An MSW Degree. What’s in It for Me?
If you’re like me, you may have asked yourself why you need a master’s degree to work in a field that has many employment opportunities. This is a question I considered long and hard before applying to this incredibly unique and life-changing program. I now realize my initial reasons for pursuing this degree have evolved since I started classes and began learning about the intricacies and nuances of the social work profession.
To be completely honest, a year ago I believed a person’s heart and values were the most important qualities necessary to become a successful social worker. While I still believe it’s impossible to be a good social worker without those traits, I now understand the value of graduate education in social work. Without an in-depth examination of the profession, it’s hard to imagine that I could have gained the capacity to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people” (NASW Code of Ethics, n.d.).
As a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the MSW@USC curriculum is based on the same standards as USC’s on-campus program and other social work programs across the country. However, the lessons we learn are uniquely steeped in a USC perspective. Here are just a few things I’ve learned during my first year in the program:
- Therapy is really just advice…unless it’s coupled with an evidence-based understanding of human behavior in the social environment.
As clinical social workers, we have a responsibility to understand what makes people tick. Beyond that, intervening in an individual’s life requires that we ensure that the techniques we employ are proven to be effective.
- Only systematic research can validate and confirm the theories and practices we employ as social workers.
MSW@USC students may moan and groan at the mere mention of research, but we concurrently admit everything we do means nothing without stringent research, not only at the program and intervention development phases, but also in respect to the evaluation methods employed after implementation.
- Applying this research and engaging clients using effective techniques take a clear understanding of the policies that impact services.
Whether you’re a micro-social worker providing direct services to clients, a macro-practitioner developing programs, advocating for legislative changes or running a non-profit, an understanding of local, state and federal policies is essential to effective social work practice.
- A comprehensive understanding of the system is the only viable way to substantiate change.
On a micro level, helping clients navigate a complicated system and deal with its inherent frustrations takes an understanding of those systems top to bottom. From a macro perspective, true social change must be formalized and will never happen without intervention from social workers who know how to navigate the legislative world.
- Reading about it is one thing, but field education is where we put all the pieces together!
Internships most certainly provide students with first-hand experience working in social services programs, but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value of field education. As interns, we are provided with opportunities to focus on various levels of programs, applying theories, practice techniques and policy analyses to an agency and its clients. Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of our MSW@USC field education, however, is having access to field supervisors with whom we can discuss our observations, biases and lessons learned throughout our time in placement. Taking advantage of this benefit as MSW@USC students helps us become better practitioners because we get to immerse ourselves in the field while improving our self-awareness at the same time.
Now that I have the benefit of perspective regarding the value of an advanced education in social work, I think I can sum up it up by saying that the main benefit is not just in earning my master’s degree; the true value will come from having earned my credentials though the MSW@USC. I’m not just learning about the field of social work; I’m rolling up my sleeves and seeking innovative ways of helping those in need of assistance. Not only will my USC diploma open doors and create opportunities for career advancement, it will mean I have acquired the tools essential to affecting social change at any level.
Thanks to the rigorous first-year MSW@USC curriculum, I now feel I have the foundation I need to embark on my second and final year of the program and the perspective necessary to become a successful social worker. If you were wondering “why bother with an MSW?” before reading this, I hope you’re now asking yourself, “why wait?!”
Krista Hopper-Pasillas is a MSW@USC student from northern California. She currently works in Child Welfare and has a special interest in issues related to transition-aged foster youth, as well as issues concerning the homeless. Krista can be found on Twitter and Linked In.