A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a graduate degree required for those who want to become a licensed social worker. MSW programs typically take one to two years to complete and prepare students for careers in social work with specialized coursework and supervised training, usually in the form of a practicum or internship. This guide explores the requirements of master's in social work programs, as well as potential careers and resources for recent graduates.
What is Social Work?
Social workers assist people with various obstacles affecting their day-to-day lives, and many work with specific groups and demographics. Some help vulnerable families by helping them locate housing and secure employment, while others work with clients dealing with mental health disorders or substance abuse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the social worker occupation is projected to grow 16% – much faster than average – between 2016 and 2026. The median annual salary for social workers in 2017 was $47,980.
Should I Get a Master's in Social Work?
A social work master's degree is suitable for anyone planning to become a clinical social worker, or CSW. Clinical social workers are licensed professionals qualified to diagnose, treat, and provide therapy to clients with mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. According to PayScale, the most common places of employment for licensed clinical social workers include hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation centers. Many CSWs operate private practices. MSW programs may also be suitable for nonclinical, or macro, social workers.
The MSW prepares students for the licensure process, as well as the demands of the profession.
All states require clinical social workers to hold a license. Most states also require nonclinical social workers to hold a certification or license. Although licensure criteria vary by location, CSW candidates in most states must complete at least two years of supervised, postgraduate clinical training and pass a comprehensive exam. The MSW prepares students for the licensure process, as well as the demands of the profession. Additionally, MSW programs equip students with clinical evaluation and management skills in specialized areas of social work. Clinical social workers who have not completed their postgraduate training and exam requirements are known as master's social workers, while those who earn a master's and complete two years of nonclinical training are known as advanced generalists.
Online MSW programs are widely available. However, on-campus master's in social work programs may be the best option for students who prefer a classroom learning environment. Brick-and-mortar students may also be able to find internship and practicum options relatively close to their school. Other benefits of on-campus learning include easier access to career centers, in-person job placement assistance, and face-to-face networking opportunities.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Social Work?
Students who graduate with an MSW go on to pursue careers in a wide range of social work subfields. The BLS notes that child, family, and school social workers are the largest subfield, representing roughly 47% of all social workers. Other common subfields include healthcare social workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers. These fields include clinical and nonclinical positions. Regardless of their specific job title, social workers should have strong communication and interpersonal skills in order to develop relationships with their clients and handle stressful situations. Most social workers divide their time between working in an office and meeting with clients face-to-face.
Common occupations for MSW graduates include:
- Child and Family Social Worker
Child and family social workers assist at-risk families and children. They help families secure housing and apply for benefits programs such as food stamps. They also intervene when children are abused or neglected, and may coordinate adoptions or foster care.
- Median Annual Salary: $44,380
- Projected Growth Rate: 14%
- School Social Worker
School social workers specialize in monitoring students for developmental issues and helping learners achieve academic success. They confer with parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators to create plans for individual students. School social workers may also help young people deal with issues such as behavioral problems and bullying.
- Median Annual Salary: $44,380
- Projected Growth Rate: 14%
- Healthcare Social Worker
Healthcare social workers help medical patients deal with life-altering diseases or injuries. They provide guidance for long-term recovery plans, including lifestyle changes, and help their clients acclimate to living at home after lengthy hospital stays. Some healthcare social workers specialize in certain client groups, such as elderly people or patients seeking palliative care.
- Median Annual Salary: $54,870
- Projected Growth Rate: 20%
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker
Mental health and substance abuse social workers assist clients dealing with mental illnesses or addiction. They provide guidance about rehabilitative services and may help their clients access support groups. According to the BLS, this is a common career path for clinical social workers.
- Median Annual Salary: $43,250
- Projected Growth Rate: 19%
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor
These counselors assist patients with alcohol or drug addictions, eating disorders, and other mental health issues. Those working in private practice must be licensed in all 50 states. Many must hold a master's degree in clinical social work or a related field.
- Median Annual Salary: $43,300
- Projected Growth Rate: 23%
Best States for Social Workers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of social work positions to grow 16% by 2026. Furthermore, social workers earn a stable living, with an average national salary of $60,900. Mission and passion-driven individuals need not sacrifice quality of life or salary when pursuing social work careers.
The following document analyzes and ranks the 25 best states for social workers. We factor in salary, employment, and strong university programs to determine each state's overall quality.
