What Can You Do With a Masters in Social Work (MSW)? [2024 Guide]

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Many social work positions only require a bachelor’s degree, so what can you do with a masters in social work?

What Can You Do With a Masters in Social Work

Social work master’s degree programs teach students about communication, counseling, advocacy, and critical thinking. These skills are vital for a wide range of jobs where people engage with the public and work to improve social justice in their communities.

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If you want to build a career centered around helping others, it’s beneficial to explore possible MSW jobs and consider whether they’re a good match for your passions.

What Can You Do with a Masters in Social Work?

social worker specializing in Clinical social work

Many students who enroll in social work master’s programs plan to become social workers after they graduate. If this is your goal, you can choose from a variety of specializations, such as:

  • Healthcare social work
  • Mental health and substance abuse social work
  • Child, family, and school social work
  • Clinical social work

Potential employers for social workers include hospitals, mental health treatment facilities, nonprofit organizations, public schools, and government agencies. For instance, Veterans Affairs (VA) Social Work explains that the VA system is a prominent employer of social workers.

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Some social work professionals advance to become supervisors or community services managers. Others decide to share their knowledge with the next generation of social workers by teaching at the college level. There are also other masters in social work jobs outside the immediate realm of social work.

You could consider working with law offenders as a probation or corrections officer, providing education and training as a health education specialist, or offering counseling as a marriage and family therapist.

5 Things You Can Do with a Master’s Degree in Social Work

social worker visiting a hospital

What can you do with an MSW? Whether you’re just considering attending graduate school or have already started taking your classes, it’s critical to answer this question. You might even find that you’re well-suited to a number of MSW careers.

1. Social Worker

Social workers help people overcome obstacles in their lives, including mental health, behavioral, and social issues. They often work in schools, hospitals, community service organizations, and rehabilitation clinics. Some social workers also have private practices.

A social worker’s typical responsibilities can include making referrals for medical care, connecting clients to resources such as food banks, and responding to crisis situations.

2. Probation Officer

probation officer listening to a woman

When someone commits a crime, the court often assigns them a probation officer. This professional helps rehabilitate clients by conducting drug testing, providing information about job training or placement, and communicating with friends and family members.

Probation officers also testify in court and submit written reports describing each client’s behavior and whether they’re complying with the court’s requirements.

3. Social and Community Service Manager

Social and Community Service Managers brainstorming ideas for a project

Social workers with leadership skills sometimes advance to become social service managers. In this role, they oversee community programs that serve the public. Other tasks include applying for grants, writing proposals, supervising employees, and creating budgets.

Social and community service managers also collect data to show that their organization’s services are effective and deserve continued funding.

4. Health Education Specialist

Health Education Specialist giving a lecture

Health education specialists create and share training materials with the public. They often work in healthcare facilities, nonprofit organizations, and public health departments.

They explain different factors, such as nutrition and stress, that can affect health conditions and overall well-being. Some health education specialists also conduct training sessions with community groups and healthcare professionals.

5. Social Work Instructor

Social Work Instructor giving a lecture

Colleges and universities hire social work instructors to teach undergraduate students about the principles, theories, and practices of the field. Instructors give lectures, grade assignments, administer exams, and sometimes serve as advisors and mentors.

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Although universities typically require tenured professors to have a PhD, many community colleges hire candidates with a master’s degree for full-time positions.

Social Work Careers & Salaries

Social Work Careers & Salaries

An advanced social work degree can be beneficial for anyone hoping to work with community programs or provide services to vulnerable communities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are possible career options related to the field of social work.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Social and Community Service Managers $74,240
Postsecondary Social Work Teachers $66,510
Social Workers (All Other) $61,420
Healthcare Social Workers $60,280
Health Education Specialists $59,990
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $59,860
Marriage and Family Therapists $56,570
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers $51,240
Child, Family, and School Social Workers $50,820
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $49,710

When considering these possible professions, you can consider whether there’s a specific client population you would prefer to work with. For instance, some professionals work with children, people struggling with substance abuse, criminal offenders, or elderly people.

