From community outreach to personal counseling, the field of social work is broad and diverse. If you’re curious about exploring a future in this rewarding industry, you may be interested in social work education and earning a Master in Social Work (MSW) degree.
The question is, “What can you do with a master's in social work?”
Fortunately, an MSW degree can open the door to pursuing several career paths for those interested in and passionate about social work. This guide will help you discover a variety of opportunities to put your MSW degree to work and provide insight into the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed. Read on to learn more about your potential career paths with any of the types of MSW degrees.
Marriage and Family Counseling
For MSW students and graduates specializing in family care, marriage counseling could be a smart career path. Most MSW programs should prepare you for dealing with complex interpersonal issues and the emotional and behavioral nuances involved in family counseling.
What does a social worker do for marriages and families? Marriage and family counseling typically entails:
Couples often seek professional counseling during difficult periods of their relationships. As a social worker, your job may be to advise couples on how to move forward while offering actionable solutions.
Family counseling can require one-on-one work as well as group therapy to address a variety of behavioral issues that are negatively impacting a relationship. In this case, you may need to help couples face their problems head-on with personalized therapeutic exercises.
Familial struggles can have an impact on children. Part of family counseling is helping children cope with emotional issues, including anxiety and depression. Additionally, it may fall on you to recommend various social services to assist children in difficult situations.
While you may not be able to provide medication to your patients, you should have a regiment of counseling options to assist families. Your MSW program may even allow you to work with professional family counselors, providing you with early insights into the social work practice.
Substance Abuse Counseling
Those seeking help for issues involving alcohol, tobacco, and other substances may turn to a substance abuse counselor. Most MSW programs offer coursework specifically related to substance abuse and addiction, ensuring you develop expertise in the field upon graduating.
Substance abuse counseling can involve:
Determining patient status
Through meeting one-on-one, reviewing medical records, and consulting with other professionals in medical and social science, you can determine your patient’s health status and substance-related problems.
Counseling and treatment
This responsibility may allow you to create a treatment program that suits your patient’s needs. Regular meetings and treatment plans are a key part of helping your patient recover from their substance issues. Additionally, you may check in with your patient’s friends and family to educate them about recovery and support.
Building a network
Community outreach and 12-step programs may provide additional support to your patient as they work through issues. With expertise in professional development, you could be responsible for guiding patients toward valuable resources and encouraging them to find a support network.
When working in this field of clinical social work, you may need to seek out additional social services, including job placement and outpatient centers. It’s critical to monitor your patient as they explore treatment options to evaluate their success and make adjustments when needed. For more on what is a clinical social worker, check out our blog.
Criminal Justice and Corrections
Interested in putting your skills to the test in the fast-paced and exciting world of criminal justice? Careers in criminal justice often require a strong ethical background and a passion for advocacy and social justice. Even though all social workers are expected to engage in policy practice, others opt to devote their full-time careers to social policy, social justice, or human rights activism. Notably, some jobs in the criminal justice system may require you to step away from any personal biases to provide the best care for your patients.
An MSW could prepare you to work with a range of individuals, including:
Victims of crime
Some social workers are directly employed by law enforcement to assist victims through the legal process. This could mean supporting victims through a criminal trial as well as seeking out programs and advocating for your victim’s wellbeing after trial.
For those already incarcerated, social workers can help assist with a plan of action upon release. You can explore educational and vocational programs with the offender and introduce them to various resources available for those incarcerated.
Recently released patients
Criminal justice social workers are often tasked with supporting those leaving incarceration. Your job may require you to meet with recently released individuals to ensure they’re following through with their new personal and professional responsibilities as well as any federal or state mandates related to their release.
Social work in the criminal justice system often involves work in related fields, including substance abuse counseling and family counseling. Additionally, you may have the opportunity to work alongside a wide network of criminal justice professionals, including lawyers, judges, law enforcement, and other state officials, to navigate the various systems and programs related to the state and county.
Nonprofit businesses aim to benefit communities through resource sharing, fundraising, and public projects. Both local and national nonprofits look to social workers to assist with community outreach, project management, and organizing public health and social welfare programs.
If this piques your interest, you could try putting your Master’s in Social Work degree to work at various nonprofit organizations. Common positions for trained social workers and human service professionals include:
Community outreach manager
Nonprofits rely on their community to succeed. Not only do community outreach managers reach out to community leaders for support and funding, but they also work with markers and other administrators to ensure programs are serving the community as intended.
Volunteers are a large part of many nonprofit organizations. From local trash cleanup to neighborhood canvassing, volunteers need leadership and guidance to succeed. An MSW degree could prepare you to inspire, lead, and manage those volunteers.
