Social Work Careers with a MSW Degree

Last updated October 19, 2022
By Online MSW Degrees staff

Social Workers are helpers by nature. If you are interested in being a part of this field, you should have a profound desire to help others that are going through trying times within their personal lives. This ability to empathize with others can provide for a solid foundation for success within your career.

A career in the field of Social Work can have many different appearances. Your work within this field can sometimes include helping families that are dealing with extreme financial dilemmas or interpersonal relationships, advocating for children that have been victims or abuse, counseling individuals that are living with intense emotional troubles, or even assisting people that are sorting through important medical decisions.

School Program Admissions
George Mason University Master of Social Work (MSW) Online
CSWE accredited. Tracks include: Adults & Healthy Aging or Children, Youth, & Families.
George Mason University CSWE Accredited MSW Program
Virginia Commonwealth University Online Master's in Social Work
Part-time and full-time online options, with three intakes throughout the year, let you learn from anywhere in the country.
Virginia Commonwealth University CSWE Accredited MSW Program
University of Kentucky Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited, 100% online. Regular and Advanced Standing MSW tracks. 7 different certificates available (Clinical, Child Welfare, School, Substance Abuse, Trauma, more).
University of Kentucky CSWE Accredited MSW Program
University of West Florida Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited, 100% online. Traditional and Advanced Standing MSW tracks.
University of West Florida CSWE Accredited MSW Program
Syracuse University Online Master of Social Work
CSWE accredited. No GRE required. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks.
Syracuse University CSWE Accredited MSW Program
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Click to view online MSW programs that are taking applications for 2024.

What is a Career in Social Work?

The field of Social Work is not limited to these responsibilities, though. As you learn more about the field and what it includes, you might be interested to know that Social Work can be found in almost all areas that are concerned with the health, happiness, and well-being of people from all backgrounds and ways of life. Social change is a primary facet of Social Work, since change can make a profound difference in the lives of individuals and society as a whole. As a professional, you might be an advocate for positive change throughout the course of your career.

Regardless of which field or group you choose to work with, you goal may be to provide services, assistance, or guidance to people that are seeking help. This could mean providing counseling to people that have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, standing beside victims in a court setting to be their voice during difficult trials, or being an educator to convicted criminals that are focused on getting their lives on track.

Where Could You Work?

There are many different systems that call upon Social Workers within the country. Many local and state government agencies require Social Workers to assist with providing benefits and welfare to the public. Social Workers are also common within schools, hospitals, and even correctional facilities. While most Social Workers are found in social services, it is not uncommon for them to also engage in private practice.

As you can see through this guide, a career in Social Work can change, depending on what you desire as a professional.

School Program Admissions
Virginia Commonwealth University Online Master's in Social Work
CSWE Accredited
University of Kentucky Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
University of West Florida Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
Syracuse University Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
University of Denver Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
i sponsored

Click to view all online MSW programs that are currently accepting applications.

Who Should Work in Social Work?

As part of the daily grind, Social Workers may also be required to engage in regular multi-tasking as part of the job role. Answering phone calls while preparing for a court case - with someone waiting to see you in the lobby - are just some of the daily tasks that could await you in this field. You should have the patience to take one step at a time and accomplish your goals through organization and hard work.

Hearing about family stress, child abuse, and criminal activity can sometimes wear on the mind. In this field, it is vital to have a strong sense of direction and backbone in order to stay on track throughout your career. Social Workers can sometimes work in positions that require them to travel to client homes and unfamiliar territories, making personal safety and awareness another important trait for this career field.

People that have traits comparable to those listed above may do well in the field of Social Work. It takes a hard-working and strong individual to continually help others on a daily basis, especially when there are troubling circumstances surrounding their clients. Even with all of these traits to consider, this field can provide a great sense of accomplishment for the professionals that work as Social Workers.

Average Starting Salary for MSW Graduates

Social Workers – Working in Private Practice

As a method for making a profound impact on society, some professionals in the field of Social Work enter into private practice. Private practice is a wise choice for those that have made connections within the field and have a designated specialty in which they can offer to the public. Substance Abuse Social Work, Medical Social Work, and Mental Health Social Work are popular fields in which professionals choose to pursue private practice in lieu of working for a company or state department.

Before you make the decision to pursue a private career, you should be aware of the requirements set forth for those wishing to go this route. The first and most primary step is to obtain licensure as a Social Worker within your states. The licensing requirements may vary by state, so be sure to review what your state requires before entering into any degree program.

In order to display your knowledge and experience in the field of Social Work, you should have some experience working in the field prior to moving to private practice. In this sector of Social Work, you may not have the references and support that traditional Social Workers receive while working, so your knowledge is key to your success.

Social Work professionals that choose to pursue careers in private practice must also purchase liability insurance to cover malpractice or other incidents that occur under their care. Once you have obtained all of the necessary licensure and insurance documents, you are free to start recruiting clients and referrals into your care.

Degrees Required for a Career in Social Work

  • Bachelor’s: At the bachelor’s level, graduates can pursue careers working in social services or other entry-level professions working with the public.
  • Master’s in Social Work: In order to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or Licensed Master Social Worker, you must obtain a minimum of a MSW along with supervised work experience. Careers in leaderships may also require advanced education in Social Work.
  • Doctorate/PhD: Higher tier clinical positions in Social Work may require you to obtain higher graduate-level degree programs for consideration. Research positions in the advancement of Social Work may call upon PhD holders to be a part of their development team.

