Many people would answer that question by saying that a social worker is someone who helps others, shows compassion and empathy, and supports those in need. This is all true, but a social worker brings so much more to the table. Trained social workers use the knowledge and field experience they’ve gained in their studies to bring about lasting, tangible change and solutions to social, psychological, and emotional challenges within their communities.

This is why individuals decide to pursue a graduate degree in social work. There are many ways to do good within a community, but a social worker undergoes specialized training to address complex mental health, social justice, substance abuse, and trauma-related situations. They learn to tackle these issues at their core, empowering individuals and communities to overcome obstacles in a healthy, constructive way. Social workers consider psychological, emotional, and physical factors in their approach to treatment, providing holistic care and access to support structures.

A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree provides a framework for practice, via a combination of coursework and field experience. Many MSW students, especially those in clinical programs, go on to pursue licensure after graduation, which allows them to practice with individuals and small groups. Alumni of Macro MSW programs often find roles in organizations that focus on enacting change at the community level, emphasizing behind-the-scenes action rather than individual practice. A social worker considers his or her strengths and goals – whether they relate to hands-on work with clients or policy-based activism – in considering whether to pursue a Clinical / Micro career or a Macro social work role. Both paths call for the specialized education and training of an MSW program, alongside qualities such as empathy and a passion for helping others.

In short, a social worker is someone who brings about social justice and lasting change in the lives of individuals and their local communities.