Many social workers think about going to graduate school, but they have to weigh the options and decide if an advanced education is worthwhile. Although the answer depends on the individual, it’s undeniable that there are many benefits to earning your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Social workers with an MSW are able to develop the skills to work in clinical practice, prepare for supervisor and management roles and improve their earning potential, all while continuing to serve their communities in the fulfilling career they love.
Clinical Skills and Services
The MSW isn’t just advanced studies in the foundations you already covered as an undergraduate, although that coursework may be part of the curriculum. If you choose an MSW degree program in direct service and clinical social work, you develop a new set of skills that will allow you to provide counseling and psychotherapy services to clients with mental and emotional disorders or substance abuse disorders as well as those facing traumas and difficult life situations.
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Coursework in a clinical social work program includes studies in clinical skills and methods, types of treatment and clinical practice with individuals, families and groups. You might also have the opportunity to take courses in specialized clinical subjects, such as clinical practice with older adults, clinical practice with children, family therapy, adult and child trauma and working with LGBT populations.
A master’s degree is the first step to becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). You need at least two years of post-graduate supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a clinical exam, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.
More Leadership Opportunities
One of the primary reasons social workers go back to school is to develop the skills and qualifications needed for management roles. A bachelor’s degree is enough for entry-level positions in social work, but you may aspire to attain a management-level role that would let you accomplish more. With your MSW, you are on the path to move into a supervisory role at an agency or organization that would allow you to train and oversee the work of other social workers. A new generation of social workers can benefit from your experience in the field. You may have more opportunities to manage, coordinate and administer programs and initiatives that you wouldn’t have otherwise. As the director of a program or organization, you can help steer the organization in the direction that will most help clients and communities.
Some social workers earn their MSW so that they can move up in organizations that work for advocacy and changes to social justice policies. There are opportunities in this field with a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS, but you often need a master’s degree to advance to higher-level roles such as lobbyist.
The biggest drawback to earning your MSW is the time and money needed to complete the program. Fortunately, some schools offer advanced standing to BSW holders, which can shorten the time to earn your MSW to one year and save you valuable tuition dollars.
Better Earning Potential
You didn’t choose a social work career for the money, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to increase your income. Like other community and social service occupations, social work isn’t known for offering high wages. The combination of high stress and modest pay rates can easily lead to worker burnout. However, earning your MSW can help raise your salary so that you’re no longer so concerned with making a living and can enjoy the fulfilling work you do to help others.
On average, having a master’s degree increases earning potential for social workers by 25 percent, according to the BLS. You certainly won’t see a salary bump this big without pursuing a degree, no matter how good your work performance is. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reported that for every year of experience they cultivate, social workers’ salaries only increase by $419. Social workers who hold an MSW degree make more than $13,000 above what those with only a BSW make, the NASW reported.
It isn’t only through a direct wage premium that your MSW has the potential to boost your wages. The degree can also improve your income potential through indirect ways. With your MSW, you can advance to high-level roles in leadership and management in both macro social work settings and direct service agencies and organizations. As a licensed clinical social worker, you are also qualified to establish a private practice. The highest salaries in the field of social work are found in private practice settings, according to the NASW.
The median wage for all social workers is $49,470, but in the industry that accounts for most social work jobs – individual and family services, which makes up 18 percent of employment in social work – the median salary is just $41,810.