All states are not created equal when it comes to strength in the social work profession. As such, we used the following three metrics to help current and future social workers determine the best possible locations for their talents.
- Employment Figures: States that offer a greater number of job opportunities for social workers received a higher spot on our list.
- Annual Median and Mean Salaries: States where social workers can earn better wages received higher rankings on our list.
- Presence of Top-Ranked Social Work Programs: States with exemplary university programs in social work also received higher rankings.
California currently employs the most social workers of any state. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that 10,600 social workers practice in the Golden State. Furthermore, California social workers earn an annual mean wage of $66,300 to account for the state's higher cost of living. With urban hubs such as Los Angeles and San Francisco offering a particularly high concentration of job opportunities, California tops our list of the best places for social workers. Smaller cities such as San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Oakland also provide plenty of job opportunities.
In addition to strength in employment and wages, the Golden State is home to several strong university programs for future social workers. The University of California Berkeley, the University of Southern California, and the University of California Los Angeles all offer top-ranked social work programs. California had a total of 23 schools ranked on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018, which includes the universities mentioned above.
The Empire State earns the second spot on our list primarily thanks to New York City. New York offers both volume and concentration in terms of available social work jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that 7,940 social workers currently work in New York. The BLS also found that New York boasted the fifth-highest concentration and location quotient of social workers. This means that compared with all other states, New York had the fifth-highest amount of social workers per 1,000 employees in the state.
With a respectable mean annual wage of $64,530, social workers in New York City can afford to pursue their passion and still live a comfortable life. New York has strong social work programs at Columbia University, New York University, Hunter College, Fordham University, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Adelphi University, and University at Albany (SUNY). New York had a total of 18 schools ranked on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018, including the universities mentioned above.
Massachusetts had nine schools ranked in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018, including Boston University, Boston College, Smith College, and Simmons University. Massachusetts stands out for the employment opportunities and salary figures that many social workers make. The state has the third-highest annual mean wage for social workers out of all 50 states, at $73,940. Massachusetts also participates in licensure reciprocity, meaning a social worker from a different state can move to the state and become licensed without having to retake their initial licensure exam and complete their experience hours a second time.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that as of May 2017, South Carolina was the fifth-highest employer of social workers nationwide. Furthermore, the Palmetto State holds the second-highest concentration and location quotient for social worker jobs -- social workers make up 1.24 out of every 1,000 employees throughout the state. South Carolina offers a top-ranked social work program at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Given the amount of positions available in South Carolina and the relatively lower amount of competition compared to places such as California and New York, the state offers young social workers a solid place to start their careers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois employs the third-highest number of social workers. The BLS calculated the mean annual wage for all social workers in Illinois at nearly $66,000, and social workers in Chicago earn an annual mean wage of more than $70,000. Chicago provides both a higher concentration and higher annual mean wage for social workers than New York. One of the nation's top social work programs is at the University of Chicago. The School of Social Service Administration at the university offers an AM degree, the equivalent of an MSW but with a more expansive and experiential educational foundation that delves into policy development, social science theory, and interdisciplinary research.
Ohio offers the fourth-highest number of social work positions nationwide. Mansfield offers the highest location quotient for social workers in the U.S. -- 2.45 out of all jobs in Mansfield are social work jobs. The annual mean wage for social workers in Ohio comes in at nearly $49,000. Ohio State University in Columbus and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland offer two of the state's best social work programs. The master of science in social administration offered by The Mandel School at Case Western Reserve was ranked ninth by U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. The program is offered on campus, online, and in an intensive weekend format to provide the ultimate flexibility in scheduling.
The Aloha State has the second-highest annual mean wage for social workers out of all 50 states at more than $74,000. Furthermore, Honolulu currently sits at eighth on the list of top-paying metropolitan areas for social workers, offering an annual mean wage of nearly $79,000. The University of Hawaii also provides a top-ranked social work school. UH's Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work offers a bachelor's and master's degree in social work, as well as a doctor of philosophy in social welfare.
Rhode Island ranks among the best states for social workers thanks to its high annual salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers in Rhode Island earn the highest annual mean wage out of all 50 states, bringing in more than $75,000 a year. Three schools in Rhode Island currently offer social work bachelor's programs: Providence College, Rhode Island College, and Salve Regina University. Providence and Salve Regina are both private, Roman Catholic universities, and Salve Regina has a mostly female undergraduate population. Rhode Island College also provides a master's in social work program. All of the above programs are accredited by Council on Social Work Education.
