Careers and Degrees in Social Work
Social workers strive to improve the well-being and quality of life for communities, families, and individuals. They utilize a number of skills and communication styles to accomplish their goals, including teaching, organizing, observation, research, and even direct intervention and counseling. Use the jump links provided below to quickly learn more about social work careers and degrees.
- The Path to a Career in Social Work
- An Overview of Popular MSW Specializations
- What to Consider Evaluating Online MSW Options
- Key Differences Between Clinical and Non-Clinical Social Work
A career in social work demands a commitment and willingness to help others in need. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers earned a mean annual salary of $56,060. Social workers with an advanced degree often receive a higher salary than those without. The BLS also reports a positive career outlook with jobs projected to grow 19% over the next 10 years – almost twice as fast as the average for all occupations!
The Path to a Career in Social Work
A career in social work can have varying requirements depending on the field and your desired position. Most entry-level positions only require bachelor’s degree in social work, but some employers can be more flexible and hire candidates with degrees in other fields like psychology, human services, and sociology.
A master’s degree in social work (MSW) presents students with an opportunity to learn more about the social work industry in general or specialize in one of its many fields. Some entry level positions may even require an MSW instead of a BSW, like occupations within the education and healthcare industries. While an MSW may be required to pursue leadership and other high-level positions, it is most commonly required for clinical social worker positions.
In addition to an MSW degree, becoming a clinical social will require additional licenses and certifications that vary from state to state. Generally, obtaining a license requires an MSW degree, 1 to 2 years of experience, and passing a state-administrated clinical examination. Furthermore, a state may even have a separate license for non-clinical social workers.
An Overview of Popular MSW Specializations
There are several fields of social work that you can choose to enter. The biggest varying factor is typically the work environment or clients. General social work programs can often be used to fill administrative positions within social work while specific fields may require a program with a specialization. Our guides below explore the more common fields in social work and outline their educational requirements and salaries.
- Addiction and Substance Abuse Social Work – Addiction and substance abuse social workers work with individuals and families to organize interventions, therapy, and recovery for those dealing with alcohol and drug abuse.
- Family and Child Social Work – Family and child social workers work with children, parents, and entire family units to overcome common struggles like poverty, domestic violence, illness, child abuse, and prejudice.
- Medical and Mental Health Social Work – Medical and mental health social workers provide support and counseling to families and patients dealing with loss of a loved one, adjustment to new environments or situations, providing psychotherapy, or obtaining social help and support.
- Counseling and Human Services – While counseling and human services are not fields of social work, they are popular careers that have much in common with social work, including compassion for others and working to improve their clients’ well-being.
This list is far from representing the entirety of fields social workers can enter. Some positions work with military families and soldiers or in community health; others may work with poverty-stricken families or individuals.
What to Consider When Evaluating MSW Options
Online programs are designed for students who want to complete their education without the constraint of traditional classroom scheduling. When considering an online option, keep the following in mind:
- Is the program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)? (Online MSW programs must meet the same CSWE accreditation standards as campus-based programs.)
- Does the program offer the area specialization or concentration you want in addition to ample field placement opportunities in your area of interest?
- Does the program offer on-campus or online research facilities, academic advising, classroom training, or internships?
Below you’ll find a list of accredited schools that meet the above criteria and offer a number of quality degree options:
University of Southern California
Catholic University of America
Sacred Heart University
Key Differences Between Clinical and Non-Clinical Social Work
Beyond the educational requirements outlined earlier, there are several other distinctions between clinical social workers and non-clinical social workers. Both occupations work to improve the quality of life of others but accomplish the task in different ways.
Clinical Social Workers
- Work directly with patients and can provide one on one care and therapy to their patients
- Often work with as part of a unit of doctors, nurses, and counselors to deliver the appropriate care for an individual or family
- Licensed to provide psychotherapy and diagnosis
Non-clinical Social Workers
Non-clinical social workers work at two different levels, macro and direct.
Macro-level social workers:
- Usually do not work directly with patients, families, or groups directly
- Work with policy makers, institutions, and organizations on the matters of community health, social issues, discrimination, and much more
Direct-level social workers:
- Help clients and families locate and obtain the support and assistance they need
- May provide mediation and counseling, but they never administer therapy or diagnosis
- Often perform tasks related to screening, data entry, and case management