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Careers in Social Work

By Rachel Schneider


The social work field includes multiple career options, depending on your social work degree and your personal career goals and interests. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for social workers to grow 11% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Many individuals choose a social work career based on the people they want to help and the work environment they prefer. Read on to explore some possible social work career paths, including some of the highest-paying social work jobs.

Table of Contents

Types of Social Workers

Social work career paths look different depending on the type of social work professionals want to conduct. In practical settings, social work features three different categories: micro, mezzo, and macro.

Micro social work is widely considered the most popular type of social work. Professionals focused on this level provide direct service to families and individuals. Mezzo social work falls right in between micro and macro levels. Social workers at this level typically work with smaller groups or institutions. Macro social work focuses on large-scale social work, honing in on careers that allow professionals to work with communities rather than individuals.

Professionals should consider the scope of practice that intrigues them most, noting the population they want to serve when determining what level of social work to pursue.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers focus on helping their clients cope with and solve problems in their daily lives. Social work jobs cover a variety of specialization areas, such as clinical, school, and healthcare social work roles. Professionals dedicate their careers to helping people handle the unique challenges in their lives.

Social workers emphasize advocacy, spending much of their careers raising awareness with, and on behalf of, their clients at local, state, and national levels. These professionals assist in a variety of situations, including terminal illness diagnoses, child abuse situations, and adoption.

Where Do Social Workers Work?

Social work careers can encompass a variety of disciplines and workplace settings. Some of the most common settings include human services-related organizations and healthcare facilities. Many social workers focus on providing their services through private practices. Some might work in schools or visit their clients' homes.

Entry-Level Careers in Social Work

Child Welfare

Child welfare specialists place children in suitable environments, supervising through home visits and ensuring children receive proper medical care and schooling. These specialists often make difficult decisions for children, including whether to remove them from their homes.

Salary: $39,377

Social and Human Service Assistant

These professionals help determine what resources and client services would best benefit their clients. They work with their clients and other professionals to derive effective treatment plans.

Salary: $33,750

Health Educator

Responsible for assessing the health needs of people and communities, these professionals create programs and materials and plan events to teach people about various health topics. They also help people better understand how to manage existing health conditions.

Salary: $46,080

Social Science Research Assistant

These professionals help social scientists with survey, laboratory, and other types of social science research. They compile their research and findings to promote quality control, data management, and laboratory analysis.

Salary: $50,420

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

These social workers aim to enhance the psychological and social functioning of children and their families. They sometimes help parents arrange adoptions and find foster homes for abused or abandoned children.

Salary: $49,760

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Social workers in this discipline focus on evaluating and treating individuals who struggle with emotional, mental, or substance abuse issues. They conduct both individual and group therapy.

Salary: $49,630

Medical Social Worker

These professionals coordinate patient interactions, including patient care, discharge instructions, and follow-up instructions for after-care. They also conduct psychosocial evaluations and advise clinicians about social work-related issues.

Salary: $53,921

High-Paying Careers in Social Work

Social Work Teacher

These educators teach courses in social work. They create lesson plans and assignments that allow students to gain a better understanding of the course content. Teachers also conduct research in their discipline.

Salary: $77,520

School and Career Counselor

These professionals help students cultivate the social and academic skills that allow them to become successful in school. They focus on helping people and students develop a specific set of skills to achieve their career goals. These counselors also focus on helping people explore different career opportunities.

Salary: $56,310

Social and Community Service Manager

These professionals supervise and coordinate community organizations and social service programs, working closely with community members and other stakeholders to determine necessary services and programs to benefit the community or organization.

Salary: $65,320

Healthcare Social Worker

Social workers in this discipline provide families, individuals, and groups with psychosocial support to help them cope with acute, chronic, or terminal illnesses. These professionals provide patient education and counseling and refer clients to other services.

Salary: $58,470

Clinical Social Worker

These professionals coordinate all aspects for patient interactions and conduct psychosocial evaluations, advising clinicians on social work matters. They deliver therapy for individuals in need of emotional or mental support, coordinating other services to help meet their specific needs.

Salary: $55,998

Healthcare Administrator

Professionals in this occupation supervise the staffing process, including hiring, training, reviews, and evaluations. They lead business and clinical professionals with a focus on improving clinical quality, increasing growth, and clearly explaining needs.

Salary: $66,452

Frequently Asked Questions

Is social work a good career?

The social work career path allows professionals to focus on a variety of specialization areas, such as healthcare, school social work, child and family social work, and clinical social work.

How much does a social worker make?

BLS reports that social workers earned a median annual salary of $49,470 in 2018. Salary varies depending on specialization, setting, and experience level. Healthcare social workers enjoy annual median wages of $56,200, while child, family, and school social workers experience annual median wages of $46,270. Mental health and substance abuse social workers experience annual median wages of $44,840 and all other social workers enjoy wages of $63,140.

What qualifications do you need to become a social worker?

While some social workers only need a bachelor's degree, most states require clinical social workers to complete a master's degree in social work and satisfy two years of supervised clinical experience after earning their degree. Candidates must then obtain licensure, meeting their state's specific requirements.

Is a career in social work right for me?

The social work field allows professionals to focus on a variety of focus areas, all dedicated to helping others. Social workers should be compassionate, critical thinkers with excellent communication skills.