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The District of Columbia earns a place among the best areas for social workers thanks to its high annual mean wage for social workers, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated at more than $71,000. Washington, D.C. offers social work programs at The Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, and Howard University -- all three of which were ranked in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018.
In Montana, 1.42 out of every 1,000 jobs are social work jobs, a figure that eclipses all of the other 49 states. Additionally, Montana maintains the third-highest concentration of social workers out of all metropolitan areas, as the BLS calculates that 2.03 out of every 1,000 professionals in Great Falls works in social work. Social workers in Montana earn an annual mean wage of $42,340. There are two universities with social work programs ranked by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE): Salish Kootenai College and University of Montana, with UM offering Montana's only accredited master's program. Licenses in child welfare training and addictions counseling are available for students at UM looking for additional experience and credentials.
Arizona houses both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas that pay some of the highest wages for social workers in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area sits ninth out of all U.S. cities in terms of employment opportunities for social workers, providing 800 social work jobs as of May 2017. Moreover, the nonmetropolitan areas of Arizona provided an annual mean wage of over $75,000 during the same time period, placing them second highest on the payscale in the nation. Arizona State University was ranked in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oregon as a whole offers over 2,000 social work jobs. Oregon makes the cut as the nation's fourth-most concentrated state in terms of job opportunities, as 1.11 of every 1,000 employees are social workers, who earn an annual mean wage of more than $53,000. Portland houses the fifth-highest concentration of social workers out of all major metropolitan areas, and Grants Pass sits fifth in terms of social worker concentration. When looking at universities and program offerings, Portland State University was ranked in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. Oregon offers other Council on Social Work Education-accredited social work programs, including those at Warner Pacific University, University of Portland, Concordia University Portland, and Pacific University.
The Evergreen State earns a spot on the list of the best states for social workers primarily thanks to the excellent social work program at Seattle's University of Washington. UW's School of Social Work earns the number-one ranking in some outlets, enrolls nearly 650 students, and awards close to $5 million in aid to students each academic year. The school offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs in social work. UW was also ranked seventh in Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges for 2018 and fifth in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. The social work program holds accreditation from the CSWE. Other schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools were Eastern Washington University and Walla Walla University, both of which offer social work programs accredited by the CSWE.
Michigan earns a spot on this list because the University of Michigan's School of Social Work consistently ranks among the top social work schools in the nation. The school offers an undergraduate minor, a master's, and a joint Ph.D. program in social work and social science. Michigan's School of Social Work focuses on diversity and inclusion, and offers over 550 fieldwork locations and over 300 scholarship opportunities. University of Michigan was ranked first on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018, and was also ranked on Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges for 2018. Michigan State University and Wayne State University both ranked in the top 50 on this list. The state offers over 20 social work programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Missouri offers top-ranked social work programs at Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis University, University of Missouri, and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis offers one of the nation's best master's in social work programs and allows students to choose between nine different concentrations. The university also ranked in the second spot on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that the Southeast Missouri nonmetropolitan area is the fourth-highest-paying, with a $72,620 annual mean wage.
North Carolina educates some of the nation's top social workers, offering four different programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina Charlotte, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and North Carolina State University.
UNC Chapel Hill -- the flagship campus of the system -- offers a particularly strong School of Social Work that maintains excellence and a tradition that stretches back to 1920. They were ranked fifth on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. The school focuses on graduate education, awarding a master's in social work in addition to doctoral degrees. The school also offers certificates in unique areas such as international development, international peace, social change, and conflict resolution.
The Lone Star State offers good educational and career opportunities to social workers. Texas has top-ranked social work programs at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, the University of Texas at Arlington, Baylor University, and the University of Texas at San Antonio. As such, students in nearly every major city in Texas can gain access to a top-level social work education. The University of Texas at Austin tied for fifth place on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018.
Furthermore, Texas provides a fertile employment landscape for future social workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the North Texas nonmetropolitan area is the highest-paying nonmetropolitan area for social workers nationwide, providing an annual mean salary of over $76,000. Furthermore, the greater Houston area sits at fourth among the highest-paying metropolitan areas in the nation, paying annual mean salaries of $83,000.
