Fields of Social Work: Explore Your Best Career Path as a Social Worker

Learn about the different types of social workers and social work careers. Find out where a social work degree can take you.
20 min read

Share this Article


  • The variety of careers in the social work field can sometimes seem overwhelming.
  • Each social work career path features unique requirements and prerequisites.
  • Several types of social work offer meaningful responsibilities and strong outlooks.
  • Consider your interests and strengths when choosing your social work field.

The field of social work offers plenty of opportunities to help different groups of people. The variety of social work jobs available allow professionals to specialize in an area or population that interests them. They can also choose to work in administration or policy.

Regardless of specialization, the career outlook for social work looks promising, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting the addition of 90,0000 new social work positions between 2019 and 2029. To help prospective social workers choose the right path, we explore some of the best careers in the field.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

A social work degree can lead to different social work jobs, fields of social work, and postgraduate license. Luckily, the growth of distance learning has made finding the right program easier for many prospective students.

Below are eight possible career paths for social work graduates. All data comes from the BLS. Median annual salary data is from 2020, and projected job growth figures apply to the years 2019-2029.

Eight Social Work Career Paths

  • Community Social Work

    Median Annual Salary: $51,760
    Outlook: 13% projected growth

    Community social workers develop and run community support and outreach programs within different types of community organizations. They may specialize in working with specific segments of the population, such as people experiencing homelessness or the elderly, or they may work within specialized areas, such as poverty or healthcare.

    While every social work specialization differs, the general career outlook is strong, as the number of social services programs continues to increase.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Bachelor's degree (entry-level positions), master's degree and licensure (clinical and mid-level positions)

  • Field Jobs:


  • Child Welfare

    Median Annual Salary: $48,430
    Outlook: 12% projected growth

    Child welfare specialists work with children and families who need different types of assistance. They may help children struggling with behavioral issues or academic challenges or ensure that families have access to the services they need to provide children with adequate care.

    As student populations and the number of child service programs increase, more child welfare social workers and specialists will be needed.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Bachelor's degree (entry-level positions), master's degree and licensure (clinical and mid-level positions)

  • Field Jobs:


  • Mental Health

    Median Annual Salary: $48,720
    Outlook: 17% projected growth

    Mental health social workers help people who struggle with mental health or addiction. They may aid clients in getting access to support programs or assist them directly as they work through their challenges. Community workers may specialize in creating mental health support or outreach programs that attempt to tackle substance use issues in the community.

    The strong job outlook for these professionals results from a growing number of treatment programs and services, as well as greater collaborations with healthcare and law enforcement systems.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Bachelor's degree (entry-level positions), master's degree and licensure (clinical and mid-level positions)

  • Field Jobs:


  • Administration and Management

    Median Annual Salary: $69,600
    Outlook: 17% projected growth

    Social and community service managers take on administrative and managerial duties in community services organizations. They may supervise entire community programs and organizations or handle specific duties, such as budgeting and fundraising. They may also work directly with government officials, community committee leaders, and other stakeholders.

    The demand for these professionals should continue to rise as the understanding of social services needs improves and the need for programs increases.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Master's degree in social work, business, or a related field

  • Field Jobs:


  • Public Policy

    Median Annual Salary: $51,760
    Outlook: 13% projected growth

    Social workers in public policy work with policies and regulations impacting communities. They research and analyze community needs and suggest ways to improve current policies. They may work for the government, nonprofits, or community organizations.

    The increasing number and complexity of public policies should continue to drive demand for public policy specialists.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Bachelor's Degree

  • Field Jobs:


  • Health Care

    Median Annual Salary: $57,630
    Outlook: 14% projected growth

    Healthcare social workers assist medical patients and their families in different ways. These professionals may help patients adjust to changes in their lives or grapple with a challenging diagnosis. They may also create and run programs in hospitals or work with a specific type of patient.

    As the population ages and medications and diagnoses become more complex, social work positions in this area should continue to grow.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Bachelor's Degree

  • Field Jobs:


  • Gerontology

    Median Annual Salary: $51,760
    Outlook: 13% projected growth

    Social workers specializing in gerontology help older adults live healthy lives and adjust to new lifestyles. These professionals work in various settings in healthcare, public policy, rehabilitation, and social service organizations.

    The aging population and current shortage of social workers specializing in this area should ensure that the demand for gerontology specialists remains high.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Master's Degree

  • Field Jobs:


  • Legal and Criminal Justice

    Median Annual Salary: $55,690
    Outlook: 4% projected growth

    Social workers can apply their skills and interests in legal and criminal justice work in various ways. They may pursue probation officer positions or specialize in dealing with law offenders or victims of specific crimes.

    As the justice system continues to direct more offenders to alternative treatment programs, social workers should stay in demand in this field.

    Education/Licensure Requirements: Bachelor's degree and state or federal training program

  • Field Jobs:


Popular Online Degrees for Social Workers

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

Is a Career in Social Work Right for You?

Social work is a broad field to explore. Social workers and community service specialists work to improve the lives of the people around them and the communities in which they live. The BLS projects strong career outlooks for most types of social workers and community and social service occupations in general.

Nevertheless, choosing a career or specialization among the many different types of social workers can prove challenging. Prospective social workers should consider speaking to a local community organization or talking with a social worker to get more personal insight and help weighing their options.

Frequently Asked Questions About Fields of Social Work

What field of social work pays the most?

Chevron Down

Salaries depend on many factors, but the highest-paying social work career is community services manager. According to the BLS, these professionals earned a median annual wage of $69,600 in 2020, and the top 10% of earners in the field made more than $115,800 that year.

What can you do with a master's in social work?

Chevron Down

A master's in social work can lead to various clinical social work professions. Licensed clinical social workers can provide therapy and counseling services to clients with various challenges and issues. They can also take on management positions in many organizations.

Is a Ph.D. in social work worth it?

Chevron Down

At the doctoral level, social work students can pursue a Ph.D. or a doctor of social work degree (DSW). Most students interested in pursuing clinical work apply for DSW programs. While a Ph.D. can also qualify graduates for clinical roles, most students seek out a Ph.D. program if they aspire to a career in research or as a university professor.

What is the best social work job?

Chevron Down

The best social work jobs depend on your specific goals and interests. While community service managers may make the most money, child social workers may find their career more personally rewarding. Prospective students should carefully consider their interests and needs when choosing a social work career path.

Feature Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.