An MSW degree should equip you with knowledge of various community resources. Nonprofits often look to a liaison to connect with related businesses and organizations. Program coordinators may engage with local businesses and other organizations to bring community-wide change.
Human Resources and Office Administration
For those eager to explore the corporate world, a Social Work MSW degree could prepare you for a career in human resources. Your MSW degree can be a helpful boost toward a career in the private sector, managing essential office functions.
HR professionals take on several responsibilities, including:
Recruiting and hiring
During the hiring process, HR managers evaluate their credentials and experience to determine whether they’re a good fit for the team. Additionally, they may assist in the onboarding process, orienting new employees and giving them the tools they need for the job.
Policy compliance and safety
When inter-office complications arise, it falls on HR to mitigate any potential problems. From personal disputes to equal employment measures, HR is responsible for handling any disciplinary actions and working toward equity in the workplace.
HR managers look to connect employees with resources and check in to find out what can be done to improve staff performance and fulfillment. They may also work with high-level executives to develop strategies for future success.
Nearly every industry employs an HR department, making it a relevant career path for those with diverse interests and expertise. The MSW degree could be an excellent accreditation for anyone interested in working in HR. The degree may help you develop the interpersonal, organizational, and problem-solving skills crucial for success in this field.
School Social Work
Of the different types of social work, educational institutions often employ social workers to help students attain academic success and manage various personal issues. As a trained mental health professional, you may work directly with students, faculty, families, and the community at large to find solutions and programs to elevate your school.
School social workers are specialists in childhood development and offer services including:
Social workers are tasked with identifying and addressing at-risk youth and counseling students to find the best way forward. Whether the crisis is personal or academic, it’s your responsibility to facilitate conflict resolution and develop strategies that benefit your students.
For students with disabilities, school social workers are a trusted source for guidance and resource management. From ensuring an effective learning environment to providing alternative test-taking methods, you could be an advocate for students seeking assistance.
Staff member support
School social work is a collaborative effort. You can’t be in every classroom, so it's essential to share information and concerns with teachers and faculty. Additionally, you may become a school leader, providing educational services and training programs to the rest of the staff.
As a school social worker, your role could also extend to working with parents and reporting to district administrators. School social workers with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) accreditation may also work as school counselors. For more on MSW vs LCSW, check out our blog. The reach of a school social worker is broad. With a Master’s in Social Work degree, you should be well suited to provide the care, compassion, and competent service that every school demands.
Skills of a Social Worker
- Critical thinking - Social workers navigate complex situations. Critical thinking allows them to evaluate the needs of individuals, families, and communities they serve. With critical thinking, they know when to intervene, how to develop effective solutions, and make informed decisions. They also use these skills to evaluate the outcomes of interventions.
- Interpersonal skills - This enables them to effectively build relationships, and connect with their clients. By establishing rapport, they can create a safe and supportive environment for their clients to share their concerns and experiences.
- Empathy - This empathetic understanding creates an environment for clients to feel heard and validated. It allows social workers to provide genuine care and personalized support. It can establish trust and a positive change in the client-worker relationship.
- Research - With research skills, social workers can stay updated on current knowledge, best practices, and emerging trends in the field. They can critically evaluate research studies and apply relevant findings to inform their interventions and decision-making.
- Mental health assessment and psychological evaluation - This is an important tool for social workers to understand the psychological well-being of their clients. Through conducting mental health assessments, they can identify and evaluate existing mental health concerns or conditions that may impact their clients' well-being and make appropriate referrals to mental health professionals.
Find Your Career Path with Alliant
The potential career paths for MSW students and graduates are expansive. From policy administration to clinical research, there are still more options to explore. If you’re interested in entering a career related to social work and want to know how to get a master’s in social work, the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University can provide you with the quality education to make you a prime candidate.
At Alliant, our Master in Social Work program offers flexible online classes, 8-week semesters, and rolling admissions, allowing you to complete your Master’s degree quickly and earn your spot in the workforce sooner. Our social work program is designed to prepare you for the career of your choice and ensure you have the expertise and confidence to succeed.
- AAMFT. “About Marriage and Family Therapists.”
https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists…. Accessed May 26, 2022.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. “U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social and Community Service Managers.” April 18, 2022. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-manager…. Accessed May 26, 2022.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. “U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers.” April 18, 2022.
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm. Accessed May 26, 2022.
- MSW Guide. “Criminal Justice Social Work.”
https://www.mswguide.org/careers/criminal-justice-social-work/. Accessed May 26, 2022.
- School Social Work Association of America. “Role of School Social Worker.”
https://www.sswaa.org/school-social-work. Accessed May 26, 2022.