Completing a master’s in social work opens up a whole new world of opportunities in the social work sector. There are many different areas of social work to explore, and social care professionals are in high demand in all parts of the social care industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting rapid growth in the social work sector throughout this decade, with numbers of jobs predicted to increase by 12% on average. This equates to around 78,300 new openings per year by 2030.
Why choose a master’s degree in social work?
Choosing a career in the social work sector gives you the chance to make a real difference to the lives of people in your community. From providing specialist support for homelessness, to dealing with the increasing number of cases of mental health issues, your work will have a positive impact, touching people’s lives every day.
A master’s degree in social work opens up this opportunity to more people, including those who do not already have a bachelor’s degree in a related subject. If you are looking for a career change, then this type of postgraduate degree enables you to move into a highly rewarding sector with huge and growing demand. For the Keuka social work online tracks, most students are graduates from a different field who have decided to make the shift into social care work.
What work can you do with a master’s degree in social work?
People working in the social work sector have responsibilities such as:
- Assessing the people and communities who need help.
- Identifying clients’ needs and helping to determine goals for clients.
- Arranging services for clients and following up to assess whether basic needs are being met.
- Supporting clients through periods of adjustment, such as long-term illness, unemployment or divorce.
- Supporting the provision of psychotherapy services.
- Providing information on the support that is available to people to aid their wellbeing, such as child care, healthcare and food stamps.
- Managing crises – for example, mental health emergencies.
There is a wide range of settings where you can work once you have completed your postgraduate degree in social work, from clinical practice to local government. For many of the roles in hospitals and schools, you are likely to require a master’s degree.
You can also choose to specialize in working to support a particular population, such as:
- Older adults
- Military service members/veterans
A bachelor’s degree in social work gives you the chance to get started on your career in the sector in a range of entry-level positions. However, if you wish to apply for the more senior positions, you will usually be expected to have a master’s in social work.
How long does a master’s in social work take?
You can complete a master’s degree in social work in just three years. For example, the Online Master of Social Work from Keuka College entails 900 field hours and 60 credit hours, and takes three years to complete. The course is 100% online, so you have the freedom to study from anywhere. A dedicated field placement team is on hand at the university to find a local placement for you, so you can complete your 900 hours of hands-on work experience at a site close to where you live.
Here are some of the positions you will be able to apply for when you have completed your master’s degree in social work. It is important to remember that some roles will require a set period of supervised work experience before you can work independently.
In this role, you will help clients improve their family and marital relationships. You will need to be licensed with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) if you wish to practice as a marriage or family therapist. The AAMFT looks after the professional interests of family therapists across the US and Canada and beyond.
There is a requirement for you to have two years of supervised clinical experience in order to earn your license. During this time, you will work under the guidance of an experienced marriage and family therapist (MFT). The role of MFT is one of five key mental health professions recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Administration. You will be licensed to diagnose and treat mental health issues and substance abuse problems. You may be working with individuals, couples or families. This work is known to be effective and can be used successfully in place of higher-cost interventions, to deliver improved wellbeing, a reduction in medical illnesses, and an increase in self-efficacy.
Core services that you will provide include:
- Diagnosing and treating mental health disorders
- Individual therapy for children and adults
- Couple and family therapy
You will treat a range of disorders, such as:
- Attention deficit disorder
- Childhood behavioral disorder
- Divorce adjustment
- Domestic violence
- Eating disorders
- Gender and other personality disorders
There are opportunities for MFTs in a range of settings, from social service agencies to hospitals. They may also work in universities and research centers.
With a master’s degree in social work, you will be able to work in roles supporting the needs of students in schools and colleges. You will be helping to enable the best possible outcomes for students who need extra help with managing their emotions, and achieving their academic goals. This role involves designing and delivering counseling programs in schools, advocating for services to support students, and ensuring that these are accessible to all students.
