Human Services Guide

The Importance of an Advanced Degree in Social Work

As the social work sector matures and the workforce becomes better trained, the importance of obtaining an advanced degree increases. Due to the progressively competitive nature of this field, an advanced education is becoming a necessity, especially within the field of social work. Even entry-level positions in this field are increasingly requiring a bachelor's degree to secure an interview. Many positions require a master's degree to meet the minimum qualifications of a job description. In some cases, a doctorate in a field or even postdoctoral work is one of the few ways to make your resume truly stand out. Employers are able to be very discerning in the current economic environment. Many employers see an advanced degree as having greater value than a few years of experience in a given field.

A great education can not only help you meet the requirements for a job, but also can give you the tools and knowledge to truly excel at the career of your choosing. Regardless of what subsector or specialty you want to focus on, getting a quality education from an excellent school is an important first step.

Different levels of degree attainment confer different advantages, and this should be carefully weighed when considering your educational future.

Bachelor of Social Work - Learn More About the BSW Here

In these extremely competitive times, even entry-level positions are increasingly requiring a bachelor's degree. Gone are the days when a high school diploma could get you an interview with most social work agencies. With a bachelor's degree, you can get your foot in the door and begin a career at the entry level, using in-the-field experience to earn promotions.

If you really want your resume to stand out, it is wise to supplement your degree with fluency in a foreign language. Depending on the region in which you plan to work, different languages are favored. However, Spanish fluency is generally a safe bet owing to the large Spanish-speaking population in the United States. This is especially true for entry-level social work positions as many agencies work directly with immigrant populations. Attaining fluency in a foreign language is extremely helpful if you plan to become an eligibility worker, as you will have direct contact with nonnative speakers. Many states offer a premium for bilingual workers. Other states require candidates to be bilingual to interview for any position.

With a bachelor's degree, you may qualify for some of the following positions:

  • Behavioral management aide
  • Case management aide
  • Community outreach worker
  • Juvenile court liaison
  • Probation officer
  • Rehabilitation case worker

Master of Social Work (MSW) - Learn More About the MSW Here

In today's economic environment, it is often said the "master's degree is the new bachelor's." What this means is employers that used to require a bachelor's degree as a minimum requirement have decided they now have the luxury of seeking only the most-qualified candidates. Not only will a master's degree open more doors than a bachelor's in terms of employment within agencies, but in the case of certain degree concentrations, a master's degree is also required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

In social work, one of the most lucrative and flexible career paths is to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The first step is obtaining a Master of Social Work degree. Once you have your Master of Social Work, you will then be eligible to take certain social work licensure exams. This, in turn, gives one the ability to open a practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. To read more about the process, please click here to view our in-depth article about social work licensure.

The freedom of choice gained from earning a master's degree is exponentially greater than what one gains from earning a bachelor's. Having a master's degree can also create opportunities to join the workforce at the management level upon graduation. A master's degree tends to bring with it significantly higher income as well.

Here are some job titles you can hold with a Master of Social Work:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • Child welfare case manager
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Social and community service manager

Doctorate in Social Work - Learn More About the MSW Here

Just as a master's degree gives one greater opportunities within the social work sector, a doctorate opens even more doors. From opening a private practice in Licensed Clinical Social Work to making your resume for a management position really stand out, a doctorate in a social work field is extremely valuable. The doctorate degree stands at the pinnacle of education and gives one expert status within their field. One can then go on to train new generations of human services workers or move immediately into a high-ranking management position. By obtaining a doctorate, you guarantee you will have access to the highest-paid positions with the greatest level of responsibility and prestige. The primary advantage to a Doctor of Social Work is the ability to go from university directly into a career as a professor teaching the next generation of social workers. Another option given to PhDs in social work is the ability to join social work research teams immediately upon leaving school. A Doctor of Social work gives you the flexibility to pursue the social work career of your dreams in a way no other degree offers.

MSW@USC
University of Southern California