Graduate programs in social work are offered at the master's and doctoral degree levels and prepare students for roles as clinicians, supervisors, administrators and social planners. Studies typically focus on human behavior, intervention methods and social welfare. Master of Social Work (MSW) programs typically include supervised clinical experiences, and take about two years to complete. Licensure requirements apply to those seeking employment in social work.
Master of Social Work
Master of Social Work programs prepare graduates to work with individuals, families, organizations, groups and communities. Required coursework equips students with the knowledge needed for direct and indirect interventions that are problem-focused, research-based and client-centered. Students learn to perform clinical assessments, coordinate social services and manage large caseloads.
Applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and meet all college-specific graduate school admission requirements. Undergraduate courses in sociology, psychology, social work, political science and biology are recommended. The Master of Social Work program is comprised of a core group of classes that provides a foundation of knowledge and skills in general social work policy and practice. Common course topics include:
- Human behavior and the social environment
- Social welfare
- Principles of social work practice
- Group social work
- Human rights
Ph.D. in Social Work
Doctoral programs provide students with a theoretical understanding of contemporary social work practice, including the effects of research on practice and methods used to analyze social policy. Earning a Ph.D. in the field prepares students for academic positions in social work education or leadership roles in the design and development of social work practices. Students learn to conceptualize, develop and evaluate problems that impact the human condition, as well as how to develop strategies to improve or change those conditions.
Most Ph.D. programs require students to complete focused research and defend a dissertation. Admission to a doctoral program requires a Master of Social Work degree and several years of professional experience. Many programs require candidates to participate in an interview with members of the school's social work faculty as part of the admissions process. Common course topics include:
- Human behavior
- Social work research
- Social work education
- Intervention research
- Social work history in the U.S.
Popular Career Options
Professional social work practitioners often work one-on-one with clients facing challenges, including neglect and abuse, adoption, substance abuse, disabilities or loss of a loved one. A master's degree in social work prepares graduates for employment with both public and private human services agencies, hospitals, schools and policy-making organizations. Job opportunities include:
- Geriatric services coordinator
- Adoption worker
- Hospice social worker
- Child care counselor
- School social worker
- Case manager
Career Outlook and Salary Info
Most Ph.D. graduates become scholars in the world of academia and help educate future social work professionals, as well as performing research that influences future social work practice and policy. Career paths include:
- Social work researcher
- Academic professor
- Social services administrator
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary teachers who focus on social work made a mean average salary of $77,910 as of May 2019. Employment opportunities for these professionals are expected to grow 11% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average compared to other occupations. During this time, tenure-track positions may be tough to secure, but positions for adjunct and part-time teachers should be available.
Continuing Education Information
Individuals with a master's degree in social work are eligible to pursue a variety of voluntary credentials offered by the National Association of Social Workers. Added credentials are particularly important for those in private practice. Those wishing to focus on social work education or research may choose to pursue a Ph.D. in social work.
Graduate studies are required to practice social work and interact directly with the people seeking aid. Those who earn Master's degrees and Ph.D.'s in social work get the training needed to work in and improve the field.