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Bachelor’s or Master’s: Which One Is Right For Me?
Discovering your perfect career can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating, or even maddening process. Oftentimes, people consider what they already like doing, their personal strengths, or what their values are before pursuing a career path. A career in social work is perfect for people who value relationships, are naturally empathetic, and enjoy work that is social in nature. An ideal social worker is dependable, cooperative, persistent, and independent. Social workers often need to rely on themselves, and their own training, to help clients and don’t require much guidance. Additionally, social workers are expected to exhibit high levels of self-control and stress tolerance when dealing with their clients. Oftentimes clients will lash out, or criticize their social workers, and professionals must maintain composure, keep their emotions in check, and act calmly in the face of highly stressful situations. Finally, social workers must be investigative. Asking questions, connecting the dots, and searching for facts are all skills competent social workers employ to help their clients. If these qualities match your own, a career in social work can be highly rewarding.
A social worker is trained to help a multitude of people, families and groups who are having difficulty coping with events and issues in their lives. These problems could be associated with plutonic and romantic relationships, childhood and family bonds, educational needs, and mental or physical wellness to name a few. Many people considering a career in social work should research how much education is required to address the types of problems and clients that they find most compelling. There are many websites filled with information about social work.
It’s true that many administrative social worker positions today are available to those with only a bachelor’s degree, there are a number of employers who require or expect an applicant to have earned a master’s degree before considering them for higher paying positions in one-on-one and clinical social work. It’s not uncommon to find social workers who only hold bachelor’s degrees to get stuck in a position without the credentials to move forward in their career path.
Types of Roles
While a bachelor’s degree is commonplace in the job market and many people doing social work have them, a master’s degree gives practitioners a fuller understanding of human behavior, supervision, leadership, and cultural diversity. A bachelor’s degree in social work is likely to offer you the opportunity to land an entry level position, but is not likely to open any doors to an independent practicing license. Every state has different licensing requirements, but in all cases, a master’s degree is required to work as a clinical social worker and is usually required for a professional certification. Not having a master’s degree can act as a glass ceiling for many professionals trying to succeed as social workers.
Social work is a vast field, full of varied challenges for young professionals. Depending on his or her interests, a social worker can find fulfilling work in a number of industries. For those that would rather work in social services than as a social worker, there are many positions to consider, such as:
- Health Educator
- Probation Officer
- School or Career Counselor
If being a social worker is a long-term goal, below is a helpful list with descriptions provided by The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the different fields of social work:
Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help parents find services, such as child care, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to get families back together. Clinical social workers provide mental health care to help children and families cope with changes in their lives, such as divorce or other family problems.
Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression. They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s progress.
Many clinical social workers work in private practice. In these settings, clinical social workers have administrative and recordkeeping tasks such as working with insurance companies to receive payment for their services. Some work in a group practice with other social workers or mental health professionals.
School social workers work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students’ academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.
Healthcare social workers help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or health care. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities. In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients’ mental and emotional health.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers: help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups or 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.
Most entry-level positions will only require a BSW, often as a caseworker or mental health assistant. For positions with more responsibility, such as a clinical social worker, an MSW is required. Because a master’s degree generally takes one to two years longer to achieve than a bachelor’s degree does, it typically comes with a great deal more practical knowledge as well. There are also various licensures that differ by state. Generally, to become a licensed clinical social worker, one must have a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of either 2 years or 3,000 hours of work experience.
As a master’s degree will offer you more professional options as you enter the work force, it is also likely to allow you the opportunity to make a higher income than someone who has less education. The highest median wage in any field of social work as of May 2012 was working in hospitals at $56,290 per year. Likewise, social workers who offer educational services made a higher median wage than the general median wage of all social workers.
While a BSW will certainly help you get your career started, an MSW is really the way to go to open up more opportunities in the field. There are many online options to help you complete your studies; take a look at the links below to find a fit that’s best for you.