A social work career involves working with people to solve problems in their everyday lives. Social workers can work in a variety of different settings to assist those who need the help by improving their quality of life and overall well-being. Some available career paths for social workers include:
Education is an important part of becoming a professional in the social work field. It helps individuals identify their areas of interest and gain knowledge rooted in theory and practice. While getting a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is a solid first step toward a career in social work, earning your Master’s of social work degree (MSW) is required for many licensed social work positions.
After obtaining your MSW, you are prepared to sit for the Association of Social Work Board’s (ASWB) Social work Licensing examination in your state.
For anyone pursuing a career in social work, a bachelor’s degree is usually required.
A BSW is a good starting point for graduates to obtain entry-level positions in social work, however, a BSW is not required. Bachelor’s degrees in related fields such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and more will suffice.
2. Earn Your Master’s Degree in Social Work
Master’s degrees accredited by the Council on Social Work (CSWE) are typically required to pursue a career in the field of social work. You must have your master’s in social work (MSW) in order to become a licensed social worker (LSW) in most states.
Today, there are many programs available to get your MSW on-campus or online.
3. Complete Social Work Internship Hours
Many master’s in social work (MSW) programs require that students complete internship hours. This allows for students to gain hand-on experience and apply their learned skills to real situations.
Whether you take an online program or an on-campus program, field work must be completed in-person. Around 900 hours of internship work is required before completing the MSW program.
4. Take the ASWB Exam
Taking the ASWB is mandatory for licensure. You can register for the ASWB Licensing Exam after your state approves your request. There are online practice tests with information on what to expect on the exam that may help you prepare. You can then register for a master of social work license.
5. Pursue Social Work Licensure in Your State
After obtaining a master’s in social work (MSW), students can pursue a license to become a licensed social worker (LSW) and the term for this type of licensure can vary from state to state. Once you obtain your LSW, you will typically have to work under the supervision of a licensed social worker. This opens the door for graduates to select what area of social work they’d like to go into.
Some options include working in school settings, medical settings, community settings and more.
6. Advance Your Career as a Social Worker
If you want to advance your career, you can pursue a clinical license (LCSW). In order to do so, most states require LSWs to complete 3,000 hours of direct clinical work under the supervision of a licensed social worker. After this is completed, you can register for the advanced clinical examination with ASWB. Some states may require additional steps to be completed.
By obtaining a LCSW, you can now practice independently and work more closely with clients in a therapeutic setting.
What Does a Social Worker Do?
Social workers help those who need assistance in coping and dealing with challenges in their everyday lives. This can include helping different people such as: vulnerable children and families, communities, those dealing with mental health emergencies, child abuse, illnesses and more.
The roles that social workers have can vary greatly depending on the situation. Social workers may work one-on-one to assist the needs of clients. This can range from providing psychotherapy and responding to crisis situations, to doing research, providing information/resources and advocating. This is all to ensure that their clients are living and functioning to the best of their abilities.
While roles of social workers vary, their work environments can as well. Many social workers work in offices, but will often visit their clients at schools, hospitals, clinics, community centers and homes.
Where Are Social Workers Employed?
The largest employers of social workers as of 2018 were: individual and family services, local and state government, healthcare services and hospitals, according to the BLS. Between now and 2028, the employment of social workers is expected to grow 11%, as seen in 2018 BLS data.
The range of career opportunities and employers in social work are vast and broad. In 2018, social workers held more than 700,000 jobs alone. These occupations were largely located in the field of children, family and school social work.
Why Pursue a Career in Social Work?
A career in social work is suitable for those with strong communication skills who are willing to solve problems in order to find a healthy solution for their clients.
Social work is a rewarding job that holds a special place in our society. Social work addresses problems such as mental illnesses, addiction, abuse and more so that they can work with clients to bring them a better life.
Social workers insist on finding solutions to problems affecting people’s daily life in order to improve their way of living, and as a result, make the world a better place.
Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.
Common Social Work Careers
There are a variety of career paths in social work. It is important to keep in mind that most of these career paths require a master's in social work (MSW).
Child and Family Social Workers
Child, family, and school social workers help protect children and assist families who need help meeting their basic needs. This may include helping families find housing or sort out applying for services like childcare and benefits (i.e. food stamps).
Social workers may also step in if children are in danger of abuse or neglect in their homes.
Community Social Workers
Community social workers help communities overcome challenges in order to help them change for the better. Social workers in this field use research and advocacy to provide information to residents so they can improve their way of living and develop their environment.
This may include addressing economic, health, social and school concerns to strengthen the community and its people.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers
Licensed clinical social workers are those who have their master’s in social work (MSW). They are licensed in their state to provide treatment like mental therapy by working directly with their clients. Licensed clinical social workers must adhere to the high standards and ethics of social work. They have the ability to diagnose mental illness in their clients as well.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers treat individuals who are struggling with mental, emotional and substance abuse problems. Social workers in this field may work with clients to assist with therapy, education, management and prevention.
Work environments in this field of social work include substance abuse facilities, hospitals, care centers and more.
Military Social Workers
As a way to cope with psychological and emotional disorders, veterans and active-duty service members turn to military social workers.
Social workers will provide counseling either individually or with the family of those who serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Military social workers commonly treat disorders such as anxiety, depression and PTSD.
School Social Workers
School social workers help improve students’ academic performance and development. They will work with the students, their parents and their teachers in order to come up with the best plan to succeed in their academic environment.
Social Work Administrators, Researchers, Planners, and Policymakers
Social work administrators have many different duties that include planning, researching and creating programs to provide assistance to groups and individuals.
Social workers in this field tend to be active in communities with needs that must be met. An example might include a community with a large group of people suffering from drug or substance abuse.
Social Work Licensure
Social work licensure is crucial in ensuring that you will be assisting others with the highest quality of standards within the field. In social work, you can receive your bachelor’s and master’s degrees, however, a master’s degree may be required for certain social work career paths. A master's in social work (MSW) also allows you to move forward and get your clinical license.
There are some skills that social workers expect to have strengths in. Communication skills are important as social workers must speak and listen to their clients to get an idea of their needs. Social workers will work with different types of people in a range of situations, therefore, they must be willing to listen and identify their problems.
Being a social worker requires patience and empathy as many clients are in tough situations. With a patient demeanor, they can produce a smooth relationship with their clients in order to move forward and provide the help they need.
Social workers, aside from healthcare, child, family, school and mental health and substance abuse social workers can expect to make around $63,000. At most, the highest 10% of social workers earned more than $81,000 and the lowest 10% earned less than $30,750.
Salaries may differ depending on the type of social work field you are in as well as how often or how little you work. Many social workers tend to work full time and even be on call.
Social Work Job Outlook
As the demand for health care increases, social work employment will continue to increase as well depending on the niche. The employment of social work in general is expected to grow 11% between now and 2028, according to 2018 BLS data.