The Complete Guide to Social Work Masters Degree

how to get a masters degree in social work

We all face hard times and challenges from time to time, and more often than not we seek help from other people. There are people who have a more emphasized willingness to contribute to the society. They are called social workers.

If this is what describes you as a human, you probably should opt for social work as your lifetime profession. Nevertheless, becoming a social worker is not about just having the right passion and willingness. Ahead of you is a long and challenging education path and career.

This article will help you decide if the social worker path is right for you.

What is a social worker?

A social worker is a well-educated, licensed and experienced person who is concerned with the problems of other individuals or entire society offering its professional knowledge to help overcome them with ease. He combines his theoretical and practical knowledge gained through education and experience, to lead their clients way through their struggle. Their ultimate goal is to work about social equalities and welfare.

You may be asking yourself, “why should I become a social worker and not a psychologist? Aren’t they the same thing?”. Although they share some similarities, they are not the same.

They have a different overlook and concentration over the social problems. A psychologist is interested only in its subject (his client) trying to figure out where the problem internally relies on.

On the other hand, a social worker can’t look at its clients’ problem apart from society. He investigates their social life, their relationship with others, their familiar environment and so on to figure out what’s wrong and what it could be done to overcome it.

What is a master of social work?

Master of social work is the required level of education to take executive roles in your future job as a social worker. There are higher qualifications you can seek for your academic improvement if you’re looking for a well-paid and challenging job in your future, but having a Master degree is enough.

While having a bachelor degree in social work is enough to get an entry-level job, having a master’s degree means you can work as mental health, school or educational social worker.

During your master studies, you will expand your knowledge and you’ll have an opportunity to practice what you know in a real environment. During the first year, there usually are general introductory courses that will strengthen and widen your knowledge around core concepts like social policies, human behavior, researching methods, clinical practices, etc.

In the second year, you’ll be able to focus on more specific topics that you might be interested in. These specific study areas differ university to university, but in general include children, youth, family, mental health etc.

Here are some of the most common courses taught in the Master of social work:

  • Introduction to Social Work
  • Human behavior
  • Research methods course
  • Death and dying
  • General practice course
  • Policy course
  • Dynamics of racism and oppression
  • Couple and Family therapy
  • Social work services
  • Substance abuse

The main levels of social work

If you’re on your way to becoming a social worker you must pay attention to the different levels of social work. Basically, the types of master’s degree in this area are based on the target group of study.

Here are three types of master in Social Work

  • Macro
  • Mezzo
  • Micro

Note that these levels aren’t strictly divided as they often overlap depending on the social problem.

Macro social work

A macro social worker intervenes on issues that affect a larger community. For example, social workers may engage discussions about social policy laws. This level of a social work is basically the boundary line between a social worker and a psychiatric therapist.

Mezzo social work

It’s concentrated around smaller groups. For example, a neighborhood’s residents may complain to local institutions why they legalized a company to throw garbage in an area around their habitat zone. Social workers’ duty is to make residents’ voice be heard.


Micro-social workers give social help to families and individuals. It’s the most common way of practicing social work. These social workers help clients find an appropriate housing, health care and social services they need.

How to apply for a masters degree in social work?

To be admitted into a master’s degree in social work you must have a basic knowledge of social work. Having a bachelor degree in social work means that you’re one step ahead of other applicants, understanding there is high competition to enter master studies in social work. But, you can seek a master’s degree in this field, even if you don’t have a purely social work bachelor degree. How?

Social work is a profession closely related to psychology and some other social sciences and many bachelors graduates from these fields decide to master in social work. However, they will need to attend specific courses which they may not have attended during their prior education.

Master programs in social work are usually offered in two formats depending on a student’s undergraduate qualification. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a social work program, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education in your country, you can jump right into advanced studies, while a traditional master program stands for those who have a prior education in a related field.

What requirements are needed to apply for a masters degree in social work?

The very first step is to find a specific masters program and a university that matches your desire. Requirements differ from state to state as well as university to university. So, always check the university website’s information before initiating the applying procedure.

Generally speaking, you’ll need:

  • A bachelor degree in social work or a related field
  • Grades’ transcripts
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • References
  • And other usual identification documents.

Be aware that some universities also require a certain minimum GPA, a GRE test or a specific training experience.

How long does it take to get a master’s degree in social work?

A usual full-time master program in social work takes two years or four semesters. Universities also offer programs which take less than two years. These fast-track programs are dedicated to bachelor graduates in a CSWE-accredited program. Students attend 30 hours semesters, while those who don’t have a bachelor degree attend 60 hours semesters or they may pursue additional courses.

Universities also offer online degrees and how long they take may vary. Usually, the online degree takes longer than standard two-year master programs. These programs are mainly chosen by people who are already working as a social worker and don’t have much time to spend in full-time studies.

However, online degrees in social work are not preferable because of the job nature. As a social worker, you’ll have to gain perfect interacting skills with your clients something you’ll lack as an online degree student.

Get a license

After you graduate there is one more thing you need to be before you’re officially a social worker: get a license. Every state has a special institution that delivers permissions to social workers so they can fulfill all requirements. These requirements differ depending on the state and the course you attended during your Master studies. Some programs require documentation of a specific training or work experience along with your master diploma.

What can I do with a Master Degree in Social Work?

A bachelor degree can help you find an entry-level job in social work, but if you want to get a well-paid job you should definitely get a master’s degree in social work. A master degree is considered to be a terminal degree in the educational process as a social worker, as it prepares you for different related jobs.

Here are just some careers you can seek with a Master degree in social work:

  • Childcare social worker
  • Medical social worker
  • School social worker
  • Mental health and substance abuse social worker
  • Military social worker
  • Social work policy maker
  • Community social worker

Is a social work master degree worthy?

A masters degree in social work will open a door of opportunities for you. There are many occupations you can pursue if you hold this degree that will give you a sense of fulfillment and achievement while ensuring financial peace of mind.

Based on BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) in the US during 2016 a social worker specialized in child care and family welfare had an annual median salary of 46,890$. The best-paid in this group of employees reached an annual salary 75,140$.

As of 2nd of January, 2018 statistics say that a social worker earns $54,972 in average. The number of employees in this field is about to grow by about 15 percent until 2026. This is a faster pace of growth than the average growth of all occupations, BLS report stated.

In different countries, figures differ a bit. For example, in the UK social workers earn an average salary of 27,360 GBP per year. Overall, these two countries present a good example for this type of profession