The importance of gaining foundational knowledge to prepare for a successful career as a social worker is too hard to ignore. It is essential for understanding the client’s situation and the group and community processes that impact them.
Over the past few decades, there have been numerous degrees in higher education you can pursue to gain fundamental knowledge. Undergraduate studies can provide you with general knowledge about social work, while a postgraduate program can challenge existing knowledge and help you become an expert in the field.
Understanding these differences can help you evaluate which academic path to pursue. Here is a look at what sets undergraduate and graduate studies apart in social work.
The coursework is perhaps the most significant difference between undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Unlike undergraduate degrees, postgraduate courses will involve a more in-depth level of expertise. For example, an undergraduate degree in social work has courses that focus on general foundational studies that prepare you to work with families, individuals and community organizations.
Graduate degree courses, in contrast, focus on advanced curricula and explore specializations. In short, there will be a more comprehensive analysis of social work instead of covering the most common topics that undergraduate courses tackle. Graduate school aims to empower you to become an expert in social work. This means the learning experience will differ from an undergraduate program.
Postgraduate students will also do more individual studies because their courses require an intensive focus. Although the course load for a full-time graduate student varies depending on your chosen academic institution, you are often expected to take three to four classes per academic interval. Some academic institutions will also require graduate students to submit a capstone project before they can complete the course successfully.
Regarding coursework duration, a postgraduate degree program can be as short as two years, although it can go longer, especially if you plan to earn a Ph.D. However, it is worth noting that a postgraduate degree program is not a quick-fix solution; most postgraduate courses are intensive as they prepare students for a more advanced career.
High-quality research is essential in social work for several reasons. Through comprehensive research, social workers can assess the effectiveness of their practice and the programs they implement. It also empowers them to develop new knowledge, policies and programs to improve the quality of living of the individuals and communities they serve.
In many cases, undergraduate social work studies will include a few research projects and papers. In graduate school, however, research makes up most of the learning in classes. A postgraduate social work program will typically include components designed to meet training needs in research methods and influential scholarship to help students become experts and thought leaders.
This is especially important at a time when there is an immediate need for qualified work leaders. According to a Gallup poll, 82% of managers are not suited for their role. Through a postgraduate social work degree program, you will develop many of the character traits and skills communities seek in their leaders.
Postgraduate social work students can access specialized research and tools depending on their chosen academic institution. You can work with instructors on research studies to discover your areas of interest. This enables you to develop the skills that are essential for influential social work leaders, such as communication, commitment, perseverance, time management, problem-solving and critical thinking.
Why should you earn an MSW degree?
What is a MSW degree and how can you earn one from a prestigious academic institution such as Cleveland State University? An MSW degree will concentrate on clinical social work and is often available in several formats to meet student needs. For example, many schools offer an online degree so students can study around their work and family commitments.
Here are some reasons this type of degree can be so useful for social workers.
- You can specialize
A skill or career specialization is essential for gaining an edge in social work in today’s career-driven world. Through a specialization, you can work independently and advance from a career as a general social worker to a social work professional working in clinical social work or other fields. This means you can help more individuals and communities from different backgrounds with various issues.
- It helps you become a better leader
Postgraduate social work programs strengthen leadership by enhancing your ability to use collaborative, distributive and inclusive approaches in delivering social care. This way, you can learn to listen and communicate with others, understand their perspectives, recognize power differentials, resolve conflicts, and impact social policies at multiple levels.
- Increased job opportunities
The career options for a postgraduate social work student are varied. From psychiatric and clinical social work to substance abuse and addiction counseling, an advanced degree in social work opens many doors. This can be advantageous in the face of the constant market shifts in today’s job marketplace, where layoffs are becoming all too common. By being qualified for more opportunities, you can feel more secure in your position in the future job market.
- Higher salaries
Although money is not always the main reason for embarking on a social work career, there are financial rewards associated with holding a postgraduate degree. Recent data shows that the average salary for MSWs is $13,000 higher than that of BSW degree holders. However, it is worth noting that their pay can also depend on factors such as geographical location and industry.
Becoming a social worker today
Working toward a postgraduate degree in social work opens multiple opportunities to work for the greater good. While the higher paycheck may be sufficient motivation to further your social work studies, the benefits of getting a degree go beyond earnings potential. When you feel like you are working for the greater good, you will take pride in your work, knowing that you are impacting individuals and communities in multiple ways.