Social Justice

10 careers for social work majors

Social workers have a unique focus – using their education and special training, they help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. If you are looking for a career with meaning, action, satisfaction and many options for specialization, you should consider pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work.

What do social workers do?

Social workers care about people, want to make things better, work to relieve suffering and desire to make a difference. Social work can involve providing direct services or therapy to clients and working for change to improve social conditions. Social worker job descriptions vary widely which is why we put together this list of potential career pathways for social work majors. 

10 Careers you can pursue with a social work degree

  1. Child social workers serve children in troubled families to ensure that they are safe and well-cared-for. They are employed by public child welfare agencies; private agencies serving children; adoption agencies; residential and foster care agencies; and child day care centers.

  2. Hospital social workers and medical social workers help people with different abilities to adjust and lead productive lives. They work in case management; develop policy; and advocate for the disabled. They work in hospitals, schools, residential homes for the disabled, mental health facilities, and in local, state and federal agencies.

  3. Community social workers engage in services to the needy. They provide programs, support and advocacy for needy disabled, ill, elderly, juvenile and homeless clients.

  4. Social workers in gerontology work with older adults and their families to improve their mental and physical health; ability to function; and living conditions. They intervene in the lives and families of aging persons; advocate for the elderly; counsel elderly people and their families; manage cases; and develop programs for the elderly. They work in hospitals, nursing homes and community centers.

  5. School social workers help students cope with and resolve emotional, developmental or educational challenges. Social workers in schools advocate for and provide services to help children and juveniles cope with the pressures of growing up, as well as helping schoolchildren overcome academic challenges. They work in elementary and secondary schools, school districts, Head Start clinics, and early intervention programs.

  6. Mental health social workers and substance abuse social workers facilitate the health care and healthy living of those suffering from disease or disability and work to prevent physical and mental-health problems. They provide mental health counseling, develop programs to promote health, provide intervention for persons who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, and advocate for programs which promote health and healthy living. They work in hospitals and clinics; public health centers and programs; HMOs; nursing homes; hospice; private and public drug and alcohol clinics and programs; and mental health clinics.

  7. Military social workers focus on providing the necessary support and interventions needed to assist military personnel, retirees, their spouses and families. Military social workers receive specialized training, such as that offered in the Army social work program, and help veterans with many life issues. They also assist active military personnel and veterans in applying for benefits from the Veterans Administration and help locate housing assistance. They work in a wide array of settings ranging from military bases and medical facilities to Veterans Administration Centers. Dig deeper into this career field by reading our related article: What is military social work? Supporting our homeland heroes

  8. Social workers in corrections focus on rehabilitating offenders, assisting victims of crime, or helping courts and attorneys establish truth in criminal matters. Social workers in criminal justice and corrections provide counseling and therapy; behavioral rehabilitation; probation and parole services; youth offender services; and victim assistance. They work in prisons and correctional facilities, courts, police departments, probation offices and victim services offices.

  9. Social workers in community development work with various organizations to improve community conditions for residents. They plan and develop community programs to improve the lives of citizens; educate individuals and groups about community improvements; help advocate for better community conditions; and engage in politics. They work in advocacy organizations; development corporations; community centers; local, state and federal government; and community associations.

  10. Occupational social workers, or those who work with employee assistance, help employees to be more productive and satisfied. They promote wellness in the workplace; counsel the workforce; develop and improve the work environment; and assist with employee hiring, retention, retirement and termination. They work in businesses, corporations, employee assistance programs, labor unions and in drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Career trajectory and training for social workers

What can I expect to earn as a social worker?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the annual median social worker salary in 2019 was $50,4700 or $24.26 per hour, but it is difficult to generalize social work salaries. Those just starting out with a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) can expect to earn up to $30,000 a year, depending upon the type of work, their experience level and where they work. Those with master’s degrees, Ph.D.s and doctorates in social work (DSW) degrees can earn more; a few experienced practitioners and senior administrators with doctorate degrees can earn as much as $100,000 annually.

What training does a social work job require?

Most social work positions require a bachelor’s degree in social work from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BSW) prepares graduates for generalist entry-level work; the Masters of Social Work (MSW) is for more advanced clinical practice and therapy. A DSW degree or Ph.D. is useful for doing social work research or teaching at the university level. All degrees in social work require coursework and a substantial number of hours in a field practicum, doing social work under the supervision of licensed social workers.

The social work profession has its own body of knowledge, code of ethics, practice standards, credentials, state licensing and a nationwide system of accredited education programs. These equip the professional social worker to combine the desire to help others with the knowledge, skill and ethics needed to provide that help. Most states require practicing social workers to be licensed, certified or registered, although standards vary. Contact the state regulatory board directly or the Association of State Social Work Boards for a list of regulatory agencies or for a comparison of state regulations. Learn more about the requirements for becoming a social worker

Where do social workers work?

Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices.

They serve individuals, families and communities. They are managers, supervisors and administrators. They serve in all levels of government; they are educators, therapists and researchers. Sometimes they are elected political leaders and legislators. 

Social workers work in substance abuse and addictions; gerontology and aging; child welfare; public welfare; school social work; justice and corrections; developmental disabilities; employment and occupational social work; and health care.

Demand for social workers is on the rise. Department of Labor Statistics show that the social work field is expected to grow by 11 percent from 2018-2028. That’s a faster-than-average outlook for professional careers.

Clinical social workers are required to take additional social work courses and obtain Master of Social Work (MSW) degrees, particularly if they want to pursue private, independent practice. They deal with a broad scope of clients in a wide variety of settings, including community mental health centers; psychiatric hospitals and day treatment hospitals; employee assistance programs; schools; family service agencies; and jails and prisons.



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