What Can I Do with a Master’s Degree in Social Work?

Obtaining a master’s degree in the field of social work (MSW) is not just an incredible investment in a richly meaningful, creative, and rewarding career with remarkable versatility. It is also a great opportunity for advancement in a sector of the job market that is undergoing tremendous growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,1 “Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.” In the same time period, social work jobs in healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse are projected to grow by 19 percent.

Even for those with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), holding an MSW has the potential to lead to major advantages in salary, increases in responsibilities, and expansion of job prospects. According to the NASW Workforce Center,2 a social worker with a BSW and working in a hospital had an average yearly salary of $40,100, whereas a social worker with a master’s degree in the same type of setting earned an average yearly salary of $60,000. For those who are discouraged by the costs of obtaining an MSW, some institutions accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) offer flexibility with full-time, part-time, and online programs for working and non-working professionals.

While salary and career advancement may rank high on the list of priorities for those pursuing an MSW, the sense of fulfillment that can be experienced offering help in the service of others is immeasurable. Undoubtedly, people choose social work because they want to make a difference in others’ lives. The profession has a rich history and tradition of providing services, particularly to marginalized and oppressed populations around the world,3 as well as its own distinct professional Code of Ethics.4 Another key factor that distinguishes social work from other helping professions is its keen attention to context. While a primary aim of a social worker may be to address individual therapeutic needs, social conditions that present obstacles to an individual’s well-being and ability to access services are essential areas for assessment and intervention. The MSW is also a terminal degree and two types of licenses can be earned, the LSW at the close of MSW studies and the LCSW after a couple of years of supervised practice, which is uncommon for other master’s degrees.

The range of settings and opportunities for MSW level social workers are vast, from work with children, youth, families, groups, and communities, to administrative and policy/advocacy work with governmental and non-governmental organizations. Social workers can also be found providing services in private therapy practices and in the corporate sector. One compelling aspect of the work is that it often involves being on an interdisciplinary team.
In thinking about what you can do with an MSW degree, here are some areas where social workers are employed:

Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Social workers serve people with clinical mental health and/or substance use diagnoses in community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, day treatment settings, clinics, homes, schools, family service agencies, prisons, and employee assistance programs.

Services to Children and their Families. Social workers help to ensure the safety and well-being of children and support parents to protect and care for their children in agencies focused on child welfare, foster care, and adoption, among others.

Criminal Justice. Social workers serve incarcerated individuals, ex-offenders, families, and victims through rehabilitative and other justice-oriented functions in prisons, courts, police departments, probation offices, and victim services agencies.

Health and Well-Being. Social workers assist those suffering with disease or disability in hospitals, health centers, hospice, palliative care, nursing homes, and Veteran’s Administration hospitals and clinics.

Educational Needs. Social workers serve children in schools, school districts, head start programs, and other agencies to assist them with educational, emotional, and developmental difficulties.

Policy/Advocacy: Social workers assist with community programming, advocacy, education, and political action. Possible settings for this work are community development corporations, community centers, and governmental institutions.

From clinical practice settings to engagement in large-scale change efforts, having an MSW offers a rewarding, creative, and authentic career path for people seeking to make a difference in the world.

If you would like to learn more about a Master’s in Social Work degree contact a Program Manager at 844-386-9413.

About the author:
Eric Stein, DSW, LSW is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching at Widener, he has taught at UPENN, Rutgers, Marywood, and Stockton University. He has been involved in the field of social work for more than 15 years in clinical and administrative positions both in Philadelphia and San Francisco. His practice has included mental health and community-based services for individuals, children, youth, and families living in marginalized and oppressed communities.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Accessed May 28, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
2National Association of Social Workers: Center for Workforce Studies, “NASW Occupational Profiles.” Accessed May 28, 2016, http://workforce.socialworkers.org/whatsnew.asp#profiles
3National Association of Social Workers, “Social Work History.” Accessed May 29, 2016, https://www.socialworkers.org/Careers/Career-Center/Explore-Social-Work/Types-of-Social-Work-Degrees
4National Association of Social Workers, “Social Work Code of Ethics.” Accessed May 29, 2016. https://www.socialworkers.org/Careers/Career-Center/Explore-Social-Work