Is it Worth it to Get a Masters in Social Work?

Today a bachelor's degree is becoming the equivalent of a high school diploma. Employers increasingly exclude job applicants with just bachelor's degrees. In social work, as in other fields, advancements in technology and knowledge have resulted in a need for higher education, but is it worthwhile to get a master's degree in social work?

What is an MSW?

A master of social work degree indicates that you have successfully completed an advanced course in a graduate school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. It requires two years of study followed by two years of internship. Most candidates for MSWs hold bachelor's degrees in social work, but it is possible to get an MSW with a degree in another liberal arts field. At the completion of the degree, most graduates seek licensure by the state in which they want to work.

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What are Some of the Arguments for Getting an MSW?

Getting an MSW opens up more possibility for employment. MSWs work in the medical field, in substance abuse programs and in mental health professions. They also work in schools and in human services departments. A higher degree may mean you can work in administration or at a higher-level job in all these areas. More information about fields of application in social work can be found online at "Social Work License Map." Some studies claim that MSWs earn 25 percent more annually than someone with only a bachelor's degree in social work. That figure averages $15,000.

Is there a Downside to Getting an MSW?

In a tough economy, recent graduates and those professionals who are not working in their fields tend to hide out in graduate school. This is no less true of social work professionals. What that means is that when they finish their advanced degrees there will be a glut of job-seekers competing for jobs. In addition, an MSW will add an average $40,000 to your student debt. That could translate to a student debt of between $70,000 and $80,000. With the exception of high administrative jobs and private sector counseling practice, pay for social workers is not known for being high, so that debt will be with you for a long time. In addition, social work is a profession which is highly reliant on the politics of the day. Government spending, or lack of it, and a tough economy, in which logistically close facilities may share practitioners, all can cause a weak market for social workers.

Participants in the forum "City" agreed that the worth of an MSW is not in the degree itself but in the certification the degree opens up for workers. For instance, you can earn your MSW and then get certified as a speech pathologist, a specialty for which there is a market.

The decision of whether to get an MSW is basically one of motivation. If you want to specialize in a branch of social work, an MSW is a pathway to that specialization. Social work, like teaching, is a profession that is traditionally underpaid. An MSW with a certification may get you a higher salary. Still, social workers are typically those who want to help people, and if earning an MSW achieves that, then it is definitely worth the trouble and the expense.

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