Social Work FAQ

GradSchools.com compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about earning a graduate degree and working in the field of social work.  Use this quick reference guide to learn the basics about getting your MSW and starting your career in the field.

What is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or LCSW?

A LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker. Someone with this title has earned a master’s in social work and has met specific licensing requirements needed for clinical social work including a minimum number of supervised hours. An LCSW is considered qualified to diagnose and help treat people with mental and behavioral illnesses. Prior to earning certification as an LCSW many states require practitioners to first obtain their LSW (Licensed Social Worker) certification. The LSW enables social workers to provide counseling to individuals as part of a larger organization. The LCSW certifies social workers to go into private practice. 

How long will it take for me to earn my MSW?

Most msw programs require two years of full-time study. Some students may be able to complete them in less time if they hold a bachelor’s degree in social work, of if they are admitted into an advanced standing or accelerated program.

Do I need an MSW to get a job as a social worker?

An MSW or Master’s in Social Work may significantly increase your job opportunities in the field. Not all social work jobs require one, but many do and even more prefer candidates with this level of graduate education. In some states an MSW from an accredited program is required to obtain licensure to practice.

How much money does a Social Worker Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites $44,200 as the median annual salary for social workers in 2012. The top 10% of earners made more than $72,980/year and the bottom 10% of earners made less than $27,450/year. Salaries in the field vary according to specialty and work environment.1

Can I get my graduate degree in social work from an online school?

Yes, an increasing number of schools are offering an online master’s in social work, including a number of major research universities such as the University of Southern California and Florida State University. This means that the programs are not only available; they may also rank highly alongside traditional campus-based degrees. Check with admissions counselors at your target schools, or your state licensing boards to confirm accreditation.

What can I do with my social work degree?

Most people with a social work degree choose one of two professional paths. Some become direct social workers, focusing on the needs of people whose problems are not complicated by mental or behavioral illnesses. Others become clinical social workers, addressing the more specialized needs of those with mental or behavioral disorders. You can work in a variety of environments as a social worker, including schools, hospitals and other health care facilities, rehabilitation centers, government agencies, and private practice.

How do I gain work experience as a social worker?

Entry level positions are available to those still working toward or just finishing a degree in social work. You may also find volunteer work related to the field or a job assisting a more experienced professional. Many undergraduate and graduate degree programs in social work require students to participate in a practicum, which is supervised onsite training. Practicum hours are usually counted toward college credits and help students of social work gain valuable real world experience.

What is the difference between clinical counseling and social work?

There are considerable similarities between clinical counseling and social work, especially clinical social work. People with either specialization provide counseling and psychological assistance to their clients. Moreover, to work in either profession, you must earn at least a bachelor’s degree (often a master’s degree) and obtain a license to practice. There are differences in the curriculum and emphasis for each degree type, however. Also, practitioners in each field are licensed by a corresponding organization in that field, not by one single licensing institution.

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References:

1. bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-5

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