Employee assistance professional
Many employers today provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for their employees. The International Employee Assistance Professional Association reports that over 95% of companies that have over 5,000 employees have EAP counseling services, while 80% of companies with 1,001 to 5,000 employees currently offer an EAP. EAPs may offer services from a range of professionals, including psychologists and therapists. EAP counselors are usually licensed therapists with a master’s degree in social work or a related subject. EAPs are often outsourced to outside companies, rather than being part of the employer organization.
As an EAP counselor, you will offer support to individuals who are experiencing work-related problems or personal issues, or both. Help is often sought for issues such as stressors at work, mental health problems, drug or alcohol addiction, grief, and relationship problems. In some cases, you will need to refer a client to a professional who specializes in a particular area, such as addiction. All client contact is completely confidential, and may not be shared with the employer. This means that your clients have the assurance that they can speak openly to you, without needing to be concerned about how the employer might use the information. Generally, the employer is only entitled to very high-level details, such as being informed whether the employee has attended counseling that has been mandated by the employer.
Hospice or palliative care social worker
Working in a hospice is a very demanding role, and it is not for everyone. However, for those who do this type of work, it can be very rewarding. Your role is to support clients and their families with planning end-of-life care and managing associated issues, such as emotional and financial stresses. You will advocate for your patients, supporting them in the hospice and, where relevant, at home, ensuring that they have a suitable treatment plan and that it is being delivered.
Your clients may suffer from depression, severe physical pain, social isolation and financial strain, and they will need a combination of social, emotional and psychological support to deal with these issues, in addition to the medical care provided by healthcare professionals. Hospice care clients will have reached the stage in a condition or illness where they are expected to have less than six months left to live.
Palliative care social workers will have clients with terminal illnesses and will often work in hospices, but they may also care for clients with debilitating long-term illnesses and conditions that are not terminal, but that cannot be cured. As a palliative care social worker, you may also work in hospitals or at clients’ homes.
With an aging population, it is expected that the need for more hospice and palliative care social workers will continue to grow, so this is a high-demand area of social care.
The role of adoption specialist requires exceptional communication, counseling and assessment skills, and an ability to stay positive and calm in sometimes very challenging circumstances. As an adoption specialist, you can make a huge difference to the lives of children and would-be parents. Your work can support a child in transitioning out of an abusive setting into a home where they can be nurtured and thrive. However, adoption is an emotionally charged process, which can present many challenges and can be overwhelming for children and prospective parents alike. You will need to be able to draw on reserves of compassion and empathy and have an ability to adapt quickly in this role.
You will work to find children a loving family environment, often helping them to move on from living in an environment of abuse or neglect. Your role will include advising families who are looking to adopt, and to advocate for the children who need a permanent family home. In some cases, you will need to act as a mediator between the birth parents and the adoptive parents of a child, so you will need to be able to manage interpersonal conflict in case challenging situations arise.
The licensure requirements for adoption specialists vary by state, so if you are interested in a career in this field, you should check the specific requirements for the state where you plan to work.
Military social worker
This area of social work provides specialist social care to support military personnel and their families. Military personnel can face a range of unique challenges, from dealing with specific mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to managing relationship difficulties that may be exacerbated by the nature of military service.
You may work with the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, National Guard or Navy, supporting personnel to be at their best so that they can serve the country. If you are keen to join this area of social work, it is worth gaining some experience of this field – for example, by volunteering for a military organization or for a non-profit that serves veterans and their families.
Social work teaching
A master’s degree in social work will enable you to take on some teaching roles, such as in vocational colleges and short courses. This gives you the chance to support the next generation of students who are keen to join the social work sector. Sharing your knowledge and experience with others, who will go on to develop their own careers in social care, is a highly rewarding career choice.
If you would like to pursue a career in teaching social care at university level, you may also need a doctoral degree.
If you are happy to work in a less client-facing role, you may wish to pursue a career in shaping policy for the social work sector. Acting in an advisory role, you will be able to advocate for the client services that could make a difference to people’s lives, informing and influencing policymakers.
No matter which field you choose for your social work career, you are certain to find the work rewarding, knowing that every day, you are helping to improve your clients’ lives. Investing the time in completing a master’s in social work will open up a wide range of career options to you, and set you up for a fulfilling career in the social care sector.