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What Jobs Can You Get With a Social Work Degree?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Not Your Grandma's Idea of Social Work

Don't tell your grandma you're thinking about going into social work. She'll tell you the pay is low, the work is depressing and you'll be so overloaded with cases you'll never get to be home with your own children. Social work is a whole new, wide-open field with possibilities unheard of a generation ago. It's still a field where you can make a difference in people's lives. But today, you have many options of where and how to make your mark. Get the facts first; then tell your grandmother.

Job Description

Social workers or those with a degree in social work have many job options today. But at the core of each position is working to improve the well-being of others and helping them solve a problem. Some social workers find employment at local or state government agencies, serving as a case worker who checks up on children and families for their health and safety. Others are school counselors, helping children who have adjustment or academic problems.

Or, with a degree in social work, you might opt to become a substance abuse counselor, helping people overcome addictions; a mental health counselor, helping people cope with symptoms of their illness; or as a worker in a government department, assisting a distinct population, such as veterans with PTSD and other illnesses. Today, companies are hiring people with a social work background to promote wellness programs or to assist employees who suffer from depression or are having trouble coping during a difficult time in their lives.

Education Requirements

Nearly all jobs for social workers require at least a bachelor's degree. Many require a master's degree, and some require several years of experience beyond the master's degree. With a high school diploma or an associate's degree, you can work as an aide or assistant to a social worker. Doing so gives you the opportunity to earn a salary while you learn the more advanced aspects of the job. If you find that you like the work, you can take coursework online so it doesn't interfere with your family responsibilities.

Examples of jobs you could explore with a social work background (required degree in parentheses; median salaries* as of May 2016):

  • Government agency case worker (BSW, MSW) ‒ state gov., $44,320; local gov., $52,370
  • Child, family and school (MSW) ‒ $43,250
  • Substance abuse and mental health (BSW, MSW) $42,700
  • Clinical social worker (MSW) $53,760 ‒ $57,650
  • Health educator (BSW) ‒ $44,390
  • Private practice (MSW) $60,230
  • Veteran’s Affairs (MSW) ‒ $69,454
  • Professor of social work (Ph.D.) ‒ $84,919
  • Employee assistance program (MSW) ‒ $68,895
  • Social and human service assistants (HS diploma) ‒ $31,810

*Median salaries are the midpoint in a list, in which half earn more and half earn less.

Note that when a BSW degree is mentioned in the sample job list, it means a possibility exists that you could be hired with only a bachelor's degree. If someone with a master's degree applies for the same job, he or she normally would be the preferred candidate.

Any job that requires you to be licensed, which most social work jobs do, requires a master's degree in social work (MSW). Every clinical job in which you would be involved in diagnosis and treatment, requires the MSW plus at least two years of supervised clinical experience and passing a clinical test.

To earn the MSW, however, you don't need to have a BSW. Your bachelor's degree could be in another field, such as psychology. If your bachelor's degree is in social work, though, some schools may provide a pathway to earning your MSW more quickly.

About the Industries

Many of the jobs you can get with a social work degree are in or related to health care, so you'd work in a clinic, hospital or substance abuse center. Government jobs typically are in an office environment, though you might often be out of the office visiting individuals or families. When working for a school district, you'd travel to different schools as needed.

Years of Experience

With a MSW and a license, you've already received two years of work experience, and for two of those years, you were supervised, which is enough experience to hit the ground running no matter which career avenue you take. With a BSW, you'll need several years of experience assisting someone with a MSW to get ahead.

Job Trend Outlook

The need for social workers is expected to grow 16 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the average occupation's projected growth. As the population ages, there will be more positions in health care of all kinds. Larger companies are expected to continue their trend of having an employee on staff who can assist employees with problems and help them lead healthier lives.