If you’re wondering whether you need an MSW to have a successful career in the social work field, the answer is nearly always yes! Here are some reasons why a master of social work degree is a benefit – and often a necessity – in the human service field:
Graduates of MSW programs consistently out-earn their colleagues at the bachelor’s level. In fact, in the first five years of your social work career, you can expect to earn about $7,000 more each year if you have an MSW degree. The average difference in salaries grows even higher as you gain experience in the field.
Salaries jump even higher if you hold a clinical social work license (LCSW). Independent social work licensure can only be obtained with an MSW degree (and some other requirements – read below for more details on licensure). Social work professionals with the LCSW can earn around $10,000 more each year than those without a license.
In short, an MSW graduate with a clinical license can earn, on average, about $17,000 more each year than a BSW graduate. This boost in salary demonstrates a valuable return on the tuition investment for an MSW degree.
Clinical social work licensure sets practitioners apart in the field. Most states have several levels of social work licensure, based on level of education and professional experience. The highest level of licensure is an independent clinical social work license (LCSW or LICSW), and it generally requires:
- An MSW degree accredited by the CSWE
- Successful scores on the Licensed Graduate Social Work Exam
- A certain number of hours of work in the field under LCSW supervision
Pursuing your MSW is the first step toward the LCSW. Once you become an LCSW, your opportunities and salary can dramatically increase. This level of licensure qualifies social workers to practice independently, and can often allow them to bill third-party providers (such as insurance companies) for mental health care. Therefore, LCSWs can reach a broader range of individuals, by offering clients the opportunity to use insurance benefits toward mental health services.
In addition, LCSWs can find employment in every social work field, since certain positions are only available to those who hold this license. While licensure does require a significant commitment of time and resources, the investment is worthwhile in many ways.
The job market is growing rapidly for social work practitioners, and many fields require an MSW to gain employment. MSW graduates have received in-depth training in specific areas of practice. They learn to work with a broad range of populations, study policy and research, and align theory with practice during their field experience. This knowledge is highly sought-after in the human service field. And due to the sensitive nature of many social work roles, graduate-level training and subsequent licensure are often required to be eligible for employment.
The benefits of an MSW are clear. If you plan to have a long and successful career in the social work field, pursuing an MSW is a vital next step toward reaching your goals!