Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

Should I Get a Master of Social Work or an MS in Human and Social Services?

Your interests and career goals should determine whether you earn an MSW or a master’s in human services.

If you’re thinking about starting or advancing a career committed to social change, one of the best choices you can make is to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) or an MS in Human and Social Services. But even if you’re already working toward social change, you may not know the exact differences between social work and human services.

That’s not uncommon. The two disciplines are both focused on improving people’s lives, and both those with social worker jobs and human services jobs often work for or with government agencies or nonprofit assistance programs. Nevertheless, there are differences, and understanding those differences is the key to knowing which master’s degree and career path is right for you.

Should I Get a Master of Social Work or an MS in Human and Social Services?

Differences in Licensure

One of the biggest differences between most types of social worker and human services jobs is that, to be in social work practice, you need a license, but you do not need a license to work in human and social services. This is primarily because social workers often provide counseling to individuals and/or family groups, while human and social services professionals focus more on helping those in need receive government and nonprofit services.

Since an MSW degree program can help you prepare to become a licensed clinical social worker, it is a good path to follow if you want to focus more on counseling and enjoy the recognition of being a licensed professional. If you are less interested in counseling and would prefer to avoid a licensure process while still being able to help people in need, an MS in Human and Social Services program may be better suited for you.

Differences in Cost and Time to Completion

While both an MSW and an MS in Human and Social Services can help you acquire the skills you need to make a real difference in people’s lives, the two programs differ in both their cost and how long they take to complete. In general, an MSW degree program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires you to earn more credits than if you were in an MS in Human and Social Services program. This is due to CSWE accreditation requirements, which include field work hours.

To bring it into perspective, the CSWE-accredited MSW degree program at Walden University requires you to complete 92 quarter credits, while Walden’s MS in Human and Social Services degree program requires you to complete 48–53 quarter credits depending on the specialization. If you take two courses a quarter, you can finish an MS in Human and Social Services in two years. An MSW, however, will take longer and cost more due to the larger credit requirement.

The longer time to completion and higher cost are definitely worth it if you want to hold an MSW and pursue becoming a licensed social worker. The MS in Human and Social Services, however, may be better if you want to avoid field work and earn your master’s more quickly and for less money.

Differences in Specializations and Career Paths

Through an MSW program, you can customize your training to fit your interests and goals, which can lead to a variety of career paths.*

  • The Social Work With Children and Families concentration prepares you to counsel and help children and families or become a school social worker.
  • The Social Work in Healthcare concentration prepares you to be a medical social worker.
  • The Advanced Clinical Practice concentration prepares you to counsel and help individuals, groups, and communities, including those with mental health issues.
  • The Military Social Work concentration prepares you to counsel and help active-duty members and/or veterans of the armed services and their families.
  • All concentrations can help you advance to leadership roles such as an agency supervisor, director of a public agency, director of a nonprofit program, or policy analyst.

Top MS in Human and Social Services programs may also offer a wide variety of specializations, to help you focus your career on the social issue you most want to address.*

  • The Community and Social Services specialization prepares you for community social work in non-licensure roles.
  • The Community Intervention and Leadership specialization prepares you for helping communities improve living and working conditions.
  • The Conflict Management and Negotiation specialization prepares you for helping negotiate and resolve disputes within communities.
  • The Criminal Justice specialization prepares you for leading prison, probation, and parole programs.
  • The Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention specialization prepares you to be an emergency management manager and/or help communities that have suffered a natural or man-made disaster or are experiencing an ongoing crisis.
  • The Family Studies and Interventions specialization prepares you to help underrepresented or marginalized groups such as low-income individuals, single parents, gay and lesbian families, and bisexual and and transgender people.
  • The Gerontology specialization prepares you to help older adults with issues ranging from home care to finances.
  • The Global Social Services specialization prepares you to help immigrants, refugees, and transient communities in the U.S. and abroad.
  • The Human Services Nonprofit Administration specialization prepares you to help run a nonprofit focused on human and social services.
  • The Mental Health Facilitation specialization prepares you to help people find and take advantage of the mental health services they and/or their family members need.
  • The Military Families and Culture specialization prepares you to help active-duty members and/or veterans of the armed services and their families.
  • The Social Policy Analysis and Planning specialization prepares you to help develop and implement public policy focused on improving lives.

How You Can Earn Your MSW or Human Services Degree

One of the best ways to earn either a social worker degree or a human services degree is through an online education program. Unlike campus-based programs that require you to commute to class at specific times, online graduate degree programs give you an exceptional level of convenience and flexibility.

In an online MSW program or an online master’s in human services program, you can complete the majority of your degree program from home. In addition, when you earn a master’s in social work online or a master’s in human services online, you can attend classes and handle coursework at a time of day that works best for you—meaning you can earn your master’s while continuing to work full time.

If you want to help create social change, a career in social work or human and social services could be right for you. Through an online graduate degree program you can make that career a reality.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Social Work program and an MS in Human and Social Services program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

*Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of this degree program.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.

Note on Licensure:
The minimum academic credential required to obtain licensure to practice as a social worker in most states is a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Walden University’s MSW program is accredited by CSWE.

State licensing boards are responsible for regulating the practice of social work, and each state has its own academic, licensure, and certification requirements.

Walden recommends that students consult the appropriate social work licensing board in the state in which they plan to practice to determine the specific academic requirements for licensure. Walden enrollment specialists can provide information relating to the state-by-state requirements for licensure. However, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all licensing requirements for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of its coursework or programs will permit an individual to achieve state licensure, authorization, endorsement, or other state credential as a social worker

Note on Licensure:
The MS in Human and Social Services program, including its specializations, is not designed to lead to professional licensure including licensure as a professional therapist, counselor, social worker, or psychologist.


Our site uses cookies to provide necessary website functionality, improve your experience, analyze data & deliver relevant ads. By using our website, you agree to our cookie usage.