All about a master's degree in social work

  • All about a master's degree in social work

    Obtaining a master's degree in social work opens more doors for career prospects in the field as well as higher earnings. While a Bachelor of Social Work permits work within entry-level positions in the social work field, many looking to progress their career quickly will find that a master's degree may be required for advancement. If one is looking for a career that helps people solve and cope with issues in their everyday life, as well as delve into societal issues affecting communities, a master's degree in social work may provide valuable educational tools to help fulfill one's career ambitions.

    What roles one may anticipate as a social worker, varying on their specialty

    • Identify people and communities in need of help
    • Assess clients' needs from a holistic approach to determine their goals
    • Research and provide information on community resources, like food stamps, childcare and health care that can improve a client's well-being
    • Deal with crisis situations, like child abuse
    • Maintain records and case files
    • Follow up with clients' to determine if their situations have improved, or are improving
    • Assist clients in adjustment periods, like illness, divorce, unemployment or grief

    Social work is a career always in demand that has seen steady growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2026, the number of social workers is projected to increase to more than 790,000, which would mean an addition of 109,700 jobs overall in the field. It is projected that over the decade the occupation of child, family and school social workers will add to most of the jobs (around 45,000 of them). Within this field, there is an expected 16% growth rate, which is more than double the 7% growth rate average projected for all occupations from 2016-2026.

    Topics covered in an MSW degree program

    An MSW degree is a highly coveted degree by human service employers. As this field is known for constantly evolving to face the ongoing challenges in modern society, it is typical to cover a broad spectrum of concepts, some of which include:

    • Social Work Methods
    • Social Work History and Social Welfare Policy
    • Health and the Environment
    • Social Work Concepts with Couples and Families
    • Structural Oppression
    • These courses may also vary due to the graduate program, and if a student has a chosen specialty. Some programs may emphasize a more broad, holistic approach to social work while others may allow one to apply a more narrow scope to their studies.

    A deeper look into what potential courses could include

    Research methodology is an important structural base for many courses and career moments within the field. Students take this coursework with data collection and processing, research design, hypothesis formulation and statistical analysis.

    A human behavior course is important for focusing on the interactions of people in a social environment. Students learn about the stages of human development, as well as previous research in the field in regard to human behavior. It typically will focus not just on family dynamics, but also human interaction as broader communities and organizational systems.

    Students may also have a course that covers social policy, advocacy and practice. This course can be exponentially influential to students who are interested in the field of macro social work, which is less about direct client interactions but taking a systemic approach instead. Regardless of specialty interest, it is important for students to understand the history of the social welfare system.

    Lastly, many programs will involve a clinical social work skills course. Most social workers go on to pursue clinical work, either in hospitals, schools or nonprofit programs. This serves an important foundational course covering practice methodology, client assessment, data collection and intervention. Typically, students will explore how their own class, gender, sexual orientation and other individual perspectives may affect their relationships with clients.

    Qualifications to expect for MSW programs

    Of course, qualifications will vary between schools, but here is a general overview of what to expect if a student is trying to plan ahead accordingly.

    1. One can expect that schools will require a bachelor's degree, or a recognized equivalent, from an accredited institution.

    2. Graduate schools are going to look for a satisfactory scholastic average, which generally would be a minimum grade-point average of a B or better (3.0 on a 4-point scale). They'll typically look at coursework after the first two years of undergraduate study. They may specify the last 60 semester units.

    3. They may also look at a student's undergraduate preparation and training. Some universities may have alternate programs for a student who has already completely a bachelor's degree in social work, anticipating that they've completed a lot of the basic courses. They may be able to do an accelerated program, depending on the program. For those who had a different major for their bachelor's, schools may focus on finding that candidates have strong backgrounds in social sciences and liberal arts.

    4. Many programs may also require a college-level introductory course in research methods, statistics or quantitative reasoning.

    5. Lastly, some programs may want candidates to have experience working, either paid or volunteer, in something related to social welfare or human services.

    Potential Careers

    Obtaining an MSW will open many doors in the social work field. Graduates may decide to go the more clinical approach, focusing on a specialization in child and family work, where they can assist families facing issues varying from substance abuse to poverty to trauma. Others may work in hospitals or health care settings and advocate for patients, helping them understand their treatment options and navigate their emotions through the process. There are mental health social workers who assist clients face the everyday stresses, situational circumstances, eating disorders and other psychological conditions. One may decide to focus working in schools, facing a wide scope of issues depending on the age-range of students. It is important to note that further state licensing is required for certain roles, but a master's degree will get one further to their desired role.

    If you'd like to pursue a master's in social work, browse our comprehensive list of graduate schools to find the right program to meet your academic and personal expectations.

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