A masters degree in social work prepares students to help improve people's lives and their overall wellbeing. These graduate programs are also sometimes referred to as a master of social work, or MSW.
Social workers play a vital role in the lives of people with conflicts at home, drug abuse, disabilities, chronic illnesses and other life-destructive issues. If you show sensitivity toward others, maturity, responsibility, independent effectiveness, and strong communication skills, you hold of the necessary attributes needed to succeed as a social worker. As a graduate with a master’s (MS) (MSW) or Ph.D. degree in social work, you can pursue a career in a variety of settings and roles ranging from a case manager, to a counselor or policymaker, in a school, hospital or private agency; just to name a few.
Graduate Program and Coursework Overview
Master’s programs in social work prepare graduates for a future in specialized research, assessment and social service distribution. Although every program is different, typically students are required to complete no less than 900 hours of internship work and two years of coursework, although 4 years is typical for part-time students, in order to graduate. A bachelor’s degree in social work is not always required for admittance into a social work graduate program, but an undergraduate degree in a related field of study such as psychology or sociology is best. It is generally expected that a social work professional holds a MSW degree in order to practice.
Some social work graduate programs offer coursework focused on the desired industry where students hope to work such as a hospital setting, government agency or school. Other specialized coursework may be specific to the types of clients students hope to treat such as children or adults, mental health patients or drug abusers.
In general, master’s in social work programs offer a broad range of coursework including:
Social Work and the Law
Child Abuse and Neglect
Social Work with Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Crisis Intervention and Emergency Treatment
In addition to classroom-based learning, students are typically required to complete a certain amount of field work as specified by their program. MSW students can choose from a variety of settings to complete this work such as:
Family services organizations
Personal care agencies
Whatever the setting, students may work with a variety of people including:
Children, adults and elderly people
Groups of peers
Several MSW programs allow students to choose from two tracks when completing their degree.
A clinical track focuses on direct practice with clients. This track is designed for students who wish to conduct fieldwork where they will directly counsel patients who may suffer from mental health issues, family conflicts, drug abuse and other issues seeking the help of a social worker.
A macro practice track focuses on political advocacy, community organizing, policy analysis and/or human services management. This track is designed for students who wish to pursue a job with governments in researching, analyzing and recommending policy. Typically, they will not directly treat or counsel patients.
MSW Career Paths
A master’s degree in social work is usually required for entry level positions as practitioners, as almost always required to advance to senior-level positions. Career paths for social workers range from consulting, teaching or working with governments in researching, analyzing and recommending policy. There is a wide scope of opportunities for a social worker, but typically, there are four primary roles or specialties from which a social worker chooses for his or her career.
Child, family and school social workers
These practitioners work with families to enhance their home and academic welfare. Typically, this involves a range of responsibilities from working with neglected children and navigating the foster home system, to working in schools to promote student health and behavior. They also assist the elderly with housing, care, and transportation services. Social workers are engaged in all levels of government to promote various agencies dealing with families, children and education systems. Typically, these roles are classified under family, child welfare or protection, gerontology and occupational services.
Medical and public health social workers
These practitioners specialize in helping people cope with chronic illnesses through counseling, and are a part of a team of professionals who determine the best treatment for patients’ wellbeing. They can work in a variety of agency and organization settings including hospitals, family services organizations, local governments and personal care agencies.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers
These social workers are often referred to as clinical workers. They evaluate and assist people with substance addictions or mental ailments. They offer life-skills training, individual or group therapy, crisis intervention and rehabilitation services. These practitioners can typically be found in personal care treatment or family centers, substance abuse treatment facilities, local government agencies and hospitals.
Policymakers and planners
These workers are behind-the-scenes practitioners who are devoted to implementing new policies that streamline protocol and systems to improve the wellbeing of people. Instead of directly treating people, policymakers and planners research, analyze, develop, and implement programs for people experiencing different kinds of abuse or poverty. This helps those social workers who directly counsel patients to be more effective in their treatments. They also lobby for government action, when necessary, and lead fund raising efforts for programs in need of financial support.
Social Worker Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 607,300 social worker employed in the United States. Jobs for social workers are projected to grow by 19% between 2012 and 2022, which means about 114,100 new social work career options may be made available during that time. This growth rate is faster than the average growth rate of all occupations.
Social Worker Salary
Social workers commonly pursue careers in a variety of industries. Some of the top industries of employment for social workers are child, family and school services, healthcare, and mental health and substance abuse services.
In 2012 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median annual salary for social workers was $44,200. The top 10% of earners in this field made more than $72,980, while the bottom 10% of earners made less than $27,450. The median annual salary for social workers employed in child, family, and school services was $41,530, the median salary for healthcare social workers was $49,830, and the median salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers was $39,980. Salarys for social workers vary according to location, industry of employment, education level, and experience. The graph below provides 2012 median annual salary information for social workers employed in select industries.