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The MSW vs. an MPH

Weighing the benefits of an MSW vs. an MPH (master of social work vs. master of public health) is ultimately a decision based on cost vs. rewards – both of which can be measured in potential earnings and intangible benefits, like supporting and improving your community with a graduate education.  Both degrees address the root causes of social issues and methodologies to counteract societal challenges.  One of the main differences in the two degrees is the area of focus.  Clinical MSW programs emphasize individual treatment, empowering individuals who thereby strengthen their communities.  MPH degrees target macro-level opportunities, working among agencies and organizations to promote widespread change. 

The MSW: Empowering Individuals

A clinical MSW degree may address public health and social policy.  However, the primary degree focus is on treating mental illness and providing various levels of support for individuals, families, and small groups.  Social workers’ clients are often members of impoverished or oppressed communities, so MSW alumni frequently practice in the same communities where MPH grads are tackling social issues.  However, most social workers operate with a “bottom-up approach,” where they emphasize health and well-being for individuals, who can then contribute to their communities.

MSW graduates work in a wide variety of agencies, healthcare facilities, and treatment centers.  Areas of focus include:

  • Child welfare
  • Substance abuse and mental health
  • Military and veteran support
  • Medical social work
  • Gerontology and elderly care

Salaries for MSW alumni vary based on employer, field, and position.  MSW graduates can earn between $33,000 and $75,000 per year. 1

The MPH: Taking Action at the Community Level

MPH students learn a broad array of theories and skills to help them assess community needs, formulate action plans, and carry out those plans.  They study behavioral health and social sciences, but they also learn about widespread medical threats, public policy, statistics, budgeting, and community management.  They practice a “top-down approach,” offering services and enacting protocols that help the community, thereby benefiting the members of that community.

MPH graduates often work at the state and local levels of government, as well as nonprofit organizations.  They may focus on:

  • Health and nutrition
  • Ethics and human rights
  • Biostatistics
  • Public policy and management

Salaries for MPH graduates vary widely based on location and type of employer.  They range from around $30,000 to $80,000 and are higher for leadership roles.2

MSW vs. MPH: Career Profiles

Potential careers for each degree field include:


  • Addictions treatment specialist
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Military support specialist
  • Adoption placement professional
  • School social worker


  • Public health educator
  • Biostatistician
  • Disaster and emergency planner
  • Research coordinator
  • Nonprofit director

Public health careers often integrate functions such as legal action, planning, and budgeting, so the pursuit of an MPH is a wise choice for candidates who want to use their administrative talents to enact social change.  Social work careers frequently emphasize therapeutic, counseling, and mental health services, so they are a good fit for compassionate individuals who hope to empower others to overcome adversary.

If you are interested in reaching individuals, couples, and families, a master’s degree in social work can help you obtain an impactful career.  To learn more about the accredited online option from The Catholic University of America, request information or call 855-295-5711 to speak with an admissions representative.