Social Justice

What is an MSW degree? Careers and job paths for a graduate

March 20, 2018 by Ellen Belluomini LCSW Ph.D.

There are almost 700,000 jobs in social work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But not all social work degrees provide the same opportunity in this field. if you want to make a difference, create a life of meaning, or be of service to marginalized and vulnerable populations within the field, you need a Master of Social Work (MSW). The reason’s people choose an MSW range from the practical, such as increasing their earnings when helping people, or the less tangible goal of a calling to create a more just and equitable society. A master’s degree in social work can answer a person’s need for a renewed sense of purpose.

Here are four reasons why you should earn an MSW:

Licensing

You need a license to put your social work education into practice as a social worker in any of the 50 states. This is much like getting a real estate license where you to  train and to pass an exam to sell houses. And you need your MSW to get your license. A license will:

  • Qualify you for hiring by the military
  • Provide financial security by giving you the ability to bill for services
  • Provide professional security by giving you the ability to purchase liability insurance
  • Earn you the support of the National Association of Social Workers, a strong lobby and advocate for social workers and their constituents
  • Qualify you for clinical work

A bachelor’s degree in social work can lead to entry level non-clinical work in social service agencies. You’ll be able to refer clients to organizations that provide services. But if you want to do clinical work, you need a license. And you need an MSW to obtain the license.

Client-focused solutions

Social work is often compared to other disciplines such as psychology, counseling, and marriage and family therapist programs. Just as religions share core beliefs with different practices, the helping professions have much in common but different approaches. All mental health programs focus on helping people through emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or sexual crises in their lives. Along with learning therapeutic interventions, methods of best practice, and an ethical delivery of service, social work includes two additional guiding principles: social justice and a systems approach.

An MSW program like Brandman University’s integrates teaching you how to view the whole person in the context of their environment. Healing is individual, yet involves a complexity of issues involving family, community, and societal challenges and solutions. An MSW student is taught to assess the implications of circumstances (systems issues) such as gender discrimination, institutional racism, internalized oppression, and socioeconomic inequities. The systems view of the identified problem and its underlying impact on the client provides the groundwork for a holistic approach to guiding a client through the healing process.

The social justice component of an MSW education and social work practice reveals a commitment to promoting the rights for the underdog. Social justice work may involve helping your client submit a letter of complaint to a medical board about boundaries their doctor violated, marching on Washington for immigration rights, developing a policy on homeless response in your county, or creating new programs in your community because the need is so great. Social workers broaden their approach to being change agents through social justice solutions and a systems perspective.

More hands-on experience

When you graduate with an MSW degree, you will have the benefit of having been a social worker in a social service agency. Real-world experience (field practicums) are the signature method of learning in social work education. Brandman’s MSW program requires 600-1000 hours of internship experience. Our program model provides opportunities for enhanced student interactions, mentor guidance, school advising, networking connections, career assistance, research participation, and technology enhancements promoting relationships and resources. These skills lead to a diverse and engaging career trajectory.

Growth potential

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports social work employment is expected to increase between 16 and 23% from 2016 to 2026. Very few professions can boast this type of job security. Social workers develop a range of skills in their MSW program. Case management tools, therapeutic interventions, critical thinking, grant-writing skills, advocacy approaches, technology literacy, supervisory applications, social media aptitude, research practices, political savvy, and an entrepreneurial attitude are all components of a quality MSW education.

The following is an example of potential job titles for social work practitioners.

  • 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

If you feel drawn to help people move from destructive choices to constructive results, from inequality to living with rights for all, to being the change in a child’s life, or simply listening deeply because you care, an MSW may be the best option for your career goals. Now may be the time your higher calling provides you with a route to a fulfilling career and life choice.


Ellen_BelluominiEllen Belluomini, Ph.D. LCSW, is an assistant professor of social work in Brandman University’s School of Arts and Sciences. She is launching the new master’s of social work program this fall.

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