Pennsylvania benefits from the presence of four top-ranked social work schools: the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Bryn Mawr College, and Temple University. The University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh tied for 11th place on the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. Pennsylvania offers 48 higher education social work programs that are accredited by the Council for Social Work Education, and major cities such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh provide plenty of organizations for social workers to join.
Wisconsin offers strong social work schools at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. University of Wisconsin-Madison ranked 13th in Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges for 2018, and tied for 11th place in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018. Wisconsin also allows social workers from other states to practice without having to retake their exams or earn their experience hours again. Social workers will have to apply for reciprocity through an application based on their specific level of licensing.
Furthermore, Wisconsin maintains a particularly storied history of Native American tribes and their culture. Social workers interested in working with Native American populations can find plenty of fulfilling jobs.
In terms of social work jobs, New Jersey benefits greatly from its proximity to New York City. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the New York, Jersey City, and White Plains metropolitan areas offer more social worker jobs than any other major metropolitan area (more than 3,600). Moreover, social workers in these areas earn a respectable mean annual wage of $68,200. New Jersey also houses two top-ranked social working schools in Rutgers University and Monmouth University. Rutgers tied for 17th place in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018.
In terms of earning a place among the best states for social workers, New Hampshire excels in one particular metric: salary potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers in the state currently bring in an annual mean wage of more than $72,000, putting New Hampshire in fourth place among all 50 states. The BLS highlights that New Hampshire provides high mean salaries for all types of social workers, including healthcare social workers; child, family, and school social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers.
The University of Maryland-Baltimore runs one of the nation's top-ranked social work schools and operates strong master's and Ph.D. programs. The University of Maryland-Baltimore tied for 17th place in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County was ranked on Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges for 2018. Both colleges offer social work program with accreditation from the Council for Social Work Education. Maryland doesn't offer reciprocity agreements with all states, meaning that social workers coming in from another state have to apply for endorsement through the appropriate application based on level and experience. Some organizations for social workers in Maryland include the School Social Workers in Maryland, Greater Washington Society for Clinical Social Work, and the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Atlanta and nearby Athens are home to three of the nation's top-ranked social work schools: the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and Clark Atlanta University. Furthermore, as a large, urban city, Atlanta provides plenty of employment opportunities and several governmental and nonprofit organizations that hire social workers. UGA was ranked on Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Schools in 2018, ranked 24th in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018, and offers a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The school also offers students the opportunity to earn certificates in adjacent fields like disability studies, gerontology, nonprofit management, and family and marriage therapy.
Both of Indiana's flagship universities -- Indiana University in Bloomington and Indiana State University in Terre Haute -- offer highly ranked departments or schools of social work. IU's school in particular offers strong bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. programs in social work at several campuses throughout Indiana and online.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers in Indiana earn a mean annual wage greater than $61,000. While this number does not compare to annual salaries in some other states, the Hoosier State's lower cost of living means that $61,000 generally amounts to a high quality of life for social workers.
Virginia earns the final spot among the 25 best states for social workers by excelling in two metrics: salary potential and education. Social workers in Virginia earn a mean annual wage of more than $66,000. The state houses top-ranked social work schools at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and George Mason University in Fairfax. The School of Social Work at VCU is particularly noteworthy, offering consistently strong bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. programs in the field. VCU also tied for 30th place in the U.S. News & World Report's Best Grad Schools in social work for 2018.
How to Choose a Master's in Social Work Program
Choosing the right on-campus MSW program requires meticulous research and careful consideration. Prospective students should weigh several factors when making their decision. Program length is one important aspect. MSW on-campus programs usually take two years to complete, including practicum or internship requirements. Some programs allow students with a bachelor's degree to earn their MSW in as little as one year.
The curriculum is also important. While most MSW programs cover the same general themes, each pathway includes different coursework, specialization options, practicum opportunities, and final project requirements. Prospective students should contact different schools and speak with faculty members to determine the best fit for their needs.
For most students, the cost of tuition represents a sizable investment. According to National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduate degree cost $17,868 in tuition and fees during the 2015-16 academic year. Federal loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid may offset these costs to some extent, but these options are more limited for graduate degrees. Students should be prepared to shoulder at least some of these expenses.
Students should ensure both the school and the MSW program are fully accredited.
Accreditation status is another key factor. Students should ensure both the school and the MSW program are fully accredited. Campus location also matters in terms of employment opportunities, cost of living, and quality of life. Lastly, students should decide whether to enroll full time or part time. Full-time students generally complete their studies faster, but part-time students have more free time to devote to work and activities.
