Alternative Jobs for MSW Graduates Besides Social Work

Alternative Jobs for MSW Graduates Besides Social Work

Have you ever asked, “What can I do with an MSW besides social work?” If so, you’re not alone. While social work can be a vastly rewarding career, your MSW degree doesn’t mean you’re locked into that career forever. In fact, an MSW is the key to a wide range of career paths.

Perhaps you’re looking for a new challenge. Maybe social work is not what you thought it would be. Or you may just be dealing with burnout. Whatever the reason, looking for alternative jobs as an MSW graduate is perfectly valid—and you have many options available.

What Is a Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree?

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a graduate-level degree that enables you to pursue a career as a state-licensed social worker.

MSW degree programs typically take two years to complete and feature an emphasis on clinical social work. Some of the core competencies you gain with an MSW degree include:

  • Understanding the historical, cultural, and economic factors shaping society.
  • Scientific research into social issues.
  • Helping individuals, families, and groups with social needs.
  • The ability to create and implement social policy.

Why Earn an MSW Degree?

There are various reasons to earn an MSW, but most pursue the degree because it’s a state requirement for the work they want to do. For example, many states require licensed clinical therapists to have an MSW degree.

You might also earn an MSW degree as you want to qualify for more jobs. Depending on your line of work, an MSW can grant you more career opportunities and higher salaries. Many MSW graduates simply like learning about social work, and they enjoy the work involved in obtaining the degree.

What Can I Do With an MSW Besides Social Work?

Your MSW degree and work experience provides you with many transferable skills, or the talents that are valuable in any career field or job. That’s important in this day and age, because it means your degree gives you job options besides social work.

For example, since the MSW degree program prepares you to help people and to work effectively with available social services,you qualify for many counseling roles—including  school counselor jobs, substance abuse counseling, and some roles within the public welfare system.

Your MSW provides a solid foundation for other advanced degrees. Your clinical training might lead you to become a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you enjoy the research aspect of social work, you might get into clinical research work or even be an investigator for various state agencies. These are but a few ideas, as many career pathways are open to those with an MSW.

Career Options for MSW Graduates Outside Traditional Social Work

Here is a look at eleven of the most popular career options for MSW degree holders outside of traditional social work:

Policy Analysis and Advocacy

MSW students gain an in-depth knowledge of social issues and can explore the policy analysis and advocacy process. Your understanding of systemic issues enables you to evaluate the impact of policies on disadvantaged groups and inform more equitable and inclusive legislation.

Whether at governmental agencies, think tanks, or grassroots organizations, your MSW helps you offer valuable insights for designing policies that address social injustices at their source.

Nonprofit Administration and Management

MSW graduates in nonprofit administration and management offer a unique combination of compassion and strategic thinking. If you have experience in program development and an understanding of community needs, you can guide nonprofit organizations equally well. Your MSW might qualify you to manage fundraising efforts, direct staff, or build relationships with stakeholders.

Human Resources Roles

MSW degree holders are particularly suited to human resources positions, where they can bring a wealth of interpersonal skills and skills in conflict resolution.

In these roles, you might help create inclusive and supportive workplaces by facilitating diversity training sessions, mediating workplace disputes, or creating policies that support employee well-being. Your ability as an MSW holder to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics and advocate for fair practices could make you a valuable addition to HR departments across industries.

Community and Social Services Management

In community and social services management, MSW graduates often lead the delivery of critical support systems. From coordinating outreach programs to coordinating resource allocation within social service agencies, you could help ensure individuals and families get the support they need to succeed.

Mental Health and Wellness Consulting

You can offer mental health and wellness consulting services based on counseling and psychotherapy training in your MSW program. MSW holders are particularly adept at providing insights and techniques for promoting psychological health. In these counseling roles, you help clients overcome challenges in life and live healthier, happier lives through workshops, training, and individual consultations.

Research and Academic Positions

In research and academia, MSW graduates make significant contributions to the field of social work. They advance knowledge of social phenomena and guide evidence-based practice through rigorous inquiry and scholarship.

If you enjoyed this part of earning your degree, your MSW can be a ticket to a full-time research position. Some everyday responsibilities include researching social policy effectiveness, researching trauma interventions, or training the next generation of social workers.

Healthcare Administration

The multidisciplinary care approach you learned in the MSW program makes you an excellent fit for healthcare administration roles. That’s because MSW graduates are known for making valuable contributions to society to improve health and well-being for all.

Corporate Social Responsibility Roles

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an organization’s commitment to societal justice and change. CSR roles are perfect for MSW degree holders, as you can integrate social impact initiatives into business strategies. In these roles, you might work on sustainability initiatives, employee volunteer activities, or collaborate with nonprofit organizations.

International Aid and Development Work

MSW graduates are uniquely qualified to tackle global social challenges and contribute significantly to international well-being. As an MSW, you might work with NGOs, international nonprofit organizations, or government departments.

In this type of work, you empower individuals and communities to overcome adversity and create opportunities for a better future.

 Legal and Paralegal Services

Since social workers often work with clients in the legal system, your MSW could help you land a job with a law firm. Your understanding of legal issues helps navigate child welfare, domestic violence, immigration, and discrimination issues.

