According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum pre-requisite needed to gain employment in the social work profession is a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW). However, those with specific career goals may be required to obtain a higher level of education. Therefore, some may wish to pursue a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW).
Social workers may serve in all of these different roles in varying degrees at any time in their career.
There are some similarities between the two degrees which include the expectation that both BSW and MSW students complete supervised field placements within a social service type agency. The requirements related to the length of placement, expected tasks, and/or hours may vary based on degree. Common social service agency placements for both BSW and MSW students include places such as hospitals, schools, or mental health or substance abuse clinics. In addition to this requirement, both BSW and MSW graduates must be granted a license in the state they wish to practice. Licensure for an MSW requires a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience following graduation and a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensing examination.
There are several key differences between BSW and MSW degrees. One of the first differences is the pre-requisite for entrance into the programs. Typically the only requirement needed to enter into an accredited BSW program at a college or university is that the candidate has declared social work as their major. This differs from an MSW program as MSW candidates apply for entrance into the program after already having obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in which the graduate has likely earned credits in coursework areas related to psychology and sociology. INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL WORK
Another difference is the coursework required based on the desired degree. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits U.S. social work programs, designates BSW undergraduate programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. Additionally, students are required to complete a supervised field placement at a social service agency. Baccalaureate social workers have the ability to obtain specialty certification in certain areas through their state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), which offers specialty certification available in child, youth and family social work, gerontology, casework, and hospice, and palliative care. Master’s degree programs focus on developing clinical assessment and management skills and prepare students for work in a more targeted areas depending on the student’s interest.
The other important differences between the two degrees involves the type of employment each degree holder is eligible for and the earning potential based on the degree. MSW graduates typically earn a significantly higher salaries than BSW graduates. Individuals with a BSW degree tend to be employed in entry level jobs as caseworkers and are expected to provide direct services to clients through assessing, coordinating, and referring to area resources. The Michigan Board of Social Workers outlines the scope of practice/expected duties for social workers based on education and designated practice area (see chart below).
MSW graduates are often employed in clinical settings such as a hospital or a private practice setting and also in various administrative positions. MSW graduates can obtain either a Macro or Clinical license. The scope of practice differs depending on the type of MSW license. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), a licensed Master Social Worker with macro designation can expect to be involved in administration, management, and supervision of human service organizations and perform functions that seek to improve the overall population’s quality of life through a policy/administrative perspective. These tasks range from collaboration, coordination, mediation, and consultation within organizations and/or communities, community organizing and development, research and evaluation, and advocacy/social justice work through involvement in the legislative process. A licensed Master Social Worker with a clinical designation (micro) typically work directly with individuals, families, and/or groups in an effort to improve the client’s overall quality of life. Social workers can expect to perform the following tasks/functions: advocating for care, protecting the vulnerable, providing psychotherapy as defined as “assessment, diagnosis, or treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, conditions, addictions, or other biopsychosocial problems.”