Could a social work career be right for you? If you’re considering a career in social work, take a look at the following questions.
- Do you enjoy helping people? Do you have a strong sense of empathy and a deep concern for people’s general wellbeing?
- Do you have a passion for justice and equity?
- Are you a resilient person with a lot of emotional fortitude?
- Do you have strong communication skills?
- Can you handle a job that involves a lot of paperwork?
If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, then you may be built for a career in social work. At its core, social work is a career for people who want to help people. It concerns itself with groups, families, and communities, and it focuses on building a more just and equitable world. Social work is also a form of advocacy. Social workers go to bat for their clients, fighting for things like disability pay, erasing mental health stigmas, and preventing child abuse.
When thinking about potential social work careers, it helps to see some examples. Below is a list of specific social work career options, arranged by the education level they require. Note that some careers will have overlapping titles and responsibilities. For example, a licensed clinical social worker may also be a medical social worker or a child and family social worker.
Career paths are presented in alphabetical order and by degree level.
|BACHELOR’S DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK||MASTER’S DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK||PH.D. IN SOCIAL WORK|
|Behavioral Management||Child and Family Social Worker||Psychologist|
|Case Management||Child Welfare Worker||Professor|
|Community Outreach||Therapist/Counselor||Behavior Supervisor|
|Eligibility Worker||Social Worker||Executive Director|
|Human Services Specialist||Mental Health and Substance Abuse||Social Services Organizations|
|Juvenile court Liaison||School Social Worker||Child Welfare|
|Probation officer||Medical Social Worker||Researcher|
|Rehabilitation Case Worker||Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)|
1. Behavioral Management Aide
A behavioral management aide works with a behavioral specialist, which is a social worker who helps people modify or eliminate harmful behaviors. These behaviors may include hitting, throwing tantrums, and similar things that can cause emotional or bodily harm.
Behavioral management aides often observe the client’s harmful behavior, identify the stimuli that trigger the behavior, and work with behavioral specialists to find alternate behaviors and healthy coping mechanisms.
Behavioral management aides generally work with children, though some may work with adults. Often, they work in schools or in a mental health practice.
Salary Expectation: On average, they earn $39,540 per year.
2. Case Management Aide
For some social workers, the best careers in social work involve assisting others. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable in the spotlight, or maybe they just have exceptional organizational skills. In any case, many of these social workers find success as case management aides.
A case management aide works as a type of assistant to another social worker, such as a school social worker or child welfare specialist, as they manage specific cases. Case management aides must have strong organization skills, since a large part of their job involves managing paperwork. They also help manage intake, and they may perform initial meetings with clients to help put those clients at ease and explain the case management process.
Essentially, case management aides do a lot of behind-the-scenes work while case managers themselves to the front-and-center work. Case managers come to rely on their case management aides because aides help them avoid getting bogged down as they work on a case. Aides are essential because they help cases move forward more quickly for faster results.
Salary Expectation: The average yearly salary for a case management aide is $39,600
3. Community Outreach Worker
Now, for those who are comfortable with the spotlight, the best careers in social work may involve community outreach. Community outreach careers put social workers in front of people, as they handle a lot of communication with the public.
Community outreach workers act as a liaison between an organization and the community that organization serves. They may give talks and provide education on their organizations. They might also identify and reach out to people who could use the organization’s services. They communicate with people and groups, so they must have good people skills and communication skills. They must also be well-versed in their organization’s services, since they often have to answer questions.
Often, community outreach workers work for nonprofit organizations. The type of nonprofit varies, so outreach workers can look for nonprofits that align with their passions.
Salary Expectation: The average salary for community outreach workers is $59,000, but that salary varies depending on the type of organization one works for.
4. Eligibility Worker
A lot of people need assistance with finances, housing, and similar basics. However, not everyone who needs help knows how to get that help. Many aren’t even aware that they may qualify for assistance.
Enter eligibility workers. Eligibility workers generally work for governments at the state, local, or even federal level. They work with people who are seeking government assistance with housing, finances, and more. They explain the programs that a client may be eligible and help determine that client’s eligibility for these programs. They may also reach out to potential eligible clients.