Even if your MSW doesn’t lead you to work directly for an attorney, you can still serve as a liaison with lawyers or court-appointed advocates for underrepresented groups.

Where Can MSW Professionals Work Besides Social Work Settings?

Beyond social work settings, an MSW degree can lead you to work in:

  • Schools and universities
  • Addiction treatment facilities
  • Psychiatrists’ and psychologists’ offices
  • Government offices
  • Think tanks
  • Research laboratories

This list is far from complete. Anywhere there is a need for a professional with an understanding of social issues, the law, or human behavior, your MSW can open doors for you.

Salary Information for MSW Careers Beyond Social Work

While the average annual salary for social workers increased from $50,390 in 2021 to $77,300, alternative career paths have the potential for more lucrative pay. Here’s a look at what you can expect if you switch to a career beyond social work.

Average Salaries Across Alternative Careers

Since your MSW degree qualifies you for many different roles in various fields, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint an average salary for MSW alternative careers. However, with so many options available, you can prioritize the career change that will suit you best. 

A new career path you’re passionate about might pay less but could offer better fulfillment. Several MSW alternative careers discussed above feature above-average salaries if you want to make more money.

Highest-Paying Alternative MSW Careers

While each alternative career field features some high-paying jobs, research and legal roles are likely the most lucrative.

For example, Payscale reports the average salary for an academic researcher is almost $88,000 per year. Meanwhile, legal advisors average $105,000 per year, with a median salary of over $84,000, according to

In the field of policy advocacy, the average salary for a policy advocate is just over $58,000 per year; roles with more responsibility, such as a policy and advocacy officer, earn a bit more, with an average annual salary $68,000 per year.

 Highest-Paying States for Alternative MSW Jobs

Your state of residence can also impact your salary in your new career. For example, if you moved into a mental health or substance abuse treatment role in New Jersey, your average salary would be $83,050—or about $18,000 more per year than the average salary for similar work in California.

However, Californian MSWs working in the field of healthcare have the highest average salary in the United States, at just under $80,000 per year. If the potential for a higher salary is the main reason you want to find an alternative career, do your research. Salaries vary widely across each state and metropolitan area.

MSW Career and Job Growth Information

If none of the alternative careers sound like the right move for you at this time, there is some good news. The career outlook for social workers is quite favorable at this time.

As mentioned above, the average social worker salary in the United States increased by nearly $27,000 annually from 2021 to 2023. This clearly indicates that social workers are more valued than ever before. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects overall employment of social workers to grow seven percent by 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

According to the BLS, more than 100,000 new social worker positions are projected by 2032. Social work is growing steadily, and your MSW provides job stability for the foreseeable future.

MSW Careers FAQ

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the jobs you can land with an MSW:

Do I Need Additional Certifications for Alternative Careers?

Depending on the nature of the work, switching to an alternative career may require additional certifications or degrees. However, your MSW will suffice for new careers in education, paralegal consulting, HR, and many other fields. In some states, your MSW qualifies you as a licensed professional counselor. To be sure, look at some job postings for the careers you are interested in and take note of any certification or degree requirements.

How Do MSW Skills Translate to Other Fields?

Since social workers typically show strong communication, problem-solving, and advocacy skills, your skills will likely translate to many other fields. Your MSW prepares you for any work that allows you to help others.

What Are the Best Networking Strategies for MSW Graduates?

Networking is an excellent way to learn about alternative career fields and find new opportunities. As with any career, there are conferences and dedicated networking events for social workers, and they present some of the best networking opportunities. Maintaining a professional and friendly presence on social media also counts as networking these days too.

Can I Switch Careers Easily with an MSW?

Social work skills transfer to various career fields and job types. So, your MSW definitely gave you the tools to switch careers easily. However, finding a new job can take time and effort, regardless of your skills and qualifications.

Remember that switching careers doesn’t happen overnight. It’s best to think of it as a long-term goal, one that you take small steps toward. Start by researching the requirements for a different career, along with salary information and job availability. Connect with your network to learn about job opportunities as they come up.

An MSW Gives You Many Career Paths

Considering the many career paths an MSW prepares you for, it can be one of your best investments. The demand for social workers is only increasing, with average salaries rising in a competitive marketplace.

But social work may only be the beginning. When you find yourself asking, “What can I do with an MSW besides social work,” you’ll be able to choose a new and exciting career path that you’re passionate about. Maybe you’ll want to become a counselor, a paralegal, or a teacher. With an MSW, the choice is yours.

If you haven’t yet earned your MSW, now is the time. Visit the MSWDegrees page for CSWE Accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs today to get started.

Recommended Readings

Careers In Social Work: What You Need To Know

Helping others: Careers in social work make an impact on families and communities

23 Jobs You Can Do With an MSW

Sources Social Worker (LCSW, MSW) Salary Guide by State in 2024

Payscale: Average Research Scientist Salary

Payscale: Average Legal Advisor Salary

Payscale: Average Policy Advocate Salary

Payscale: Average Policy & Advocacy Manager Salar

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Social Workers Occupational Outlook Handbook

Scroll to Top