This original article was first published here: Everything You Need to Know About Studying for a Masters in Social Work
As we head into a new year, you may well be thinking about what resolutions you can make for 2021 and the goals you want to achieve this year. For many people, this might be getting fit, eating more healthily, doing volunteer work, or learning a new language. For others, it may be a time to start considering whether you want to take your career in an exciting new direction. If 2020 taught us anything, it was the importance of community and social support, so perhaps you are looking for a way to combine a career change with helping others. If so, studying for a masters in social work might well be the perfect option for you.
Having a job in the field of social work enables you to directly help some of society’s most vulnerable people while still benefiting from a career that offers high levels of job security and good financial stability. It can be both daunting and challenging at times, but also extremely rewarding. While a Bachelor’s degree in the subject is sufficient for certain jobs in the field, to be eligible for higher-level positions, you will need a masters in social work.
In this post, we go into more detail about what a Master’s in Social Work involves, the sorts of careers it can lead to, and the benefits of studying the program, in order to help you figure out if this is the right path for you. Read on to find out more.
What is Social Work?
Social work involves helping people cope with a wide range of problems and challenges in their daily lives and overcoming mental, behavioral, or emotional obstacles. It generally means working directly with vulnerable children and/or adults – either individually or with their families – to protect them and improve their lives.
There are many different forms this work could take. For example, you might find yourself helping people adjust to big life changes such as divorce or unemployment, researching information on resources such as food stamps and childcare to assist those in need, or even responding to emergency situations such as child abuse or mental health crises. There will also be a certain amount of administrative work in terms of maintaining case files and following up with clients to check how their situations have progressed.
As you move up in your career, you could also get involved with the development and evaluation of different services and programs that are designed to help the most vulnerable people in our society, as well as advocacy work. This means raising awareness amongst the public and political leaders about issues that affect those you work with and the social work profession in general in order to bring about meaningful change.
The type of social work that you can do will depend on your qualifications, and studying for a masters in social work opens up greater possibilities in terms of the responsibilities you can take on and the areas you can specialize in. Therefore if you’re hoping to take your career to a high level, this is the qualification for you.
What will I Study During a Masters in Social Work?
A masters in social work is an academic program that will equip you with the core knowledge and skills that you will need in order to become a successful social worker. It normally takes around two years to complete, or three if you study part-time, and involves studying a number of different modules. Some of these will be core modules, which are compulsory, whilst others will be electives. This means you will have some degree of choice over the areas that you focus on, enabling you to tailor your Master’s in Social Work to fit your personal interests and career goals.
The exact modules that you take will vary according to the institution you study with; however, the following list will give you an idea of the sort of topics you can expect to cover:
- Introduction to social work
- Human behavior and the social environment
- Couples and family therapy
- Social work in communities
- Substance abuse
- Social work services for older adults
- Social work practice with children and adolescents
- Social welfare programs
- Social welfare policies
- Social work research
- Advocacy and social justice in social work
- Evidence-based practice
- Grief, loss, and bereavement
- Trauma theory, assessment, and treatment
- Adult and child psychopathology
- Mass incarceration and its implications for social work
- Social work practice with immigrants and refugees
- Exercising leadership in the non-profit and public sectors
- Military social work
- Social work in healthcare
- Crisis management
In addition to the modules you take, doing a masters in social work usually also involves undertaking a certain amount of hands-on placement work. This gives you the chance to experience what it’s like to work as a social worker in a real-world setting and put what you have been learning into practice under the guidance of an experienced mentor. You may also have to conduct your own research, write a dissertation, and complete an independent study project.
What Sort of Career does a Masters in Social Work Lead to?
The types of careers you can go on to do after completing a masters in social work are extremely diverse. Social workers can focus on mental health or physical health, children or adults, management, or clinical work. They are employed in all sorts of settings, including hospitals, businesses, schools, and public agencies.
For example, you could choose a role as a school social worker, working alongside teachers and parents to assist students with their academic and personal development. This could involve helping those who are dealing with problems such as bullying, bad behavior, or frequent absences from class. Alternatively, you could opt to be a family social worker, helping families in need by assisting them in accessing services, or applying for benefits.
