Online Master’s in Social Work

Social workers identify people and populations who need social assistance and work to help them benefit from these services. Many of these professionals work in ‘direct-services'; they help clients in crisis situations, serve as advocates to improve their well-being, and connect them with government agencies to ensure they receive the benefits they need. Clinical social workers, in contrast, help individuals by means of assessment and diagnosis. They work to develop treatment plans that address the mental and behavioral issues affecting their clients. Social work services are not only used to address individual or community factors, but also children, parents, teachers, and the elderly.

Graduate students receiving training in how to identify and address social needs. They also gain skills essential to supporting individuals and groups such as needs assessment, care plan development, and advocacy. Course work in social work master's programs usually includes advanced scholarly study in policy, ethics, and methodology; and mastery of practical skills through field work, internships, and research. Graduate-level programs are designed to empower students to take responsibility for their studies. In addition, social work programs train students to become competent in meeting professional standards while working with clients.

Why a Master’s Degree?

Some social work occupations are only open to those who have received a master’s degree. Therefore, the master’s in social work most often attracts students who hope to attain positions such as licensed healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse, or school social workers. Ultimately, it depends on whether students want to obtain a position in clinical or direct-services. Clinicians must have a master’s degree and licensure in order to practice. In contrast, the master’s is unnecessary for those pursuing careers in direct-services.

Professionals who work in ‘direct-services’ assist people facing problems that diminish their quality of life. Clinicians, on the other hand, must continue their education to acquire assessment, diagnostic, and treatment skills if they want to work with individuals who may be suffering from mental or emotional disorders. They may work with doctors and other healthcare professionals, and provide therapy for individuals, families, children, and couples.

Inside a Social Work Master's Degree Program

The curriculum for a master’s-level social work program will enable graduates to work closely with clients. Fieldwork is typically a heavy component of any program. Most programs require students to complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of practicum experience in schools, hospitals, and/or social service agencies.

But students’ obligations do not stop here, not for those who hope to qualify for clinical positions. They must also obtain the proper credentials, including a state licensure, and complete 3,000 hours and/or two years of supervised clinical experience. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass an exam to be licensed.

In most cases, master’s in social work programs take two years to complete. Some accelerated programs allow students to complete their course work within one year. Compulsory classes one might see on a master’s program course list include ‘Evaluations of Clinical Practice in Diverse Settings,’ ‘Policy and Practice in Social Service Organizations,’ ‘Theoretical Perspectives on Mental Dysfunctioning,’ and ‘Human Behavior and the Social Environment.’

What's Next for Social Work Master's Degree Holders?

Prospects for graduates entering the field look positive: The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reports faster than average growth (12%) for this field between 2014 and 2024. In 2014, the median annual wage for social workers was $45,500.

Students who hope to continue their education may elect to pursue a Ph.D. in social work or related degrees such as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology or post-master’s certificate in behavioral psychology.