Those who are looking to find employment in the field of social work should consider master’s degree in social work, commonly called a MSW. The goal of this piece is to explain why a MSW is worth pursuing, what it involves and the types of career paths that it can lead to. We will examine some of the field’s top jobs, their compensation levels and the potential for growth in the future. Prospective students are also encouraged to obtain free information from colleges and universities when attempting to make a decision regarding this educational pursuit.
Master’s in Social Work Overview
Those who would like to obtain a MSW will have plenty of educational institutions to choose from. While those who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in social work might have a firm grasp on the subject matter, they are not required to repeat the same coursework over again. Students who have obtained a bachelor’s degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program are commonly awarded with advanced placement. Some immediately move into a specialized study program for advanced competencies. Most colleges and universities are flexible and willing to work with each unique candidate to provide the appropriate level of instruction. Those who have already obtained an undergraduate degree in social work might only have to complete an additional 30 semester hours to obtain a MSW. Those who do not already have an undergraduate degree in social work will typically proceed to a MSW program with 60 semester hours.
The majority of MSW programs provide students with the opportunity to specialize their course of study. In general, students are permitted to choose between a clinical and a nonclinical focus. While clinical MSW programs help individuals prepare to work as a mental health practitioner, nonclinical programs don’t. It is often most prudent to opt into the clinical practicum at the outset of a MSW program to avoid spending excessive time and money later on. Other specialties include youth and family, macro health care, community planning, working with geriatrics etc. Regardless of the track that you select, the program’s CSWE accreditation is pivotal. CSWE has numerous publications that describe each MSW program’s 10 advanced core competencies that should be mastered by graduation. Those who obtain an advanced degree from an institution that lacks CSWE accreditation might find that it is difficult to obtain relevant employment.
Reasons to Earn a Masters in Social Work
While earning a MSW will likely provide you with stable employment and more than a “living wage” in terms of compensation, it also provides a myriad of other benefits. Those who are professionals in the field of social work will testify to the remarkable level of fulfillment that they experience on a regular basis. Unlike many other professionals, those who obtain employment in the field of social work really do help people and make a difference in the community. This line of work is all about helping those who need assistance and making a positive difference in a local context. While the job can be stressful, most who earn a MSW will state that they derive great satisfaction from helping the less fortunate and revitalize their local communities.
Online Master’s Degree in Social Work
MSW degrees are available online and through the in-classroom traditional route. Countless professionals have obtained a MSW through online programs and moved on to enjoy very rewarding careers. Prospective students should not fret about the possible lack of access to instructors and course materials. While a MSW might not be as intense of a graduate degree as something like a PhD in Biomechanical Engineering, the coursework is oftentimes challenging. Professors are always available for online students.
Welcome to the USC School of Social Work
The United States’ MSW programs do not share a uniform curriculum. The CSWE has provided accreditation for over 200 schools of social work within the United States. These schools must adhere to the CSWE’s core competencies in order to retain accreditation. Aside from competencies like ethical decision making and critical thinking, the CSWE also encourages MSW students to interact, analyze, evaluate and sometimes interfere with certain individuals in need of assistance. The coursework provided in MSW programs is intended to foster all of these skills.
Most MSW programs are obtained in two years. Those who have already completed some of the coursework can enroll in an advanced standing program as described above. The first year of MSW studies typically includes courses that cover general social work education. After students have been introduced to the fundamentals of social work, they progress to an array of classes that facilitate the development of the CSWE’s core competencies. Students typically choose a concentration in an area at this time.
Field education is also a vital component of obtaining a MSW. Students work in real world situations that empower them to refine their skill sets and obtain experience that will help them once they permanently transition out of the classroom. Most MSW students wholeheartedly embrace field education as it presents an opportunity to observe scenarios that they will soon encounter after graduation. The specific number of field hours required differs by each MSW program. However, in order to be CSWE accredited, schools must mandate that MSW students perform a minimum of 900 hours of field education with the guidance of a professional social worker who has already obtained a MSW.