Eligibility workers require a deep sense of compassion as well as organizational skills. They must also be very knowledgeable about various government assistance programs.
Salary Expectation: An eligibility worker can earn, on average, between $29,000 and $57,000 per year.
5. Human Services Specialist
A human services specialist is a type of eligibility worker who makes sure that clients understand which services they may qualify for. They also help clients apply for those services, often walking them through the application process. They take a hands-on approach to their work, and they work closely with their clients to make sure that those clients get exactly what they need.
Human services specialists work with programs like SNAP, disability pay, child welfare, and more. They provide guidance and answer questions about these programs, and they stay in contact with clients to make sure that those clients get what they need.
Human services specialists work in a wide array of workplaces, including state agencies, nonprofit organizations, residential care facilities, and more.
Salary Expectation: Human services specialists make an average of $35,060 per year.
6. Juvenile Court Liaison
A juvenile court liaison does a lot of work within the juvenile court system. They only work in juvenile courts, not courts that deal with adult cases. It’s also important to note that they work for the court itself, not for attorneys, plaintiffs, or defendants. They do, however, often communicate with various parties involved in certain cases. They also go over paperwork and records, helping to keep information organized and up to date.
As a result, juvenile court liaisons require a variety of skills. They need organizational skills to keep court records and other documents as organized as possible. They also need great communication skills, as they spend a lot of time talking to people in their jobs.
Salary Expectation: Juvenile court liaisons make just over $41,000 per year, on average.
7. Probation Officer
Probation officers are social workers who work within the justice system by helping people who have been convicted of a crime.
Instead of going to prison, some offenders are put on probation, or a provisional period that requires good behavior and some other conditions. Provided that they don’t violate the conditions of their probation, these offenders can avoid jail time altogether. For many courts and offenders, especially for first time offenders, probation provides the ideal compromise.
However, somebody has to make sure that the offender meets all of the conditions of their parole. Should the offender violate those conditions, they may receive a harsher sentence, so supervision can help ensure that they stay on the right path. That’s where probation officers, or parole officers, come into the picture.
Probation officers help supervise and communicate with these offenders to make sure they fulfill the conditions of their probation. They communicate regularly with the offender. They may keep an eye on their client’s location, conduct drug tests, and interview parolee family members. Probation officers may also testify in court about the parolee telling the judge whether or not the parolee has kept up with the terms of their probation.
Additionally, probation officers deal with paperwork, so they must have solid organization skills. They should also have good people skills.
Salary Expectation: Probation officers make about $48,921 per year.
8. Rehabilitation Case Worker
Rehabilitation case workers help disabled people get back into the workforce after periods of unemployment. A client’s disability may be physical or mental, and it may be caused by an injury or pre-existing condition. A rehabilitation case worker will assess that client’s skills, abilities, and limitations.
From there, they’ll recommend potential career paths and help the client work toward those career paths. As a result, the client may gain a sense of empowerment and reclaim their individuality. With help from a rehabilitation case worker, clients can also gain more financial security and stability.
Salary Expectation: Rehabilitation case workers make $35,950 to $63,790 per year.
9. Child and Family Social Worker
Child and family social workers provide assistance and advocacy in cases that involve children and their families. They have a long list of potential responsibilities, and those responsibilities may vary from one case to another. Those responsibilities may include:
- Working with at-risk children
- Staying up to date on a particular child’s wellbeing
- Connecting families to services they may need
- Assisting in child welfare investigations
- Helping to place children in foster or adoptive homes
- Assisting with family reunification when appropriate
- Assisting with the adoption and/or fostering process
Child and family social workers often have their own offices, but they also do a lot of travel, so they need a certain amount of flexibility. They should also have good people skills, especially with children. They need empathy, but they also need self-regulation skills so they don’t overwhelm themselves in the face of tough situations. Because they maintain case files and take notes, they should also have excellent organization.
Salary Expectation: The average salary for mid-level experience is $40,000.
