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 to many different careers. What can you do with a master’s in social work? The many 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 work with individuals, families, groups or entire communities. They put their skills to use at government entities, hospitals, schools, private practices, mental health facilities, offices and academic institutions, working directly with the public or behind the scenes.
A 2020 report released by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and based on data from 2018 and 2019 — the most recent data, due to the COVID-19 pandemic — found that 79.65% of M.S.W. graduates planned on becoming clinical social workers in the next five years, while 2.4% of those surveyed already had their licenses.
Regardless of which career path you choose, the job market for social workers is promising. The projected job growth rate for the social work field is 12% this decade, which is faster than the 8% average growth rate the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects for all professions.
What Is a Master of Social Work?
A Master of Social Work program builds on an undergraduate education in social work, diving deeper into topics such as human behavior and social environment, social justice and research. The program also provides advanced clinical training, educating students in the development of evidence-based and trauma-informed practices to prepare them for real-world scenarios.
While an M.S.W. is not always a prerequisite for social work positions, it is often preferred by employers and is required for certain roles. Individuals typically need an M.S.W. to qualify for licensure as a clinical social worker. Earning an M.S.W. can also help you qualify for leadership roles and is often a requirement for pursuing certain social work certifications.
What Skills Do You Need as a Social Worker?
When exploring what you can do with a master’s in social work, it’s important to note that all social worker roles require a set of skills that will help you fulfill your job responsibilities and ensure you connect with clients.
A key skill for all 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 the court system, health care services or group therapy programs, communication is essential at all stages of treatment. Many clients may not know what services are available or 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. Interpersonal skills help social workers act with empathy and compassion when advocating for clients, even in challenging situations. Personal interactions also provide context, helping you recognize barriers to care 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
The answer to the question “What can you do with a master’s in social work?” is “Plenty.” Many rewarding positions await graduates, including the following.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LCSWs are the backbone of social work. As an LCSW, you can work in any of a variety of settings, such as counseling and research, family support, health care service assistance or 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 your area of practice.
To be an LCSW, the National Association of Social Workers indicates you must earn a master’s degree and complete supervised field work; all 50 states stipulate that these requirements must be met.
The BLS reports that there were 715,600 social workers in the United States in 2020. The BLS’ 12% job growth projection for social workers between 2020 and 2030 translates to approximately 89,200 additional jobs during that span.
As of May 2021, the median annual wage for social workers was $50,390, according to the BLS.
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 may include helping 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 a family service agency, for a government agency, in health care services or in a school.
The BLS reports that there were 335,300 child, family and school social workers as of 2020, with a median annual wage of $49,150. The BLS notes that 52,000 child and family social workers are employed in educational services. Government agencies serve as the largest employers, with a total of 136,000 jobs. However, the BLS projects this will be overtaken by the health care and social assistance field, as they project that there will be 163,900 jobs in that sector by 2030 — a 23% increase from 2020.
School Social Worker
As a school social worker, you will likely work in an educational setting with students facing challenges. You can serve as a counselor or a therapist in a health office, such as in a college or university, talking to students about their problems and helping them alleviate mental health concerns. Alternatively, you can work in an elementary-school setting, helping children with social and behavioral issues and acting as a counselor for children and families to help children thrive in both their educational and home environments.
In 2020, 38,700 social workers were employed in elementary and secondary schools, according to the BLS. By 2030, the BLS expects the job market for social workers in education to grow to 41,500 jobs.
Health Care Social Worker
As a health care social worker, you can help patients who face a plethora of concerns. You could counsel people waiting for transplants or help patients returning home after a medical procedure to secure the services they need to stay well. You might also support patients struggling with addiction, serve in a palliative care department or counsel patients managing terminal illnesses.
The BLS reports that as of 2020, there were 184,900 social workers in health care. Their median annual wage as of May 2021 was $60,840. The BLS expects the number of social workers in health care to grow by 24,400 jobs from 2020 to 2030, which translates to a 13% growth rate.
Learn From the Best
If you’re looking into what you can do with a master’s in social work, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Online Master of Social Work program in our School of Social Work is ready to help. In 2022, U.S. News & World Report ranked the program as the No. 1 social work program in Virginia. Find out how our program can prepare you to serve, equipped with an education that promotes the values of social justice, multiculturalism and inclusion. Learn how our 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.
Council on Social Work Education, “The Social Work Profession: Findings From Three Years of Surveys of New Social Workers”
Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, Home
Forbes Advisor, Earning a Master’s in Social Work
KVC Health Systems, “10 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Social Workers”
National Association of Social Workers, Credentials
National Association of Social Workers, Practice
National Association of Social Workers, Types of Social Work Degrees
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21-1021 Child, Family, and School Social Workers