Careers in social work can be very fulfilling and are often ideal for individuals drawn to helping others, especially when it comes to making positive life changes. Professionals in this field often tend to have significant and positive impacts on individuals, as well as their communities. As a result, the work can be highly personally rewarding.
Notably, there are several different kinds of social work jobs available. Additionally, there are many community and social service occupations that utilize similar knowledge and skills. Those with expertise and experience as social workers can often qualify for a wide variety of rewarding employment opportunities related to health, social, and mental health services.
Social workers generally earn decent wages, although salary potential varies significantly by location. States with the most lucrative employment options include New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, and California. Some professions also offer higher pay than others, making it important to research the prospects of each individual position prior to applying.
Some level of higher education is generally required to obtain a social work career. While a limited number of entry-level opportunities may be available to those with high school diplomas or GEDs, these positions tend to pay significantly less.
The lowest level of higher education is the associate degree in social work. These programs are typically offered by community colleges, which notably tend to charge less in tuition and fees than traditional colleges and universities. They often consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes students approximately two years to complete. The knowledge and skills gained are quite basic, making is a viable option only for those seeking entry-level employment or preparing for more education.
Most individuals interested in this field begin by earning bachelor’s degrees in social work or a related field. These programs usually consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. They typically provide students with a general overview of the field, as well as a strong foundation for further learning.
While bachelor’s degrees can lead to jobs as mental health assistants, rehabilitation caseworkers, family service workers, and caseworkers, many professionals in the field opt to continue their education by enrolling in graduate programs. Individuals who possess master’s degrees are generally considered better qualified, have more employment opportunities, and earn higher salaries. Additionally, most states require social workers to obtain this level of education prior to practicing, and clinical social workers will require even more education before finding a high-level role in mental health services. School social workers have a slightly different path toward a career, but they'll need much the same education as substance abuse social workers. They will both help clients maintain their mental and emotional health.
The majority of master’s degree programs in social work are comprised of between 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. Curriculums vary, but students often receive more in-depth instruction and have opportunities to hone skills in specific areas such as child development, public health, clinical, and geriatrics. Graduates typically have the knowledge, skills, and education credentials necessary to work in clinical settings as psychiatric social workers, hospital social workers, substance abuse and addiction counselors, gerontological social workers, and social justice advocates.
Those seeking even more advanced positions in the field may benefit from enrolling in doctorate or PhD programs. These degrees generally consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students four to seven years to complete. This level of education is most appropriate when preparing for positions in research, higher education instruction, or public policy advocacy.
Additionally, social work professionals can pursue certifications relevant to their jobs. These credentials demonstrate proficiency and expertise in specific areas of the field. Obtaining certifications is, however, different than securing licensure. All states require clinical social workers to be licensed. Some states also require non-clinical social workers to have a license or specific credential. Licensure requires a master’s degree, as well as a supervised clinical experience after graduation. In some cases, it’s also necessary to pass clinical examinations. Regulations vary by state, making it essential to carefully review the information provided by local licensing boards.
A degree in in social work is generally considered a good investment for those who want to enter and/or advance in the career field. As mentioned above, every state requires licensure for professionals in clinical settings, which can only be achieved by earning a master’s degree. Those interested in this type of work will absolutely need to pursue higher education.
While it’s possible to obtain entry-level employment and then work your way up, employers will still expect you to meet state requirements and minimum hiring standards. Obtaining the highest paying social work jobs usually necessitates extensive education and professional experience.
In some cases, it may also be necessary to relocate after graduation. This is an important factor to keep in mind, as some states pay higher wages to social workers than others. Additionally, job density in your area may impact your number of opportunities available. Considering these elements prior to selecting your college or university is encouraged.
Overall, the outlook for social work professionals is promising. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment for this occupation is projected to grow by 9% from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than the national average for all professions and will result in about 74,700 new job openings nationwide. Additionally, employment for counselors and other community and social service specialists is expected to increase by 12% over the same period.
