Pros and Cons of an MSW Degree

Being a social worker is a great career and one that you can begin with just a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree.

But if you want to advance your career and qualify for positions with greater responsibilities and higher pay, a master of social work is necessary. Is the added time and money needed to get an MSW worth it, though?

Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of earning an Master of Social Work (MSW) degree to see if it’s the right decision for your future.

Pros of an MSW Degree

You Can Be Licensed

Practicing as a social worker requires that you have a state license. But, to be licensed, you must have a master’s degree (and fulfill other requirements, like passing a licensure exam and completing supervised practice hours).

With an MSW to your name, you can be licensed and provide a wide array of services to clients in need. You’ll be able to assess your clients’ problems, provide diagnoses, and design treatments as well.

A Graduate Degree Earns You Respect

Having a master’s degree demonstrates to others that you’ve put in the time and effort to get the necessary training to do your job well. This is important for work as a professional, but it’s also important to your clients – they want the best care, and with an MSW, you’ll have the tools you need to administer top-notch services.

You Can Work With Many Types of Clients

Getting an MSW requires that you master a wide range of skills that allow you to work with many different clients.

For example, you’ll learn therapeutic techniques that enable you to provide counseling services to clients with mental disorders. Likewise, you’ll learn how to advocate for your clients, which can help you connect them with services like financial assistance, job assistance, housing, and so forth.

Social workers with an MSW can work with kids, the elderly, couples and families, and even people that are incarcerated. The specialized training you get in a graduate program gives you the tools you need to pursue the niche that best fits your interests.

The Skills You Learn are Immediately Applicable to the Workplace

There are many classroom courses you must complete to finish an MSW program. However, there is also a significant field experience component, usually in the form of an internship.

MSW programs vary in terms of the internship length. But the purpose of these programs is the same – to give you real-world experience in applying what you’ve learned with real clients. This makes you immediately employable upon graduation.

Master’s-Level Social Workers Have More Job Options

With a master’s degree, you will qualify for many more positions (and varied positions, too) than you would if you just have a master’s degree.

For example, an MSW would qualify you to be a school social worker, a medical social worker, or a clinical social worker. Other options include:

There are many other options, but you get the point – with a master’s degree, your job options are much greater.

An MSW Gives You Greater Job Security

Since an MSW is an advanced degree, you’ll have higher-level knowledge and skills in social work. This, in turn, makes you a more valuable asset and can help ensure your long-term job security.

Of course, being a good social worker isn’t just about having knowledge and skills. You must also be an effective social worker – which is something else you learn in an MSW program!

An MSW Better Prepares You to Help Others

One of the best parts of being a social worker is that you’re in a position to help people in need. With MSW training, you’ll have a much larger toolkit and skill set for helping others.

Master’s-level courses dive deeper into subjects and help you develop more robust skills. This makes MSW graduates all the more ready to provide assistance to a wide range of clientele.

Social Workers are in Need

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the need for social workers will grow by 12 percent through the end of the decade, which is faster than average. By pursuing an MSW, you’ll position yourself to take advantage of a growing field and might even be able to have your pick of multiple job offers!

Cons of an MSW Degree

There is a Significant Time Investment

Most MSW programs are at least two years in length. Some last up to four years. There are substantial classroom learning requirements as well as a practicum or internship experience that’s usually around 1,000 hours in length.

So, after four years to complete your undergraduate degree, you can expect as much as another four years of rigorous, high-level learning before you graduate with your MSW.

Master’s Degree Programs aren’t Cheap

Time isn’t the only investment you have to make in a graduate program – there’s the money issue, too.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a master’s degree in the United States is $66,340. But for MSW programs, the average expense is even higher at $75,100.

You’ll need to weigh the financial benefits of having a master’s degree with the expenses you’ll incur to complete the program.

Pay Isn’t That Great

Another part of the equation is the fact that people with an MSW don’t make that much compared to other workers with similar master’s degrees.

According to a study by the BLS, the average salary for a social worker in 2021 was $61,190. Compare that to a median annual wage for psychologists that exceeds $81,000.

Now, the pay for social workers reaches into the $80,000 range. Still, the highest-paid social workers only make what the median income is for psychologists.

Work isn’t just about money, though. As noted earlier, this job comes with many benefits, not the least of which is being able to help people in need. If you have a strong desire to help others, getting an MSW is a great way to gain the necessary skills.

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