Social Work

3 Emerging Social Work Careers—And 22 MSW Programs Preparing for Them

3 Emerging Social Work Careers—And 22 MSW Programs Preparing for Them
To deliver mental health services to any population, aspiring social workers are required to pursue a clinically focused curriculum to qualify them to become mental health clinicians. Image from Unsplash
Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert July 17, 2019

Social work programs at NYU, Rutgers, and Monmouth University made multiple appearances.

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In many ways, becoming a social worker means preparing for a career that requires constant response to whatever societal issues arise. More than simply oriented around established practice areas—like hospice care or child welfare—the demands of social work as an industry are ever-evolving. At its core, social work is defined by relevance, advocacy, and action in any area where the need arises, not by a fixed set of disciplines.

LGBTQ rights, school violence, and global and international services are among the most pressing issues requiring the urgent attention and engagement of social workers. As a result, new social work concentrations have developed to address these issues—which means new career opportunities for current and aspiring social workers.


LGBTQ Social Work

According to the Williams Institute, a think-tank at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law, approximately nine million Americans are lesbian, gay or bisexual, and an estimated 1. 4 million Americans identify as transgender.

As a result of historic and present bias, the LGBTQ community remain vulnerable to discrimination and violation of basic human rights. Victimized for their differences, LGBTQ individuals are at an increased risk of harassment, assault, hate crimes, and bullying. LGBTQ social work supports this population, ensuring their safety and equity, and addressing the impact on their mental and emotional health.

A subset of social work in this area focuses on the mental health and gender identity issues for children and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. LGBTQ children and youth struggle to define their sexual identity, question who they are, and fear rejection from their families and peers.

The social work industry has rightly supported the LGBTQ population, but so far curriculum offerings in this practice are slim. Most social work programs do not formally address training and competency in serving the LGBTQ community. The Council for Social Work Education (CSWE), the accrediting body for all social work programs, encourages the inclusion of curriculum focused around LGBTQ practice, but does not require inclusion for accreditation.

The good news is that there are many ways to learn about the LGBTQ community while earning a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) or master’s in social work (MSW).

To deliver mental health services to any population—including LGBTQ youth and adults—aspiring social workers are required to pursue a clinically focused curriculum to qualify them to become mental health clinicians. Any student can then build expertise in LGBT practice by securing a field placement working with this group. If this is your area of interest, it’s important to determine whether the social work programs you’re considering offer LGBT-oriented field placement.

Some programs offer electives focusing on the LGBT population, and/or are staffed with faculty whose areas of expertise include LGBT issues. In choosing a bachelor’s or master’s social work program, consider those social work schools engaged in LGBT initiatives, projects, and research. And if you identify as LGBTQ, know which schools are openly supportive of matriculating LGBTQ students.

“When I asked my field instructor for advice, she retreated to the safety of agency policy,” writes Dr. Lori Messenger, Ph.D., a professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Messenger reflects on her experiences as a 26-year-old lesbian pursuing an MSW in 1994, noting that she is “struck by the many ways in which the social work profession, and the larger social and political cultures that surround us, have both evolved and failed to evolve.”

MSW programs offering educational and fieldwork training in LGBT issues are increasingly available, but can still be difficult to find. To research social work programs and better understand what the field of LGBT practice fully entails, the below list of LGBTQ social work programs hopefully serves as a helpful starting point.

LGBTQ social work programs

  • In a pioneering initiative, the Monmouth University School of Social Work launched the LGBT Older Adult Project, a joint initiative between the School of Social Work and the Unterberg School of Nursing and Health Studies. The initiative was responsible for developing a training program for health care providers to become more responsive to the needs of older LGBT individuals. Among other innovations, the program established a client buddy system to combat loneliness. MSW interns were assigned to the project and delivered the first series of curriculum-driven training. The Monmouth School of Social Work asserts its commitment to training “gay-friendly clinicians” throughout its materials.
  • New York University offers a Post-Master’s Advanced Certificate in LGBT Health, Education and Social Services to any qualifying practicing health care professional.
  • At the Rutgers University School of Social Work, Dr. Edward Alessi is Associate Professor and Chancellor’s Scholar of LGBT Mental Health, Trauma and Resilience, and teaches a clinical course focused on LGBT mental health.
  • Join the Queer Social Work Alliance at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, established to support students who identify as LBGTQ.
  • Check out the “Out in the Field” brochure published by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Social work on becoming allied with the LGBT community and LGBT social work practice.
  • Consider learning more about Michael Thull‘s coursework, expertise and field placements as Assistant Professor and Director of the BSW Field Program and expert on Substance Use, Mental Health, LGBTQ+ Issues, and Medical Social Work, at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in the School of Health and Human Services, Department of Social Work.
  • The University of Pennsylvania has taken an active role in furthering LGBT rights. Amber Hikes, a 2008 graduate, is the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs in Philadelphia, a city-run department. Prior to serving in this position, Hikes worked as a community organizer at an LGBTQ health service provider and at Attic Youth, a local agency that provides programming for queer youth. Here’s a Penn-hosted discussion event with Hikes in honor of LGBT History Month.
  • The University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social work has established a Center for LGBT Health Equity offering a series of learning videos that focus on the needs of the LGBT community.
  • Widener University offers a joint MSW and masters in human sexuality.

