Social Work Careers & Degrees
Every society has to deal with challenges that its people face—from poverty to substance abuse to domestic violence. Social workers are often on the front lines of helping the less fortunate and promoting a more equitable society, which makes social work a noble and deeply rewarding profession for people with an innate sense of compassion and justice.
Social workers are closely involved in people's welfare, striving to improve people's lives. In a social work career, you will be involved in observing people's lives and helping create policies that will bring about a positive change in society.
According to The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), to practice as a social worker you will need a master degree in social work from a school or university certified by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). All states require licensing or certification, so you'll also need to register with the state regulatory board, either directly or through the American Association of State Social Work Boards, after you obtain your master degree in social work.
Social workers usually complete their bachelors in social work (BA, BS or BSW) before going on to complete a graduate program resulting in a master degree in social work (MA, MS or MSW).
Master Degree in Social Work
A master degree in social work will place you in a position of significant responsibility. A master or a PhD degree in social work will open up opportunities for graduates to work as case managers, senior social workers, counselors and more.
While a social worker may find reasonable employment with a BSW degree, an MSW offers far more opportunity since it is the preferred degree for most employers of social workers.
There are currently over 130 accredited MSW degree programs. Each of these programs involves around two years of study with 900 hours of monitored field experience.
Salary and Earnings
Recent surveys indicate that social work salaries are not as high as other professions and have yet to keep pace with inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' estimates, here are some average salaries for social workers in different fields:
- Medical and public health social workers: $43,040
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers: $35,410
- Social workers at the local government: $46,330
- Social workers in the state government: $45,070
- Social workers offering individual and family services: $35,150
Job Outlook in Social Work
A social work bachelor degree is the minimum requirement to qualify for a job as a social worker; however, a major in psychology, sociology and related fields may meet requirements for some jobs, especially in small community agencies. These degrees will prepare you for entry-level work, while a master degree in social work leads to more advanced clinical practice. A DSW (Doctor of Social Work) or PhD is effective for conducting research or teaching this subject at the university level.
As a social worker, you will have job opportunities in a wide variety of settings, such as:
- Public offices
- Private businesses
- Schools and universities
- Health care establishments
- Independent practices
- Law departments
- Police forces
- Courts of law
Between 2006 and 2016, jobs for all social workers are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. The competition for social work jobs will likely be stronger in cities as opposed to rural areas.
Taking the First Step
If you have a calling to make positive changes in the lives of people around you, getting a master degree in social work is a good first step. Find schools offering social work degrees, and choose the one that's right for you.