Career Guide

Social Work Career Guide – Jobs, Salary, and Degree Information

Written by College Cliffs Team At, our team, comprising seasoned educators and counselors, is committed to supporting students on their journey through graduate studies. Our advisors, holding advanced degrees in diverse fields, provide tailored guidance, current program details, and pragmatic tips on navigating application procedures.

Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: March 22, 2024, Reading time: 22 minutes

Find your perfect college degree

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Social work opens doors to various professions, ranging from administrative and marketing to health and education.

Professionals enjoy the benefits of working in this growing field: the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects general employment to grow at a rate of 7% from 2022-2032, much faster than average employment estimates for other occupations.

The healthcare industry is expected to grow steadily, further increasing the demand for qualified clinical social workers in schools, hospitals, government departments, nursing care facilities, and outpatient services.

Only about 16% of graduates surveyed by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) were unable to find a job in their chosen field. Don’t let this detail dishearten you; a variety of opportunities are available to Social Work graduates expected to have had extensive training and education!

Here’s everything you need to know about Social Work

What do Social Workers do?

Individuals, families, and communities are assisted by social workers when they encounter challenging or stressful situations.

These professionals are care providers and advocates of children with behavioral problems, terminally ill patients, or families faced with displacement. You can expect a wide variety of work environments, such as schools, hospitals, and military establishments.

Although both careers have similarities, social workers and counselors are very different. A counselor may deal with particular issues, such as depression or alcoholism, while a social worker provides a more extensive client base. Individual counseling is also available from social workers. 

Researching social problems at a macro level, social workers study individual and community problems by deciphering the root causes and effects of those problems. The programs and initiatives they create are geared towards addressing these issues at community, state, and national levels.

Macro social workers commonly work for advocacy groups, government departments and institutions that create human service programs, and social justice and research institutions.

What are the skills required for a career in Social Work?

Being a social worker is a dynamic and challenging vocation that requires skills and qualities in many different areas. Success in social work necessitates that social workers continually develop these skills throughout their careers, whether they are inherent or acquired. These skills are essential for all social workers, even though the list is not exhaustive.

  1. Communication Skills 

Being able to communicate verbally or non-verbally is essential for social workers. Excellent communication skills are crucial for social workers in a wide range of situations. Advocating for clients is a social worker’s role – the worker must understand the client’s needs to do this – so that advocates can do their job effectively.

Communication appropriately with clients, regardless of an individual’s cultural background, skill level in literacy, and the basis of their literacy background, means not only being mindful of body language and other non-verbal cues but also solving problems effectively and efficiently. 

  1. Critical Thinking

Criticism involves analyzing evidence congregated from unprejudiced surveillance and interaction. By observing each case through studying behavioral patterns, social workers can gather objective information about each client.

Making informed decisions, identifying the best sources, and planning the right strategy and approach to help clients can be achieved when social workers are critical thinkers and without prejudice.

  1. Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to relate to and understand another individual’s opinions and experiences. It is perceived, understood, experienced, and responded to as an individual’s emotional state and ideas by NASW.

  1. Cultural Competence

Social workers must relate to clients from different cultural backgrounds and be respectful of their beliefs and practices. Cultural knowledge and sensitivity must be exhibited by social workers when working with clients.

  1. Patience

During their work, social workers meet a wide range of individuals and circumstances. In addition to having patience, it is crucial to understand various cases’ complexities and have forgiving clients.

Therefore, social workers are better equipped to comprehend the client’s predicament and avoid making swift judgments and causing disappointment that can result in costly and poor outcomes.

How do I become a Social Worker?

Committing to completing specific educational and training requirements is essential when deciding to convert into a social worker. In most states, you must hold a Master’s in social work degree to be licensed as a social worker. 

Follow these steps in becoming a social worker:

Complete Education Requirements

You will still pursue social work as a graduate student if you decide to be a social worker, but your undergraduate degree is not in social work. Traditional standing programs are open to students without a BSW who wish to earn an MSW degree.

A full-time student in a conventional standing program usually finishes the program in two years. The Council on Social Work Education accredits both BSW and MSW programs.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work 

Earning a Bachelor of Social Work helps you carve out a stable career. You are eligible for advanced standing through a BSW. Since students already understand the basics and foundational social work principles from their undergraduate classes, such programs take less time to finish than traditional MSW programs.

A bachelor’s degree in social work is a good starting point if you don’t want to pursue an MSW. The BSW may help you get an entry-level position in schools, non-profits, or government organizations. Students are typically required to complete four years of social work studies to obtain their bachelor’s degree.

Furthermore, approved curricula necessitate 400 hours of supervised fieldwork. Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Online is readily available and offered by many colleges and universities these days.

