What Can You Do with a Master’s in Social Work?

Health care social worker counsels elder patient.

If you’re a student who wants to make a positive difference in others’ lives, earning a master’s degree in social work (M.S.W.) can open new doors, including to leadership roles. With a master’s in social work, your career options include becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a child and family social worker, a school social worker or a health care social worker.

Social workers can work with individuals, families, groups or entire communities. They may put their skills to use at government entities, hospitals, schools, private practices, mental health facilities, offices or academic institutions, working directly with the public or behind the scenes.

A 2018 study conducted by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) found that 85% of M.S.W. graduates immediately entered the job hunt; the rest either pursued further education or continued working at a job they held before earning their advanced degree. Of those who entered the job market, 77% got a position in social work and 18% more got a non-social work position that put their education to use. A total of 41% of their positions required them to pursue certification as an LCSW.

What Skills Do You Need as a Social Worker?

No matter your work environment, all social workers need to develop a similar set of skills, both helping you perform your job duties and making sure that you can connect effectively with clients.

A key skill for social workers is strong communication abilities. Because a social worker often spends time interacting directly with clients, you need to establish a positive, transparent rapport. These communication skills allow you to successfully guide your clients through the complexities of accessing available social services. Whether those services include court systems, health care services or group therapy programs, communication is essential at all stages of treatment. Many clients may need help understanding what services are available and how to secure them. An effective social worker will steer clients through the process from beginning to end to make sure client needs are met.

In addition, as a social worker, you need strong interpersonal skills that allow you to understand the perspectives and backgrounds of your diverse client base. This allows social workers to act with empathy and compassion when advocating for clients, even in challenging situations. It also provides context, which helps you recognize barriers to care that may exist due to race, ethnicity or culture. As a result, you can conduct more thorough and contextually relevant patient assessments to determine whether your clients are safe, in healthy living situations and receiving proper care.

Discover Master’s in Social Work Careers

If you’re wondering, “what can I do with a master’s in social work?” there are a variety of rewarding positions awaiting graduates. Four such positions are described below.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

LCSWs are the backbone of social work. As an LCSW, you can work in a variety of settings, including counseling and research, family support, health care service assistance and community assistance. Most LCSWs spend some time in an office, but you may also work out in the community, meeting with individuals or groups, advocating for clients, visiting facilities or handling other tasks that require you to travel around their area of practice. To be an LCSW, the National Association of Social Workers indicates that you must earn a master’s degree and complete supervised field work; all 50 states stipulate that these requirements must be met.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, as of May 2018, there were 682,100 social workers in the United States earning a median annual salary of $49,470 per year. The BLS projects the job market for social workers to grow 16% between 2016 and 2026, adding 109,700 jobs to the market during that span. That job growth rate more than doubles the national 7% median over that time.

Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers help some of society’s most vulnerable citizens manage complex and challenging problems. If you’re a social worker practicing in this sphere, you might encounter families struggling with addiction, unemployment or homelessness—all of which can be detrimental to a child’s development. Other responsibilities you might have include aiding affected families by developing clinical therapy strategies, finding temporary alternative care for children, referring families to government assistance programs, helping with new housing or assisting with access to affordable health care. In this role, you may work in family service agencies, for government agencies, in health care services or in schools.

The BLS reports that there were 317,600 child, family and school social workers as of 2016, with a median annual salary of $46,270. The BLS notes that 44,700 child and family social workers are employed in educational services. Health care and social assistance serve as the largest employers, with a total of 128,200 jobs. By 2026, the BLS projects that there will be 157,700 jobs in health care and social assistance, a 23% increase.

School Social Worker

As a school social worker, you will often work in an educational setting with students facing challenges. You can serve as a counselor or a therapist in health offices, especially in colleges or universities, talking to students about their problems and helping them alleviate mental health concerns. In elementary settings, you might work with children on social and behavioral issues, acting as a counselor for children and families to help children function in both their educational and home environments.

The BLS reported in 2016 that there were 43,190 social workers employed in elementary and secondary schools. Child, family and school social workers made an annual median wage of $46,270 in May 2018, according to the BLS. By 2026, the BLS expects the job market for social workers in education to grow to 48,600 jobs.

Health Care Social Worker

In health care settings, you might aid patients with a plethora of concerns. For instance, you could assist those waiting for transplants with counseling and help patients receive whatever services they need to stay well when they return home. You might also support patients struggling with addiction, serve in palliative care departments or counsel patients managing terminal illnesses.

The BLS reports that as of 2016, there were 176,500 social workers in health care, earning a median annual salary of $56,200. Social workers employed by hospitals make an annual median salary of $60,100. The BLS expects the number of social workers in health care to grow by 35,400 jobs from 2016 to 2026, which translates to a 20% growth rate.

Learn From the Best

In 2022, U.S. News & World Report ranked Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work number one in Virginia, recognizing the program as one of the top 16 public schools nationwide. Discover how an online M.S.W. from Virginia Commonwealth University can give you an education that promotes the values of social justice and inclusion to prepare you for today’s multicultural society. Learn about how VCU’s expert faculty, robust courses and drive to improve lives can help launch you into a career where you can make lasting change in your community.