10. Child Welfare Worker
A child welfare worker is similar to a child and family social worker. In fact, many people use the two terms interchangeably. However, “child welfare worker” is a broader term. A child and family social worker may be considered a type of child welfare worker.
Child welfare workers tend to work with government agencies. They may intervene in cases of abuse and neglect. They may also conduct home assessments to see if children should be removed from an environment. Child welfare workers maintain paperwork on their cases. Overall, they need many of the same skills and strengths as child and family social workers, including a high tolerance for stress, a passion for child advocacy, and strong communication skills with children.
Salary Expectation: Child welfare workers make about $44,380 annually.
A therapist or counselor listens to people, coaches them, and helps them live their lives in a healthy way. They can help people manage mental illnesses, stressful situations, career challenges, or day-to-day life. They generally meet with their clients on a regular basis, like once a week or once a month, depending on the severity of the client’s struggles.
Counselors are somewhat different from therapists. While therapists generally work on a long-term basis, counselors may work with clients on a short-term basis and focus on specific mental health concerns. Neither therapists nor counselors are psychiatrists. Psychiatrists have medical training and can therefore prescribe medication. Therapists and counselors have psychological training, but they don’t have the medical training that would allow them to write prescriptions. In some cases, however, they can recommend that a patient pursues medication with their primary care doctor.
Therapists and counselors can use specific methods such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, etc. Some use a combination of methods, tailoring their approach to the client.
Some counselors and therapists specialize in their work. For example, a person can be a marriage counselor and work specifically with married and engaged couples. Others may work with patients who have depression and anxiety.
Salary Expectation: On average, therapists and counselors make about $46,273 annually, but salaries can vary depending on specialization, workplace, and other factors.
12. Social Worker
Some social workers have specific titles, but other social workers are just called social workers. If they’re clinical social workers, they may provide counseling, just like therapists and counselors do. Broadly speaking, social workers meet with clients to help asses their needs and goals, maintaining case files in the process. They advocate for the wellbeing of those clients, and they may work with other professionals in that client’s life to create a comprehensive wellbeing plan.
Social workers may also refer their clients to other professionals as necessary. Some social workers provide crisis intervention.
Salary Expectation: Social workers make an average of $50,470 per year.
13. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker
Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients who have mental health conditions, trauma, or addictions. Often, their clients deal with more than one issue at once. For instance, a person’s trauma may fuel their depression and anxiety, which may contribute to an addiction. Mental health social workers should be prepared to deal with a number of complex struggles, and they should meet those struggles with compassion and understanding.
These social workers can be found in a variety of settings, including healthcare facilities and counseling centers. They may be counselors themselves, or they may be case managers.
Salary Expectation: Mental health and substance abuse social workers make about $42,650 per year.
14. School Social Worker
If a child’s basic needs are unmet, that child likely won’t perform well academically. A child may have academic struggles, but their basic needs and wellbeing should always come first. That’s where school social workers come in.
School social workers advocate for students. They may also counsel them in mental health, behavioral health, and academic habits. School social workers can help children succeed both as students and as individuals. They can also work closely with schools administrators, teachers, and parents to find the best solutions for specific children, and they may recommend further treatment outside of school.
Salary Expectation: School social workers make just over $49,000 per year on average.
15. Medical Social Worker
Medical social work is a less recognized but still very important form of social work. Medical social workers generally work in hospitals and other medical care facilities. They work with patients and their families, helping their clients weigh their options and make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones. For example, a medical social worker can help a patient navigate their care options after they’re discharged from a hospital.
Salary Expectation: Medical social workers make just over $65,500 annually, on average.
16. Social Work Supervisor
Social work supervision is a leadership position. It involves supervising social workers who may be at the beginning stages of their own careers. For example, a social work supervisor may supervise counselors or counseling students. Social work supervisors may also manage teams of staff members.
Therefore, social work supervisors need field experience as well as education, which means that it can take a long time to obtain such a career. Still, the time and effort can be worth it, as many social work supervisors find their work deeply rewarding.
