Career Roadmap: What Can You Do With a Master's in Social Work?

The biggest question that most people ask when considering earning a master’s degree is: How will this help my career?

If you’re considering enrolling in a Master of Social Work (MSW) program, you’ve likely been thinking about this very question.

You can do more than 600 jobs with an MSW. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of social work jobs that’ll be open to you, so you can pinpoint career paths that seem most compelling and meaningful to you.

Exploring Careers with a Master’s Degree in Social Work

Earning an MSW opens many exciting career paths. Right now, the world needs passionate, dedicated people like you. If you’re thinking about pursuing a service-based career, there is no shortage of people who could benefit from your compassion and expertise.

Three common social work careers are:

  • Crisis and Emergency Management

  • Mental Health Social Work

  • School Social Work

In the System: Becoming a School Social Worker

A school social worker can work in any academic setting, from elementary to high school. This profession is in great demand, as mental health disorders such as ADHD, anxiety, behavior problems, and depression are on the rise among youth. Early intervention is crucial in order for young people to learn how to cope and succeed.

School districts employ school social workers to fill a number of responsibilities that fall under the broad banners of mental health and social work, including but not limited to:

  • Academic and classroom support

  • Behavioral intervention

  • Consultations with teachers/parents/administrators

  • Crisis intervention

  • Goal setting

  • Improving student outcomes

  • Individual and group counseling/therapy

  • Interagency collaboration and consultation

According to the School Social Work Association of America, school social workers “enhance the district's ability to meet its academic mission, especially where home, school, and community collaboration is the key to achieving student success.”

Starting salaries usually hover around $46,000 and can grow to more than $60,000 once you’ve accumulated several years of experience.

Must-Read Blog: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Earning
a Master’s Degree in Social Work

Guiding Hearts and Minds as a Mental Health Social Worker

Consider the following startling statistics:

  • One in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year

  • One in 20 U.S. adults experiences serious mental illness each year

  • One in six U.S. youth aged 6-17 experiences a mental health disorder each year

  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% begins by age 24

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34

Mental health social work is arguably the broadest category here, as you can fill a position in almost any sector as a mental health social worker. Typical settings in which you might work include:

  • Private practice

  • Hospitals

  • Mental health clinics

  • Community health organizations

  • Primary care facilities

  • Rehabilitation treatment centers

  • Government organizations

Mental health social workers use patient-centered interventions to help people with a range of mental health conditions. Their mission is to restore, advance, and sustain mental health in both individuals and groups. Their responsibilities often include but aren’t limited to:

  • Addressing physical problems caused by client's mental health issues (i.e., poor sleep and/or diet, pain, energy loss, substance abuse, and self-harm)

  • Assessing client needs based on an individual’s history and current situation

  • Creating strategies to help clients cope with challenges

  • Engaging in psychotherapy (talk therapy)

  • Providing clients with relevant, helpful resources

  • Providing clients with tools to cope with stress and alleviate issues such as hopelessness, apathy, anger, grief, depression, and anxiety

  • Track each client’s progress

Because the occupations under this umbrella category vary so widely, so do the salaries. Starting salaries are usually in the $40,000-$46,000 range and can reach as high as $86,000, depending on a person’s specialty and experience.

Working in Crisis and Emergency Management

One of the most gratifying things we can do as humans is to offer aid in a crisis, when people need it most. With a master’s degree in social work, you’ll be qualified to provide this kind of crucial support and assistance on a regular basis.

As rewarding as it can be, crisis and emergency management is a stressful, fast-paced occupation. It’s not for everyone.

If you’re confident this is the right career for you, ask yourself if you possess the following skills:

  • Coping skills: Do you exhibit grace under pressure? Do you demonstrate the ability to detach emotionally from circumstances, keep your cool, and multi-task?

  • Relationship skills: Do you bond with people easily? Are you good at eliciting cooperation and working as a team? Do you have the ability to put people at ease and inspire confidence?

  • Communication skills: Do you have good diplomacy skills? Are you tactful and respectful? Are you able to negotiate and compromise?

  • Self-skills: Are you assertive but not aggressive? Are you adaptable and flexible?

If you can answer an honest “yes” to many of the above questions, you might be a great fit as a disaster relief social worker.

Emergencies and crises can range from natural disasters (wildfires, tornados, earthquakes, etc.) and human-made phenomena (chemical spills, airplane crashes, violence, or abuse, etc.) to unforeseen traumas such as death, illnesses, and accidents.

The one thing every emergency or crisis has in common is that incidents are intermittent and unexpected. They can have a severe, negative impact on the person involved.

The job descriptions in this category vary, which affects the salary range. However, emergency response social workers can expect a starting salary of about $48,000 and can earn up to $76,000.

Earn a Social Work Degree for the Modern World

To get an inside look at Southern’s Master of Social Work program, download the guide, Make an Impact for Good: The MSW Program at Southern.

Southern MSW Guide

In this extensive resource, you’ll find information on:

  • How an advanced generalist degree in social work equips you to make an impact across all levels of social work: micro (family, individuals), mezzo (communities, churches, schools), and macro (government, legislation/policy)

  • Each of our three emphases: Crisis and Emergency Management, Mental Health Practice, and School Social Work

  • Sample courses that you’ll get to take with each program

  • Admissions requirements, key dates and deadlines, and application information

  • Career outlooks you can look forward to with an MSW

Access the Guide

About the Author

Southern Adventist University

Southern Adventist University

Southern Adventist University is a private Seventh-day Adventist college in Collegedale, Tennessee. Our practical graduate programs equip you with in-demand skills and experience that transfer directly into your career path. We hope to help you accomplish your dreams!

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