Finally, you can visit the National Association of Social Work (NASW) website, where there is a dedicated section on social work practice with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) population. The NASW has established a national board to convene on LGBT practice issues and offers helpful resources to those actively serving the LGBT community.


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“I Want to Be A Social Worker!”

There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

School Violence Social Work

Violence in schools is undeniably a serious problem, one that tragically appears too frequently in headlines.

With an increase in deadly shootings and unacceptable rates of other violent incidents in schools, the NASW advises the educational community to place more social workers in schools to prevent and address this violence. “School social work services should be provided at a ratio of one school social worker to each school building serving up to 250 students, or a ratio of 1:250 students,” NASW explains. “During intensive needs, the allowed ratio of 1:50 is suggested.”

Social anxiety, isolation, bullying, microaggression, competitiveness, and increased pressure to “fit in” are just some of the issues facing K-12 students around the country. While there are many root causes contributing to school violence—social media being chief among them—the frequency of school violence and conflict has changed the landscape for all students in America.

School violence social workers offer hope. As trained clinicians, social workers can reduce and prevent violence in schools by assessing risk factors and heeding the warning signs of violent and threatening behaviors. School violence social workers can intervene before tragic events happen, introduce conflict resolution measures, and work to build safer school communities. When such acts of violence cannot be prevented, social workers are called upon to provide crisis support.

While many MSW programs offer dedicated tracks in school social work, such training may not fully provide for a specialty in school violence or addressing trauma. Aspiring school social workers may want to consider credentialing in trauma social work practice during their BSW or BSW schooling or as a post-grad.

Below is a sampling of MSW programs offering a school social work specialization or certificate (note: these programs position students to fulfill local state requirements or pass licensing exams in order to practice school social work).

School violence MSW programs

School violence certificate programs

  • At the Simmons College School of Social Work, students can earn a certificate in school social work, and also a certificate in social work trauma practice.
    You can earn a trauma response and crisis intervention certificate at the
    Rutgers University
    School of Social Work
  • At the University of Buffalo School of Social Work continuing education program, working MSWs can complete an online trauma informed care and counseling certificate.
  • The University of Kentucky School of Social Work offers a school social work certification.
  • At the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, you can earn a home and school visitor/school social worker certificate.

Global and International Social Work

In global and international social work, there are as many ways to serve as there are nations and communities to help. Whether assisting refugees amid the devastation of war or helping individuals access safe food and water, global and international social work is crucial.

Global and international social work spans humanitarian efforts in high-need villages and countries as well as underserved populations in the United States, with efforts including:

  • War and refugee trauma
  • Basic needs support
  • Crisis intervention
  • Case management with referral to social services
  • Language and cultural disorientation support
  • Ethnic conflict and violence
  • Human rights advocacy
  • Assistance with education, housing and employment

One of the most high-need areas for global and international social work intervention is in the current crisis of immigrant families who are separated and detained at the U.S. border. Here, licensed social workers with bilingual skills address the impacts on family separation, and help them resettle in the United States.

Global and international social work programs

Want to save the world? Here’s a sampling of pioneering global and international social work study programs.

  • The Boston College School of Social Work offers an MSW with a global practice concentration. Students have the option to work in one of five continents in refugees camps, child abuse shelters, women’s shelters, and in other international settings with high need.
  • At Hunter College‘s Silberman School of Social Work, students can pursue a specialization in practice with immigrants and refugees. Fieldwork placements are assigned in the New York/ New Jersey metropolitan area.
  • At Monmouth University, MSW students can pursue a global and community practice concentration. Students are assigned field placements through the New York/New Jersey and Philadelphia area, or via the United Nations or International Federation of Social Workers. They may also secure school-based fieldwork placements in Ireland, Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Vietnam.
  • The New York University Silver School of Social Work offers an MSW at Shanghai and New York. Notes the school, “Extended immersion in Shanghai and New York allows students to critically reflect on cultural, social, and economic similarities and differences between these two environments, and it enhances their learning about and capacity for culturally appropriate practice.”
  • The University of Connecticut Center for International Social Work Studies is the recipient of the Partners in Advancing International Education Awareness Award by the CSWE. Not only is the University of Connecticut nationally renowned for its social work international studies program, but they also offer students many international fieldwork placements.
  • The University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work offers a unique practice area: sustainable development and global practice. Students here are trained to work in either environmental or international social work positions and to consider the social and environmental impacts of conflict on access to food, water, and other resources.
  • The University of Michigan offers a dedicated global social work curriculum,and international field placements where students hone direct practice skills in diverse global settings.
  • The University of Pennsylvania offers a global human rights certificate. Notes the school, “This Certificate accords with the United Nations Second Phase of the World Program for Human Rights Education (WPRI) that began in 2010 and focuses on institutions of higher education.” Penn’s program focuses more on the policies and mechanisms involved in ensuring human rights and less on direct service delivery.
  • The University of Texas-El Paso School of Social Work sits on the U.S.-Mexico border directly across from what is called its “sister” city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The proximity to this “bi-national and bi-cultural community” informs social work study and practice at UT-El Paso; students here take required classes in “Culturally Sensitive Social Work Practice” and “Social Work in the Border Region.”
  • The University of Utah College of Social Work offers a global social work track with opportunities to study and serve in Mexico, Ghana, or Mongolia. A recently added center at the school focuses on migration and refugee integration.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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