If students are unable to pinpoint on-campus MSW programs that meet their needs and preferences, then an online MSW might be more suitable. Online MSW degrees typically follow the same curricula as on-campus programs, and successful graduates are often eligible for the same job opportunities. However, the same criteria for on-campus programs holds true for online programs, and students should choose the best program for them regardless of how coursework is delivered.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Social Work Programs
Accreditation refers to a voluntary assessment process for colleges and universities. Organizations known as accrediting agencies evaluate schools based on different criteria to ensure they meet acceptable levels of quality. There are two types of accreditation, institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation pertains to institutions as a whole, while programmatic accreditation applies to certain schools and programs within an institution.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the only recognized accrediting agency that evaluates social work programs. According to the BLS, the CSWE recognized more than 500 bachelor's programs and more than 200 master's programs in 2017. Most employers prefer job candidates who attend CSWE-accredited MSW programs. Students who graduate from non-accredited MSW programs may not be eligible for as many positions. Institutional accreditation is also crucial because it affects credit transferability and financial aid.
Master's in Social Work Program Admissions
Applying for an MSW program can be a long, intensive process. Graduate schools often offer rolling admissions and review applications as soon as they arrive, rather than evaluating them after a deadline has passed. Students should begin the process by researching potential schools based on factors such as cost, accreditation, curriculum, and location. Kaplan recommends that students should choose at least five or six target schools. Learners should also set aside enough time to take the GRE, search for financial aid options, and collect letters of recommendation, transcripts, and other materials required for applications.
Like online programs, the admission criteria for brick-and-mortar MSW programs varies by institution. All candidates should hold a bachelor's degree, but schools differ in terms of minimum undergraduate GPA and standardized test score requirements. On-campus MSW programs generally require the following prerequisites and materials:
- Bachelor's Degree: Most MSW programs require a bachelor's degree for admission. However, the BLS notes that candidates do not necessarily need a bachelor's degree in social work. A bachelor's in most fields will suffice, but coursework in areas such as psychology, sociology, economics, and political science is usually helpful.
- Professional Experience: Most MSW programs do not require previous work experience, although some schools prefer candidates with a background in social work or human services. Bachelor's degrees in social work typically include an internship or practicum course, which may satisfy this requirement.
- Minimum GPA: A 3.0 GPA is considered the general requirement for most graduate school programs, although this may range from 2.5 to 3.5 depending on the institution. Some schools are more lenient than others, and may admit students who don't meet the GPA cutoff.
The Princeton Review advises applicants to begin the application process in May of the year before they plan to enroll. This allows sufficient time for researching schools, taking required exams, and gathering application materials. Following this timeline, students should finalize and submit their applications in December.
Graduate schools only accept official, sealed undergraduate transcripts. Applicants should request a transcript for each target school. The Princeton Review suggests requesting transcripts at least two months before submitting applications.
- Letters of Recommendation
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, applicants should solicit two to four letters of recommendation in January to March if they plan on sending applications at the end of the year. These letters should mostly come from academic sources, and at least one should relate to the student's background and potential in the social work field.
- Test Scores
Standardized test scores are not always necessary for MSW admission. Schools that require scores usually ask for the GRE. The verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning portions of the exam are scored between 130 and 170, while the essay portion is scored between 0.0 and 6.0. Applicants should research the requirements of their target schools in order to set benchmarks for themselves prior to taking the exam.
- Application Fee
The average college application costs $42, according to U.S. News & World Report, but some cost up to $90. Students may be able to waive these fees by applying online, visiting the school's campus, or having alumni in their family. The College Board maintains a list of application waiver requirements for more than 2,300 schools nationwide.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Social Work Program?
Although most programs share some common characteristics, every on-campus MSW is different in terms of curriculum, duration, and financial investment. This section explores courses and specializations that are available from brick-and-mortar programs, as well as general expectations for completion time and overall cost.
Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Social Work
- Clinical Social Work
This specialization prepares MSW students for careers as licensed social workers. The comprehensive curriculum includes courses in aging and development, social welfare, and psychology. These courses also examine cultural and socioeconomic factors that impact different groups, as well as the laws and policies guiding clinical social work practice in the United States.
