Learn about all of the different job and career opportunities you can seek after earning a MSW degree (Master of Social Work). We review what the top accrediting body in social work (the CSWE) recommends, core competencies in a CSWE accredited MSW program, and the different types of social work jobs you can consider.

Career Options You Could Have with a MSW Degree

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Gaining a Master of Social Work prepares students for advanced positions in the field, post-graduate field work needed when receiving certification in a specific area of social work, and meeting the academic requirements for state licensure in social work throughout the United States. There are other professions to consider with other educational material in the MSW program.

It is important to consider programs that have been reviewed and credited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Schools holding this accomplishment have met rigorous criteria set by the organization to determine that the program has the experienced faculty members, student resources, and clear goals established to prepare individuals toward state licensure and a successful career in social work.

Educational Requirements for a MSW

Gaining admission into a Master of Social Work program does not necessarily require an undergraduate background in the field.

1. Bachelor of Social Work (or related)

Many CSWE-accredited programs will accept students from regionally-accredited institutions that received a Bachelor's degree in most disciplines. Typically, graduate-level programs will require various liberal arts courses in social services, humanities, and more.

2. Usually There Are GPA, GRE, or GMAT Requirements for Entry

Depending on the institution, students will need to maintain a 2.5 to 3.0 cumulative GPA during their undergraduate studies. This may be replaced with a GPA over the course of their major focus in the last two years of study, or 60 credit hours. Generally, a 3.0 GPA is recommended at the undergraduate level, but lower scores will be considered for conditional enrollment or they may be supplemented with Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and/or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.

3. Online Application and Transcripts, Perhaps Letters of Recommendation

Many programs will require the completion of an online application to the school or department hosting the program with a fee. Submission requirements for the applicant generally include official transcripts, resume detailing both employment and volunteer work, multiple letters of recommendation from supervisors or faculty members with establishment in the industry, and personal essays detailing the goals they have in the social work profession.

Admission for Advanced Standing

Nearly all CSWE-accredited programs have an opportunity for students to pursue an "advanced standing" format of the MSW program. This eliminates the need for foundational coursework and generalist internship in the first half of the full MSW curriculum, effectively cutting the degree requirements in half. Students that have completed a Bachelor of Social Work or similar with CSWE accreditation have already completed this portion of the MSW program.

Advanced standing does have stricter requirements, usually mandating a 3.0 cumulative GPA in their studies. There may also be limited openings to gain admission with advanced standing, but some programs offer an online format with additional flexibility and convenience. Prospective students will have to review specific admission requirements to determine what submission materials are needed.

Top Competencies from CSWE Accredited Programs

There are nine different competencies that Master of Social Work programs must follow in order to receive accreditation from the CSWE. Here are some of the notable requirements that the institutions must demonstrate, including research-informed practice and evaluating these actions at the micro and macro social work levels.

Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior

Social workers must follow all laws and regulations that have been set by various governments and the organization they work for. They must perform with professionalism and treat their clients with respect.

Ethically, they must follow protocol and use their best judgement when advising others on how to improve their personal life. All of these practices must be followed as technological innovations continue to enter into social work.

Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice

All social workers need to treat patients with dignity and respect, and they have the responsibility to protect their privacy when working with sensitive information. Not limited to just their specific clients, social workers at the macro level have the obligation to eliminate oppression and implement policy to eliminate economic difficulty, human rights violations, and injustice that others face in their community.

Engage in Practice-Informed Research and Vice-Versa

The way forward for social workers to improve the quality of life for their patients and in the community they work toward is with evidence-based research and practice procedures. This requires thorough knowledge of quantitative and qualitative research in order to determine what approaches are correct, and they must verify the various sources they use.

Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities

This competency emphasizes how professionals specifically analyze and report on clients and the community at the micro and macro levels of social work. They understand how policies can impact these different groups based on diversity, human behavior, and the social environment. Professionals must understand the biases they hold and this must not interfere in their processes at any level.

MSW Field Education

For Master of Social Work programs with CSWE accreditation, there is a requirement of completing two different internships, also known as field experiences. This portion of the degree helps students implement what they have learned in the program to the clinical setting. The first internship will emphasize the foundational topics and theory they have studied, while the second internship focuses more on what they are specializing in for their social work profession.

Amount of Clock Hours Required

The total amount of field hours needed in the program varies based on where the student studies the Master of Social Work. Overall, typical requirements include the completion of around 900 to 1,000 total clock hours in both internships, with more hours skewing toward the specialization portion of the field experience. The initial field experience is waived for students that qualify for advanced standing.

