Career Info for a Master of Social Work Degree

A Master of Social Work degree program typically involves classroom study, fieldwork, and an oral exam or thesis. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for Master of Social Work graduates.

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Graduates of a master's degree program in social work have many specialization options. Child, family and school social workers; healthcare social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers are some career options; all of these fields are expected to see job growth from 2014-2024.

Essential Information

Many practicing social workers hold a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, which is often required for positions in healthcare and schools and for professionals who wish to offer clinical and counseling services. Social workers work in healthcare facilities, schools and more to help children, families, the elderly and people with medical conditions or substance abuse problems make improvements in their lives. While some entry-level social work positions are available to those with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, some positions require a MSW; clinical social workers, as well as those who work in healthcare environments or schools typically need a MSW. Most social workers also need state licensure or certification, though requirements vary by state.

Career Titles Social Worker Child, Family and School Social Worker Healthcare Social Worker Mental Health/Substance Abuse Social Worker
Required Education Bachelor of Social Work for entry-level positions MSW MSW Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements State license or certification State license or certification State license or certification State license or certification
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 12% for all social workers 6% 19% 19%
Median Salary (2015)* $45,900 for all social workers $42,350 $52,380 $42,170

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Social Worker

MSW graduates who obtain their state-mandated licensure may be called licensed clinical social workers. Most social workers generally work within their master's specialty area. For example, social workers who specialize in social advocacy may work as public advocates, fundraisers or counselors with local nonprofit agencies or in state or national legislative offices.

Child, Family and School Social Worker

Children and family services social workers might practice privately or work for community-based organizations or agencies that help children and their families. School social workers respond to the educational and social problems faced by school-aged children and their families.

Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers are employed by hospitals, clinics, physician practices, home health care organizations and nursing homes to counsel patients dealing with chronic disease, disabilities and other medical or life-threatening situations.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health social workers help individuals, families and groups cope with psychological and interpersonal problems that affect healthy functioning, including substance abuse or other emotionally-related conditions.

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Educational Information: Master of Social Work (MSW)

Students entering Master of Social Work degree programs may have an undergraduate degree in social work, sociology or psychology. All of these programs provide good foundations for MSW degree coursework, which prepares students to perform clinical assessments, manage case loads and help their clients find appropriate social services. As of June, 2010, the Council on Social Work Education accredited 201 MSW programs in the United States.

MSW programs, which generally take two full-time years to complete, offer a variety of concentrations, including healthcare, mental health, children and family services, community advocacy and school social work. In addition to classroom study, MSW programs usually require a minimum of 900 hours of fieldwork or internships before graduation. Some programs may require oral examinations or a thesis. Many programs prepare graduates for state licensure, certification or registration.

Salary Information and Job Outlook: Social Workers

Employment for all social workers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with an expected growth of 12% from 2014-2024. A social worker's specialization can impact employment growth, the BLS reports; for example, an employment increase of 6% is anticipated for family, child and school social workers during the 2014-2024 decade, while a 19% increase is predicted for mental health and substance abuse social workers.

The median annual salaries for social workers in 2015 ranged from $42,170 for those with a mental health and substance abuse specialty to $58,560 for those who didn't fall into otherwise specified categories. Social workers working in healthcare earned an median salary of $52,380 per year in 2015, according to the BLS; and the mean annual income of family, child and school social workers was $42,350.

In addition to a master's degree in social work, a state license is required to begin a career as a social worker. While all specializations have a positive employment outlook for 2014-2024, each specialization has a different median salary and licensure or certification requirements.

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