15 Social Work Jobs & Careers for Social Workers

Considering a career in social work? Read our list of social work jobs featuring average pay and education requirements for each.
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  • People can find social work jobs in schools, hospitals, courts, and government agencies.
  • These professionals may work one-on-one with clients or with entire organizations.
  • Some social work jobs require a master's degree and/or a clinical license. Others need extensive on-the-job training.

Social workers are counselors and problem-solvers. They help individuals and organizations cope with complex challenges to advocate for individuals and communities. But what does that look like in different settings?

Some social workers counsel people one on one. Others assist agencies in helping people connect to services. Social workers also lead organizations, conduct research, and develop local, state, and federal policies.

Check out some top social work jobs, including their typical salaries and degree requirements. Plus, we'll answer common questions about social work jobs.

Popular Online Degrees for Social Workers

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

15 Types of Jobs for Social Workers

From housing to healthcare, social workers focus on issues impacting people's lives. Below are some of the many social work careers.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is not one specific job. It's a credential that qualifies professionals to offer clients clinical services. Clinical services include mental and behavioral condition talk therapy, diagnosis, and treatment.

The LCSW credential signifies that you have:

LCSWs work within communities to help clients find support on both an agency level and an individual outpatient level.

Social Work Case Manager

Case managers work in hospitals, government agencies, and social service organizations. These professionals help people work through major transitions, including:

  • Returning to society after incarceration
  • Adjusting to a life-changing medical diagnosis
  • Regaining custody of a child
  • Maintaining sobriety following inpatient and/or outpatient treatment

Case managers assess clients' needs and develop progress goals. From there, they support clients as they work toward their goals.

Case managers need to know what resources are available in the community, such as:

  • Housing services
  • Employment services
  • Childcare services
  • Medical and nutrition benefits

They may host meetings to encourage clients to meet their goals or have individual meetings with clients.

School Counselor

  • May 2020 Median Wage: $58,120, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
  • Required Education: A master's degree in counseling or psychology with a specialty in school-based curriculum

School counselors work in elementary or high schools, colleges, and universities. They help students do what they need to succeed in school, such as:

  • Changing behaviors or study habits
  • Choosing the right classes
  • Navigating social or emotional challenges
  • Addressing issues of bullying, separation anxiety, and socialization in elementary schools

School counselors' duties are not purely academic. They may also identify campus issues, such as drug use or bullying. School counselors aim to improve learning environments and protect staff and students.

Substance Abuse Counselor

  • May 2020 Median Wage: $47,660
  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree

Counselors who treat substance misuse help people with addiction work toward recovery. Also called addiction counselors, these professionals help clients cope with and manage their addiction.

According to the BLS, most addiction counselor jobs need a bachelor's degree. However, some people have a master's degree and social work license. The Association for Addiction Professionals oversees certificate programs for specialties, such as:

  • Addiction treatment in military and veteran cultures
  • Women in recovery
  • Tobacco treatment

Social Work Organization Executive Director

  • March 2022 Average Salary: $68,770
  • Required Education: A bachelor's degree (sometimes an advanced business or management degree)

Executive directors oversee all programs run by an organization. They manage staff members, daily operations, and their agency's budget. Frequently, they're the spokesperson for the organization they lead. These professionals may speak at public events or to the media. They also work closely with a board of directors to help raise money and awareness for their cause.

Social work organizations may desire executive directors who have experience serving vulnerable populations.

Probation Officer

  • May 2020 Median Wage: $55,690
  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree, typically in criminal justice or a related field, but can be in social work with a criminal justice curriculum focus

Also called community supervision officers, probation officers create and monitor rehabilitation plans for people placed on probation after a misdemeanor. Sometimes probation officers travel to individuals' homes or workplaces. Juvenile probation officers might visit a child's school and help them find a job or enroll in afterschool programs.

Probation officers might have education or training related to criminal justice or substance use. In the future, society will need more of these professionals to support alternatives to incarceration.

Medical Social Worker

  • May 2020 Median Wage: $60,840
  • Required Education: MSW

When someone is in recovery, awaiting medical treatment, or processing the news of a diagnosis, they're facing a host of new needs and challenges. Healthcare and medical social workers assist these patients in hospitals, hospice agencies, outpatient clinics, and home care settings.

Medical social workers advocate for patients and their families. They help get patients the information they need about their diagnosis and available treatments. These social workers refer patients to doctors and specialists and follow through with physicians to make sure they can see their patients. They may also provide patients and families with emotional support or refer them to support groups as they move through their healthcare journey.

