Social Work Career Pathways You Can Pursue with an MSW Degree

by Heather Nelson

The field of social work encompasses many roles and opportunities to help support individuals, families, and communities. These roles are especially important during times of heightened stress, like the current public health crisis. From one-on-one counseling to advocacy and policy work, social workers can pursue a broad range of careers with the aim of helping those in need.

And when you work toward the completion of a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, you develop advanced skills to lead within a wider array of career pathways.

“Every student has their calling and pathway,” said Kimberly Setterlund, MSW, LCSW, director of the MSW program at Azusa Pacific University. She explained that at APU, the school’s mission is to enable students to effect change wherever they are. She said that the MSW degree path encourages students to follow their passion, whether it’s to make an impact individually, in their community, or through policy and advocacy.

“Our mission is to prepare them ethically, holistically, and well to serve our community and world,” said Setterlund.

If you’re called to make a difference in the lives of others through social work, here are five fields you can pursue with an MSW.

1. Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers help patients during difficult, and often unexpected, times of health crises. In this role, you might operate in medical settings such as hospitals, inpatient/outpatient facilities, healthcare clinics, or hospice care as part of an interprofessional team of healthcare providers.

These professionals can also be part of an integrative health team at community health centers, helping identify biopsychosocial needs or getting called in to assist in a mental healthcare issue. In hospital or inpatient/outpatient centers, medical social workers assess the psychosocial needs of patients who may have just received a difficult diagnosis, connect them with social service support, and help them and their family members navigate the emotionally trying time.

2. Behavioral Health Social Worker

A high need exists for professionals equipped to help individuals who struggle with behavioral health challenges, which can include emotional and mental health, and substance use. Social workers who are equipped to assist in these areas work closely with an interprofessional team that may include a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, or other healthcare professionals.

You can also choose to focus on supporting those with challenges as a result of substance abuse or addiction. At Azusa Pacific, you can add a Substance Use Disorders Certificate to your MSW degree to help meet the growing need for professionals in the SUD field.

3. Administrative Social Worker

Getting the right services for people starts with leadership. With an MSW degree, you can work in human services and nonprofit management. This includes roles in organization and behavior management, program planning and evaluation, grant writing, fiscal management, government agencies, and more.

Additionally, taking your social work degree into the realm of administration can include policy and advocacy work. By joining the ranks of this field of social work, you can look at how policy and legislation impact the services you’re able to provide and how you can impact real change for families and individuals.

Students interested in this pathway are encouraged to look at things through a macro lens. They should understand that if programs aren’t funded, then clients won’t get the services they need.

4. School Social Worker

When public school students are struggling in the classroom, it’s their teachers who notice and act. The first action these educators often take is reaching out to the school social worker.

As a school social worker, you’ll collaborate with a team of teachers, counselors, and administrators to ensure students are thriving academically and socially, even in the most trying times. Whether a student shows sudden behavior issues in the classroom, a rise in absences, or struggles to keep up with their studies, you can help. Getting to the underlying issue and presenting solutions that help a student thrive academically is a key role of a school social worker.

5. Child Welfare Social Worker

You’re likely already familiar with the most visible career pathway for those with an MSW degree: a child welfare social worker. These professionals work with foster, adoption, and group homes after children are placed in a state’s child welfare system. The duties of a child welfare social worker include checking in on the welfare of a child, acting as a liaison between foster parents and biological parents, and advocating for children in family courtrooms.

Working Toward an MSW Degree at APU

The Master of Social Work program offered at Azusa Pacific University guides students toward the social work career pathways they’re most interested in pursuing. You can choose one of two specializations with additional credential and hands-on experience options to prepare for your future career:

1. Clinical Practice with Individuals and Families: This specialization is a good choice if you’re looking to work in the medical, school, or child welfare fields. Within this specialization, APU offers the opportunity to add a credential for students who want to work in schools.

The Pupil Personnel Services Credential is a state credential through the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. It requires a 600-hour school-based field internship under the supervision of a credentialed instructor. Like a teaching credential, earning this credential allows MSW students to work in schools.

Additionally, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), APU offers a special training program for students interested in working in child welfare. During the first year, students work with children and families in a community-based agency or a community mental health agency. In their second year, students complete their field hours at DCFS and are paired with an experienced supervisor. Through this program, they get an inside look at how public child welfare operates both one-on-one and administratively.

2. Community Leadership and Program Administration: With the Community Leadership and Program Administration specialization, you’ll be prepared to work in management, international social work, or policy and advocacy. If you’re interested in developing the skills needed for effective leadership in nonprofit and governmental agencies, community advocacy, program development, or human rights and sustainable development, this specialization will set you on the right path.

Are you interested in positively impacting your community or around the world? Learn more about Azusa Pacific’s Master of Social Work program and apply today.