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

Should I Get a Master of Social Work or an MS in Human and Social 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 difference 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 those with human services jobs tend to 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.

The Basic Difference

What do social workers do?

While some social workers go into administrative roles, all types of social workers focus on helping individuals overcome difficult situations in their lives. The vast majority of those in social work practice work with individuals or small family groups, helping people learn how to move past problems by strengthening themselves and by taking advantage of social services provided through government entities and nonprofits. A defining feature of social work is that social workers focus on both the person and the social environment around that person. Also, social workers are licensed professionals, and as such, their licensure provides an increased level of professional recognition in the field. In short, a common outcome of the MSW degree is being a licensed clinical social worker (MSW LICSW).

What do those in social services do?

The primary role of human and social services is to help those in need of assistance receive that assistance. While a few human services jobs involve counseling clients, that counseling tends to be focused on teaching needy people how to find and qualify for appropriate services. Many in the field work for nonprofit assistance programs or with local, state, or federal aid agencies. Many also work in an administrative capacity, designing and/or administrating social services policies and programs. Also, a human and social services professional does not need to be licensed to work in their field, which appeals to many who are interested in a degree but not in seeking licensure.

Differences in Education

When you earn an MSW degree, you can learn how to:

When you earn an MS in Human and Social Services, you can learn how to:

  • Mental health social worker
  • Child or family social worker
  • Medical social worker
  • School social worker
  • Private or public agency leader or director
  • Policy analyst
  • Supervisor in social work field or agency
  • Program director
  • Human services administrator (coordinator, director, program lead)
  • Agency coordinator
  • Family services specialist
  • Social and community service manager
  • Emergency management manager
  • Program director
  • Medical and health services manager
  • Development director

Differences in Specializations

Through an MSW program, you can specialize in:
Advanced Clinical Practice
Social Work in Healthcare
Social Work With Children and Families

Through an MS in Human and Social Services program, you can specialize in:
Conflict Management and Negotiation
Community and Social Services
Community Intervention and Leadership
Gerontology
Global Social Services
Human Services Nonprofit Administration
Mental Health Facilitation
Social Policy and Analysis and Planning

Differences in Career Paths

Social work careers include:*
Mental health social worker
Child or family social worker
Medical social worker
School social worker
Private or public agency leader or director
Policy analyst
Supervisor in social work field or agency
Program director

Human and social services careers include:*
Human services administrator (coordinator, director, program lead)
Agency coordinator
Family services specialist
Social and community service manager
Emergency management manager
Program director
Medical and health services manager
Development director

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 human services online, you can take advantage of flexible scheduling that lets you attend classes and handle coursework at the 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 CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work and an MS in Human and Social Services degree online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format 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, www.hlcommission.org.

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 advisors 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.

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