Careers in Social Work

If you are called to address complex social issues or protect vulnerable individuals in your own community, entering the social work field will enable you to improve the well-being of populations at any level.

By earning your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, you will be prepared to pursue a number of diverse social work careers helping children, families, and communities in need.

What Do Social Workers Do?

There are a variety of social work jobs and specializations, but the fundamental goal in every role is to enhance human well-being and protect those who are vulnerable, oppressed, or living in poverty.

Social workers relieve suffering, advocate for the underprivileged, and make positive interventions that promote wellness. The scope of social work careers spans many societies, populations, industries, and establishments.

Social workers can be found in many settings, such as:

  • hospitals, helping the sick cope with their illnesses
  • correctional facilities, preparing inmates to reenter society
  • community health centers, ensuring children stay in school
  • nonprofit organizations, bringing positive change to large populations
  • homeless shelters, providing support and tools for people to change their lives
  • faith-based establishments, helping people find fulfillment and meaning

Why Pursue a Career in Social Work?

Pursuing a social work career is more than an occupation; it is a calling. Social work professionals are committed to promoting individual and community well-being, addressing social injustice, and providing opportunities for personal growth.

Whether your goal is to work with individuals, community groups, or large nonprofit organizations, there are many opportunities for aspiring social workers. Once you earn your Master of Social Work degree, you will have the skills and knowledge to pursue a career that has the potential to leave a lasting impact on the world.

Are you ready to pursue your calling and make a difference in the lives of those in need?

Inspire Societal Change on Three Levels

When most people think of social work careers, they may be thinking about one-on-one individual sessions between a social worker and another individual. This is certainly one aspect of the field, but there are multiple interrelated scales of social work, operating on three distinct levels: micro, mezzo, and macro.

  • Micro: At the micro level, the emphasis is on the health and well-being of the individual.
  • Mezzo: At the mezzo level, small groups are the focal point with schools, businesses, and community organizations as the typical settings.
  • Macro: Large-scale social work is conducted at the macro level and features initiatives that affect entire states or countries.

Master of Social Work Careers

Depending on what area of social work interests you, there are multiple specialties in need of skilled professionals. Although there are diverse occupational settings, the fundamental goal of the social work profession remains the same: promote holistic well-being, social equality, and healthy communities.

Outlined below are common examples of social work careers you can pursue after obtaining your master’s in social work.

Children and Families

Social workers that are dedicated to assisting children and families provide emotional, psychological, and social care to the nuclear family. This category represents 18 percent of social work jobs — the largest percentage of professionals in the field.1

Social services establishments, foster care agencies, and schools are the primary settings for these professionals.

Examples of social work career options in the children and family category include:

  • school social worker
  • case manager
  • foster care specialist
  • child protective services specialist
  • family support social worker

Mental Health and Addictions

Social workers in this field address a variety of issues ranging from depression and substance abuse to emotional trauma. Professionals in this category assess patients, develop case management plans, and support clients as they cope with internal and external challenges.

Correctional facilities, government agencies, and outpatient facilities are common occupational settings.

Social work jobs in the mental health and addictions specialty include:

  • community clinic counselor
  • psychiatric social worker
  • substance abuse counselor
  • school mental health specialist
  • adult protective services worker

Healthcare and Aging

Social workers in health care and aging roles support individuals who are coping with chronic illnesses, provide counseling to families, and connect clients to appropriate channels of healthcare. Healthcare social workers often provide support to people before, during, and after medical conditions or diagnosis.

Hospitals, community health centers, and senior centers are typical settings for healthcare social workers.

Common social work careers in healthcare and aging include:

  • medical social worker
  • gerontological social work
  • geriatric case manager
  • hospice social worker
  • oncology social worker

Growth for Social Work Careers

Aspiring social work professionals with a Master of Social Work degree will have more opportunities for employment in the years to come. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the national average of all occupations.2

Although there is projected growth for social work careers as a whole, each specialization is subject to individual growth rates.

Employment projection data by specialization between 2016–26:2

16%

child, family, and school social workers

20%

healthcare social workers

19%

mental health and addiction(s) social workers

8%

all other specialties

Social Worker Salary

Depending on your state of employment, education level, and area of specialization, the highest annual salary for social workers reaches more than $81,400. In May 2018, the median annual wage for social workers was $49,470.3

Median annual wages for social workers in May 2018 were as follows:3

$46,270

child, family, and school social workers

$56,200

healthcare social workers

$44,840

mental health and addiction(s) social workers

$63,140

all other specialties

1 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-3 Return to footnote reference
2 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-6 Return to footnote reference
3 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-5 Return to footnote reference