Earn a Masters in Social Work and Make a Positive Impact

The world has enough investment bankers and reality TV stars, wouldn’t you say? If your current career path leaves you feeling like you don’t make a positive impact in your community, consider earning a masters in social work. Social workers help improve the lives of others, and while the pay doesn’t allow for shopping sprees and fancy vacations, the field does offer more job stability and higher projected growth than many others at the moment. And options exist for those who did not study social work as an undergrad and who must continue to work full-time while making the career change.

For example, most masters in social work programs offer a 54-credit online program that encompasses the knowledge typically learned at both the undergrad and graduate level. A program such as this typically takes two years to complete.

When researching programs, look for masters in social work courses at the undergrad level such as:

Generalist Social Work Practice: Individuals, Families & Groups — Such an overview of general direct practice will focus on the social systems framework, values and ethics. This course, for example, would not be in a masters in social work track for those who have studied social work at the undergrad level, as the information already would have been covered.

History of Social Welfare Policy & Services — Students explore the history of social work up to its modern state, looking at programs and policies aimed at areas such as poverty and social injustice.

Generalist Social Work Practice: Organizations & Communities — Just as the above generalist course focused on individuals, families and groups, this one will extend the study of framework, values and ethics to larger groups as a whole.

Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Social Systems — Unlike with generalist social work practice courses, courses that concentrate on human behavior and the social environment look at social systems as a whole first, instead of individuals and small groups. In this course, students will explore the theoretical foundations of human behavior at the group, organization and community level.

Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Individuals & Families — This course builds on the above social systems course, bringing the theories down to the individual and family level, from conception to death.

Social Work Research I — This course will cover social work research methods typically learned at the undergraduate level, such as quantitative and qualitative research, plus learn how to design a social work research project. Ethical standards also will be introduced in masters in social work courses such as these.

Field Education and Foundation Integrative Seminars 1 — These two masters in social work courses should be taken together, as the knowledge and skills acquired so far must be applied in a hands-on field experience that builds practical values, skills and knowledge. Masters in social work students work with a local social work agency and report to a licensed master social work practitioner.

Additional masters in social work courses will complete the work typically done at the undergrad level and move into advanced study of issues involving children, adolescents and families, with additional fieldwork putting the theory into practice.

When researching online masters in social work programs, also look for a robust learning system that allows you to complete all of your coursework online, with the exception of fieldwork. You also should have as access to teachers outside of regular coursework, just as you would in a traditional on-campus program. Access to fellow students in the online program also proves important to your career change, as they also will serve as industry contacts throughout your career in social work. Online programs should have a robust forum and chat system that allows students to meet and communicate with each other throughout the semester.

As mentioned above, while earning a masters in social work will not likely lead to a six-figure salary, you will have expanded career opportunities. Employment of social workers as a whole will grow by 25 percent overall during the 10-year period ending in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Department. Also consider specializing in health care social work, as it will grow by 34 percent during that same period as the baby boomer generation enters the senior citizen population. Mental health and substance abuse social work also will see high growth at 31 percent, with the trend of courts sentencing drug offenders to treatment programs instead of jail continuing.

Best wishes to you as you consider a career change and find the right online masters in social work program for your situation.

Betty Moore advises provides career counseling for both college students and working professionals. She often recommends online degree programs, as they allow for the best balance of life, work and study.

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