What Can I do with a Social Work Degree?

chane futuresSocial work is one of the fastest-growing occupations for today’s college graduates, driven in large part by a society that has come to value the corrective work done by social workers to help those with addiction, abuse, and other afflictions that need their extended support.

The social work degree, and thus the social work profession itself, is quite broad. With at least an undergraduate degree in the field, graduates have quite a few professional opportunities that range from work with criminal justice agencies to childcare services and more. Each of these careers requires a unique take on the skills learned in the classroom, and each will benefit a different type of personality or a different professional prerogative.

Criminal Justice Careers

Social workers are uniquely prepared to work in the criminal justice system, largely because so many people involved with criminal justice pursuits require some kind of case management or assistance. Social workers are adequately prepared to provide behavioral counseling to their clients in the criminal justice system, and they’re among the best people for the job when it comes to parole officers and parole administration.

On the other side of this niche in the social work field, those with at least an undergraduate degree in the field typically work in victim assistance occupations. They’ll work with child abuse victims, the victims of sexual assault, and even those who have been the victim of robberies, home invasions, or other traumatic events. Their goal will be to guide them through this traumatic event and ensure that they’re mentally sound afterward.

Services for Troubled Youth

The social work field is popularly associated with helping troubled youth overcome their unfortunate circumstances, and that’s certainly a large part of what entry-level social workers do around the world. Those with an interest in children and their struggles will be able to secure a career with adoption agencies, foster care programs, and counseling services for children who have been abused or mistreated. Their professional capacity will allow them to serve as case managers, mentors, and professional problem-solvers. They’ll work with federal agencies and local organizations to ensure each of their children has a safe home, a bright future, and the tools they need to overcome their troubled situation.

Gerontology Programs and Services for Seniors

While social work might be commonly associated with younger, more at-risk populations, many older people also require the assistance that is commonly provided by professional social workers. In this capacity, social workers will focus on being a case manager for older patients who require healthcare and wellness services, and they’ll help manage retirement homes and assisted living faculties on behalf of their clients.

Social workers can also use a gerontology focus to become advocates for senior citizens, managers of senior community centers, and activists for better local, state, and federal policies concerning those of advanced age. In some cases, a social worker may serve as the intermediary between an older client and their family, communicating the unique circumstances that their client faces and helping the family understand what they can do to help them and meet their needs.

Social Work in Academic Settings

Just like the work done for at-risk youth from troubled homes, social workers often find themselves working in schools to help students bear the trials and tribulations of growing up. In this capacity, social workers are a lot like the traditional guidance counselor in elementary and middle schools. They’ll meet with students that either request their services or are in dire need of them. Whether it’s merely to offer advice, or to help the student overcome more serious problems in the classroom or at home, these positions supplement guidance counseling with a more institutional approach than is traditionally offered in today’s schools.

Medical and Addiction Recovery Capacities

Social workers are a key part of the addiction recovery process, and they’re often found in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and drug rehabilitation facilities. They work with clients on a one-on-one basis, giving them the tools and mental capabilities needed to defeat their tendency to relapse after successful treatment. They’ll guide them toward better decision-making that can last a lifetime.

Medical involvement can also take place either in hospitals or in public agencies, where social workers use their background to advocate on behalf of patients who require better mental health or addiction treatment services. Working within a hospital actually gives the social worker an inside track on providing preventative education, decision-making skills, and other information to at-risk patients before they require the assistance of a rehab facility.

A Diverse Slate of Occupations for Professional Social Workers

Whether it’s supplementing guidance counseling programs in schools, working with abused or troubled youth, or even helping with addiction recovery, the social work degree is easily one of the most versatile offered at today’s colleges and universities. Graduates will be prepared to help virtually every type of person or population they meet, giving them a great way to produce real results in any professional capacity.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 25 percent job growth for those who hold an MSW degree between 2010 and 2020, making it one of the fastest-growing employment opportunities in the nation. Aside from its projection as stable employment, social workers’ average salary in 2011 was $53,900, according to the BLS.