Behavior Analyst

  • March 2022 Average Salary: $65,330
  • Required Education: Master's degree and highest state-level clinical licensure

Behavior analysts observe individuals' behavior and ways of learning. Their goal is to understand and help people improve their behaviors to better cope, socialize, and lead full, satisfying lives.

Board-certified behavior analysts often work with autistic children and adults. They help these clients and their families understand certain behaviors and adapt environments or routines to be more supportive. Behavior analysts also support people with ADHD, anxiety, disordered eating, and those who want help managing or improving their behaviors.

Board-certified behavior analysts hold at least a master's degree in psychology, education, or a related field. These professionals work under supervision before passing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board Exam.

Mental Health Therapist

  • May 2020 Median Wage: $47,660 (addiction counselor and mental health counselor)
  • Required Education: Master's degree in social work, psychology, or counseling.

Mental health therapists help clients address challenges due to trauma, illness, or major life transitions. Some mental health therapists are LCSWs. However, therapists may have other credentials, such as licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) or licensed professional counselor (LPC). LMHCs and LPCs hold counseling or psychology degrees and state-level licensure.

Some therapists specialize in services for certain populations, such as youth or LGBTQ+ communities. Others focus on conditions like anxiety or PTSD.

Therapists use research-based strategies to address the root causes of challenges and change reactions or behaviors. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients uncover and replace unhelpful thought patterns.

School Social Worker

  • May 2020 Median Salary: $49,150
  • Required Education: MSW

School social workers help students excel in school and life. These social workers must understand factors that impact students' lives outside of school. They coordinate clinical services when necessary so that students can show up to school fully ready to learn.

School social workers may work with academic counselors, school nurses, and deans to identify students who regularly miss school or struggle to focus in class. Then, they meet with students to understand the root of the issue.

Finally, school social workers also help identify and address larger issues affecting a school community. They may help change school policies, rules, and dress codes to create a more equitable learning environment for all students.

Eligibility Worker

  • May 2020 Median Salary: $47,420
  • Required Education: High school or GED diploma plus on-the-job experience; on-the-job training; some employers may prefer candidates with social work degrees

People in need of food, housing, and healthcare may qualify for public assistance. However, millions of people who should have access to such benefits do not know how to enroll —or that they're even eligible.

Eligibility workers help people understand the public assistance process. They match an individual's finances and situation to programs that can help. From there, they walk the person through the enrollment process.

These professionals can help people access benefits related to:

  • Food stamps
  • Housing
  • Medicaid
  • Job training
  • Mental health services

Community Outreach Worker

  • March 2022 Average Salary: $44,270
  • Required Education: On-the-job training; some employers may prefer candidates with degrees in social work or social sciences.

Community outreach workers typically work for nonprofit and government organizations. They help engage community members and connect them to services.

For example, community outreach workers may work in agencies that help people experiencing homelessness. These workers may distribute food and hygiene kits to people who are homeless. They also introduce their organization and let people know about the services they provide.

Or, an outreach worker might specialize in community violence intervention. These workers build relationships with and assist people who have been victims or perpetrators of gun violence.

Community outreach workers must be highly involved in communities. They need to know the individuals they are trying to engage with and the agencies and crisis services to direct clients to.

Child Welfare Worker

  • May 2020 Median Salary: $49,150
  • Required Education: Typically a bachelor's degree; some positions may accept an associate degree or require a master's degree

Child welfare workers work in nonprofit and governmental child protective agencies. They assist children and families in meeting their social, physical, and emotional needs. These social workers typically work with families facing a significant amount of trauma. Their ultimate goal is to strengthen families and help children be as safe and healthy as possible.

Child welfare workers advocate for children living with abuse or neglect. When someone reports family violence, child welfare workers immediately assess the scenario. If they must remove a child from a dangerous situation, these workers develop plans to help families create safer home environments so they can eventually reunite.

Juvenile Court Liaison

  • May 2020 Median Salary: $44,610
  • Required Education: Some jobs require a bachelor's degree in social work or criminal justice. Others may require a master's degree.

Juvenile court liaisons can act as the glue connecting the various other stakeholders in the juvenile justice system. They advocate for children and their families while communicating with attorneys, police departments, and schools.