This field requires students with problem-solving and analytical abilities, active listening skills, and effective written and verbal communication. Social work programs online can help you develop these skills.

Master’s Degree in Social Work

Licensure as a social worker requires a master’s degree in social work (MSW). There are plenty of online and campus-based MSW programs available. During your internship experience, you may soon experience some of your most valuable experiences that you can apply in the real corporate world.

Programs Accredited by CSWE – Whether you’re enrolled in an MSW program or a BSW program, you’ll want to affirm that CSWE recognizes the program you pick. Accredited programs follow best practices in the provision of social work education, so they are sure to meet state standards for education in the field.

Furthermore, it could ensure that programs offer a curriculum that consists of core competencies in social work, which will serve students well after graduation.

Complete Internship Requirements

It is the time when students have the opportunity to employ what they have studied in their classes to their work with communities in an unsupervised environment. This type of fieldwork is sometimes referred to as internships or practicums.

A social worker’s live observations and experience in the field can be of great use to you. Ensure you understand how field assignments work and that you can speak to your mentor or advisor about your internship plans and goals.

The experience may be more enjoyable and worthwhile if the placement site is a good fit. You shouldn’t be afraid of advocating on your behalf if something isn’t going smoothly.

Working with the populations you thought you had no interest in could open your eyes. Get yourself exposed to newer environments and build a more varied skill set to optimize your growth and development!

Apply for State Social Work Licensure

It is a great way to improve your skills and improve your credibility by obtaining social work licensure. A license is not required for all social work job positions, but somewhere, you’ll be working directly with clients frequently.

You may find it helpful if your place of employment supports your licensure submission procedure in some way, whether in monetary ways or by providing you with the practice expertise and medical oversight you require.

A requirement for obtaining a license is acquiring direct service hours under a licensed social worker’s supervision. Passing the exams for licensure is the other essential part.

States have different requirements for licensure. In some states, several different licensing panels require licensure, and in others, a single license is required. For more detailed information, see the official website of the state of licensure you prefer!

Social workers can be licensed as Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) or Licensed Master Social Workers (LMSW). LCSWs and LMSWs differ in the following ways.

Clinical Social Work Licensure – Those who already provide clinical support, especially in psychoanalysis, or want to start feeding them may pursue the clinical social work license. A social worker licensed as a social worker through this licensure will manage a private practice independently if they choose to.

Master Social Work Licensure – These licenses are typically gained if you want to work with patients in a clinical capacity but do not want to become a licensed therapist. Macro-level practitioners may hold this licensure. You may not have a private practice under this licensure.

Choose a Social Work Career

Getting involved in social work can take you into the community in a variety of ways. Providing critical support, resources, and advocacy to those in need, social workers constitute an essential element of almost every social institution.

What Can Graduates Do with a Social Work Degree?

Consider Taking Up Continuing Learning Programs

According to the National Association of Social Workers, a social worker should complete 48 hours of continuing education before each licensing renewal period. There is, however, a difference in continuing education requirements depending on the kind of licensure. A social worker can pursue different continuing education types:

Formally identified learning opportunities: Staff improvement activities, seminars, classes, practice-oriented workshops, distance education, and other coaching offered through certified social employment programs. Seminars and conventions are all examples of professional learning experiences.

Individual Activities: Write documents, present publications or research findings, read professional journals and books, prepare for consultation assignments, teach or train, and study, videos, and research for own learning advantages.

Career Guide Social Work - 3

What are the differences between online and traditional Social Work degrees?

The most crucial distinction between online degrees and traditional on-campus degrees is that you must attend a college accredited by your state social work board or meet their accreditation standards to become licensed as a social worker.

You may not be able to apply or enroll for graduate study if the college you attend is not accepted or accredited by your state board.

Your first stop should be the licensing board’s website in your state. If you have difficulty finding a site for your condition, try entering the name of your state and the words “social work licensing board.” If you still can’t find your state, try our complete social work licensing board website, which provides a list of all licensing boards by state.

A university’s MSW program differs from those delivered online. Generally speaking, an online program is just as rigorous as its on-campus counterpart, but the means of delivery are different. Studies have shown that online programs are more flexible because they allow students to get an education regardless of location.

What concentrations of Social Work should I consider?

According to the Council on Social Work Education’s Statistics on Social Work Education in the U.S., the following are some of the standard concentrations for master in social work programs:

  1. Clinical or Direct Practice Social Work (Micro)

This concentration prepares students for identifying, assessing, and treating mental and psychological difficulties that people face. Clinical social work offers a person-in-environment perspective as a means of addressing any psychological, emotional, or behavioral problems impacting an individual inside their social circles, their family life, and their professional lives.

