A Master Of Social Work Versus A Master Of Public Health

MSW or MPH (1)

As a social worker, you may reach a point in your career where you are ready to step into a position of leadership and take on more responsibilities. You may hit a crossroads where you are unsure which type of master’s degree will best advance your professional goals. A Master of Social Work (MSW) generally sets you up to work directly with vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, families and groups. A Master of Public Health (MPH) puts you at the macro level, in a position to make large-scale changes that focus on the prevention and alleviation of widespread issues. Both degrees help students advance careers that make a difference in the lives of others, and both degrees can help a social worker develop professional knowledge and skills.


Master of Social Work

An MSW accelerates your career course, opening up opportunities for leadership, greater responsibility and a broader scope of work, while still focusing on the individual, family and group level. An MSW is required to obtain a social work license in many states, and it can also be necessary for professional development in certain areas of social work. This is particularly true if you are hoping to work in a hospital or clinic. A master’s degree is always required for clinical work and often required for opening a private practice and working in health care. It can also be an important part of securing an administrative position in a health care setting.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Program Description
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 areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy
Simmons University
  • Four Clinical Specializations: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging
  • Three program tracks: Traditional, Accelerated, and Extended
Case Western Reserve University
  • From Case Western Reserve University’s top-10 ranked School of social work
  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks available
University of Southern California (USC)
  • Offered by USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, a top-ranked graduate School by U.S. News and World Report
  • Features virtual and in-person field education in or near student's own communities
Baylor University
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Specialize in clinical practice or community practice

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

MSW concentrations include:

  • Mental Health: Train to support and offer services to those suffering from mental health disorders or substance abuse issues, and advocate for some of the most vulnerable and misunderstood individuals in our society.TBI is the leading cause of death and disability among children and adults between the ages of 1 to 44.
  • Families and Children: Learn to prevent family crises through counseling, resource coordination, advocacy and support.
  • Community Organization, Planning and Administration (COPA): Develop the skills necessary for becoming a community leader who can bring people together to advocate for a common cause.
  • Health: Learn to help individuals in the health care system meet their financial, emotional and social needs by connecting them with services that can help them get better and stay better.
  • Social Work and Business in a Global Society: Corporate social workers help businesses solve social problems and create best practices in terms of diversity, healthy work-life balance and corporate social responsibility.

Careers after earning an MSW include: 

  • Medical/Public Health
  • Substance Abuse
  • Mental Health
  • Child Welfare
  • School Social Work


Master of Public Health

An MPH helps you to understand the intersection of social, behavioral, economic, biological, environmental and political factors that affect public health. It puts you in a good position to get a job in government agencies, nonprofits and public health agencies. This master’s degree puts you on a path for creating and changing public health practices, rather than working on treatment and providing services at the individual, family or group level.

MPH concentrations include:

  • Biostatistics: Learn to study risk factors for disease and assess the efficacy and outcomes of new therapies. These studies can affect policy and public health.
  • Environmental Health: Gain the skills to address environmental challenges that affect public health.
  • Epidemiology: Train in the principles and methodology of epidemiological research in order to design, run, analyze and interpret studies.
  • Global Health: Learn the interconnection of economics, policy analysis, financial management and infectious disease and how to study and improve health internationally.
  • Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights: Prepare for the legal facets of public health and for a career in law, advocacy, academia or public policy.
  • Health Policy and Management: Learn to develop creative solutions to challenges in the health care system, including health policy, financial analysis and delivery of care.
  • Maternal and Child Health: Focus on the unique needs of women, children and families in a sociopolitical context.
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences: Identify and analyze determinants and risk factors associated with public health problems and learn how to use this knowledge to promote healthy behavior in communities.

Careers after earning an MPH include:

  • Epidemiologist
  • Disaster and Emergency Specialist
  • Water Quality Planner
  • Public Health Educator
  • Environmental Health Scientist
  • Biostatistician
  • Infectious Disease Specialist
  • Nutritionist
  • International Health Care Worker
  • Clinical Research Coordinator
  • Nonprofit Executive Director


Master’s degrees in social work and in public health both prepare you for a career in improving the lives of others and creating positive change, but the areas of focus are different. Recipients of an MSW prefer to work at the individual, family or group level to provide and connect people with services, while recipients of an MPH prefer to effect policy change at the community or international level. Both are worthy pursuits, and choosing your path depends on which careers most interest you and where you feel you can be the most effective. The first step in either case, however, is a master’s degree.