Social Worker

Becoming a Social Worker: The Ultimate Guide to Taking an MSW Course

The social work sector offers a rewarding, dynamic career path to those that want to engage in human connection and empower others. As it promotes healthy change and growth among vulnerable communities, there are many areas you can explore as a social worker. This includes support for families and children, elders, refugees, people with mental health needs, the homeless, and LGBTQ communities.

Before you turn your aspirations into a reality, you have to take the necessary steps to become a social worker. Most jobs in the sector require a social work-related degree. Furthermore, most states will only license you as a social worker with a relevant social work degree.

Even with this requirement, there are still various degree paths you can take. This will be dependent on your personal goals, education, and experience. If your desire is to attain an advanced position in social work, however, it is recommended you earn a Master of Social Work (MSW). It opens the door to more professional career opportunities in direct practice. An MSW also lays the foundation to becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

Are you ready to take the next step in helping individuals, families, and communities as a social worker? This comprehensive guide details how to take an MSW course.

The first step: earning a bachelor’s degree

As you would expect, you first need to possess a bachelor’s degree before you can explore the possibility of taking an MSW course. Any bachelor’s degree can result in job opportunities in social work. Yet, for a social work career that provides both financial stability and flexibility, a master’s is necessary.

Bachelor of Social Work

The most obvious option is a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). This is the ideal choice if you are already fully aware that your end goal is a social work career. Aside from being the first step towards an MSW, this degree provides the ideal educational foundation in social work. BSW coursework includes the following subjects:

  • Social work introduction
  • Social welfare policy
  • Homan behavior and the social environment
  • Social work practice

An additional benefit is that, for your master’s degree, you have the ability to opt into advanced standing programs. Compared to a traditional standing program, these are usually completed over a shorter period of time. This means that, rather than taking the standard two years to earn your MSW, it can be done in as little as one year.

Non-BSW degree

Are you still unsure whether a career in social care is the perfect fit for you? Perhaps you have already completed a bachelor’s, and you’re worried it’s not possible to pursue an MSW without a BSW? Either way, the good news is that you don’t require a specific social work-related undergraduate degree to take an MSW course.

With that said, there are certain undergraduate studies that are beneficial for those wanting to gain an MSW. These subjects include Sociology, Psychology, Human Development, Peace and Social Justice, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Political Science.

The core concepts and courses with an MSW program

For regular students that have enrolled in an MSW program, their introductory courses will focus on a number of different areas relating to social work. These include social policy, research, clinical practices, and human behavior. For MSW majors, the second year of graduate studies dives into specialization areas.

These specialization areas vary depending on the educational institution. Yet common concentrations at colleges include health, mental health, children, youth, and families, and older adults and aging societies. Second-year students, along with studying courses, also experience field placements. Both areas relate to the concentration you decide to choose.

Alongside the type of subjects studied with a BSW, below is a closer look at the type of common courses present in MSW programs:

  • Dynamics of racism and oppression
  • Death and dying
  • Assessment and diagnosis
  • Social work services for older adults
  • Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations
  • Substance abuse: alcohol and other drugs
  • Couple and family therapy
  • Field study

Picking your MSW program

The type of program you choose is dependent on a number of factors. These factors include if you earned a bachelor’s in social work or not and your own personal preferences in terms of what educational route works best for you.

Traditional or advanced standing programs

As mentioned previously, there are both traditional and advanced standing programs available. For those that are enrolled full-time, a traditional MSW program is one that generally takes two years to complete. A traditional standing program is the path to take for those that do not possess a BSW.

If you have completed a BSW, however, you can apply to the MSWs advanced standing programs. Due to the coursework completed during your BSW program, you have already gained a social work foundation. As a result, advanced standing programs can be completed in a much shorter period of time – typically in one year.

On-campus MSW programs

If going the traditional route, you can decide to study for an MSW at an on-campus college. As with any standard college course, classes are typically held in specific places at specific times throughout the year. An added benefit of going with an on-campus MSW program is the possibility of on-campus internship opportunities.

In this day and age, there is the possibility of doing an on-campus degree that also features hybrid online options.

Online MSW programs

Online MSW programs are continuing to grow in popularity. There are a number of benefits gained from being an online student. The flexibility it provides is one of its main advantages, and it allows everyone from students to full-time employees to earn an MSW. There are also no location barriers or issues with getting to and from college.

How to be a successful online MSW student

Online learning requires a student to possess a number of qualities. If you opt to earn your MSW via online studying, organization is one of the main skills you need. You have to schedule how to balance your studying with your daily life, ensuring enough time is dedicated to your MSW course.

Even though you can technically do your course from virtually anywhere, it’s recommended you utilize a dedicated learning environment. This can be everything from a local coffee shop to a home office, although you should always go for an area that keeps distractions at a minimum. By sticking to a specific environment, this helps to establish a routine.

Participating and asking questions are also necessary. Just because you are studying online doesn’t mean your college experience has to be an isolated one. If you’re ever stuck with a certain question or need further clarification, don’t be afraid to ask instructors or students for help.

Supplementing your education

Your classroom work is the most important aspect of gaining your MSW. However, there are ways to supplement this education. This can be done by participating in specific organizations which help to strengthen your preparation in becoming a social worker. These organizations are also available to those who are learning online.

The National Association of Social Workers

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is an ideal starting point for obvious reasons. With over 200,000 worldwide members, the NASW offers numerous benefits. These include:

  • Group rate health, malpractice, and disability insurance coverage
  • Monthly and state newsletters
  • The Social Work Journal
  • Discounts on journals from the NASW

Students also gain NASW membership at a reduced cost. Beyond that, the association also directly involves students in activities and program planning.

College student association

While this is dependent on your college of choice, there’s the possibility a social work student association has been organized. These associations are a great way to further enhance your education in this field. They also serve as a great way of advocating social work values in your community.

Phi Alpha Honor Society

The Phi Alpha Honor Society is a national honor society. Aimed at both undergraduate and graduate social worker students, the society’s aim is to form a closer bond between these students. It also promotes humanitarian ideas and goals.

Jobs with an MSW

The healthcare and social services sector is currently experiencing a rise in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 12% increase in social workers over the next decade. There are also various job types you can explore with an MSW under your belt.

  • Clinical social worker: Helping individuals, couples, families, and groups, clinical social workers are tasked with assessing, diagnosing, and treating conditions.
  • Healthcare social worker: Working in clinics and hospitals alongside other healthcare providers such as doctors, a healthcare social worker assists patients in understanding and adjusting to their conditions.
  • Healthcare administrator: A healthcare administrator is a manager that supervises support staff and healthcare providers. They can work in public healthcare facilities, private healthcare facilities, medical offices, clinics, and hospitals.
  • Public health administrator: Typically working for government agencies and nonprofit organizations, a public health administrator manages initiatives and policies which address community/public health issues. They supervise programs from local to national levels.

Take your time to consider where your interest lies most, and then pick the corresponding career.

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