Salary Expectation: Social work supervisors make an average of $47,980 per year.
17. Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Licensed clinical social workers generally work as counselors. They help people navigate mental health struggles, tough circumstances, traumas, and transitions. They can also be case managers or part of a research team. Licensed clinical social workers take a social work approach to treating clients, whereas a psychologist might take a different approach, such as a behavioral approach. Licensed clinical social workers may also focus on their clients’ strengths, helping clients leverage their own strengths to take control of difficult situations.
Salary Expectation: Licensed clinical social workers make between $40,740 and $70,660 per year.
18. Behavior Analyst
Behavior analysts work with people, often children, with mental health and behavioral struggles. They work with information gathered by behavioral management aides to develop and implement treatment plans. They may also work with the individual’s teachers, family members, and school counselors to increase the treatment plan’s effectiveness. Behavior analysts can help clients reduce behaviors that may harm themselves and others. For example, a client who hits others when excited may be redirected to shake his hands instead.
It’s important to note, however, that there is some controversy surrounding behavioral analysts’ work, especially in Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is a therapy that many behavior analysts use. A lot of autistic adults, many of whom have been through ABA therapy, criticize the practice for addressing behaviors instead of the mental health struggles that cause those behaviors. Many also claim that the goal of ABA is to make autistic people appear more “normal” from a neurotypical perspective (e.g. eliminating stimming), instead of accepting that autistic people may simply have different needs. Potential behavior analysts should keep these criticisms in mind as they start their careers.
Salary Expectation: Behavior analysts make an average of $62,434 annually.
19. Healthcare Social Worker
Healthcare social workers help people navigate their healthcare needs, helping patients and their families connect to the right resources and support. They provide counseling relating to various treatment options, and they may refer clients to specific healthcare programs. At the same time, healthcare social workers can advocate on behalf of their clients’ best interests and rights.
Healthcare social workers can also coordinate complex healthcare services, including both inpatient and outpatient services. For example, they may help their clients arrange home health services. They can also help clients rent or buy medical equipment.
Healthcare social work has sub-categories. For instance, a medical social worker can be considered a type of healthcare social worker.
Salary Expectation: Healthcare social workers make an average of $57,000 annually.
20. Campaign Director (Fundraising, Public Awareness)
Social workers can also work as campaign directors, fundraising spokespeople, and public advocates. Though a campaign director does not have to be a social worker, campaign directors who are social workers can make a big difference in social work-related public policy.
Campaign directors may work with a political candidate to advance that candidate’s campaign strategy. They may also promote specific projects or initiatives. From a social worker’s perspective, those projects may include fundraising for child advocacy projects, promoting disability rights legislation, or working with a candidate who promotes these concerns.
Campaign directors may hire and oversee team members, so they need excellent leadership skills. They also need to be adept in communication, organizing, problem-solving, and tenacity. In some cases, they may also need to be comfortable in the spotlight.
Salary Expectation: Campaign directors make an average of $54,810 per year.
A psychologist is similar to a therapist or counselor, and many people use these terms interchangeably. However, a psychology career requires a PhD, while a counseling or therapy career requires a master’s degree. As a result of their high educational level, psychologists are more qualified than other therapists to accept patients with severe forms of mental illness and trauma. They’re also more qualified to provide diagnoses for these illnesses.
Psychologists, like therapists and counselors, may specialize their areas of expertise. Some psychologists, for instance, may work primarily with patients who have ADHD, helping them manage their daily lives and responsibilities. Others may specialize in addiction help.
Salary Expectation: Being more educated than other therapists, psychologists can also charge more for their services. As a result, they make an average of $79,000 per year.
A professor can come from virtually any academic discipline. Professors of social work teach social work courses in colleges or universities. These jobs can get demanding. They require teaching skills on top of social work skills. Professors must create lesson plans, keep up with grading, work effectively within a college or university system, and teach in a way that keeps students engaged.
Salary Expectation: The national average pay for professors is $92,000. That said, there is a difference between a professor and an instructor. An instructor may also teach in a college or university, but they may have less specialized expertise and may not be on a tenured track. As a result, they will earn less money than a professor.