It's important to realize that projected employment of social workers varies by occupation, however. Some professions are likely to do better than others. For example, growth for child, family, and school social workers is only 8%, while employment for healthcare social workers is expected to increase by 11%. As a result, prospective professionals should research their specific area of interest for more accurate projections.
The first step to preparing for a social work career is typically identifying the type of occupation you are most interested in. As mentioned, there are many different professional opportunities available in this field, each with their own unique education standards and hiring expectations. It’s important to consider and research the options carefully. Determining your ultimate goals will make it easier to chart a viable pathway to success. Not only does this ensure you select the right type of higher education, but it will also help when selecting major and minor areas of study, elective courses, internships positions, extracurricular activities, and/or professional certifications.
States also have varying certification and licensure requirements for social work positions and other related occupations. Becoming familiar with these regulations and any corresponding application processes is imperative. Once you identify your preferred profession and research its specific requirements, you should have a much better idea of how to obtain a job.
There ae many social work professions that pay well. As mentioned above, however, salary potential can vary quite significantly across the field.
The following are some of the top-income careers available:
Corporate social responsibility managers oversee programs intended to support corporate strategies that represent and promote concepts of communal good will. They often create and plan various outreach endeavors meant to engage, support, and partner with the community, as well as produce positive impacts on local issues.
Professors of social work design and administer academic curriculums intended to foster student learning relevant to the field. They strive to develop engaging coursework, stimulate class discourse, and promote engagement among those enrolled. These professionals also maintain class records and assess student work. In some cases, they may provide tutoring academic counseling, as well.
Health services administrators are employed by medical facilities to perform various day-to-day administrative tasks. They are often responsible for managing budgeting and billing, as well as ordering medical supplies and ensuring equipment is properly maintained. These professionals also oversee staff members, providing training to new employees and performing performance evaluations. Additionally, health services administrators must verify compliance with all health industry regulations.
Veteran affairs social workers work in numerous settings to assist military veterans with various issues. They play an integral role in the referral process, as well as in pulling treatment plans together. These professionals are also likely to work with community partners, veterans’ groups, and other organizations to help strengthen the services offered.
Postsecondary teachers in social work teach courses at colleges and universities, as well as trade and vocational schools. They are responsible for creating comprehensive and engaging lesson plans relevant to social work. While providing instruction is common, these professionals may also conduct research in the field.
Prison social workers are typically employed by county, state, and federal correctional facilities, as well as juvenile detention centers. They often interact directly with prisoners, providing counseling to address mental health and substance abuse issues. These professionals also help inmates prepare for living successful lives in society.
Medical and health services managers are generally responsible for overseeing either entire facilities or portions of them. These professionals supervise groups of medical personnel and ensure the quality of the services offered. They are also often tasked with various clerical duties including accounting, budgeting, and generating reports.
Executive directors of non-profit organizations hold the highest position within the organization and are generally responsible for directing the overall vision as established by a board of directors. They are often tasked with ensuring the success of community outreach programs, day-to-day policies, investments, fundraising, marketing, and staff management.
Directors of corporate social responsibility oversee and plan outreach programs intended to engage, support, and partner with the community. They are responsible for producing a positive impact that addresses local issues. These professionals also direct community relations strategies and programs to promote their organization’s brand as socially responsible.
Perinatal social workers provide services and support to women and families navigating medical challenges and processing complex information during pregnancies, after birth, and before babies turn one years old. These professionals provide planning assistance, as well as help nurture hope during the transition into parenthood.
Directors of development of non-profit organizations ensure adequate funding is obtained in order to function properly. They often create and implement fundraising plans, as well as seeking out investors, charitable events, marketing opportunities, and grants. These professionals typically report on their plans and progress to senior leadership and/or the organization’s board of directors.
Housing and community development directors oversee various activities associated with assigned apartment complexes, housing developments, and college campuses. These professionals often coordinate various development operations, as well as managing code enforcement and industrial development.
Public policy analysts assess changes to policies and propose adjustments in order to save resources. They often conduct research to determine how implementation in locations with similar characteristics was conducted and what impact it had. These professionals spend a lot of time explaining policies and conducting debates.
