Most people who pursue a master's degree in social work, or MSW, do so because they feel a calling to help others. Improving lives is one of many rewards of the job, as social work comes with a deep sense of purpose.
But, like any career, there are tradeoffs to entering this field of work. For all the personal and professional rewards experienced by MSWs, there can also be some identity confusion. Because social work is such a broad field, there is no definitive description of what social workers do. Whether that’s due to bad PR, gritty work conditions, or the fact that social workers sit on a lower rung of earnings as compared to their grad school peers (law school, business school, etc.), MSWs can feel misunderstood or undervalued.
That said, the fact that MSWs are tough to classify by one singular job description might be one of their greatest strengths. Through MSW training, social workers become nimble and versatile—two skill sets with staying power, and the potential to open doors.
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MSW students deveop specialties in areas like clinical skills, allowing them to provide therapeutic assessments and counseling. As you earn your master's degree in social work, you might also focus your training on a given population, like the elderly.
Once you have your MSW, you can transition to other fields and mainstream professions with surprising flexibility. Across a wide range of industries, employers recognize the ethos of a social worker. MSWs come with a built-in value system and bring cross-cultural sensitivities to the workplace, both of which are important qualities in corporate America. Because social work is a regulated industry that requires graduates to earn state licensure (often with pretty intensive requirements, like background checks) social workers offer a high degree of legitimacy.
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With this in mind, you should approach your future career in social work empowered with the knowledge that you can chart your own path—entering an entirely new position, in an entirely new area—at any point in time. With an MSW, social workers can transition to human resources, training and development, corporate communications, marketing, research, and even tech startups, to name just a handful of options.
Wherever there are people, there is a need for MSW-level expertise. Whether you plan to work with clients one-on-one, or want to reach large groups through consumer products, as a social worker with your master's degree, you will be equipped to practice your trade in a variety of infrastructures.
Social work is about meeting human needs—and that is a marketable skill wherever you go.