As an example, Azusa Pacific University in California requires the completion of at least 960 clock hours prior to graduation. This is divided up into 480 internship hours for the foundational and specialization years. Students eligible for the one or two-year advanced standing program will need to complete 600 hours of their internship before receiving the degree.

Alternative Schedules and Online Capability

In some instances, the program will be split up into three modules of field experience and separated by semesters. The last two modules usually count toward the specialization internship with the primary module going toward the foundational internship if necessary. How many hours must be dedicated to field experience each week depends on the university and where the internship is located.

Unless otherwise specified, students must complete their field education during normal business hours during the week. While online programs allow for students to continue professional work, this must not interfere with the field requirement in the degree.

Students taking an online version of the MSW can find a facility to complete the field requirement through the approval of the program director or similar faculty member. Some schools will help the student find solutions for the foundational and specialized internship and/or offer potential opportunities, or they must contact the facility directly and set up a schedule that works for both parties.

Becoming a LSW or LCSW with a MSW

To practice advanced levels of social work, professionals must hold a state licensure as a Licensed Social Worker or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (or an equivalent title). This licensure designates that the professional has continued further work after receiving their Master's degree and has been supervised by another licensed worker. States may have different variations on these licensures, such as requiring an associate license prior for postgraduate work, or separating general practice from clinical workers.

Basic Requirements

In nearly all circumstances, a graduate degree is required in the state licensure process. Completing a CSWE-accredited program will often meet academic requirements for this level of licensure. Thousands of post-graduation clock hours are needed for those looking to be an individual practitioner.

The Association of Social Work Boards offers examination at the Master, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical levels of education. This must be completed within the state chosen, or scores must be verified when applying to a different state for the same licensure. Attempts are limited and the exam must be passed in order to receive licensure.

Examination and Post-Graduate Hours

Based on the state being pursued for licensure, there may be additional requirements to the academics. For example, Colorado requires a jurisprudence exam showing that the professional has thorough knowledge of the rules and regulation in the state. A background check may be required in the process to determine if the professional is suitable and responsible to work with youth and patients struggling with various issues.

The amount of post-graduate clock hours needed when becoming an independent social worker depends on the type of work and the state licensure is being pursued in. For example, the state of Washington requires 4,000 hours of experience for at least two years, and a certain amount of these hours must feature direct supervision. Generally, this figure will range between 3,000 to 4,000 hours, and some hours may be waived for those holding a doctorate degree.

Endorsement and Renewal Criteria

Renewal is required for each state to retain state licensure in social work, although the frequency of this varies based on the state chosen. The amount of time for renewal ranges between one to three years, and the dates can vary greatly based on the last day of the year, at the end of certain months, or at the end of the month when the licensure has their birthday.

Continuing education credit is also needed, although this is not frequently required on an annual basis. This education can be obtained through various social work education or any programs that a local university may have that specialize in the latest field information. The amount of credit hours is different in each state, and there may be specific subjects required at certain locations.

If a professional holds a license from one state, they may be eligible for endorsement, or reciprocity, from another state. This generally requires that the licensed professional has gone through a similar process at the initial state and has been active in their practice. For states that do not uphold endorsement, professionals must reapply and prove the completion of their academics and pass the necessary tests to receive that specific state licensure.

Can You Be a Therapist with a MSW?

Short answer: It depends. Obtaining a Master of Social Work will satisfy some requirements for therapy professionals, but not those who are looking at clinical psychology or are going to be researching in the field. Becoming a psychologist requires separate licensure and a doctorate degree frequently. A professional labeling themselves as a counselor or therapist can achieve this with an MSW program but you should check with the department of social work to see for sure..

What is the difference between a licensed clinical social worker and a psychologist?

A LCSW identifies a person’s strengths and weaknesses to determine challenges they are facing in their life. They may work with their families and partners to help create changes in their lives to get them out of substance abuse or particular habits that are destructive to their advancement.

There are various types of therapy professionals can specialize in, such as psychotherapy or marriage and family counseling. Some universities to provide specific disciplines in counseling and/or therapy at the graduate degree level. There may be a type of concentration in social work where a student can gain these skills, such as addictions, mental health, and disabilities.

