Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)
Although the decision to pursue a master’s degree in social work may come easy to some, others may have lots of questions as to whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Have you found yourself asking whether the investment is going to be worth it? How about the amount of time you will have to sacrifice to complete homework, readings, and your field work? These questions commonly arise in prospective MSW students who are ready to take the next step in their career. In fact, I highly recommend that you ask yourself these five questions before pursuing an MSW program.
To better help you organize the pros and cons, I wanted to provide you with some benefits of getting your MSW. This list is not exhaustive and is just a starting point in the decision process. Ultimately, you have to decide if this program is truly what you want and whether you have the money, time, and capabilities to successfully complete it.
The Opportunity to be a Licensed Professional
One of the biggest benefits of getting your MSW is that you have the opportunity to take a test to be licensed. Every state does this differently, so it’s important to learn what your state’s social work licensing requirements are. For example, a person with a BSW in North Carolina can take a test to be a Certified Social Worker (CSW). The next step would be the Certified Master Social Worker (CMSW) which requires the MSW degree. These licenses are a great thing to have, but they do not provide the opportunity to work in clinical settings.
In order to work in clinical settings, you will need to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Getting to this level requires working as an associate at first (typically labeled an LCSWA) in which you receive supervision from an eligible supervisor. It typically takes two years for an individual to complete their supervision requirements so that they can be eligible for the LCSW exam. After successfully passing that, you are able to practice in a clinical setting and even have the option of opening your own private practice.
During the course of getting your degree, you will notice that around 1,000 hours or more of practicum/field work is required to graduate. This experience is extremely valuable and may just make the difference in whether you get a job right out of school or not. You see, employers are looking for employees who not only have the minimum educational requirements, but also have work experience under their belts. This demonstrates that you are familiar with the social work field and have been exposed to the various things that can take place in a nonprofit organization.
Getting quality experience with clients will also help you decide which populations you want to work with, as well as get you acclimated to the world of social services. During your field work, you will learn the ins and outs of how an organization functions, how services are provided, where funding comes from, and so much more. There is even a chance that you will be offered a position with one of the organizations you work with, so make sure you apply yourself and show your best effort! After you finish your field work, you should feel much more confident in your skills as a helping professional.
The Many Faces of Social Work
Jobs for MSW Graduates
- Social Worker
- Parent Educator
- Mental Health Specialist
- Substance Abuse Therapist
- School Social Worker
- Family Support Specialist
- Early Childhood Specialist
- Foster Care Supervisor
- Case Manager
More Career Options
Another benefit of getting a master’s degree in social work is that you will have more career options to choose from and job opportunities. There are several positions that require people working in the social work field to have a master’s level education or higher, so obtaining the MSW would meet those requirements. For example, lots of hospitals only employ social workers who have this degree. Additionally, a lot of supervisor positions require an advanced degree.
Since the degree itself requires at least 60 credit hours to complete, you will gain a wide range of knowledge that can be useful in a variety of professions. You may find that you want to work in the corporate world, so you may be able to provide consulting services or work in human resources. Other options include working at schools, being a therapist for a nonprofit organization, and being a mental health specialist at an early childhood facility. There are many great paths to choose from depending on what population you want to work with!
A Broader Knowledge Base
I have always seen social workers as lifelong learners because the field is constantly evolving. Additionally, licensed social workers typically have to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year or two in order to keep their license valid. These trainings and/or courses can be extremely valuable, especially if you choose to attend those that directly apply to the position you are working in.
As a student, a benefit of going through a master’s level social work program is that you are getting an extra 60 credit hours of educational material. In these courses, you get to practice real-world concepts and learn more about human behavior and how environmental factors can impact it. You will also learn about medications in a psychopharmacology course, as well as how to create effective treatment plans, service plans, safety plans, and discharge summaries. All of this extra knowledge, coupled with your work experience, is going to make you very marketable.
Social Worker Fast Facts
- Average salary in 2012 was $44,200
- Projected growth of 19 percent
- LCSWs are licensed professionals who can open their own practices if they desire
- Social workers are employed in a variety of fields (i.e. social services, business, healthcare, etc.)
*For more fast facts, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics page for social workers
The Field is Growing
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work employment is projected to grow 19 percent over the next decade or so. There is an increasing need for services in our society due to the aging Baby Boomers, economic struggles, and financial hardship. People are finding that they need a little extra guidance to make ends meet or to work through a tough situation at home, and social workers can assist with that. This is one field where there will always be a need!
Earning more money is a benefit that accompanies many degrees, including the master’s degree in social work. Depending on what organization you work for and what position you hold, you may notice anywhere from a small increase to a substantial increase. Now, you aren’t going to make big money being a social worker (unless you open a successful private practice) because most companies are tight on funds, but your education will be taken into account when determining a fair starting salary.
A Big Achievement
Last but not least, an often overlooked benefit of getting a master's degree in social work is just completing the program itself. It may take a lot of effort and time management to get through it, but once you're done, you can say that you officially completed a graduate program. This is a huge milestone for anyone, so don't forget to congratulate yourself for a job well done!