Social Work Licensing and Certification

student getting a social work license

Before you can begin a job as a social worker, you’re often required to obtain your social work license. According to the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), most state licensing boards require a social work degree and a passing grade on a social work licensing exam. You’ll also complete an application and likely pay a licensure fee.

Clinical social workers typically complete additional requirements, such as supervised practice hours. For example, the New York State Education Department – Office of the Professions has a separate licensure process for clinical and master social workers.

Is Financial Aid Available for Online MSW Programs?

Financial Aid for Online MSW Programs

Graduate school can be costly, but the cost doesn’t have to prevent you from reaching your goals. There are a range of financial aid options available to MSW students who qualify. You can apply for federal grants and loans by submitting a FAFSA. If you’re attending an in-state school, you might also be eligible for aid through state government programs.

Your employer is another possible source of financial support. Many organizations offer tuition reimbursement or assistance as a benefit to their employees. It’s also beneficial to search for scholarships that provide funding for students with your major or personal background.

What Do Social Workers Do?

adoption social worker counseling a child

Social workers can serve as counselors and advocates for people in need of support. They help their clients find resources and develop the tools to successfully navigate difficult situations, such as unemployment, domestic abuse, and discrimination.

Some social workers specialize in specific types of situations. For example, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, adoption social workers play an important role during the adoption process.

Although the day-to-day tasks of social workers differ, some of their responsibilities may include conducting intake assessments, providing information about resources, and developing plans to address life challenges. They also maintain records about their interactions with clients.

What Skills Do You Learn in Social Work?

social worker visiting a home

When you study social work, you spend much of your time building essential skills, such as active listening, empathy, crisis intervention, and motivational interviewing.

You’ll practice using each of these abilities in your courses, which might cover topics like the following:

  • Theories of social work
  • Human behavior
  • Social welfare policy
  • Mental health
  • Family dynamics

These classes help students gain a deeper understanding of social issues so they can properly advocate for their clients. They also address the sensitivities that are essential for social workers to possess in order to effectively serve people from many different backgrounds, cultures, and environments.

What Are the Highest Paying Social Work Jobs?

Social and community service manager working

Many social work positions have competitive salaries, particularly if you have a master’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the median annual salaries for some of the highest-paying social work jobs:

  • Medical and health services managers — $104,830
  • Social and community service managers — $74,240
  • Postsecondary social work teachers — $66,510
  • Healthcare social workers — $60,280
  • Marriage and family therapists — $56,570

Your masters in social work salary will ultimately depend on your location, years of experience, and employer. For example, social workers who work for the government typically earn more than those who work for schools.

Is an Online Masters in Social Work Worth It?

social worker listening to a teenager

Yes, an online masters in social work is worth it for many students. As a social worker, you could potentially have a life-changing influence on your clients.

Social work degrees are useful for careers in many areas, including education, community health, and the justice system. This gives you flexibility to choose a fulfilling role that’s right for your skills and interests. In addition, skilled social workers are in demand.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rates over the next ten years for social workers (7% job growth), social and community service managers (9%), and health education specialists (7%) are all faster than average.

Getting Your Master’s in Social Work Online

woman Getting her Master’s in Social Work Online

Enrolling in graduate school is a major step, and it’s important that your degree will help move you closer to your professional goals. That may lead you to question, “What can I do with a masters in social work?”

A social work degree is a natural choice if you want to be a social worker. It’s also applicable if you plan to work as a counselor, community services manager, probation officer, or other social or community service role.

You can take the first step of your graduate journey today by exploring accredited colleges and universities with online master’s in social work programs.

Ready to start your journey?
Kama has a master's degree in English from Virginia Tech and a bachelor's in English from Concord University. She previously taught college-level English composition, literature, and English as a second language courses. She is now a full-time writer in the education field, with a particular focus on educational technology and pedagogical best practices for English language learners.