Another possible path is to become a mental health and substance abuse social worker and work with people who struggle with mental health issues or addiction. If you’re interested in the medical side of social work, a career as a healthcare social worker might also interest you. This role involves helping patients to understand and cope with their diagnoses, make any necessary lifestyle changes, and look after their mental and emotional health alongside their physical health.
Having a masters in social work as opposed to simply a bachelors also qualifies you to work in clinical positions, meaning that you can diagnose and treat a range of behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. This could be through counseling or referring clients to medical professionals if you feel medication is required.
What Kind of Person does a Masters in Social Work Suit?
Firstly, it’s important to note that you don’t need to have a bachelor’s in social work in order to study for a masters in social work – although you will need a bachelor’s degree in another subject from an accredited institution. If you already have an undergraduate degree in social work, you will normally be eligible for an Advanced Standing program that can be completed in a shorter amount of time.
In terms of being suited to social work, only you know if it is the right path for you. It’s not a career that fits everyone, so think about it carefully. You’ll need to be flexible and adaptable so that you can deal with unexpected problems, eager to learn and develop over the entire span of your career, and also have a keen interest in social justice and political issues. Furthermore, social work can involve difficult and stressful situations, so you’ll have to be patient and able to remain calm even under pressure. In addition to this, the ability to not let your work affect your home life will be very helpful; otherwise, you may find that you struggle when handling troubling cases.
Perhaps the most important personality traits required are compassion and understanding. You have to have a genuine desire to help the most vulnerable in society and change people’s lives for the better. It’s this ability to make a real difference and contribute to your community that attracts many people to the job, so if this sounds like you, a Master’s in Social Work could be an ideal choice.
What are the Benefits of Studying for a Masters in Social Work?
There are a wealth of benefits to be gained from studying for a masters in social work. Firstly it enables you to work in a field that helps to change the world, one person at a time. You’ll be able to see the work you do make a meaningful difference to people’s lives and to the wider community, all of which make this subject a fulfilling area to be qualified in.
Secondly, social work is a growing industry. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of social workers is expected to increase by 13% between 2019 and 2029 – a rate much faster than average. For some specific sectors, such as mental health and substance abuse social workers, the projected growth rate is even higher. Clinical social workers, in particular, can expect to enjoy excellent job prospects and higher salaries in the future, which is why a Master’s in Social Work could be a fantastic investment for your future.
In addition to these specific benefits, as with studying for a higher degree in any subject, you will also gain a wide range of transferable skills that will be useful whatever path you take after graduation. These include written and verbal communication, time management, organization, confidence, problem-solving, and teamwork. Studying for a masters in social work demonstrates that you are committed to your long-term development, which employers in all fields will find appealing. Plus, of course, it enables you to study a field that you’re passionate about in more depth, increasing your knowledge and subject-specific skills.
Can I Study for a Masters in Social Work Online?
Absolutely! These days many masters in social work programs are available for online study, meaning that you can study for the qualification even if you have existing family and work commitments that prevent you from attending a traditional college course. You will enjoy the same high standard of teaching, but with greater flexibility and the potential to save money on housing and transport costs.
Online courses still involve interactive learning, so you will have the opportunity to connect with your fellow students and the faculty virtually. Distance learning does tend to require a bit more independence and self-motivation. However, if you’re committed to your studies, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Bear in mind that even with online courses, you will need to complete your field placements in person and possibly attend campus on a few occasions for skills development. Check the specifics of the programs you’re interested in before applying to ensure that you can meet the requirements.
What are the Next Steps if I Want to do a Masters in Social Work?
If reading this post has got you interested in studying for a masters in social work, the next step is to start researching programs! Check the entry requirements to see which you are able to apply for, and browse the modules offered to see which courses appeal to you the most. Once you’ve narrowed it down, it will be time to start putting together your applications. You’ll likely have to submit a CV and academic references, as well as a personal essay explaining why you want to take the course. This is one of the most important parts of the application, so be sure to take your time over it. If you can get a friend or family member to proofread it for you, that’s even better. If you’re unsure about any parts of the process, speak to one of the admissions advisors at the colleges you want to apply to. They will be able to talk you through everything you need to do and answer any questions. Good luck!
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