graduate programs in social work

Last Updated on December 22, 2022

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graduate programs in social work

What Can I Do With A Masters in Social Work?

What Can I Do With A Masters in Social Work?

What Can I Do With A Masters in Social Work? If you are considering pursuing a master’s degree in social work, certainly you have asked yourself this question. Even those who are close to graduating from a social work MSW program ask the same questions, as they may not yet be certain what direction they want to go. The answer is, there are so many things you can do with a master’s degree in social work. It can take you in many different directions, and sometimes in a direction that is quite unexpected. 

Many people assume that someone working towards earning a master’s degree in social work wants to become a therapist. At the same time, many social work graduate students intend to take the clinical route. However, graduates can do so many other things with their master’s degree in social work. For example, social workers can be clinicians, advocates, community organizers, supervisors, or administrators or take on a combination of several different roles. Additionally, some social workers decide to earn an advanced degree. They enter the research field and earn a PhD in social work or a DSW degree to engage in research and teaching. Others get a law degree to provide advocacy and legal services to vulnerable populations.

What undergraduate degree do I need to go into social work?

To be accepted into an MSW social work program, an applicant must have an undergraduate degree. Some students wonder if it’s best to start with a bachelor’s degree in social work. With advanced standing, the path to an MSW is faster. A student with a BSW only has to take one year of coursework and fieldwork to get the MSW.

However, an undergraduate degree in social work is not a prerequisite to obtaining your MSW. Students get into social work graduate programs with a broad cross-section of undergraduate degrees. Many social work graduate students have a BA in sociology or human services. Still, many have degrees in fields as disparate as fine arts or biology!


Do I have to take a licensing exam after graduation? 

Suppose you intend to take the clinical route. In that case, after you earn a LCSW masters degree, you must take a professional licensing exam to become a certified Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) or Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). Some states have additional levels of licensure, but these are two of the most common. Also, just because you have earned a social work license does not mean you have to be a therapist or work in a clinical role as a licensed clinical social worker. Some social workers who have obtained a license still opt to take on a non-clinical role.

Whether or not a social worker obtains one license or the other, several values apply to all in the field of social work. First, all social workers should practice according to the Social Work Code of Ethics and practice policy. That means they must advocate for social policies that help and empower vulnerable populations and help their clients advocate for themselves.


What are some of the specific jobs I can pursue after graduating with my master’s degree in social work? 

So, prospective social work students and even recent grads ask, what can I do with my master’s degree in social work? The bottom line is that social is one of the most rewarding professions and enables you to make a difference in the lives of others truly.

The following are some of the most popular and gratifying social work employment opportunities for students who have earned their MSW degrees.

1. Psychiatric Social Work or Clinical Social Worker

A large percentage of master’s level social work graduates do go into clinical social work which means they will engage in direct clinical practice with clients. Clinical Social Workers are also called Mental Health Social Workers. They provide psychotherapy and counseling services to treat mental health disorders and illnesses. These workers also assist clients with other challenges like dealing with grief, trauma, or relationship problems. Social workers in a clinical setting are responsible for working directly with patients. Typical duties include assessing their mental health issues, diagnosing the presence of disorders, and also developing effective treatment plans.

In addition, a clinical social worker often works with substance abuse clients to develop goals for recovery or a plan for achieving greater wellness. Therefore, a social worker who works with health issues related to substance abuse needs excellent communication skills. In addition, they must be trained in mental health, have knowledge of social service resources, and understand the public health system.

In addition to an MSW, in most states, social work therapists and clinicians must obtain licensure or certification as an LCSW. Clinical social workers can work in a wide range of settings. Some employment settings include community mental health centers, stabilization centers (for short-term mental health and substance use emergency stays), psychiatric units in hospitals, other hospital departments, schools, and also private practice. Earnings for social work therapists in private practice are among the highest salaries an advanced social worker with an MSW can earn.

Clinical Social Work

Suppose you are interested in going the clinical route. In that case, it is a good idea to complete student fieldwork and internships to develop your clinical skills. In addition, it is an excellent idea to get experience working with the client population you want to work with after graduation. Or, you can apply for entry-level positions after graduation to give you experience working with a specific population. Entry-level positions with an MSW degree include working for healthcare providers. Clinical career paths involve direct practice, often with mental illness. For example, an LCSW can counsel patients and also be a substance abuse counselor.

Some specialty populations clinical social workers work with include traumatized children and families. Other groups are the seriously mentally ill, developmentally disabled children and their families, the senior population, and the incarcerated population. Finally, there is the high projected growth in demand, an 18% increase through 2028, for clinical social workers.


2. Hospital Social Workers and Hospice Social Workers

Hospice Social Workers are responsible for providing support to patients with chronic or terminal illnesses and their families. Medical or healthcare social workers work directly with patients to ensure they are receiving proper care, to assist with decision making, and facilitate communication with their medical providers. Hospital Social Workers also called healthcare or medical social workers are strong advocates for patient rights and an incredible source of comfort during an extremely difficult time in their clients’ lives.

These social work professionals typically work in interdisciplinary teams with other health care professionals within hospitals, emergency rooms, nursing homes, hospices, and also assisted living facilities. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate for healthcare social workers through 2028 is 17%. This growth rate is one of the highest for any subspecialty of social work. Therefore, opportunities for healthcare social workers will be plentiful in the years ahead.


