A lot of people would love to become a social worker. However, understanding how to actually do that is something that eludes many people. Also, once they see just how much work is involved in becoming a social worker, some wonder whether it really is the right education and career path for them. Hopefully, the following information will give you a better understanding of how to get a master’s in social work (MSW) degree, and why you should get one.
What Is Social Work?
Social work is a field that aims to help individuals have the best quality of life, with a focus on social justice. Basically, their role is such that social workers help people to help themselves, based on social justice and on the person-in-environment model. This role also approaches cases based on strengths, which means that a social worker understands that every individual has certain key resources and strengths, so that they provide people with assistance to build on that. This is known as “macro, mezzo, and micro” level social work.
How to Obtain a Masters in Social Work Degree
To obtain an MSW, you need to follow a number of steps:
- Complete a bachelor in social work (BSW). Some schools will accept you even if you have a different liberal arts bachelor’s degree, but you will then usually have to complete a number of prerequisite courses. The BSW is greatly preferred, but only if it is properly accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
- Enroll in an MSW degree, which should also be CSWE accredited. There are different formats of MSW degrees, including part time, full time, online, and distance learning. Some programs take just one year to complete, while others will take much longer. This will depend mainly on your prior education.
- Choose a concentration area in your MSW degree. Besides looking into CSWE accreditation when comparing the possible degree programs, you must also ensure that the college or university that you are planning to go to focuses on the area of social work that you are interested in. This can be micro, mezzo, or macro, although the schools will likely define that differently. For instance, they may offer social justice, poverty reduction, systemic issue, or clinical focus concentrations.
- Make sure that you get as much as possible out of your MSW degree. Carefully choose your elective courses and determine whether the school will support you in receiving certain specialized certifications as well. Think about what you want to do: clinical social workers, for instance, should take a lot of clinical courses. By contrast, a macro social worker should take courses in nonprofit management and advocacy. Your school should also offer you placements, and perhaps even internships. These placements will not always be in the area in which you are the most interested. However, you should still enjoy them and use them as an opportunity to learn and to build a professional network.
- Make the most of your time in school. Do also make sure that you use your school’s career guidance services, even applying for positions before you graduate. This will put you ahead of the game.
- Obtain a state license, if applicable. Different states have different requirements for social work licensure. You may not need it for the career that you want, but becoming a licensed social worker will always open more career doors for you.
- Maintain your license through continuous education. The exact continuous education requirements will vary from state to state, so do make sure to check what is required of you.
Why Get a Masters in Social Work Degree
An MSW degree requires a significant investment of time and money. And, once you have completed your degree, your investment will have to continue due to licensure and continuous education requirements. This means that you are likely to want to see some sort of return on that investment as well.
Reasons for Getting an MSW Degree
There are many reasons as to why you may want to get an MSW degree. Some of these reasons are very personal. For instance, you may have needed a social worker in the past, you may be interested in protecting children, you may have a desire to make the world a better place, and so on. Those reasons are personal and only apply to you. Meanwhile there are also practical reasons. Essentially, once you complete an MSW, you will be able to determine exactly which area of social work you are interested in. What you will find is that there are tremendous differences in salaries attracted by the different fields. For instance, substance abuse and mental illness social workers tend to earn the least. On the other hand, they also report the highest levels of job satisfaction.
What Happens After You Get an MSW Degree
As soon as you graduate from your MSW, you will be seen as someone who can be entrusted with quite a lot of responsibility and power. You will be able to make decisions that have the potential to affect people’s lives right across the community. Depending on your specialization, you may even become directly involved in healthcare, helping to diagnose mental illnesses, working in oncology, and more.
Once you have your MSW degree, a range of career doors will open up to you. There is a demand for social workers in anything, from federal government to healthcare administration, and from schools to child protective services. The opportunities that will be available to you at this level are tremendous. And, naturally, the salary you will attract in those positions will also be higher. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) average earnings for social workers are $45,900 per year at bachelor’s degree level. Consider that holding a graduate degree increases annual salaries by an average of $15,000 per year, and it quickly becomes clear that your MSW degree are certainly worth your investments in time and money.
You can choose specializations within the field of social work after you complete the MSW. The most popular field of specialization is healthcare. This will enable you to take on various roles in hospitals, helping people to accept life changing diagnosis, finding resources, and more. In this role, the social worker usually also proves a degree of mental health support and even counseling.
It is a known fact that completing an MSW degree, or any degree for that matter, comes with a significant price tag. Even if you study part time, allowing you to continue to work alongside your degree program, you still have to invest quite heavily. That being said, if you do, you are far more likely to earn a whole lot more, and to quickly see a return on the money you have invested as well. There are significant factors of importance in terms of determining salary, including the role you take on, which type of organization you work for, how much experience you have, and your overall geographical location What is for sure, however, is that a lucrative and interesting career awaits you.
- Maren Dale. History Shows Importance of Social Work. (2017, Mar.) Retrieved from http://www.socialworkblog.org/featured-articles/2017/03/history-shows-importance-of-social-work
- Occupational Outlook Handbook – Social Workers. (2015, Dec. 17) Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
- Social Work License Requirements. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.socialworklicensure.org/articles/social-work-license-requirements.htm