What Can You Do with a Social Work Degree?

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A smiling social worker meets with a client.The field of social work plays a crucial role in society. Social workers advocate for individuals and groups who need support. This can take many forms, such as focusing on families in need, helping people struggling with addiction, or ensuring access to health care or education, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Helping uplift communities and individuals is at the core of social work, which is a growing field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that positions for social workers are projected to grow 12% between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than that of the job market as a whole.

Many people interested in this work begin by volunteering. Eventually, they may wonder, what can you do with a social work degree? A Master of Social Work (MSW) gives graduates the ability to maximize their impact in critical areas of need and develop an understanding of systemic social issues.

The Benefits of Earning a Social Work Degree

People who are drawn to social work do it because they are passionate about helping others. Earning a social work degree can help individuals become better prepared for a wide variety of social work careers. Students in an advanced social work degree program can gain knowledge in topics such as social welfare policy and human behavior. They also can practice with clients, providing them with hands-on experience that is crucial for developing the skills to work with diverse populations.

An MSW can help graduates tap into the larger professional community, where colleagues learn from each other. Additionally, it can equip social workers to take advantage of opportunities for higher-level jobs. This means social workers who hold an MSW can be positioned to make an even greater impact on their communities.

Work Environments for Social Workers

The nature of the profession means the daily routine greatly depends on the type of work environment. For example, social workers might be on-site in a school, a hospital, or a substance abuse clinic, or in the field assisting clients where they live. This also impacts whether social workers work with a team or on their own. In addition, they may interact with parents, law enforcement professionals, or doctors, for example. They often work in government agencies or with nonprofits that provide benefits to different communities.

MSW graduates can become certified as Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs), which permits them to perform clinical social work and psychotherapy, often in private practice. Clinical social workers see individual patients or families or provide treatment in group settings.

It is important for anyone considering what can you do with a social work degree to determine their preferred work environment, so they can focus their education on the proper specialty.

Social Work Careers

An advanced social work education can lead to several different career paths. Here are a few options for social work graduates.

Child Welfare Worker

Social workers who focus on child welfare support children in need, working with parents to establish healthy home environments and representing children’s interests to courts, law enforcement agencies, and other bodies. According to the BLS, the median salary for a child welfare worker was $48,340 as of May 2020.

Substance Abuse Counselor

With the ongoing spread of the opioid epidemic and the persistence of other forms of drug addiction, substance abuse counselors are more necessary than ever. Substance abuse counselors assess and treat patients and may lead education and outreach programs and conduct research. The median salary for a substance abuse counselor was $47,660 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

Community Social Worker

Community social workers work at nonprofits or government agencies to support marginalized communities, helping them secure housing, health care, job placement, and education. This is often a team-based position and can be more centrally located than other field positions. The median salary for community social workers was $51,760 as of May 2020, according to the BLS.

School Social Worker

School social workers are placed in K-12 schools to offer behavioral and mental health support to students so they can succeed academically. School social workers collaborate with stakeholders such as teachers, school administrators, and parents. They provide an important safety net for struggling students. According to the BLS, the median salary for school social workers was $48,340 as of May 2020.

Pursue a Career that Makes an Impact

As society works to improve the lives of individuals and address historic inequities, social workers have an increasingly important role to play. If you are interested in helping communities thrive, and wondering what you can do with a social work degree, explore Ohio University’s online Master of Social Work program.

With a focus on the values and ethics of social work, the program is designed to help you learn how to support individuals who are facing adversity, understand how social policy affects populations, and prepare for state licensing exams.

Learn how OHIO can help you make a difference. 

Recommended Readings:

4 Types of Therapist Roles to Pursue with an MSW

Social Work vs. Sociology

What to Know About Social Work Licensing 


Child Welfare Information Gateway, Tasks and Responsibilities

Houston Chronicle, “The Role of Social Workers in the Fight Against Drug Abuse”

National Association of Social Workers, Clinical Social Work

National Association of Social Workers, Types of Social Work

School Social Work Association of America, Role of School Social Worker

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors