessments were pretty straightforward – I enjoyed the quizzes and didn’t find them particularly challenging.

If you’re looking to pursue the Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research MasterTrack, then the certificate is worth it because its cost can be applied to the MasterTrack. If not, then the value of the certificate will depend on your career ambitions and learning style – it might just be worth it to audit the course for free.

Enrolling in the MasterTrack and applying to the MSW

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If you finish the course and would like to take the entire MasterTrack, you can enroll directly through Coursera with no required application. The MasterTrack is $2,000, and a detailed FAQ page explains the enrollment process.

If you’d like to apply to Michigan’s School of Social Work, you can submit an Eligibility Review Request to the university before enrolling in the MasterTrack. This form, which requires uploading your resume, is used to assess whether you’d be eligible to apply the MasterTrack certificate to an online or in-person Master of Social Work degree at UMich. It is not automatically supplemental to an MSW application and MasterTrack students are not guaranteed acceptance.

The completion of the MasterTrack certificate reduces the master’s degree from 60 credits to 45, potentially saving a significant amount of time and tuition costs. However, it’s important to note that the MasterTrack certificate is only applicable to Michigan’s MSW programs – it can’t be applied to other schools or programs.

Social Work: Practice, Policy and Research MasterTrack™ Certificate from the University of Michigan (small)

How the course informed my own career

I loved Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change so much that it inspired me to apply to MSW programs of my own, and I’m proud to be attending NYU’s Silver School of Social Work in the fall.

I’m NYC-based, and NYU’s Extended Program allowed me to enroll part-time in night and weekend courses while keeping my full-time job.

Though I could have enrolled in Michigan’s online program, I felt in-person courses were the right fit for me following over a year of work from home. For those who live in Michigan or prefer online learning, I’d still recommend the MasterTrack program.

The bottom line

If you’re curious about others’ professional experiences in social work, passionate about social justice, and considering social work as a career, I’d highly recommend this free course as a starting point. The engaging videos, varying perspectives, and powerful takeaways have already left a lasting positive impact on my future.

While working through it, I entered a much sought-after flow state of engagement, empowerment, and confidence that confirmed my suspicion that social work would be the right path for me. As I plan to begin pursuing my MSW in the fall, I’m grateful for the reassurance that I’ve made an informed career decision.

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