Several Jobs You Can Have with a MSW

Medical Social Worker

There are various types of medical social worker opportunities out there. For example, they may specialize in mental health and analyze patients to determine what treatments they may need or counsel them when they are in need. They may also be part of the inpatient and outpatient process, helping those patients adapt to their health care needs when receiving care and how to take care of themselves when discharged from the hospital.

What Would You Do As A Medical Social Worker?

At a macro level, social workers in the health care field may work with advocacy groups in communities to promote healthy lifestyles. This can include partnering with other organizations to change cafeteria offerings for their employees, workout opportunities with various fitness organizations, or providing better food options at grocery stores.

Nonprofit Executive Director

Obligations for an executive director at a nonprofit will change greatly depending on the type of organization. In general, they will be in charge of planning and implementing strategies to succeed, maintain fundraising capability and sign off on marketing techniques, and be able to solve any problems that the organization encounters.

What Would You Do Working at a Non Profit?

In addition to the many duties that a director oversees, they must be diligent in communication and leadership in order to lead an effective nonprofit. Other employees must be part of successful teams that work together efficiently and the director must listen and solve issues that employees may not be able to conquer themselves. Overall, an executive director must be one of the top experts of the nonprofit.

Public Policy Analyst

These professionals review the implementation of policy from elected officials and determine its effectiveness within the community. They may review data to determine if laws and regulations have improved the quality of life and make presentations on if there are any changes that should be made to enhance the capabilities of these laws. For example, they may want to make changes to income housing restrictions within a city.

What Would You Do Working in Public Social Policy?

In addition to reviewing current laws and regulations, they may advocate for new policy measures. This requires gathering information from a variety of accurate sources and demonstrating why these changes need to be made. They may partner with advocacy groups or evaluate various methods of research, such as focus groups, in order to determine if new law enforcement needs to be implemented in problematic areas within a community.

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School Guidance Counselor

Guidance counselors are part of the youth and school services fields of social work, and their aim is to improve student performance and prepare them for the next chapter of their life. Students that are struggling to keep up with others may be asked to meet with the guidance counselor to determine specific problematic areas. In some cases, counselors may evaluate and determine additional steps beyond their own abilities, such as psychiatric treatment.

What Would You Do As A School Counselor?

Duties will differ when it comes to elementary, middle school, and high school counselors. At the high school level, counselors often act as a stepping stone for students when they look to enter the workforce or choose to pursue higher education. They may impact policies that a school has in place for enhancement, or work with other teachers and faculty members to update the curriculum.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Also known as mental health and behavioral disorder counselors, duties for these types of social workers include evaluating clients on their current condition and determining what treatment to proceed with. They may work with partners or family members in order to help with the treatment process to improve their quality of life. This can also include the recommendation of advanced, psychiatric treatment, or placing them in support groups with their specific problems they face.

What Would You Do As A Substance Abuse Counselor?

Specific to substance abuse counselors, they may lead step-by-step programs in order to help groups of patients that are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. This includes developing the plan itself to get them off of their addiction and help them restore order to their lives, improving relationships and entering a successful career. Some counselors may specialize in crisis intervention when the patient’s life is in danger or a threat to others.

What Can You Do with a MSW Besides Social Work?

There are numerous career possibilities to consider with a Master of Social Work, and this is not exclusive to the field of social work. In a given MSW program, students will understand how to help others with substance abuse and addictions, have a thorough understanding of human rights, and there are a wealth of concentrations to consider to customize the program to specific career needs.

You Can Specialize in A Specific Area

Foundational topics are very similar for social work programs accredited by the CSWE. Common courses include learning about social policy, evaluation methods, and how diverse populations can be affected by policy. Specialization topics can also be interchangeable for different careers, such as counseling and management positions at a wide variety of nonprofit organizations.

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Micro, Macro, and Mezzo Social Work

Two main types of specializations that students can consider when pursuing an MSW: micro and macro social work. At the micro level, this focuses on direct practice in specific field, such as with children or older adults. Macro social work emphasizes duties within the community, such as policy change or administrative procedures.

  • Advanced Generalist
  • Children, Youth, and Families
  • Clinical or Direct Practice
  • Health and Mental Health
  • Social Policy

Consider a DSW Degree After Your MSW

Holding an MSW can build on further education at the doctorate level, and students may consider a different discipline that is related. Many of the aforementioned topics can fit toward the path of pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, or a DSW degree. This can satisfy professionals that are looking at more research opportunities or becoming licensed as a psychologist instead of a clinical social worker.