Careers this Concentration Prepares for:
- Licensed clinical social workers
- Practice and Leadership with Communities and Organizations
This concentration examines the laws, policies, and ethics that impact social workers working with different groups and organizations. Coursework emphasizes methods of community mobilization, disparities between different groups, and leadership methods. The concentration also addresses social, racial, and economic justice.
Careers this Concentration Prepares for:
- Social workers working with different groups
- Human services managers
- Children, Youth, and Families
This concentration explores theories behind family dynamics, including growth, development, and the roles that children play within family units. Courses also discuss best practices for mental health evaluation and treatment for children and youths. Students learn intervention and protection strategies for vulnerable young people.
Careers this Concentration Prepares for:
- Child and family social workers
- School social workers
- Healthcare social workers
- Integrated Behavioral Health
This specialization prepares students for jobs as healthcare social workers. The curriculum includes coursework in screening and assessment, intervention techniques, cultural factors in behavioral health diagnoses, and technical components of healthcare social work. Students learn how to communicate with clients, their families, and other healthcare professionals.
Careers this Concentration Prepares for:
- Healthcare social workers
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers
- Substance abuse
- Behavioral disorder
- Mental health counselors
- Human Service Management
Many MSW recipients go on to pursue leadership roles. This concentration explores the responsibilities of human services managers. Courses discuss assessment, planning, and intervention strategies, as well as management skills for enacting social change. This specialization is relevant for both clinical and nonclinical social workers.
Careers this Concentration Prepares for:
- Licensed clinical social workers
- Nonclinical social workers
- Human services managers
Curriculum for a Master's Degree in Social Work
Coursework may differ between MSW programs, especially between different concentrations. However, most programs tackle the same thematic elements and professional competencies in order to prepare students for careers in clinical or macro social work. The following five courses represent a sample curriculum for MSW programs offered nationwide.
- Social Justice in Social Work
This course examines the causes of oppression based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and other demographic factors. Students also learn social and cultural elements that affect communication between different groups. The course identifies the role of social workers as intermediaries and agents of change within the realm of social justice.
- Theories of Development
Understanding life cycle development is important to social work with different age groups. This course explores various psychological and historical perspectives behind human development, as well as factors that affect individual development such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
- Clinical Social Work Practice
Typically a multi-course sequence, clinical social work practice classes at the MSW level focus on advanced theories, perspectives, and ethics guiding the LCSW profession. These classes also discuss evidence-based practices and intervention techniques for working with individuals, families, and groups.
- Social Welfare Policy
This course tackles the complex history of social welfare in the United States. Students analyze different social welfare policies, both past and present, and compare them to policies found in other parts of the world. Social workers also learn how to advocate for social policy changes.
- Group Theory
This course explores the role that social workers play when dealing with different groups. Topics of discussion include theories and perspectives behind group work, resource mobilization, and roles and relationships within group settings. Additionally, students learn how cultural and socioeconomic factors affect group structures.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Social Work?
Full-time students can complete a standard MSW program, including all field experience requirements, within two years. Total credits vary by institution, but the average program consists of 60 credits in courses and practicum experiences.
Some MSW programs take less than two years to finish. These include one year programs for students with a bachelor's degree in social work, as well as joint-degree pathways that award both a bachelor's and a master's in social work. Students may reduce their completion time by taking extra courses during each semester or quarter term. However, this may not be possible in programs with courses that must be completed sequentially.
Some MSW programs are designed to last more than two years. These pathways include the same curriculum as two-year tracks, but allow students to take fewer courses each term. These programs may be suitable for students with full-time jobs, children, and other commitments.
How Much Is a Master's in Social Work?
At most colleges and universities, the tuition for a MSW program costs the same as other master's degrees. Tuition rates vary by institution, but public institutions are typically less expensive than private institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduate degree from a public institution cost $11,303 during the 2015-16 academic year. The average graduate degree from a private institution cost $23,919 during the same period. Schools may charge different rates for individual master's programs, but this is somewhat rare.
Prospective MSW students should research the costs of on-campus and off-campus housing in order to determine the most feasible option.
Other factors can affect the overall cost of earning an MSW. For example, housing costs for students who live on campus tend to be different from those who live off campus. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average student living on-campus paid $10,644 for room and board during the 2017-18 academic year. This price tag often includes all utilities, cable, and internet. As noted in a recent article from Business Insider, students who live off-campus may pay anywhere from 59% less to 53% more than on-campus students, depending on the cost of living where their school is located. Prospective MSW students should research the costs of on-campus and off-campus housing in order to determine the most feasible option.