Juvenile court liaisons:

  • Help prepare witnesses for trial
  • Connect families to services, such as counseling, legal assistance, and educational services
  • Help court-involved youth reengage with school or find employment

Social Work Professor

  • May 2020 Median Salary: $71,010
  • Required Education: Typically, a Ph.D or a master's degree plus experience (for a non tenure track position)

Social work professors teach at colleges and universities. They also conduct research projects related to their specialty.

As some examples, professors at social work schools are leading research on:

Typically, professors need a Ph.D. However, some colleges may hire candidates with an MSW or a doctorate in social work (DSW) for instructor roles. Professionals who want to teach aspiring LCSWs often benefit from having years of client services experience.

How to Become a Social Worker

The path to becoming a social worker depends on which social work career you pursue. If you want to offer your clients clinical services, you will need a license.

To get licensed, you must:

  • Earn a high school or GED diploma.
  • Get a bachelor's degree in social work or social sciences, such as psychology, human development, or sociology.
  • Earn a master's in social work.
  • Complete the fieldwork hours required by your state's licensing agency.
  • Pass the exam to become a licensed clinical social worker.

People who want to work in case management or outreach do not need a license. In that case, they need to:

  • Earn a GED or high school diploma.
  • Complete a BSW.
  • Get hired.
  • Participate in on-the-job training for your role.

Social Work Salary

Social worker salaries vary and may depend on job type and level of education. Based on BLS data, most social workers make between $35,000-$85,000 annually. Social workers made a median annual salary of $51,760 in May 2020.

How to Find a Social Work Job

Beyond formal education and licensing, sometimes the most important step to finding a social work job is knowing what type of work you want to do. From there, your graduate school advisor may direct you to job hunting resources.

You can also find social work job listings online, including on the below sites:

  • NASW Joblink: Search the country for social work jobs and get new job alerts emailed to your inbox. NASW members can access social worker resume advice and examples.
  • idealist.org: With its online job board, this nonprofit connects grad students, interns, volunteers, and professionals to social service jobs.
  • State Department Websites: Family services, child welfare, and other state agencies hire social workers. Try searching your state's workforce commission website for jobs, e.g., Texas Workforce Commission or Work for Illinois.

Social Work Professional Organizations

There are many professional associations that support social worker careers in different fields. Here are a few:

  • NASW: This group is the largest professional organization for social workers. It provides tools, news, networking, and continuing education opportunities for social workers in nearly every practice.
  • School Social Work Association of America: SSWAA provides resources, professional development, news coverage, and networking opportunities for school social workers.
  • National Organization of Forensic Social Work: NOFSW creates industry standards for criminal justice social workers. It provides educational materials and advocates for professionals and families impacted by the court system.
  • Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care: This group promotes social work best practices and fundraises for research in medical social work. It supports medical social workers with opportunities for continuing education and networking.

FAQ About Social Work Jobs

What is the highest-paid social work job?

The highest-paid social work jobs on our list include careers that may require advanced degrees or extra experience or credentialing:

  • Executive directors of social work organizations
  • Social work professors
  • Behavior analysts

Graduates with MSWs typically earn more working in research organizations, government, and hospital inpatient facilities, according to the NASW. In addition, DSWs, social workers in metropolitan areas, and private practice social workers tend to earn the highest salaries.

What is the best social work job?

Every social work career comes with unique benefits and challenges. Before you choose a social work job or specialty, think about:

  • What communities do you want to work with?
  • What issues matter to you?
  • What level of education and credentialing are you willing to invest in?

Answering these questions can help you choose a career path and determine the next steps for your education.

Is social work a good career?

Social work careers may be a good fit for someone who:

  • Values the impact that relationships have on our lives
  • Has a passion for social justice
  • Is willing to put in work to help solve problems on behalf of individuals and society
  • Can reflect on how their experiences have shaped their worldview

Findings from three years of new social worker surveys revealed that more than 9 in 10 MSW graduates are generally satisfied with their jobs and profession. However, they are less satisfied with their pay. The social workers in the survey made an average starting salary of $47,100 and had a median educational debt of $66,000.

Why does social work pay so low?

Social workers tend to make less than other professionals with a master's degree. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for master's degree-holders is $80,340. The median social worker salary in 2020 was $51,760.

Many social workers work for nonprofit agencies. Additionally, individual and family services are among the largest settings for social workers. But they also make the least money in these sectors. These organizations may face pressure from funders or society to reduce operational costs, including staff pay.

Feature Image: DGLimages / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

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