Earning a master’s degree in any field is a significant investment. So, before diving in, it’s common to ask yourself “Is this investment worth it?”
Typical master’s programs like a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) take at least 1-2 years to complete. Before you dedicate yourself to an MSW program, it’s valuable to understand how earning an MSW can accelerate your career and help you meet your goals.
Social workers are an integral part of many organizations, from schools to hospitals to community centers, and a cornerstone of many communities. Whether you already work in social work and want to specialize in a certain field, or you are considering a helping career like social work, an MSW provides valuable experiences and training that are difficult to find elsewhere. In an MSW program, you’ll learn skills like:
- How to help clients cope with challenges like unemployment or illness, as well as how to organize support groups or connect them with other helpful resources
- How to guide clients through the process of obtaining community resources that improve their well-being, like healthcare assistance or food stamps, and provide advocacy to improve their social and psychological functioning
- How to counsel people experiencing crisis situations and provide education and intervention techniques
- And much more
As you consider earning an MSW, here are a few things to consider when asking yourself: “Is a master’s degree in social work worth it?”
How an MSW Affects Earning Potential
In the United States, generally, the more advanced an individual’s education is, the higher their earning potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average weekly earnings for those with a master’s degree are $1,574, compared to $1,334 per week for those with a bachelor’s. That’s a potential difference of $12,116 a year or more than half a million dollars over a lifetime career.
Those with a master’s degree also experience lower unemployment rates — 2.6 percent compared to 3.5 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree. If you’re looking for higher earning potential and increased job security, a master’s degree can offer that.
A social worker’s earning potential also depends on their area of practice. According to the BLS, the 2021 median pay for all social workers was $50,390 per year. However, social workers in certain industries can earn a much higher salary. For example, school, child and family social workers who are employed in elementary or secondary schools have an annual mean wage of $65,080.
What’s the financial impact of career satisfaction?
Being satisfied in your career can also impact your financial situation in surprising ways. For example, career satisfaction can significantly impact your health. The American Institute of Stress reports work-related stress results in $190 billion in yearly healthcare costs and 120,000 annual deaths.
If you’re working in a job where you’re unhappy, it could impact your stress levels and lead to injuries or chronic illness. Some people choose to leave high-paying jobs for more meaningful work, like that of a social worker. Many individuals place the impact they can have in a social work career at the top of their priorities list, which is something to consider when thinking about an MSW program.
Social Work Career Outlook and Paths
Social workers are in high demand. The BLS projects that the job outlook for social workers will grow nine percent between 2021 and 2031. That’s faster than average when compared to all positions.
About 74,700 openings for social workers are projected each year, on average, over the next decade
Social workers work in a variety of environments and in diverse roles. There are many types of social workers, but some of the most common include:
- School, child, and family social workers
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers
- Military and veterans affairs social workers
- Healthcare social workers
Where do social workers work?
In all types of roles, social workers focus on helping individuals and communities deal with challenges, from everyday problems to major crises. If your goal is to work in a career where you’re able to help others, social work can be a rewarding professional path.
Social workers work for individual and family services, local and state governments, prisons, schools, clinics, hospitals, nonprofits, homeless shelters, nursing homes, and ambulatory healthcare services.
Some social workers choose to work in policy, advising governments on policies and programs that can help vulnerable or neglected populations.
An MSW can be an attractive educational route for those who are interested in treating mental health issues but who don’t want to become psychologists to do so. Psychologists must hold a doctorate to practice, while Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) can offer many similar services with a fraction of the time spent in school. While LCSWs must complete additional clinical supervision hours after earning their master's degree, they still spend less time overall in school and training than psychologists.
No matter your role or area of expertise, an MSW will provide you with the skills and training you need to have the greatest impact in your career.
What skills do you learn in an MSW program?
An MSW program provides in-depth instruction on advanced social work practices. MSW students typically start the program building a generalist foundation in areas like community development, administration, and direct practice. Social work students also learn about topics related to the specialization they want to pursue.
Clinical practice MSW students focus on providing treatment to individuals, families, and groups in clinical settings. They learn about evidence-based practice, social work theory, and intervention methods.
Community practice MSW students prepare for advanced social work in communities, learning practice models to strengthen individuals and organizations in local and global settings. Skills learned in this type of program may include community planning and development and organizing concepts.
In addition to classroom work, students in an MSW program are able to put the skills they’re learning into practice through supervised field work. This may be in a clinical setting or community setting under the supervision of a licensed social worker. Learn more about Baylor’s field work experience here.
Can an MSW Degree Help Someone Who’s Already a Social Worker?
An MSW degree can also prepare social work professionals to become more specialized, to become licensed clinical social workers, or to advance their careers by taking on leadership positions. Social workers who want to provide therapy in an unsupervised setting as licensed clinical therapists must have an MSW degree. This advanced degree can also lead to a Licensed Master Social Worker – Advanced Generalist license, which may be required for certain jobs.
Some job openings, particularly leadership and management roles, may require an MSW in order to be considered. An MSW also allows practicing social workers to become highly specialized in a certain area. For example, the MSW program at Baylor University features two specializations: Community Practice and Clinical Practice. Those with a bachelor’s in social work may be able to complete the program in as few as 12 months with the Advanced Standing MSW program.
How to Afford an MSW Program
If you decide to get an MSW to advance your current social work career or to move into a new social work position, financial aid can help cover your program costs.The Baylor School of Social Work has several financial aid opportunities for those interested in their MSW programs. Baylor also has several MSW scholarships specifically for students who need financial assistance to make their graduate degree a reality.
Pro-tip: Explore these two resources to learn more about your aid options — Scholarships, Grants, Loans: Understanding Your Graduate School Funding Options and 6 Social Work Scholarships You’ve Never Heard Of.
Explore the MSW at Baylor
If you’re passionate about helping people and want a career where you get to do that every day, then social work is an ideal profession for you. Reach out to us at the Baylor School of Social Work to learn about earning a Master of Social Work degree that will enable you to help diverse populations in need.