Searching for accelerated MSW programs? Getting your Master’s in Social Work online can help you launch your career faster!
People who become social workers are compassionate, understanding and care about the world and people around them.
A career in social work can be challenging, yet extremely rewarding and satisfying. U.S. News ranked social work in its top 10 of the best social service careers. Social workers counsel children, families and adults during difficult times in their lives. Poverty, abuse and violence, mental health struggles, and other trials are what social workers specialize in helping others through.
A career as a social worker is likely to be stressful and demanding, but knowing that you’re making the world better through your career is satisfying enough for many people to pursue social work as their degree of choice.
Because social work presents its own unique set of problems, it is recommended that you obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work in order to become a licensed social worker. There are also a few related degrees, like psychology degrees, which may be accepted in the field or as entry into graduate programs in social work, but a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is preferred. If you’re starting from the beginning and don’t currently hold a related degree, it’s a good idea to start researching programs that offer a BSW so you can have the best opportunity to start your career as a social worker immediately after completing your degree.
Accelerated MSW Programs
Some social work programs offer a Master of Science in Social Work while others offer a Master of Social Work. Rest assured that this degree is essentially the same as an MSW degree. There may be slight variations in terms of general requirements, but they are not markedly different and prepare you for the same careers and graduate school opportunities. Most of the time, the difference is simply a naming choice by the institution.
Once you’ve completed your general education requirements, you can get into the bulk of your social work courses. Though there’s not a standard across the nation for required courses in the field, you’ll most likely see various forms of these subject areas:
- Human Behavior
- Social Policy
- Research Methods and Practices
- The Practice of Social Work
- Social Welfare
- Diversity and Discrimination
- Family and Children Social Work
Some programs offer the opportunity to specialize or concentrate in a specific area, like family and child studies, but you’ll generally be trained to become a social worker in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals and even private homes. If you choose to further specialize, you’ll have to go to graduate school to do so.
In most social work programs, the last major hurdle is hands-on experience through a fieldwork requirement. This means that you’ll be required to complete a practicum component of your degree in which you clock a certain number of hours out in the field. Your fieldwork requirement will vary depending on your institution, program and personal interests. You may have the opportunity to work in a school with children or you may be assigned to counsel people in a hospital or hospice setting. Many programs encourage fieldwork that helps those who are disadvantaged because of minority status, socioeconomic class or physical disability.
Essentially, you’ll get to experience what it will be like to act as a social worker day in and day out. This is your opportunity to determine if a bachelor’s degree in social work is the right fit and choice for you. You usually have to wait until the end of your program to complete this requirement, as you’ll need the skills and knowledge you’ll have learned through your coursework to competently navigate the field and ethically and responsibly interact with people in the community.
Social Work Licensure
It’s important to note that not all programs will prepare you for social work licensure and that each state has its own set of requirements to become licensed. Most states will only allow you to apply for licensure if you’ve obtained your degree from an accredited institution. The required accreditation agency varies by state, so make sure to research the requirements for the state in which you plan to work. Some of them, for example, require national accreditation (by the Council on Social Work Education, for example), while some require or accept regional accreditation (by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, for example). Many states give options for accrediting agencies. Not every state issue licensure for social workers who have completed only a bachelor’s degree in social work. Some states only issue licensure if a master’s or doctoral degree has been earned in social work. In some instances, a state will grant a provisional license to someone with a bachelor’s degree as long as that person is enrolled in a master’s program and plans to pursue graduate studies in the field.
To become a licensed social worker (LSW), there are multiple steps. Most states require a background or criminal check and fingerprinting. This is essential because of the extent to which many social workers communicate with and counsel children. An application with a fee payment usually has to be submitted well in advance of sitting for a required exam. Applicants must apply to the state-specific board (like the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors in the state of Pennsylvania) in order to sit for the test. Be prepared to pay a hefty fee for the test ($200+) and a small fee (around $25) to apply for licensure. In many cases, the test can be taken while still completing your degree.
More advanced licensure can also be granted if additional requirements are met. To become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), applicants must meet the minimum course and field hour requirements. Another exam will have to be applied for and passed before this license is granted and additional fees apply. It can’t be stressed enough that requirements vary state by state, so it’s essential that you research each state in which you plan to practice in order to determine your best plan of action.
Social Work Career Potentials and Salary
As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries for social workers vary in range from near $30,000 annually to upward of $73,000 annually, depending on specialization and experience. Social workers have a variety of career potentials and can work in many different settings. In fact, social work can afford employees the utmost flexibility and mobility, which is one of the perks of this career track. Some potential careers include child advocacy, substance abuse counseling, health care counseling and family counseling. Social workers can be employed by local, state, and federal governments or by private corporations and organizations. They can work in people’s homes, in hospitals and other health care facilities like nursing homes, in schools, in private practice facilities, or through court systems.
Clinical social workers are among the highest paid of social workers, making an average of just more than $51,000 annually, according to US News. Working in a hospital seems to be one of the most lucrative avenues for social workers and is also a stable option. Social workers make more money in regions like California with average salaries at just more than $70,000 annually there. Even though social work isn’t the highest paying in the health care profession, it’s on par with similar occupations like counseling or psychological services.
Graduate School Preparation
Your degree in social work may prepare you for further study and specialization through pursuing a graduate degree. A graduate degree also usually means a salary increase and a more advanced and unique specialty area. As mentioned above, clinical social workers make, on average, more than social workers who counsel families, children, or adults with substance abuse or mental health complications. To become a licensed clinical social worker, you must have more hours of education and experience under your belt. In order to accomplish this, you’ll most likely need to enroll in a master’s or doctoral program.
A Master of Social Work (MSW) expands upon what you learned through your bachelor’s degree in social work and enables you to become a specialist in a certain area. Since many states require this degree in order to obtain licensure, it’s a great continuing option once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree. The salaries reported above are for licensed social workers. Without licensure, those pay ranges will likely remain out of reach.
If you’re really looking to specialize and advance in the field of social work, a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) is also available for pursuit. A DSW can prepare you to work in public policy and advocacy doing research, educating others and managing programs. With these added potential career opportunities come more responsibility, but also an increase in salary. Someone with a DSW who teaches social work courses at a university, for example, can make upward of $100,000 annually with tenure. Of course, a DSW is designed for those who are experienced in their field and have been practicing social work for years. It’s still something to consider and keep in mind while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work. Like most health professions, the more experienced you are, the more opportunities for jobs in leadership and teaching open up once you earn additional degrees and the salary payoff can be huge.
Consider an Online Degree
If you live in a rural setting or aren’t near a college or university that offers a bachelor’s degree in social work, consider an online program. Some of the top ranked social work programs offer some form of online education, whether it be a full program, a hybrid (online and on-campus program), or a degree completion program (if you’ve already earned college credit elsewhere for basic requirements). Even at the master’s and doctoral levels, online programs are available.
Of course, the field and practicum requirements will have to be met at a nearby facility, but the general coursework and assessment can be completed online from the comfort of your own home and in accordance with your own schedule. A career in social work has the potential to be quite rewarding and offers up many avenues to further your career. Because of this, your chances of upward mobility and enjoying your career are quite high.