Grants administrators are in charge of appropriating and allocating grant funding and handling all associated paperwork. They are typically responsible for reviewing budgets, conducting background checks, gathering relevant information, and providing guidance to applicants. They may also ensure grant guidelines are met.
Employee assistance program counselors work for companies and organizations to improve the overall emotional health of employees. These professionals help workers and their families deal with various issues and stressful situations and their goal is typically to help improve employee focus and work-related tasks.
Social policy analysts are responsible for raising public awareness of various social issues such as healthcare access, environmental protection efforts, and crime prevention. They work to change, adjust, or implement new policies, regulations, and laws. They may work for government or non-government organizations.
Licensed clinical social workers are mental healthcare professionals who provide psychological counseling and therapy, as well as assistance with various practical aspects associated with mental conditions. They utilize various techniques to help patients remove obstacles inhibiting overall quality of life.
Clinical coordinators organize and oversee various administrative aspects for healthcare facilities. These professionals are often responsible for planning budgets, hiring new personnel, coordinating staff trainings, scheduling, managing supplies inventories, and creating/implementing departmental strategies. They also ensure compliance with legal and accreditation standards.
Program evaluators are hired to assess overall efficiency and usefulness for companies and organizations. After performing quality assessments, they are expected to interpret findings and suggest appropriate improvements and/or changes. These professionals may also provide insight prior to new program launches.
Geriatric social workers provide assistance to elderly with various care and welfare needs. These professionals help ensure their clients have productive and satisfying lives as they age. This often entails making decisions regarding transportation and health services, as well as offering support during transitions.
Individuals with an education and background in social work have the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue many different community and social service professions. Some jobs are closely related to social work, while others are only tangentially connected to the field.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in these occupations is expected to grow 10 from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than average and is likely to account for about 294,600 new jobs nationwide. Overall, approximately 318,400 openings are anticipated each year due to growth and replacement needs.
It’s important to realize that salary prospects for these employment opportunities tend to be lower than those mentioned above. The median annual wage for this group was $48,410 in May 2021, as opposed to the median annual wage of $50,390 for social workers. Notably, however, both reported wages are higher than the median annual wage for all occupations in the United States, which was $45,760. Here are some career options that might make a good entry-level option for those with a new degree in social work or those looking to move over into the field.
Social and community service managers oversee social services departments in medical facilities. They are typically responsible for providing services intended to help patients through the healing process and/or improve standards of living. These professionals may also hire new staff members and coordinate their training.
Clinical social workers are responsible for delivering therapy to individual who need mental and/or emotional support. Common tasks include assessing patients for psychological disorders, making diagnoses, and formulating treatment plans. They may also coordinate other services with specialists in order to meet client needs.
Medical social workers make initial contact with new patients and complete background screening prior to testing. They often conduct interviews with patients and relatives in order to develop a complete medical history. These professionals also document each visit and report progress to other medical staff.
High school guidance counselors provide emotional support and information about college to pre-teen and/or teenage students in academic environments. They frequently assist students in developing plans for after graduation. These professionals may also work to address social or behavioral problems.
Hospice social workers provide a wide variety of palliative care services to individuals in their last stage of life. This often entails coordinating access to community service resources and helping with insurance. These professionals also work with family members, providing emotional support and resource information.
Marriage and family counselors offer counseling services to couples and families dealing with various psychological and relationship issues. They commonly provide assistance with conditions such as depression, substance abuse, infidelity, and low self-esteem. These professionals often work closely with other mental health professionals.
Vocational rehabilitation counselors provide a variety of rehabilitative services to people with disabilities in order to help them return to work. Duties vary depending on their clients, but often include evaluating client needs, implementing treatment plans, performing tests, assessing data, offering counseling, and documenting progress.
Mental health counselors treat and diagnose mental health problems and illnesses. They are primarily responsible for helping patients work through various psychological difficulties by administering curative counseling and encouraging new ways of thinking. These professionals may work with individuals or groups.
Community health advocates function as patient consultants during the healthcare process. They are available to help with insurance and treatment plans, as well as advocate for members of the community. These professionals may also promote health and nutrition, ensure the delivery of proper health care, and provide family planning services.