What is an MSW and What Can I Do with It?

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Group counselling session








A Master of Social Work degree can give individuals an opportunity to pursue high-level positions in the social work field. Social work is often described as a “helping” profession because so much of the work is designed to position clients to overcome life challenges they are facing and gain access to the resources they need to achieve their goals. This can happen in the form of counseling where the focus is on helping individuals cope with mental disorders or trauma. Alternatively, it can involve practices such as community advocacy — working with special interest groups to promote social justice. An MSW program is designed to provide students with the depth and breadth of knowledge needed to work in such roles.

What Is an MSW?

Individuals considering a career in social work can use a master’s level social work program as a way to launch their careers. The coursework in an MSW curriculum is often designed to make the degree accessible to those who do not have a bachelor’s degree in social work. So whether you have background in the sector or are a career changer, the MSW can be a good fit. In the Regis College online MSW, for example, students with a BSW can move directly into an advanced track, while those without a BSW take a generalist foundational year before moving into an advanced clinical year. Online MSW programs take this to another level by making coursework accessible from any location, often on the student’s schedule.

An MSW degree program is built to cover key topics in the social work industry, positioning individuals for high-level roles in the sector. Some of the most prominent areas of study covered in most MSW curricula include:

  • Handling issues surrounding diversity and cross-cultural matters
  • Understanding human behavior and the social environments that influence those actions
  • Exploring the underlying social welfare policy measures that are prevalent in the sector
  • Learning about research methods in the sector and developing skills in gathering and using data
  • Developing skills and expertise in social work practice working with individuals, families, and groups

These represent many of the core subjects covered in an MSW curriculum. However, a social work program will often also include some form of concentration to help students gain specialized skills depending on the type of work they hope to perform. For example, the online MSW at Regis College features a concentration focused on clinical work.

Most MSW programs also feature electives, covering special interest topics that often arise in the industry, but aren’t necessarily prominent enough to be part of the core curriculum.

There are two more elements of an MSW program that should be discussed before diving into what you can do with the degree. The first is a capstone. While most MSW programs do not require a graduate thesis, they do frequently incorporate a capstone project that gives students an opportunity to do some high-level work on a project they are passionate about. Capstones typically incorporate some sort of practical work, such as clinical research.

The final key element of an MSW is field education and internship opportunities. These exist at every tier of most MSW programs, beginning early in the curriculum when students are in their initial courses and continuing throughout to graduation. The specifics of the work can vary depending on the concentration that students seek to pursue. In Regis’ clinically focused program, students are expected to work in clinical practice, under the direct supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. This provides a blend of practical experience and a chance to learn under an active professional in the field, making it a valuable opportunity.

What Can You Do with an MSW?

Completing a master’s level social work program can position students for a variety of career goals. Some of the most prominent options include:

Clinical licensure: For many students in a clinical concentration, obtaining an MSW is all about gaining official licensure for clinical practice. In the United States licensing requirements can vary by state. That said, completing an MSW is among the common licensing requirements and students often use the degree program to prepare to work in private practice or otherwise engage in clinical social work professions. Besides simply obtaining an MSW, students must also be sure their institution is either regionally accredited or in the accreditation process — depending on state requirements — to ensure their degree will apply to licensure.

Management: Many agencies and nonprofits seek social workers with an MSW to serve as managers, supervisors, advocates, and other leadership roles. An MSW can prepare students for this type of work by helping them deepen their understanding of the policy and best practice issues that are prominent in the industry. This background knowledge can be vital in helping individuals stand out when seeking a leadership role. Furthermore, serving as a manager in clinical settings often requires licensure and experience working in clinical social work.

Teaching: Individuals in the social work industry who love the subject matter and want to enter academia can use an MSW as a launching point to a career in teaching. A doctorate degree is usually required for teaching positions, but an MSW is a key step on the path to obtaining a PhD and taking the journey to a professorial or high-level research role.

Want to Learn More?

Answering the question, “What is an MSW?” can be fairly straightforward. But determining whether the degree is a good fit for your goals can be a bit more complicated. Whether you are looking into licensure and are unsure about the best path or are simply trying to find the best possible program for a highly specific career goal, we can help you make your choice. Contact Regis College today. We’d love to tell you more about our online masters social work degree and help you determine if it is a fit for you.


Recommended Readings:

How an MSW can improve your research skills

What work environments are possible with an MSW?



Online Master of Social Work by Regis College

Online Master of Social Work Curriculum by Regis College