If you’re wondering whether a master’s in social work (MSW) degree is the right choice for you, then you should consider what your career options will be with and without this advanced degree. A bachelor’s degree is sufficient to prepare you for direct-service social work positions like mental health assistant and caseworker, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

With just an undergraduate degree, however, your options are limited. You don’t have the advanced skills to practice clinical social work, attain leadership roles or move into in-demand specialties that require additional knowledge. Earning a master’s in social work degree from a top program could be your ticket to a more lucrative, respected and interesting career.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker goes beyond advocacy and referring clients to resources that can help, instead diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders themselves. The work of a clinical social worker includes providing therapy in individual, couples, family and group settings to treat mental health disorders as well as assist clients with coping with other issues. Clinical social workers collaborate with doctors and healthcare workers to develop treatment plans for clients. If necessary, a clinical social worker may refer clients to another mental health professional with different skills and qualifications, such as a psychiatrist who is licensed to prescribe medication for anxiety or depression.

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To become a clinical social worker, you must earn a master’s in social work degree, according to the BLS. You must also attain a license to practice clinical social work. Licensed clinical social workers typically need at least two years of supervised work experience after completing graduate school.

Management and Specialized Roles

Some of the best-paying jobs in social work are leadership roles and specialized roles, both of which may require a graduate degree. Social service directors earn a median salary of $47,560 per year, according to U.S. News & World Report. Social work supervisors make a median salary of $50,400 annually. Even if you don’t aspire to a management position, you can also make thousands more dollars per year if you move into a specialized role like hospice social worker or medical social worker rather than working in a general social worker position.

How do you prepare for these roles? Simply earning a master’s in social work degree can certainly give your career a boost. Some of the top MSW programs go further, offering students the chance to pursue a concentration that will equip them with these specialized skills as well as boost their résumés. For example, you might want to choose a concentration in leadership or a practice area such as management of human services if you want to work in supervisory roles. A concentration such as mental health, youth and family social work, aging or trauma can help you get ready for a specialized social work career.

Whether you should earn your MSW depends on what career path you’re most interested in and how important it is to you to have options. With so many jobs available to graduates of a master’s in social work degree program, there are certainly plenty of reasons for aspiring and current social workers to consider going to grad school.

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