Everything You Should Know About Social Work Careers – Forbes Advisor

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The field of social work is broad and offers career options for all education levels. If you are interested in social work and want to make a difference in the lives of families and children, many careers in social work can allow you to do so.

This article discusses some common social work careers, including salary information and education requirements. People who are empathetic and enjoy working with others are best suited for careers in social work.

Types of Social Work Degrees

Education requirements for social work jobs range from associate to doctoral degrees depending on your chosen career path. Below are explanations of the various degree options for those who want to work in social work careers.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

A bachelor’s degree in social work provides graduates with the knowledge and skills required to work in entry-level social work roles, apply for state licenses and certifications and pursue graduate degrees, such as a master’s in social work.

For this degree, expect coursework to cover social services, human behavior, alcoholism and chemical dependence and social work research. Most curricula also require a social work practicum.

A bachelor’s degree in social work typically takes four years to complete, and many universities offer online programs.

Master’s Degree in Social Work

A master’s degree in social work brings together clinical and community-based studies to create a comprehensive program for those who already have bachelor’s degrees. This master’s degree helps students grow their leadership skills. Graduates go on to work in social work careers as case managers, researchers, clinicians and administrators.

In this degree, coursework may cover social welfare history and policy, diversity and social justice, human behavior and social work practice. Learners typically must complete a field practicum as well.

A master’s degree in social work usually takes two years to earn, and many universities offer online programs.

Doctorate in Social Work

A doctorate in social work is an advanced practice doctorate designed for agency and community leaders and entrepreneurs. This degree helps seasoned professionals broaden their knowledge as scholars, innovators and leaders. Doctoral programs typically require learners to have a master’s degree and several years of post-master’s work experience.

This degree explores leading public discourse, executive leadership, research and financial management for social change. Doctoral students must complete a capstone project, too.

A doctorate in social work typically takes at least two years to earn. Many universities offer online programs.

Careers Paths in Social Work

Social and Human Service Assistants

Median Annual Salary: $37,610 as of 2021

Education Needed: Social and human service assistants need at least a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Individuals entering this field typically have certificates or associate degrees in related subjects, which include human services, social or behavioral science and gerontology.

Career Overview: Social and human service assistants play an important support role for families. Job responsibilities may include:

  • Working with social workers to help connect clients with community services or other benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid and daily personal care assistance programs
  • Assisting clients with any paperwork needed to apply for these services
  • Providing assistance to social workers or other care professionals to assess clients’ needs and help create treatment plans
  • Maintaining ongoing relationships with clients to monitor the quality of and need for continued services

Health Education Specialists

Median Annual Salary: $48,860 as of 2021

Education Needed: Health education specialists should hold a bachelor’s degree in health education, social science or a related field. Employers may require certification. In some cases, candidates may need a master’s or doctoral degree.

Career Overview: Health education specialists work to improve clients’ well-being by teaching principles and behaviors that contribute to wellness. Job responsibilities may include:

  • Assessing clients’ health needs
  • Evaluating and creating educational programs to teach people about wellness and how to manage specific medical conditions
  • Providing training programs for healthcare professionals
  • Helping people locate the specific health services or information they need to support their wellness goals
  • Gathering and analyzing data to aid in creating new programs and services and evaluating existing ones

Social and Community Service Managers

Median Annual Salary: $74,000 as of 2021

Education Needed: Social and community service managers should have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. Some positions may require a master’s degree.

Career Overview: Social and community service managers work with community organizations to help promote public wellbeing. Job responsibilities may include:

  • Collaborating with community members and organizations to identify, evaluate and oversee community programs or services
  • Providing recommendations for improving programs and services
  • Coordinating outreach efforts to increase awareness of community programs and services
  • Writing proposals to secure funding for programs and social services

Social Worker

Median Annual Salary: $50,390 as of 2021

Education Needed: Social workers typically have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker involves additional training. Each state has its own licensing requirements.

Career Overview: Social workers work in a variety of settings to assist people in preventing and coping with mental, behavioral and emotional challenges. Licensed clinical social workers also diagnose and treat these conditions. Job responsibilities may include:

  • Determining people’s specific needs and challenges and helping them address these issues
  • Identifying and referring clients to community resources like food stamps, healthcare and childcare
  • Responding to crises, such as mental health emergencies or child abuse incidents
  • Maintaining supportive relationships with clients to monitor their situations and ensure improvement
  • Managing case files, records and other necessary paperwork related to clients’ cases

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Average Annual Salary: Around $60,000 as of June 2022

Education Needed: LCSWs must hold a graduate degree. Just as the job title states, LCSWs must earn license as well.

Career Overview: Licensed clinical social workers and social workers have similar responsibilities. LCSWs also help clients manage mental health challenges through psychological counseling and therapy. Job responsibilities may include:

  • Working with clients to address and manage chronic mental health conditions to make sure they can meet their basic needs.
  • Leading clients through specific types of therapy in individual or group settings
  • Assessing clients’ medical conditions and creating treatment plans to address them

Child, Family or School Social Worker

Average Annual Salary: Around $43,000 as of June 2022

Education Needed: Child, family and school social workers should hold at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology or another counseling-related field. These social workers typically need state certification as well.

Career Overview: Child, family and school social workers provide support to families and children who may be considered at risk. They may work with clients in their homes, at schools or in other environments. Job responsibilities include:

  • Identifying and advocating for at-risk children while engaging with families, schools and other institutions
  • Assessing health and psychological risks in children’s homes or school environments
  • Working with teachers and counselors to determine children’s needs
  • Placing children with foster families or in group homes, if necessary, to ensure their safety and well-being
  • Performing home assessments and background interviews as part of the adoption approval process for potential adoptive parents
  • Handling emergencies on evenings or weekends

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Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work

What degree do I need to be a social worker?

A bachelor’s degree in social work qualifies graduates for some job opportunities in the field. A master’s degree qualifies professionals to diagnose and treat conditions and provide individual and group therapy. A master’s degree equips you with the education you need to pursue a career in social work.

How much do social workers get paid?

Pay rates for social work vary greatly depending on the field and specific job responsibilities. The median annual salary for social workers in the United States was $50,390 as of 2021.

What field of social work pays the most?

The highest-paying careers in social work are in local government, education and hospitals. The median annual salary for social workers in local government was $61,190 as of 2021.


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