What Can I Do with a Degree in Social Work?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in social work. Find information on social work careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers as social workers.


Social work is a profession that is widely regarded as a helping discipline. Individuals that choose careers in social work practice are responsible for helping individuals and families overcome challenges that can adversely impact their lives. For instance, social workers can help abused children in crisis, providing them with access to supportive community networks to improve their health and well being. In addition social workers can provide individuals with disabilities access to support services that will enable them to acquire employment and live independently. Social workers typically have a deep desire to help others and work tirelessly to improve the lives of those they serve.

Even though social workers typically derive a significant amount of personal satisfaction from helping their clients, the work involved in social work practice can be emotionally draining. Social workers often provide supports for individuals experiencing crisis or distress. This can be a challenging task for the professional. Further, while many social work opportunities include full-time work (e.g., 40 hours per week) many social workers work overtime to provide the help that clients require. Social workers may also be required to work evenings and weekends to provide emergency supports to clients in need. These aspects of the profession can make social work practice physical and emotionally demanding.


Careers in social work focus on specific areas of specialization for the professional. Child, family and school social workers provide assistance to children struggling in school. These professionals may work with the family to identify additional supports needed by the child to improve academic and social outcomes. When working in the school, social workers typically serve as a liaison between the school and the family to help ensure that families are involved in the care of the child. Social workers may also specialize in medical and public health. In these roles, professionals work with vulnerable populations (e.g., those with special needs, disabilities, senior citizens, etc.) to ensure that they are able to live independently and acquire needed health services. Professionals may also specialize in providing mental health and substance abuse services to clients. Crisis intervention, counseling and outreach services are some of the most pertinent duties performed by mental health and substance abuse social workers.


Although social work is a noble profession that involves helping others, salaries for individuals in this profession are not as rewarding as the job itself. While salaries will vary based on the area of specialization for the social worker and the specific organization in which the social worker is employed, median annual ages of all social workers were $39,530 in 2008. For those at the upper echelons of the profession, salaries were $66,430 annually. For professionals at the lower end of the wage scale, median annual wages were $25,870. Notable salary differences are evident for the type of organization in which the social worker is employed. Social workers employed in hospitals had median annual wages of $51,470 in 2008 while social workers employed in nursing facilities had median annual wages of $41,080. Some social workers may be union members or covered by union contract. In 2008, 24 percent of all social workers employed in the field were involved in a union.

Job Outlook

The overall job outlook for social work professionals is quite good. Job growth for the profession is pegged at 16 percent through 2018. Although overall growth for jobs in social work is higher than average, specific areas of the profession are projected to grow at a more substantial rate than others. For instance, the aging of the Baby Boomer population is expected to increase demand for gerontological social work practitioners. Job growth for mental health and substance abuse social workers is projected to increase by 20 percent through 2018. This growth rate is much higher than for other professions. Although increased demand for social workers is projected in some areas, there are others in which demand for service is expected to decline. For instance, demand for professionals working in children and youth services (e.g., foster care, child abuse, etc.) has been steadily increasing in recent years. However, budget challenges facing states may reduce demand for professionals in this particular area of specialization.

Recommended Schools

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