While there are different types of social work, most agree that a social worker’s primary responsibility is advocacy. Professionals advocate for people including families and children in need of financial assistance, students facing bullying, and patients dealing with illnesses or addiction. Given the importance of their roles, many social workers consider pursuing a master’s degree to get specialized training in specific areas of the industry. Doing so, helps them move beyond the general grey areas of social work to better help those facing distinct challenges.
Students in a master’s program can choose from a variety of specializations — clinical social work, family services, or school counseling are only a few examples. No matter your choice, students also receive the latest training in communication, hands-on experience in their desired professional setting, and even advice for processing the emotional challenges of the industry. In short, programs ensure students are prepared to help people confront and surpass emerging hardships.
In addition, the world of social work is continuing to evolve. New positions and professionals are needed to face the challenges and financial hardships of modern society. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for social workers is growing at a rate of 16%, which is faster than the national average. More than ever, degree holders have the unique opportunity to positively influence the lives of others whether they are people in need or other social workers looking for their specialized calling.
What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Social Work Program?
An online master’s in social work program paves the path to a fulfilling career helping others overcome tough times. Online courses contain the same essential content as campus classes, but you aren’t restricted to a traditional classroom. You can work, raise a family or pursue hobbies while obtaining your education. That’s because you get to complete coursework and take exams on your own schedule as long as you meet your program’s deadlines. Many students excel in distance learning programs, but it’s important to consider different degree options to find the online program that’s right for you.
Concentrations Offered for an Online MSW Degree
|CONCENTRATION||DESCRIPTION||CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR|
|Advanced Generalist|| An online master’s program in social work that prepares students to work with individuals and communities at the micro and macro levels.|| Social worker, probation officer, health educator, community service manager|
| Clinical Social Work|| Online master’s degree programs in clinical social work teach and enhance the skills needed for social workers in medical settings.|| Social worker in a medical facility, doctor’s office or drug rehabilitation center|
| Children, Youth and Family Social Work|| Online master’s programs with a concentration in children, youth and family social work prepare social workers for rewarding careers improving the lives of children and families.|| Social worker at state facilities, Medicaid caseworker, coordinator for parenting classes, family support specialist, marriage counselorSpecial education teaching positions in public or private schools|
| Mental Health and Adult Social Work|| Online degree programs with a concentration in mental health and adult social work prepare graduates for careers working with adults or children in mental health facilities or general clinical settings.|| Health educator in a psychiatric facility or drug rehabilitation center, medication aide, patient care coordinator|
| Administrative Leadership|| Online administrative leadership programs for social workers focus on workplace management and essential paperwork rather than direct contact with at-risk individuals and families in need.|| Office manager, medical administrator, benefits coordinator, child support enforcement specialist|
Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Social Work
When searching for an online social work degree program, make sure you find one that offers classes geared toward your career. Many students seeking a master’s in social work take courses like the ones listed below, but you may also take specialized courses. For example, a social worker who plans to work in a psychiatric hospital should take psychopathology courses or other courses geared toward mental health. A social worker who plans to work with incarcerated individuals should learn more about the criminal justice system.
Here are some general courses you might take if you enroll in a social work degree program:
|Social work policy||Where you review policies commonly found in the social work field|
|Social work ethics||Which helps you remain ethical and honest while working with people in need|
|Theories of human behavior and development||Where you learn why the people you help behave the way they do|
|Clinical social work||Where you apply your knowledge directly in the field by working with individuals, families or other groups of people|
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Social Work?
Students typically invest one to two years when pursuing an online master’s degree in social work. Students who have a BSW or who take online classes may only need one year. Students with a bachelor’s degree in a different field may need more than one year.
You may also need additional time if you choose a program that requires clinical work or other hands-on training.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Social Work Prepares For
|Certification / License||Description|
|Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker (CAPSW)||After obtaining a master’s in social work, social workers can get their CAPSW by passing the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Master’s level exam. This license also requires clinical social work experience.|
|Certified Independent Practice Social Worker (CIPSW)||This license lets social workers open a private practice. The license requires a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical or Advanced Generalist Level exam as well as a few years of clinical experience.|
|Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)||After earning a master’s in social work, applicants can work toward LAPSW licensing. This requires at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical time plus 100 hours of face-to-face supervision. Potential LAPSWs must also pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Advanced Generalist or Clinical Level exam.|
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Social Work Degrees
Social workers cannot obtain licensing in their field without first earning an MSW from an accredited program. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) maintains rigorous regulations to reduce the risk of fraud and abuse in the field of social work.
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Social Work Graduates
Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s
Many social worker jobs require a master’s degree rather than a bachelor’s degree, so earning an MSW may help improve employment opportunities. Employers that accept both types of degrees may still pay workers with master’s degrees higher salaries.
In addition to opening up more job opportunities, an online Master’s in Social Work degree can boost your salary.
Average Salaries for Master's in Social Work Degree Holders
On average, salaries fluctuate by nearly $20,000 per year based on the type of social work performed. Salary may also depend on whether a social worker has a traditional weekday schedule or works nights, weekends and overtime.
Pay is also affected by the industry where a social worker spends their time. Medical and government industries typically pay higher rates than individual and family industries.
Average Salary by Industry
An MSW makes it possible to work in nearly any setting, including privately owned practices. Private practices are off limits to unlicensed social workers, and licensure typically requires a bachelor’s degree.
|JOB TITLE||JOB DESCRIPTION||MEDIAN SALARY||PROJECTED GROWTH RATE|
|Mental Health Therapist||Mental health therapists can have careers as clinical psychologists, marriage therapists, school therapists, and social workers. Their main job function is to help patients overcome behavioral and psychological issues.||$43,665 per year||16%|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||Substance abuse counselors help indivicuals struggling with issues related to alcohol and drug use. Sometimes leaders of group counseling adn support groups, substance abuse counselors have an excellent understanding of working with and communicating with people struggling with substance abuse.||$39,312 per year||13%|
|Social Services Director||In charge of directing services tasks such as admissions, discharge, and transfers, social services directors also provide leadership services for their staff. They not only must be well versed in social services, they must also have administrative skills in order to effectively run a team or project.||$60,052 per year||13%|
Professional organizations keep social workers connected with industry trends. Organizations also make networking with fellow social workers easy.
National Association of Social Workers (NASW): This is the largest social work association in the world. It encourages personal development and promotes ethical practices.
Council on Social Work Education (CSWE): This council focuses on the accreditation of social work degrees but also accepts members. Students, faculty and practitioners can join this council.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Social Work
Online degrees for social workers often cost less than on-campus programs, but many students still need financial aid for textbooks and living expenses. Completing the FAFSA connects qualified students with federal loans and grants, but private funding is also an option. Students can seek private financial assistance in the form of loans, grants, scholarships and fellowships.
Carl A. Scott Memorial Fund
Deadline: Varies; students can request email notification when the list opens
Eligibility: Undergraduate students in the last year of their BSW or MSW program.
Verne LaMarr Lyons Scholarship
Eligibility: Students obtaining an MSW interesting in health and/or mental health and who plan on working in African-American communities.