23. Behavior Supervisor
A behavior supervisor is similar to a clinical supervisor. They supervise behavior analysts and ABA practitioners, offering help and guidance in their practice. They may also oversee behavioral health clinics or the behavioral aspects of mental health clinics. Behavioral supervisors are also important when it comes to compliance. They ensure that their workplaces maintain compliance and run effectively.
Salary Expectation: Behavior supervisors make over $87,000 per year on average.
24. Executive Director, Social Services Organizations
Executive directors take on a major leadership role in social services organizations. As a result, they have a lot of responsibilities, including the following:
- Creating and organizing programs
- Ensuring program implementation
- Organizing teams
- Communicating with the public about the organization
- Researching and organizing data
- Identifying people who may require services
Those responsibilities can vary. A lot of the work depends on the organization. Executive directors generally oversee social services organizations, including private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies.
Salary Expectation: Salary varies based on the type of workplace, but executive directors make an average of $72,900.
25. Child Welfare Researcher
A child welfare researcher is a type of academic researcher, and academic researchers usually work for universities. They research their specialty topics and conduct studies. They identify problems and explore potential solutions by gathering and testing data. Sometimes, they may help students do their own research.
A researcher’s work can create big changes, especially after their research gets published. The research informs the public and professionals about problems and solutions. Child welfare researchers in particular can make a big difference in the world of child welfare, helping to ensure that systems run humanely and effectively.
Salary Expectation: Child welfare researchers can make over $79,765 per year.
How Do I Choose a Social Work Career?
There are lots of specific career options that fall under the social work umbrella. Each social work career has different duties and responsibilities. For example, probation officers are social workers. So are psychologists. You can pursue a career that fits within your strengths and ideals.
Different social work careers require different types of education. Social workers range in education levels, from bachelor’s degrees all the way up to doctorates. The more educated a social worker becomes, the more they can specialize in their career.
So, how do you choose the right career and education for yourself? And what are some of the best social work careers? With so many potential options, that choice can get difficult. There are more social work career options than many people realize, so a degree in social work can lead down many possible pathways.
The question of which careers are the best social work careers is subjective. Each social worker will find fulfillment in different areas, and what works for one person may not work for another. Start by thinking about your passions. For example, do you have a passion for working with children? Reducing the stigma around mental healthcare? Fighting for disability rights? Start with your passion, and look for careers that will let you work with that passion.
Once you’ve looked into some career options, consider the educational requirements for those careers. Different careers require different degrees. Are you able to push toward a doctorate degree right now, or is it more realistic for you to stop at a bachelor’s degree? A doctorate degree will cost more time and money, but doctorate-level careers pay more than careers that require a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Next, weigh the pros and cons of the different commitment levels as you explore specific career options. Look up typical job descriptions, time commitments, and other factors that could impact your career choice.
Salary may also play a big part in your decision. Consider where you live or where you plan to live. What is the cost of living there? Will you need a high-paying career to make ends meet? The best social work careers for you will be careers that pay a livable wage.
Finally, keep in mind that you might also choose an interim career while you complete your education. For example, you might start your career as a juvenile court liaison after earning a bachelor’s degree, even as you pursue a more advanced education in child psychology. A master’s or doctorate degree may not be reachable right now, but you might explore that option in the future. Meanwhile, your interim career can help you save money for further education.
Selecting your career concentration is perhaps the most essential part of your Master of Social Work process. Universities offer a diverse spectrum of custom MSW tracks that focus your skill growth for certain subfield professions. The Department of Labor reports that America’s 682,100 social workers specialize in wide-ranging niches with fast 10-year growth of 14 to 20 percent apiece. All social work careers share the common thread of improving people’s lives. However, most MSW-level jobs prioritize assisting unique populations facing setbacks and barriers. The NASW reports that there are now 50+ organizations for social workers interested in different practice types. For instance, the National Association of Perinatal Social Workers was started in 1974 to support members in maternal health.