Top Careers in Social Work with Summaries and Degree Requirements

Clinical Social Worker – Master’s

Clinical Social Workers work with individuals and families that are needing help through difficult everyday struggles. This position requires that professionals obtain licensure prior to working with the public. While working in the field, Clinical Social Workers may provide therapeutic resolution to their clients, help them come in contact with community resources that can benefit them, or treat clients using psychotherapy or other helpful counseling techniques.

Mental Health Social Worker – Bachelor’s

People that have been diagnosed with and are coping with the effects of mental illness call upon Mental Health Social Workers to assist them with finding services. A Mental Health Social Worker may work with clients to find counseling, community resources, and family support during their time of need. Coordinator and encouragement of care may be another aspect of this field, which is popular among Social Work graduates.

Child and Family Social Worker – Bachelor’s

Child and Family Social Workers may focus on the needs of children and their families throughout their career experience. This may include intervention in the instance of child abuse or neglect, preparing of court documents for custody or relocation of children, oversight during family reunification, and healthcare and monetary support for families in need.

Substance Abuse Social Worker – Bachelor’s

People that suffer the ill effects of addiction may require Substance Abuse Social Workers to help locate support networks throughout their community, follow up on their rehabilitation, and administer support throughout the difficult recovery process. These professionals usually work in partnership with rehabilitation centers and probation offices.

Social Work Instructor – Post Secondary – Master’s

In order for more people to enter into the field of Social Work, experienced instructors must be available to help guide them through the educational process. Social Work Instructors can teach a variety of Social Work – related courses to students within a college setting.

Medical Social Worker – Bachelor’s

In hospitals or medical care centers, Medical Social Workers help their clients organize their healthcare needs and services. They may also help with filing insurance claims and coordinating care for their clients. For people that have extensive health care needs or cannot make their own decisions, Medical Social Workers can make a profound difference in their quality of care.

What Type of Experience is Required for a Career in Social Work?

Social work may be a highly influential field for upcoming professionals to pursue. Within this field, you can work with individuals, families or even groups that may be interested in making positive change within their own life.

There are currently several different specialty fields to consider when working in social work, with a large majority of these options in the human services field. In order to be the best professional you can be, you should have a reliable degree from an accredited university, valid work experience and a state license in social work.

Looking more into the experience requirements, upcoming students in social work degree programs may wonder exactly what qualifies as valid work experience. While social work does involve careers that work with people in various walks of life, there may be some careers that are more preferred during the work experience requirement.

Most degree programs require that students take part in a supervised work experience during the course of the education, with some schools recommending social service agencies, foster care, healthcare or even education. Obtaining experience within any of these areas can assist you in learning skills that can assist you with providing needed support to people throughout your career.

How Do I Obtain a License in Social Work?

Once you have completed a degree program in social work, the next best step is likely to begin working towards your license as a social worker. The main resource for gaining information about licensure is to locate the licensure information on your state’s main website. Typically, licensure requirements may include a review of an applicant’s degree program for accreditation, proof of relevant work experience under supervision of a licensed social worker and completion of a state licensing examination.

The most common requirement for licensure is the acquisition of a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Social Work. Depending on the level of education you complete, you can either become a LBSW (bachelor’s level) or a LMSW (master’s level).

There are also different types of social work licenses for upcoming professionals to pursue, such as the Licensed Clinical Social Work (LCSW) or Certified Independent Practice Social Worker (CIPSW) distinctions. When your state is reviewing your degree, they may check for accreditation from agencies such as the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to ensure that your degree is reliable and relevant to current issues in the field.

The work experience requirement is required for licensure and may be intertwined with your degree program. At some universities, students may be expected to take part in an internship with a social service agency prior to graduation.

This can be helpful for students that have little experience in the social work field and can also introduce them to tactics and responsibilities of current social work professionals. As part of the supervision requirement, upcoming social workers may be expected to complete around 3,000 clinical hours prior to receiving their license to practice within their state.

Lastly, if you are interested in receiving your social work license, you should be prepared to successfully complete an examination set forth for upcoming social work professionals. The Association of Social Work has generated a certification exam that all applicants must pass prior to qualifying for licensure.

This exam may consist of ideas and terms learned through both educational programs and supervised experience in the field. Once you have registered for and successfully passed this test, you can provide proof of completion along with proof of work experience and your degree to your state for licensure.

What Can I Earn in a Social Work Career?

Educational programs in social work can provide students with skills that can help them perform needed assessments on vulnerable populations, identify weaknesses within social structures and programs and assist in developing programs that can be helpful for the community.

Your skills and desires can be the leading source of drive when choosing a field to work in, as well as your choice of degree specialization. You can take part in one of many different degree specializations as part of a MSW program, each of which can help you make the difference in society that you wish to make.

There are so many options to choose from when considering where to work as a social work professional. Some people may choose careers based on their own interests, while others may choose careers that can provide better financial stability for their families. In order to give you a better outlook on what to expect in the careers available to professionals in this field, our team of educational experts has reviewed the average incomes of social work professionals all over the United States. Take a look at some of the salary figures below to learn more.