3. Substance Abuse And Addictions Counselors

Substance Abuse Social Workers, or Addiction Counselors, work with individuals suffering from the use of illicit or prescribed drugs, alcohol, and other substances through both individual and group psychotherapy. Since substance use is so difficult to treat, this is one of the most demanding roles in social work. However, playing such a vital role in helping substance users recover and changing their lives for the better is extremely rewarding. Substance abuse counselors find employment in rehabilitation facilities, non-profit organizations, correctional facilities, and also private practices. As the child welfare and criminal justice systems increase their focus on rehabilitation, work in this social subfield is predicted to have high growth (18%) through 2028.


4. Prison And Justice Social Worker

The justice system employs social workers in jails, prisons, and in probation. In jails and prisons, Criminal Justice Social Workers complete intakes and assessment, coordinate and facilitate therapeutic groups, and supervise and deliver counseling services. In addition, they develop educational and occupations programs and help those who will be released establish a plan for reentering the community successfully. Some probations officers have a social work degree. Still, social workers may also work within the criminal justice system alongside police or probation officers to help paroles live crime-free and productive lives. There are ongoing discussions about embedding social workers with police officers in many cities. Some cities want to replace some policing functions with social work-oriented approaches for working with vulnerable members of communities. So, expect growth in the demand for social workers in these sectors.


What Can I Do With A Masters in Social Work?
Gerontological Social Worker

5. Gerontological Social Worker

As our population ages, there are more opportunities for gerontological social workers who work with the aging and elderly. These social workers work in senior and assisted living communities, nursing homes and rehab facilities, hospitals, and private practice. The elderly often have specific mental and physical health needs that gerontological social workers can help ensure are being addressed in different settings. In many different ways, these Social workers also help mediate disputes between elders and their families. When there is evidence of elder abuse, these social work professionals intervene. They also connect elders with home visiting services and other programs to help them age at home rather than in an institution. Social workers also work for home visiting agencies in the capacity of providing therapeutic services in the home and generally working with clients to ensure their well-being.


6. Social Justice Advocates

Social workers also serve as justice advocates, activists, and community organizers either in a paid or voluntary roles. They also work in several different types of organizations such as advocacy organizations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community organizations. All social workers are expected to engage in policy practice, but some choose to focus on social policy, social justice, or human rights advocacy as their full-time job. They may work either in the U.S. or abroad and play a critical role in bridging micro and macro practice, both of which are critical components of professional social work. They may advocate for vulnerable populations such as the differently-abled, the elderly, low-income people of color, immigrants, or victims of human trafficking.


7. Child Welfare Social Worker

Child welfare is one of the leading career destinations for those with a master’s degree in social work. Child social welfare agencies are generally government-run entities. Sometimes referred to as social services, these agencies investigate child abuse and neglect, remove children from the home when their lives are in danger, and place children into foster care. These family social workers also connect clients with programs and services. Social workers try to prevent first-time or future instances of domestic violence, abuse, and neglect with these direct services. In addition, they become advocates for children in adoptive homes and foster care whose parents have lost their parental rights. These social workers become a bridge between family members. In a parent-like role, they sometimes work with a school system to address behavioral issues and facilitate family therapy. Some counties, cities, and states have outsourced essential child welfare to private non-profit agencies.

Child Welfare Social Workers are child protective specialists, therapists, supervisors, administrators, or foster care and adoption social workers. The field of child welfare needs social workers who are compassionate, strong and have a deep passion for helping children and families. Salaries vary widely depending on role and geographic location. 


8. School Social Worker

Another social work career that requires a deep love for children is school social work. School social workers develop social-emotional learning resources and curricula for their schools. They also build anti-bullying and harassment policies and programs; work with families and students facing economic, housing, and other challenges. Some provide counseling to students and lead groups. In addition, school social workers are often involved in developing and monitoring an individualized education program (IEP). These are plans for students with differences in social, emotional, behavioral, physical, or learning abilities. Finally, school social workers may also facilitate sex health education and crisis intervention plans.

Sometimes, a school social worker opts to become a guidance counselor and to focus more on guiding children academically and in making college plans. Students who are interested in working in schools after graduation should try to work in a school during their graduate studies and obtain experience working with children and families. Many states require school social workers to obtain a specific level of licensure. 


What else can I do with my master’s degree in social work?

A master’s degree in social work only takes two years of full-time study to complete. However, graduates are often amazed at the large variety of employment opportunities after they earn the degree. In addition to the popular careers, graduates can also take leadership roles as nursing home directors, hospice workers, adult protection workers, psychiatric crisis screeners, and adjunct lecturers at universities.

If you have decided on a career in social work, you have certainly made a good decision. This occupation will experience strong job growth over the next decade. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment for social workers should grow 11% from 2018 to 2028. This growth is much faster than the average for all occupations.


Your Career With A Master’s in Social Work

Social work is one of the most satisfying, albeit sometimes most challenging, careers. Of all the degrees available in graduate programs, a social work degree offers some of the most diverse job opportunities. As a social worker, you will engage in some of the most rewarding work of your life.

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