17 Best Things to Do with an MSW Degree
A Master of Social Work degree, or MSW, is one of the most popular graduate school options for individuals who have a strong passion for helping others. Whether they go on to become licensed clinical social workers (LSCW), choose a similar career or diverge from social work entirely, the MSW can provide an important bridge to a rewarding career path.
Depending on the individual MSW program, students could focus on hands-on social work or devote more time to political advocacy or public policy, and this may help determine which types of jobs an MSW-holder will be best suited for.
Demand for social workers is projected to grow by 11%-12% through 2028, which is more than double the rate of expected growth for all jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social workers and those in related jobs also earn higher-than-average wages when compared to all workers across the U.S. economy.
Here’s a look at the 17 best jobs you can get with an MSW degree, but keep in mind that many jobs require individuals to become certified as an LCSW, which has its own specific requirements beyond a degree:
School Social Worker
As social workers who practice inside educational settings, school social workers assist teachers, staff and parents in identifying problems that may interfere with students’ abilities to focus on their schoolwork, such as social, behavioral or emotional problems, and connecting students and their families with the help they need. School social workers often deal with crisis situations, such as students who are displaying aggressive behavior, such as violence or bullying, or students who are regularly absent from school. They may assist in the development of Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, for students with special needs, and they may provide group or family counseling for students and their parents.
Salary range: $40,000-$73,000
Social Work Instructor
Social work instructors are focused on training the next generation of social workers, and those with MSW degrees can make an impact on students at the community college level. Depending on their expertise, social work instructors could assist students with the hands-on practice of social work, or they may focus on theory, advocacy and public policy. Social work instructors are responsible for teaching courses as well as helping advise students in their educational and career decisions, particularly at the community college level. Many social work instructors with MSW degrees, as opposed to doctorates, pursue teaching positions as a secondary occupation so that they can ensure they’re keeping up with trends and research in the field of social work.
Salary range: $30,000-$65,000
Nonprofit Executive Director
The executive director of a nonprofit is responsible for every aspect of the day-to-day operations of the organization, including its financial performance, organizational mission, staffing, strategy and more. At the director level, these community service-oriented workers are likely doing less hands-on work in the field and more managerial tasks, but their mission is still all about helping others. A nonprofit executive director is in charge of all departments within the organization and is largely the face of the agency within the broader community, and in addition to their internal functions, directors often are tasked with making public statements and giving press interviews.
Salary range: $43,000-$150,000
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
The most obvious and common job for those with MSW degrees is to become certified as a licensed clinical social worker, or LCSW. These individuals are certified to diagnose and treat behavioral, mental and emotional disorders, whether they focus on individuals, families or other populations. LCSWs work with clients to identify problem behaviors or mental health disorders and to develop methods for coping with them or overcoming them entirely. LCSWs are not able to prescribe medications, so it may be necessary for them to refer clients to psychiatrists or other physicians, but LCSWs often are deeply involved in working with healthcare providers to ensure their clients are getting the help they need. LCSWs may work in any number of specialty areas, including substance abuse or child welfare.
Salary range: $43,000-$83,000
Grant writers research, write, revise and submit formal proposals that help nonprofits, individuals, government bodies, schools and more receive funding in the form of grants. In addition to crafting well-written proposals, grant writers spend a great deal of time researching potential benefactors whose missions align with the work that the writer’s organization or employer does. They must become deeply familiar with any potential sources of funding, and this research work is often laborious. The writing work they do also can be very draining, as grant writers may need to scour history books or consult with members of the community to ensure they are telling the best possible story to ensure maximum funding. Grant writers often will work as employees of large organizations, but many of them are freelance workers, brought in for specific projects.
Salary range: $33,000-$81,000
High School Guidance Counselor
At the high school level, guidance counselors work closely with students, and potentially their families and teachers, to help young people achieve their post-high school goals, whether that’s college, vocational training, military service or the workforce. High school guidance counselors are dealing with young people who are about to make their final transition into adulthood, and the unique needs of teenagers helps drive the work that high school counselors do. These counselors work to help each student meet their academic and personal potential, as well as acquire good social and interpersonal skills. High school counselors often will consult with students’ teachers, coaches and other advisers to ensure young people are staying on track and are able to focus on their school work and whatever will be coming next in their lives.
Salary range: $34,000-$80,000
Medical Social Worker
As one of the most popular social work specialties, medical social workers provide support and resources patients need as they recover from illness, injury or surgery, including dealing with physical, emotional or psychological needs. Medical social workers often provide a single contact point for patients throughout their interactions with a hospital or other healthcare setting, helping coordinate discharge plans, meals, counseling and follow-up visits. Medical social workers are needed in a variety of settings, including general hospitals, nursing homes, addiction treatment centers, long-term nursing facilities and more, and in their work they may interact with many different types of patients, including those with terminal illnesses or people who are dealing with traumatic injuries.
Salary range: $30,000-$70,000
Social Science Researcher
Social science researchers design projects in order to test theories about social issues and human behavior. They collect data from observations, interviews, surveys and more, analyze the data and draw conclusions about what the information means. Depending on their interests, they may observe people through the lens of politics, religion, families, workplaces or other institutions, and their research may be used to inform public policy in a range of areas, including crime, health, poverty, race and more. Social science researchers with social work training will likely focus on using the data they uncover to improve the lives of people.
