Thinking About a Career in Social Work?

Facts about the Profession of Social Work

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for social workers is expected to grow twice as fast as any other occupation, especially in gerontology, home health care, substance abuse, private social service agencies, and school social work. Social workers have the right education, experience, and dedication to help people help themselves whenever and wherever they need it. It takes a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral social work degree — with a minimum number of hours in supervised fieldwork — to become a social worker
  • Social workers help people in all stages of life, from children to the elderly, and from all situations from adoption to hospice care.

  • You can find social workers in hospitals, police departments, mental health clinics, military facilities, and even corporations.

  • Professional social workers are the nation's largest providers of mental health services. According to government sources, more than 60 percent of mental health treatment is delivered by social workers.

  • More than 600,000 people in the United States hold social work degrees.

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employs more than 3,800 MSWs to assist veterans and their families with individual and family counseling, patient education, end of life planning, substance abuse treatment, crisis intervention, and other services.

  • Forty percent of mental health professionals working with the Red Cross Disaster Services Human Resources system are social workers.

  • There are more than 170 social workers in national, state, and local elected office, including two U.S. Senators and four U.S. Representatives.

  • About 5 out of 10 jobs were in health care and social assistance industries and 3 in 10 work for State and local government agencies.

  • While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement, a master’s degree in social work or a related field has become the standard for many positions.

  • Competition for jobs is expected in cities, but opportunities should be good in rural areas.


If you’re looking for a career with meaning, action, diversity, satisfaction, and an abundance of options, consider social work. Social workers are people who care about people, who want to make things better, who want to relieve suffering, who want their work to make a difference.


Many social workers work for social change as well. The victim of an assault benefits not only from therapy but also from efforts to curb neighborhood crime, the client under stress because illness has devastated the family finances benefits from efforts to reform the nation’s health care system.


About the Profession

The social work profession has its own body of knowledge, code of ethics, practice standards, credentials, state licensing, and a nationwide system of accredited education programs. These equip the professional social worker to combine the desire to help others with the knowledge, skill, and ethics needed to provide that help.


For sheer variety, few occupations can match social work, which offers the broadest range of opportunities and settings. Social workers are found in public agencies, private businesses, hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, private practices, police departments, courts, and countless other interesting workplaces.


Social workers serve individuals, families, and communities. They are managers, supervisors, and administrators. They serve at all levels of government. They are educators. They are therapists and researchers. More and more, they are also elected political leaders and legislators.


Work Environment

Social workers usually spend most of their time in an office or residential facility, but they also may travel locally to visit clients, meet with service providers, or attend meetings. Some may meet with clients in one of several offices within a local area.


Social work, while satisfying, can be challenging. Under-staffing and large caseloads add to the pressure in some agencies. To tend to patient care or client needs, many hospitals and long-term care facilities employ social workers on teams with a broad mix of occupations, including clinical specialists, registered nurses, and health aides.


Full-time social workers usually work a standard 40-hour week, but some occasionally work evenings and weekends to meet with clients, attend community meetings, and handle emergencies. Some work part time, particularly in voluntary nonprofit agencies.


Educational and Licensing Requirements

To be a social worker, one must have a degree in social work from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The undergraduate degree is the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Graduate degrees include the Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) or PhD. An MSW is required to provide therapy. For information about accredited schools of social work, contact the Council on Social Work Education at 1600 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, 703-683-8080,


Degree programs involve classroom study as well as practical field experience. The bachelor’s degree prepares graduates for generalist entry-level work, whereas the master’s degree is for more advanced clinical practice. A DSW or PhD is useful for doing research or teaching at the university level.


Most states require practicing social workers to be licensed, certified, or registered, although standards vary. Contact the state regulatory board directly or the Association of Social Work Boards,, 400 South Ridge Parkway, Suite B. Culpepper, VA 22701, 703-829-6880, for a list of regulatory agencies or for a comparison of state regulations.



It is difficult to assign a definitive range to social work salaries; however, one thing is certain: Demand for social workers is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of social workers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012. The rapidly growing elderly population and the aging baby boom generation will create greater demand for health and social services, resulting in particularly rapid job growth among gerontology social workers.


Social Workers starting out with a BSW can expect an annual salary ranging up to $30,000 depending on type of work, experience, and geographic factors. A social worker with an MSW degree can expect an annual income ranging between $40,000 and $60,000; a DSW can anticipate an annual income of more than $40,000. A few experienced private practitioners and senior administrators earn as much as $100,000.


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