Obtaining a Master’s degree in Social Work, or MSW, is an excellent way to advance in your current career, start a new career, and/or increase your earnings. The greatest benefit of a master’s degree in social work is it leads to a career that is full of improving people’s lives. The term “social work” describes a wide range of helping professions. The master’s degree helps you unlock the door to those professions.
Careers for a Master’s Degree in Social Work
A bachelor’s degree is required to get a master’s degree in social work. While those who pursue a master’s degree in social work typically study psychology, sociology, human services, or social work in their undergraduate program, anyone who has a bachelor’s degree is eligible to apply and be accepted into a master’s degree in social work program.
For those students who did not study social work or a related discipline in undergrad may have to take prerequisites before moving on to the main courses. Some programs may require an exam called the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and an essay talking about your career goals and why you would be a good fit for the program. However, many programs do not or will waive it if you have a certain GPA or a previous master’s degree.
Medical Social Worker
Medical social workers help patients and their families access the care and the support that they need. They educate patients to help them make informed decisions about their care, refer them to resources (e.g. support groups and bereavement counselors), and provide counseling during emotionally stressful time periods. They also communicate with medical staff to advocate for the patient’s best care and to keep the family informed. These social workers are often employed in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted livings, and hospice facilities.
Clinical Mental Health Counselor
A social worker can work as a mental health counselor if they receive additional credentialing on top of the master’s degree in social work. The requirements to be able to practice as a mental health counselor and a master’s social worker vary from state to state, but they generally require a certain number of practicum hours and passing of a licensure exam. Clinical mental health counselors help clients work through life struggles using evidence-based therapy techniques and diagnose and treat mental health disorders. They typically work in private practices, outpatient facilities, inpatient facilities, and hospitals.
Substance Use and Addictive Disorder Counselor
The increased awareness about substance use and addictive disorders over the past decade has made the need for substance use and addictive disorder counselors to significantly increase. Like being a mental health counselor, additional credentialing is usually required to be a substance use and addictive disorder counselor along with being a social worker in the form of practicum hours and licensing examinations. These counselors do similar work as clinical mental health counselors but with a focus on diagnosing and treating substance use and addictive disorders and working with family members of clients. They work in inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment facilities.
School Social Worker
A school social worker helps students in an educational setting. They advocate for students getting the resources that they need at school to succeed, help students with issues at home that may affect their performance in school, educate students on mental and sexual health, and help students with disabilities. They communicate with parents and caregivers at home and outside agencies (e.g. child protective services). Their place of work is a public or private school or several schools in a district.
Child Welfare Social Worker
Child welfare social workers help improve the lives of children who are abused, neglected, in poverty, or have parents who struggle to provide for them due to an illness or disability. They get children out of danger and work with their parents to help them be able to take better care of their children. These social workers typically work for a government child protection agency.
How to Obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work
Many programs offer online, hybrid, and evening courses to accommodate working adults. Make sure that your program is accredited and beware of for-profit online programs. Almost all master’s in social work programs require courses in social agencies ad processes, counseling, research methods and statistics, and an internship. A master’s degree in social work can typically be earned in 2-3 years if taken full-time or 4-6 if taken part-time. If you are certain that you want a degree that opens you up to a variety of careers when you can help people, the time in a social work master’s degree program will be worth it.