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Social Justice

What is an MSW Degree? Increasing your impact as a social worker

December 20, 2018 by Brandman University


You think with your heart as much as your head. Whether you financially support causes that are important to you or volunteer at local organizations, you seek out meaningful experiences. Standing up for what’s right is important to you. Which is why you’re thinking of making a career out of it.

If you’re interested in making a difference as a social worker, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, there were almost 700,000 U.S. social workers in 2016. That number is projected to grow 16 percent by 2026, equating to more than 100,000 additional job opportunities for social work hopefuls.

You’re probably curious about the education you’ll need in order to pursue this profession. You should know not all social work degrees provide the same opportunities. If you want to make a difference in—or be of service to—marginalized and vulnerable populations, you might want to consider a Master of Social Work degree (MSW). But what is an MSW degree, exactly?

To learn more about the MSW and how it can help you positively influence your community, we spoke with Dr. Ellen Belluomini, Ph.D., LCSW and assistant professor of social work for Brandman University’s School of Arts and Sciences. She has a lot to share about this coveted social work degree and the many career paths it can lead to.

What is an MSW degree?

The MSW (Master of Social Work) is a graduate degree that many consider to be the gold standard of the social work profession. Dr. Belluomini, who brings 30 years of social work experience to her role as an educator, says the biggest benefit of obtaining an MSW degree is that it enables social workers to help and empower others.

“It’s about working toward your passions for helping people and/or systems,” she explains. “People go into this career to make a difference. They want to see change and see people lifted up.”

The MSW degree qualifies graduates for clinical workit’s even a requirement to obtain your license in many states. An MSW magnifies the impact a social worker can make in their career. And you don’t need to have a social work background in order to earn an MSW. You just need to be driven to make the world a better place.

Social workers develop a range of skills in their MSW program. Here are a handful of competencies MSW graduates acquire:

  • Case management tools
  • Therapeutic intervention experience
  • Critical thinking
  • Grant-writing skills
  • Advocacy approaches
  • Technology literacy
  • Supervisory application know-how
  • Research practices
  • Political savvy
  • Entrepreneurial attitude

The reasons people choose to earn an MSW range from the practical, such as increasing their earnings or opportunities, to the less-tangible goal of a calling to create a more just and equitable society. A master’s degree in social work can help individuals renew their sense of purpose.

What are the benefits of earning an MSW degree?

You need a license to put your education into practice as a clinical social worker in each of the 50 states. This is much like getting a real estate license that requires you pass an exam to sell houses. In order to obtain proper licensure for a clinical social worker position, you’ll need an MSW degree.

Additional advantages of being licensed:

  • You’re eligible for positions in the military.
  • You’ll have more financial security because you’ll have the ability to bill for services.
  • You’ll have the professional security of the ability to purchase liability insurance.
  • You can earn support from the National Association of Social Workers, a strong lobby and advocate for social workers and their constituents.
  • You’ll be qualified for clinical work.

A bachelor’s degree in social work can lead to entry-level work in social service agencies, and will prepare you to be able to refer clients to organizations that provide services. But if you want to do clinical work, you’ll need a license.

What does the future hold for social workers?

Social work employment is expected to increase 16 percent from 2016 to 2026.* Very few professions can boast this type of job security, which is due in part to growing disparities throughout communities.

“In a rapidly changing society, social workers are the human translators of change,” Dr. Belluomini says. “As disparities accelerate and become greater, social workers will be needed even more.”

Not only is the job outlook promising, but the social work career opportunities are numerous. At the MSW level, there’s no singular pathway in the social work field. The degree can actually expand your opportunities quite a lot.

“An MSW broadens your possibilities,” Dr. Belluomini explains. “It can include anything from working with kids and systems, working across the lifespan, working with communities and government or working with any portion of society.”

The following are examples of potential job titles for social work practitioners with an MSW degree:

  • Child and family therapist
  • Child welfare specialist
  • Homeless case manager
  • Grant writer
  • Activist
  • Military social worker
  • Immigration specialist
  • Crisis interventionist
  • Domestic violence court advocate
  • Hospital social worker
  • Bilingual case worker
  • Geriatric social worker
  • Entrepreneur
  • Trauma informed therapist
  • Foundation and grant executive
  • Program director/director
  • Mental health blogger
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Lobbyist for mental health policy
  • Mental health app consultant
  • Criminal justice advocate
  • Climate change coordinator
  • HIV/AIDS case manager
  • Food pantry supervisor
  • Foster care specialist
  • Community organizer
  • Coalition builder
  • Bottom line: Social workers empower and elevate others

    What is an MSW degree? It’s a qualification. It’s a tool of empowerment. And it’s a force of good that can help support those who need it most.

    If you feel drawn to help people move toward constructive solutions and also want to champion rights for all, an MSW degree could be a great option for your career goals. And now may be just the time to pursue that route to a fulfilling career and life.

    Not sure where to start? To learn more about the numerous ways an MSW program can prepare you for a robust social work career, visit the Brandman University MSW degree page.


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