  1. Advanced Generalist

A clinical concentration in Social Work will prepare students for a clinical practice environment while also introducing them to community-focused social work approaches. Advanced generalist curricula may be beneficial to students who want to be trained in micro and macro social work.

However, students should be aware that advanced generalist programs do not generally focus as profoundly on specific areas as specific concentrations, which focus solely on particular social work practices.

Advanced generalist concentrations are also typically more focused on clinical social work methods than strategies for enormous-scale change, although they differ in content and courses. To determine which advanced generalist program best meets their academic and career goals, students should research the various accredited programs available.

  1. Community Development Policy (Macro)

Students with postgraduate degrees in community development, management/administrative management, and social policy are generally trained to understand the dynamics of social problems at the local, state, and national levels. Various strategies have been developed to address these issues.

Concentrations designed for macro-level students aim to prepare MOSWs for collective action, including community mobilization, education, political advocacy, and service learning. MSW students who focus on one of these macro-level fields can locate employment in civic and human service organizations, community centers, and advocacy groups.

How can I finance my Social Work education?

Many options are available to help you pay for your education, especially with scholarships, grants, and loans. Make sure to schedule time in your schedule to complete each opportunity’s requirements and application steps. As you progress along your experiential learning journey, review the various funding options below.


Awards of scholarship money can be offered for a variety of reasons. Usually, scholars can apply for scholarships based on their academics or other qualifications since they are merit-based. The scholarships may be awarded by federal, state, or private government and academic institutions. 

Through their studies, scholars who work for equality and social justice are awarded the Carl A. Scott Memorial Fund and the Social Work Health Care Leadership scholarship. Find information about thousands of scholarships at Scholarship Search database, too. 


Studying and developing your professional goals while focusing on a fellowship is a perfect combination. The allowance provided by these programs is meant to assist with personal expenses during your studies. Consider the fellowships that CSWE offers that serve racial/ethnic minorities. Other fellowship opportunities can be found on the National Association of Social Workers Foundation’s website.


With loans, you can borrow money, but you have to pay them back with interest. Private institutions such as banks or financial institutions provide student loans, as does the federal government. Consider all aspects of the loan carefully, such as the repayment options and interest rates, to ensure you are choosing the loan that’s best for you. 

Social Work Career Outlook 

In a wide-ranging occupation with career possibilities in many different sectors, social workers help individuals and groups overcome everyday problems.

Commonly, licensed social workers work to assess clients’ needs, develop improvement plans, refer clients to resources in their communities, respond to crises, and advocate for human rights.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some details regarding the job outlook for every significant social work specialty.

Social Workers In Health Care

A medical social worker is predicted to experience the most promising job prospects within the field of social work. This is to be expected in the healthcare industry, where business is booming.

Job opportunities will be plentiful for all medical social workers with training to help patients adjust to serious health issues. However, those focusing their careers on geriatrics will face the most significant growth.

With the baby boomer population growing older, medical social workers’ demand will continue to grow, especially in assisting the elderly and their families in finding proper healthcare.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Social Workers

It is not a surprise that social workers specializing in mental health and substance abuse will have a favorable employment outlook in the decade ahead as the prevalence of mental health disorders and drug addiction increases.

There will be a soaring demand for social workers in these settings as more lawbreakers enroll in mental illness treatments or substance abuse disorders instead of going to jail.

Youth, Family, and School Social Workers

As more and more youth and their families seek social services, an increase in employment opportunities is anticipated in child, family, and school social work. Child, family, and school social workers alone will create numerous new jobs within the next two decades.

Families that need social workers will be in high demand to strengthen parental styles, prevent the occurrence of child abuse or neglect, and resolve other marital issues.

There will be a greater need for school social workers as student enrollment continues to grow, but funding from state or local sources may limit school social workers’ conditions in K-12 settings.

How can I advance in my Social Work career?

Be the best at your job.

Being a qualified social worker entails adhering to the Social Work Reform Board’s Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), which highlights nine essential competencies. It’s a necessary framework for social workers to follow, as well as a great outline of the skills you’ll need to hone while working in social services.

Developing these skills will allow you to progress up the career ladder from newly qualified social workers to advanced and strategic roles.

Strategic social workers engage in an advanced practice that tactically optimizes the service system — this frequently includes strategic leadership or management. Because strategic roles necessitate the highest levels of expertise, it is beneficial to begin practicing and documenting your management and leadership abilities as soon as possible.

Continue your training.