Meals are another consideration. Students who live on campus have limited access to cooking facilities and may need to purchase meal plans. The average student paid $4,300 for a 19-meal-per-week plan in 2015, according to Time. Those who live off campus may be able to save money by preparing meals themselves.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Social Work Prepares For
- State-Issued Social Work License
All 50 states require clinical workers to hold a license, and most require nonclinical social workers to earn certification or licensure in their field. Criteria for licensure or certification vary by state, but usually include a master's degree and at least two years of supervised postgraduate training. Visit the Association of Social Work Boards website to learn more about specific requirements in different states.
- Qualified Clinical Social Worker
The QCSW credential is available to clinical social workers with a master's degree, 30 continuing education hours logged in the past two years, and at least three years of paid LCSW experience. Administered by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the credential demonstrates an understanding of the organization's code of ethics and standards for clinical social work practice.
- Certified Clinical Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Social Worker
The C-CATODSW credential is designed for MSW social workers that assist people struggling with addiction. According to the NASW, the certification demonstrates extensive knowledge of screening, treating, counseling, and educating addiction patients. In addition to a master's degree, candidates must hold a valid state license and have at least two years of supervised clinical social work experience.
- Certified Social Worker in Health Care
Geared toward healthcare social workers, the C-SWHC credential demonstrates competency in practice standards and health policies. Recipients are well-equipped to work with patients, their families, and related organizations. Requirements for the credential include an MSW and a valid state social worker license.
- State-Issued Counselor Certification
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors working in private practice must be licensed in all 50 states. Requirements vary by state, but generally include an MSW or other master's degree and at least 2,000 supervised postgraduate training hours. Visit the National Board of Certified Counselors website to learn more about licensing requirements in each state.
Resources for Social Work Graduate Students
The ASWB is a nonprofit organization that represents social work regulatory boards in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. The association's website includes details about licensure exams and practice tests, as well as state-specific information regarding social worker license eligibility.
The NBCC regulates credentialing for all counselors in the U.S., including substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors who have earned an MSW. Site visitors can access information about board and specialty certification, continuing education opportunities, and government data.
This trade publication aimed at social workers has been published since 1994. Each issue tackles topics related to social work practice, ethics, field placement, and student affairs. The publication is free of charge, and visitors can access a full archive online.
This academic research journal from Sage releases six issues per year. A full archive is available to subscribers. Authors may submit and publish articles for free. Individual readers may purchase single issues for $24 and annual subscriptions for $111.
Available since 1996, this website offers tutorials and practice exams for social work licensing and certification exams. One free 30-question exam is available to all visitors, and study guides and mobile apps are available for purchase. The site also features a lengthy FAQ section.
Professional Organizations in Social Work
Professional organizations can provide valuable resources for students earning an MSW, as well as recent graduates preparing to enter the workforce. These organizations offer certification and continuing education programs, online and face-to-face networking opportunities, career services and job boards, and other valuable information about the social worker profession. Many offer discounted membership rates to students and recent graduates. Five of the country's most prominent professional organizations for social workers are described below.
Founded in 1955, the NASW is the nation's largest organization for social workers. The association offers 20 different professional and advanced practice specialty credentials for social workers in different fields. Hundreds of continuing education courses are also available through the Social Work Online CE Institute.
CSWA represents clinical social workers, recent graduates, and students earning social work degrees at different levels. The site features a national job board where job seekers can browse openings, upload their resumes, and receive career advice from experienced professionals. The CSWA website also provides information about clinical practice policies and guidelines, including HIPAA and the ICD-10 mental health codes.
The SSWAA offers an online continuing education unit program in partnership with Minnesota State University. Members may purchase webinar packages at a discounted rate. The site also features resources about state associations, school social work promotion, evidence-based practice, and international social work.
The NABSW offers scholarships to undergraduate and graduate members earning degrees in social work. Members may also join one of the association's two dozen standing committees, task forces, and ad hoc committees. The site's national job board allows visitors to upload resumes and receive feedback from career consultants.
The NAADAC offers certifications and endorsements for addiction counselors, dependence specialists, and other addiction professionals. The NAADAC minority fellowship program provides training and career resources for minority and LGBT students. Enrolled students may obtain membership at a discounted annual rate.