Should You Apply for a Social Work Degree? – Top 10 Facts to Decide

by Robert Balan

Do you enjoy working with people and have a strong desire to help them? If the answer is yes, you should consider studying a Master’s degree in Social Work. But what is a Social Work degree all about? And why should you apply for one abroad?

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We’ll answer these frequently asked questions and many others to help you make the right decision.

1. Social Work is all about people

Social Work focuses on helping people overcome difficult challenges in their life. These include poverty, addiction, unemployment, disability, abuse, mental illness, and many others. Social Work also places a strong emphasis on social justice and equality.

This field doesn’t only focus on supporting people, but on training and cooperating with them in an effort to change their environments and create better living conditions. Social workers help community members to develop new skills or improve existing ones, which changes people’s mindset and encourages them to embrace a proactive attitude.

2. The difference between Social Work and Sociology

It’s a common mistake for people to believe that Social Work and Sociology are the same. Clarifying this confusion is even more important if you’re a student trying to decide between a degree in Sociology and one in Social Work.

In general, Social Work involves a hands-on approach, working directly with vulnerable people and trying to offer them support while empowering them to develop their skills and find solutions to their problems.

Sociology focuses more on studying and analysing human societies and human behaviour. This is done through research projects, interviews, or surveys. While sociologists interact with communities and their members, they focus more on analysing conditions and discovering patterns, rather than being directly involved in supporting people.

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3. The main Social Work specialisations

Social work can be divided into 3 large categories, each requiring different degrees and skills. These are direct practice social work, clinical social work, and macro social work.

Direct practice social work

  • You only need a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) to practise it
  • You’ll work directly with people and communities, children and families, in fields like healthcare, child safety, education, etc.

Clinical social work

  • Requires a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) because it involves more advanced knowledge and techniques
  • Allows you to diagnose and treat mental illnesses, as well as substance abuse and addiction
  • You will need thousands of hours of supervised experience before you get the license

Macro Social Work

  • Doesn’t normally involve working directly with vulnerable people
  • You will be collaborating with governments and other public and private institutions to change policies and implement new programmes

4. Social Work degrees are popular

Yes, social workers are needed and there is an increasing demand for them on the job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, there were over 680,000 social workers in the US in 2016, and they estimate that the number will grow by 16% until 2026.

5. The best international universities for studying Social Work

There are many factors you need to consider before choosing a university for your degree in Social Work. Some of the things you should consider are tuition fees, internationality of the higher education institutions, living costs in that city and country, visa (if required), etc.

Perhaps the most important factor is the quality of education, and here is a list with some of the best Social Work universities worldwide:

6. Tuition fee costs for a Master’s degree in Social Work

Tuition fees for a Social Work degree at top universities start at 1,000 EUR/year and go all the way up to 20,000 EUR/year. You can find more affordable Social Work programmes, but keep in mind that you need to find a balance between costs and quality.

If you’re already working or have a busy schedule, have a look at online Master’s degrees in Social Work and see if you can find the right programme for your needs. Tuition costs start at 2,700 EUR/year.

7. You don't need a Bachelor’s in Social Work to apply for a Master’s

That's right! You don’t need a BSW in order to apply for an MSW. Any Bachelor’s degree from an accredited higher education institution will allow you to apply for a Master’s programme in Social Work. If you have an undergraduate degree that’s not related to Social Work, you can use the personal essay or motivation letter and past volunteering experiences to show why studying this discipline means so much to you.

8. Master’s degree in Social Work take 2 years to graduate

In the United States, it normally takes 2 years to graduate with a Master’s degree in Social Work. In some cases, this can be reduced to 1 year if you already have a Bachelor’s in Social Work (which takes 4 years) and apply for advanced standing.

In Europe, a Master’s programme in Social Work will last for 2 years, while a BSW degree will take 3 years to complete.

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9. The most popular Social Work careers

Social Work graduates can work in a variety of fields, either for government and state institutions or for private organisations, like NGOs. Below, you’ll find a list with some career options based on degree types and the average salaries for licensed social workers in the United States.

Graduates with a Bachelor's in Social Work can find jobs as:

  • Case Managers support people by offering them advice and helping them discover the services and help they need in order to overcome difficult situations. Case managers also track people’s progress and make sure they follow recovery plans. Average salary: 45,000 USD/year.
  • Patient Care Coordinators work with medical facilities and make sure they are able to provide top quality medical care for their patients. Their work involves collaborating with the administration and other staff members. Some patient care coordinators are registered nurses, but this is not mandatory. Average salary: 29,000 USD/year.
  • Community Health Workers act as intermediaries between communities and social and health services. Their goal is to facilitate people’s access to these services, to improve their overall quality, and to inform the community members about available programmes, rights, etc. Average salary: 43,000 USD/year.

BSW undergraduates also find jobs as: behavioural management aide, case management aide, community outreach worker, eligibility worker, human services specialist, etc.

Graduates of Master’s degrees in Social Work can find jobs as: 

  • Mental Health Care Counsellors offer psychological care to people dealing with a wide range of problems, such as substance addiction, anxiety, depression, abusive relationships, etc. Mental health care counsellors work with professionals from other fields, like Education and Healthcare, in order to find and fix the root of people’s issues. Average salary: 45,000 USD/year.
  • Substance Abuse Counsellors help people who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction, food disorders, and other behavioural problems. Substance abuse counsellors strive to teach people and help them change their behaviour in an effort to recover completely. Average salary: 32,000 USD/year.
  • School Social Workers are the link between school, pupils, and families. They support children with educational or personal problems, as well as children with disabilities. A school social worker’s responsibility is to make sure children’s needs are being met and to provide educational programmes on themes like behaviour, health, crisis situations, and sexual education. Average salary: 33,000 USD/year.

Other Social Work careers available for Master’s graduates: medical social worker, child welfare case worker, professor of Social Work, public policy analyst, etc.

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10. How to decide if a Social Work degree is right for you

If you’re still unsure if Social Work is the right degree for you, one of the best ways to find out is to volunteer. It offers you the opportunity to work with individuals and communities and place their needs above your own. If volunteering is a pleasant and rewarding experience for you, that’s a good sign that you might also enjoy a career in Social Work.

Best of luck and have a great learning experience!

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