Salary range: $45,000-$110,000
Veteran’s Affairs Social Worker
Veteran’s Affairs social workers help ensure care of military veterans, including receiving medical care, finding housing, applying for VA or social services benefits, arranging in-home care, addressing social or family troubles, recovering from addiction and much more. VA social workers may become very involved in the lives of veterans, including working with vets to cope with behavioral or mental health problems or even providing family therapy in cases where VA social workers are LCSWs. These social workers may also help provide services to a single veteran for years, managing their case on a long-term basis and getting to know them as individuals.
Salary range: $30,000-$70,000
Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors assist individuals in identifying and overcoming issues related to mental illness, emotional disturbances or behavioral health problems. For LSCWs, this generally involves providing hands-on counseling or therapy, while it may also involve connecting clients with other mental healthcare specialists, especially in cases where clients require pharmaceutical treatment, and guiding them throughout their interactions with other providers. Some mental health counselors specialize in working with individuals who have specific issues, such as anxiety disorders or PTSD, and they may focus on providing treatment in group settings or within families.
Salary range: $30,000-$65,000
Marriage & Family Therapist
Similar to mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists deal with people who are in the midst of challenging behavioral and emotional health issues. Unlike mental health counselors, though, the focus for marriage and family therapists is providing treatment and care within the context of the family. Even when treating a member of the family individually, the treatment focus will necessarily involve ensuring the function of the family unit is improved as well as the emotional state of the individual. Marriage and family therapists often help their clients develop skills and tools to cope with pressures on the family, and they may refer their clients to other community services, such as support groups or, in some cases, treatment facilities.
Salary range: $40,000-$102,000
Addiction counselors deal with clients who are currently in the throes of chemical addiction or other compulsive behavior. They often work within treatment facilities, assessing each person’s condition and working with other staff members to develop treatment plans. In other cases, addiction counselors may work with individual addicts one-on-one or in group settings, and many addiction counselors provide care within the framework of recovery programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous or similar 12-step programs. Addiction counselors also often will help educate individuals and their families about addiction and how they can best support their loved one through the recovery process. They also may help connect their clients with community and social services to coordinate care.
Salary range: $30,000-$53,000
Working within the context of the criminal justice system, corrections caseworkers provide counseling and guidance to people convicted of crimes to improve their social and emotional skills and reduce the chance of them being reincarcerated. They may work with people still incarcerated or who have been recently paroled or placed on probation. Their main goal is providing social services and behavioral rehabilitation, which could include job training, behavioral counseling and planning for life after jail or prison. Many people convicted of crimes are also alcohol- or drug-addicted, and corrections caseworkers also often work to ensure their clients are adhering to a recovery program.
Salary range: $30,000-$55,000
Community Health Advocate
Community health advocates provide one-on-one and community-based counseling and educational services focused on particular need within the community, such as educating people about state services or a particular area of health, such as sexually transmitted infections, or providing broad health services within a city or county. Often working in public health, community health advocates may have tasks as varied as individual counseling services, large public presentations, news interviews or educational services in local businesses. Community health workers are frequently employed by nonprofits and public health departments of cities and counties, but they also can find work in the private sector, such as working for insurance providers or pharmaceutical companies.
Salary range: $30,000-$46,000
Adoption counselors work with birth parents, adoptive families and adoptees to help everyone involved cope with emotional issues surrounding adoption as well as potentially assessing a family’s fitness to adopt or foster a child. They may provide long-term counseling to assist clients with tracking medical records or connecting adoptees with their birth families. Adoption counselors routinely work with people throughout the entire fostering/adoption process, which requires them to provide many different types of emotional support, as each person is experiencing the process from a different emotional vantage point. Adoption counselors also frequently provide referrals to social services, public programs and other potential benefits. Depending on their workplace setting, whether they work for a private adoption service or for a government body, they may be called upon to assist in placing children in crisis situations.
Salary range: $35,000-$100,000
Child Welfare Social Worker
The chief responsibility of a child welfare social worker is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of children. This often includes removing children from potentially dangerous situations, such as in cases of neglect or abuse. Child welfare social workers regularly make home visits to investigate allegations of neglect, abuse, poor hygiene and more, and they are tasked with making recommendations about removing children from their homes and potentially placing them in foster care. Child welfare social workers serve in one of the more emotionally taxing social worker roles, and they are sometimes targeted by parents or families who may be volatile.
Salary range: $30,000-$60,000
Employee Assistance Program Director
Employee assistance program (EAP) directors work within companies and other large organizations, offering counseling services, confidential assessments and follow-up services to employees of the company who are struggling with personal or work-related emotional, behavioral or mental health issues. They are often responsible not only for working directly with individual employees but helping to establish and improve the programs themselves. EAP directors must be educated on a variety of issues, including addiction, grief, workplace conflict, anxiety, stress, marital strife and more so that they can help as many employees as possible. These individuals may work within larger human resources departments, or they may be part of standalone programs.
Salary range: $40,000-$70,000
Social workers are vitally important to ensuring a healthy, happy society, and their jobs are often difficult and thankless. But for those with a passion for helping people in crisis, there certainly is no shortage of career possibilities where they can make a huge impact.
- Salary range information was gathered from Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com, and Payscale.com in fall 2019.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
- National Center for Educational Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics,
- Table 323.10. Master’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by field of study: Selected years, 1970-71 through 2016-17. (2018.) Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_323.10.asp?current=yes