Several graduate degrees satisfy the qualifications for positions related to social services. These degrees represent a variety of academic disciplines, including social work, counseling, mental health, health education and public health. If you’re considering a career in social services but are confused by the wide variety of social service degrees available, it helps to gain an understanding of each discipline.

Social Work Degrees

Although entry-level social work positions may only require a bachelor’s degree, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is needed for advanced administrative and supervisory positions. An MSW is a two-year graduate degree that prepares students to practice social work in their respective state. Clinical social workers, who are licensed to treat emotional, mental and behavioral issues, must hold an MSW. An MSW gives professionals the tools to assess the effects of social environments on mental health and to implement changes through counseling and therapy. Opportunities also exist in advocacy, social policy and program planning for graduates of a MSW program. An MSW is considered a terminal degree in that no further education is necessary in order to find work as a professional social worker.


Featured Online MSW Programs
University of Southern California (USC)
  • Top-ranked program, with multiple start dates throughout the year
  • Engaging curriculum designed to meet the demands of 21st-century challenges
Simmons College
  • Acclaimed clinical social work curriculum combined with cutting-edge technology
  • Live, weekly seminar-style classes taught by renowned Simmons faculty
University of Denver
  • Research-driven faculty dedicated to making an impact on social problems
  • Prepares you to apply social work skills across practice settings
Fordham University
  • Four main areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy
These schools offer online MSW programs with 100% online instruction - no campus visits required

Sponsored MSW Programs

Counseling Degrees

A Master of Arts or Master of Science in Counseling focuses on preparing students for careers in counseling individuals and families. These professionals often work in schools and mental health facilities and help clients combat their emotional and psychological problems. The focus of this degree is to train students to work closely with individual cases and use clinical skills to help improve the lives of their patients. Unlike social work, this degree does not focus on the use of means outside of individual counseling to help people. A Master’s in Counseling is not always a terminal degree and may be earned as a prerequisite to a Doctor of Psychology or a Ph.D. in Counseling. After completion of this degree program, students can look forward to many challenging yet rewarding career options. Many find work as mental health counselors, addiction counselors, family/marriage counselors and school counselors.

Visit to Learn More About Northwestern's Master of Arts in Counseling Program

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Mental Health Degrees

The field of psychology has several graduate degrees that lead to rewarding careers in mental health. The Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, which takes five-to-six years to earn, includes training in the treatment of individuals with moderate to severe mental health issues. Clinical psychologists also conduct research and teach in colleges and universities. Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) also provides training in clinical skills, but there is less emphasis on research. The degree generally takes three-to-five years to complete. The M.D. in Psychiatry is earned by medical doctors who specialize in mental health during their three-year residencies. A psychiatrist may have less training in therapy than a psychologist but, as a medical doctor, is able to write prescriptions. Psychiatrists often work with patients who have severe mental conditions that have a physical component that can be treated with medication, such as schizophrenia, psychosis or severe depression.

Public Health Degrees

The field of public health focuses on implementing programs and policies to prevent the spread of disease, protect against environmental hazards, respond to health emergencies and promote healthy behaviors. The field is also concerned with ensuring that all segments of the population receive equal access to quality health care. A Master of Public Health (MPH) prepares professionals for careers related to public health. Recent natural disasters, including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, have focused the spotlight on the important role social services play in public health. Those with a degree in public health often find themselves in administrative positions within hospitals or health-related government and non-government organizations. These individuals spearhead public health initiatives and help initiate major policy changes within the sphere of public health.