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Social Work Education Is A Smorgasbord

By Rachel L. West
Advocacy & Community Outreach Specialist 

I have been doing a lot of research in the last few days on non-traditional social work jobs.  Half way through my foundation year I discovered that direct practice was not for me and I know there are other MSWs who feel the same way.  I think MSW programs need to start providing more info to students about how to map out their career paths and part of that should be letting them know all their options.  In other words, help them see how an MSW can be used in an area outside of mental health.

I had a professor who told us that an MSW program was like eating at a smorgasbord.  We can do a lot more with our education then therapy.  The other part of this is accepting that our education can not stop after completing a two-year graduate program.  This can mean taking continuing education Units (CEU), obtaining a second degree that complements an MSW (like an MBA, MPA, etc) or  it might be as simple as volunteering in order to gain knowledge in your chosen area of interest.  The point I’m trying to make is that we need to stop  limiting ourselves.  We need to stop believing that the only way to use our education is by providing counseling to individuals and families.

I have already discussed in previous posts how social workers can go into areas like politics or community organizing, but an MSW can also be useful in business; and I am not talking about private practice.  What I’m talking about is social enterprise.

So what is social enterprise? The Social Enterprise Alliance Gives the following definition:

Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas.

Three characteristics distinguish a social enterprise from other types of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies:

  • It directly addresses an intractable social need and serves the common good, either through its products and services or through the number of disadvantaged people it employs.
  • Its commercial activity is a strong revenue driver, whether a significant earned income stream within a nonprofit’s mixed revenue portfolio, or a for profit enterprise.
  • The common good is its primary purpose, literally “baked into” the organization’s DNA, and trumping all others.


As mentioned in the video of the USC panel on non traditional social work, you will need some basic business knowledge to enter this area.  This brings me back to my professors smorgasbord statement.  The point she was making is that an MSW is a broad degree.  It does not make you an expert in a particular area; we need to seek out experiences to round out our social work education.


photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sillydog/359321161/”>sillydog</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

Posted by Rachel L. West

In addition to being the founder of The Political Social Worker blog, I am a consultant. My consulting practice offers advocacy and community outreach solutions to nonprofits, social good organizations, and private practitioners. Additionally, I offer career coaching to macro social work students and professionals.


  1. Hi Rachel, I agree with you that the MSW is a degree that lends itself to being flexible and adaptable to various positions. What are you hoping to translate your MSW degree into, career-wise? That said, If you are thinking of going into the “social good” management, I think you are likely to need to either supplement your MSW with additional coursework in that specific arena of management and finance or learn this “on the job” within a non-profit organization.

  2. I agree, Rachel. My program asked us to choose a field of specialization before we entered into the program. The program provided a description of each field on its website. I chose the more macro oriented one. I have subsequently switched to the more micro one BUT I still want to be involved in macro work. I knew exactly what I was doing. However, I do think my program could provide more information on macro oriented careers. Often in class, the focus is on micro practitioners. I understand this, to a certain extent, given that only about 10 students are micro oriented out of say 100-120 students in my cohort. At the same time, I think a well-rounded MSW program should give students info on micro and macro jobs.
    I ultimately switched to micro because I didn’t see much opportunity in macro jobs. Maybe that was a lack of creativity on my part, maybe I looked too much on indeed.com and agency websites to see that macro jobs are few and far between, at least in my area.

    I have a passion for macro work but I think given the job market, it was smarter for me to pursue micro. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the choice I made; I just know my macro work will have to be on the side, which I’m okay with.


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