The vast majority of those who apply to MSW programs have already completed a bachelor’s degree. Many have completed an undergraduate degree in a related field such as social work, sociology or liberal arts.
Social Work Career Outlook
Those who earn a MSW will find that it opens plenty of doors in the professional world. The degree is applicable to more fields and professions than most assume. Those who have earned a MSW degree and narrowed their focus on a specialization like substance abuse often find that they out-earn their peers who failed to specialize. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular careers and the accompanying salaries for those who obtain a MSW.
- Social Worker — The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that social workers enjoy a median pay of $44,200 per year. It is estimated that 114,100 additional social workers will be needed between 2012 and 2022. This represents a faster than average growth rate of 19 percent. In terms of responsibilities, social workers assist people with life challenges including depression, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, abuse etc.
- Medical/Public Health Social Worker — One who earns a MSW can immediately enter a career in the medical/public health field. These overarching fields encompass assisted living centers, nursing homes, medical clinics, rehabilitation centers, hospitals and more. Those who earn their MSW work in these facilities to ensure that patients receive the proper level of care. They also work with individuals to surmount life obstacles and transition back to a healthy existence. Since the role of a social worker in a medical/public health setting differs significantly from professional to professional, the average salary ranges between $40,000 and $60,000 per year.
- Child Welfare Social Worker — Some social workers decide to specialize in a certain subset of the field like child welfare. Plenty embark on a MSW with the aim of working for child protective services. This is a stressful position that often has high turnover as social workers work directly with troubled families. The average salary of a child welfare social worker ranges from $30,000 to $50,000.
- Substance Abuse Social Worker — Another example of someone who earns a MSW and benefits from a narrow specialization is the substance abuse social worker. This individual assists those who suffer from substance abuse problems. He meets with them, offers an assessment, builds a customized treatment plan and performs follow up appointments. Substance abuse social workers often work in places like rehabilitation centers, detention centers, prisons and mental health clinics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for this position is $39,270.
Master’s in Social Work Financial Aid
One of the best ways to fund your MSW is to research each school’s unique scholarships, loans, grants and other means of financial aid. Most universities are highly cognizant of the fact that higher education costs have increased over the past couple of decades. If you are willing to work with the financial aid offices of these institutions and pursue all possible funding avenues, you might find that your MSW is cheaper than you originally anticipated. Take a look at the links below for more information about financing a MSW.
Additional Resources for Social Work Students
- The National Association of Social Workers
- Social Work Student and Professional Organizations
- The Center for Economic and Social Rights
- The American Sociological Association
Where Can Master’s of Social Work Candidates Find Work After They Graduate?
With your MSW, there are several general career directions that you can take:
- Medical and public health: Social workers in the medical field generally are in very high demand, with a 22% increase of growth through 2020. Medical and public health social workers may work in any facility that works with patients: hospitals, ERs, hospices, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, assisted living centers and home health agencies. Salary: Up to $58,000.
- Substance abuse: Social workers in this field can work in many areas, such as prisons, rehabilitation centers, private practices, and juvenile detention centers. Salary: Up to $49,000.
- Mental health: Note that if you want to work in mental health, you will need to have a master’s degree in clinical work. You may work in a community mental health center, a mental hospital, private practice, hospital and sometimes schools. Salary: Up to $42,000.
- Child welfare: Most social workers in this specialty will work with child protective services for the county, city or state. Salary: Up to $47,000.
School social work: You will be the liaison between the students’ families and the school, and will make sure the children’s personal lives and education lives are meshing and all needs are being met. You will usually work in an elementary or secondary school. Salary: Up to $52,000.
Indeed.com reports that the average salary for social workers overall is $52,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median salary for all social workers is $43,000, and the top 10% will earn over $70,000 per year. This upper end of the salary range is definitely possible for an MSW holder with many years of work experience in the field.