5 Social work careers you could pursue with an MSW
Whether you’ve spent years in the working world or you’re just starting out, it’s possible you feel unfulfilled in your day-to-day work. You may hear an inner voice encouraging you to pursue a career path that makes a true difference in the lives of others. This has led you to consider a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.
When you commit to earning an advanced degree, consider whether the potential professional outcomes align with your goals — not all social work careers are the same. We dug into some information to outline a handful of social work careers you could land with an MSW. Take a look to see which advanced practice path is right for you.
How an MSW qualifies you for advanced practice social work
Master of Social Work programs like the one at Brandman University prepare prospective advanced practice social workers for a robust career. The curriculum incorporates real-world learning that teaches students to confront complex problems with multidimensional problem-solving in concert with evidence-based assessment and intervention models.
MSW graduates gain knowledge on how global issues — human trafficking, wars, natural disasters, epidemics and outbreaks — influence individuals, families and communities. If you earn your MSW at Brandman University, you can choose from the following course options to drive your career forward:
- Human Behavior and the Social Environment
- Diversity and Social Justice
- Social Welfare Policy Practice and Advocacy
- Family Violence
- Social Work and Human Sexuality
- Crisis Intervention and Trauma Response
- Substance Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Social Work Response to Disasters
- Military and Veteran Social Work
- Social Work Law and Ethics
And there are many different work environments available. Graduates of a good MSW program are equipped to work in a broad spectrum of settings, including the following:
- Child protective services agencies
- Mental health and substance abuse treatment programs
- School-based settings
- Long-term care facilities
- Home-based programs
- Hospitals and other health care settings
- Human rights and advocacy organizations
- Criminal justice and legal service organizations
- Local, state and federal agencies
5 Social work career options for MSW degree-holders
The potential career opportunities for social workers with an MSW degree are vast. We took our research a step further to determine the positions employers are actively looking to fill with MSW-qualified candidates. We used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to analyze more than 100,000 job postings from the last year.*
The following five careers topped the list of job openings for advanced practice social workers equipped with an MSW.
1. Health care social worker
Working as a health care social worker, you’d provide individuals and families with the psychosocial support needed to cope with chronic, acute or terminal illnesses. You might provide education and counseling to patients, advise family members and caregivers, make referrals for other services and collaborate with other professionals to evaluate a patient’s needs.
In hospital environments, health care social workers may also oversee Medicaid- and Medicare-related paperwork and recordkeeping. Additionally, these professionals may have the opportunity to conduct social research to advance knowledge and also develop or advise on social policy related to their work.
Health care social worker positions almost always require a master’s degree in the field. They’re expected to grow at nearly triple the rate of all occupations nationwide. Job openings are projected to increase 20 percent by 2026.
2. Mental health and substance abuse social worker
By practicing mental health and substance abuse social work, you’d have the opportunity to work closely with clients who experience mental, emotional or substance abuse problems. Duties include providing individual or group therapy from a trauma-informed approach, crisis intervention, case management, client advocacy, prevention strategies and education.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers will often collaborate with counselors, physicians and nurses to plan or coordinate patient treatment. Another prominent aspect of this role is counseling family members to assist them in understanding, communicating with and supporting their loved one. These social work professionals will commonly refer clients to community resources for housing or treatment to assist in their recovery processes.
One of the most sought-after qualifications for mental health and substance abuse social workers is an MSW. And note that these positions are expected to see notable growth — a projected 19 percent hike in job openings by 2026.
3. Marriage and family therapist
If you pursue a career as a marriage and family therapist, you’ll specialize in diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage and family systems. Such disorders can be cognitive, affective or behavioral. These psychotherapy professionals counsel clients regarding any concerns they may have related to unsatisfactory relationships, divorce and separation, financial difficulties or parenting.
Marriage and family therapists apply psychotherapeutic, family systems theories and other techniques to enhance their clients skills and strategies for confronting their problems in a constructive manner. They will typically develop individualized treatment plans that address family relationship issues, destructive behavioral patterns and more. Therapists may also determine whether clients would be better served by seeing other specialists in fields like medicine or legal aid.
All marriage and family therapists are required to have earned a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy or social work. These professionals are in particularly high demand, with jobs in this sector projected to grow 23 percent by 2026.
4. Child, family and school social worker
The primary mission of child, family and school social workers is to provide social services and assistance that can improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families. These social workers aim to maximize family well-being, along with the resiliency skills and academic functioning of children.
In the child and family sphere, social workers may consult with and counsel parents, arrange adoptions and find foster homes for children who have been abandoned or abused. In schools, they work to develop a strengths-based approach in addressing a variety of problems, including teenage pregnancy, truancy and general misbehavior. In this role, you may find the need to address legal issues, such as child abuse. You might need to assist with court hearings and even provide testimony to inform custody arrangements.
While some child, family and school social worker positions will hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree in the field, many prefer master’s-qualified social workers. These positions are expected to grow 14 percent by 2026, which is double the rate of the national average for all occupations.
5. School counselor
Counselors in the school setting go by a number of different titles: school counselor, educational counselor, guidance counselor, student development advisor and vocational counselor. While a school psychologist may sound synonymous with a school counselor, there are some nuanced differences between these roles.
In general, school counselors serve the entire student population within their school, focusing on supporting their social and emotional needs while also helping them prepare for future educational and professional endeavors. They might counsel students regarding personal, social or behavioral problems. School counselors may facilitate workshops on topics like drug prevention or parenting. The general focus of a school psychologist, on the other hand, is to provide clinical testing for learning disabilities and psychological disorders.
These professionals will typically work at a school, whereas school psychologists and social workers may be employed by schools, community health centers and clinics alike. School counselor positions are often filled by master’s-qualified candidates, and they’re projected to grow 13 percent by 2026.
An MSW could help you achieve your career dreams
As you contemplate the various paths you can take to move your career forward, you may find that you’re continually drawn toward positions that can enable you to make a difference in the lives of others. This sampling of five impactful social work careers reveals that a master’s degree could help make that dream achievable.
If you can visualize yourself finding fulfillment in one of the career paths listed above or you enjoy the versatility of all the other options an advanced social work degree can provide, head over to Brandman University’s MSW degree page to learn more about how a postgraduate degree in social work can prepare you for success.
*Source: Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 103,128 job openings requiring an MSW, Apr. 01, 2018 – Mar. 31, 2019)
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