It is critical that you access additional learning and development opportunities while working as a social worker. This ensures that you will have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide quality care and support to those who rely on you.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is required for registration with the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC), but it is also highly beneficial to your career. Take advantage of this opportunity to specialize your knowledge and technical skills, which will all help to improve your professional performance.

CPD consists of a mix of formal and informal activities, such as attending lectures and courses and doing independent reading. Take advantage of this training to help you grow, improve self-reflection, and overcome any skills gaps you may have.

You also need to create a proven portfolio of your best social work practices by recording your CPD training required for auditing purposes.

Branch into a new sector.

It is not easy to find a career that compares to social work in terms of opportunities, job security, and personal fulfillment. You shape the dynamics of where you work and with whom you collaborate. Working in social work gives you the option of working behind the scenes or directly with the vulnerable people you will be assisting.

Social work offers a wide range of roles in both statutory and non-statutory settings when it comes to variety. There are numerous job opportunities available, including fostering and adoption, mental health, and educational welfare.

The NHS, private sector, social services, and not-for-profit organizations are the most common employers. Whatever your personality and interests are, there is a rewarding job in social work for you.

If you feel stuck in your current position, consider moving into a new industry with limitless opportunities for advancement.


As you gain experience, more career opportunities will open up as you take on roles that require more responsibility and expertise. You will have three general branches to choose from in the advanced and strategic social work sectors: you can specialize as an educator, a practitioner, or a manager.

Practitioners provide supervision, leadership, and expertise to other professionals. Principal social worker and consultant social worker are two examples of roles.

Educators contribute to their chosen field by facilitating the learning and development of other professionals and by sharing their knowledge, skills, and practices. Examples of roles include Senior University Educator and Strategic Learning and Development Consultant.

Managers provide high-performing and effective service while leading, motivating, and managing teams to an excellent standard. Social Services Director and Strategic Consultant are two examples of job titles.

After gaining significant experience in the field, some social workers work independently by establishing their businesses to contract for work.

What are the challenges of a career in Social Work?

A career in Social Work is rewarding, no doubt; however, it does not come without some serious challenges, such as:

It is very important to manage proper self-care, and it is important for social workers to be mindful of their mental and emotional health.

Top 5 Social Work Careers

Medical Social Worker

Medical Social Worker Salary: $62,760

Healthcare social workers help patients and their families cope with mental, emotional, family, and financial stress associated with their medical condition and ill family members. Medical social workers may find this field stressful and demanding due to the types of obstacles confronted and the fast-paced atmosphere in medical situations.

However, the relationships medical social workers build with patients, families, and the medical team and their sense of being able to help individuals are among the reasons they maintain their positions in the medical social work field.

Social Policy Analyst

Social Policy Analyst Salary: $73,000

An analyst of social policy is primarily responsible for analyzing social problems and developing policies to solve them. A policy analyst is involved in analyzing policy at one or more of the four stages of policy development. To gather data, social policy analysts use existing information or generate new data through research. Finally, analysts of social policy discover the underlying factors of a problem or determine how well the existing policy works and provide concrete recommendations. 

Regardless of whether or not a new policy worked, social policy analysts analyze the results of that policy to discern whether or not it was worth it. Last but not least, analysts promote their findings through communicated approaches like media releases.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental Health Counselor Salary: $49,710

Mental health counselors directly assist patients with managing mental illnesses or coping with daily life pressures and challenging experiences. Work is done either independently or within treatment programs. Mental health counseling and treatment will continue to gain popularity as more people seek help.

Mental health counselors are the only health professionals who work specifically with clients suffering from perceptive, behavioral, or emotional difficulties. Counselors can help people with mental health problems and improve their mental well-being by working with individuals, families, and groups.

Marriage And Family Therapist

Marriage And Family Therapist Salary: $56,570

Family and marriage counselors work with individuals, couples, and families. They examine how the client’s family dynamics affect their mental health. Their focus is on the relationships that clients have with one another, not the clients themselves. The techniques and tools used by marriage and family therapists are diverse.

One such approach is cognitive behavioral therapy, in which clients learn to identify and replace harmful and negative thoughts and mold them into positive ones. In private practice, there are numerous marriage and family therapists.

They must market their approach to attract clients and collaborate with insurance companies and clients to be paid for the services they supply.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Child, Family, And School Social Worker Salary: $56,680

This work line provides child welfare services and assistance so that children and their families can improve their social and emotional functioning and maximize their academic success. They might help children abandoned or abused by single parents, prepare adoption processes, and discover foster homes for them.

Students are challenged with teenage pregnancies, misbehavior, and truancy in schools, so social workers help them cope with such issues. Teachers may also ask them for their advice on how to deal with problematic students.

For more about a career in Social Work, watch this:

Additional Information: