Social Work Careers

A career in social work can take you into diverse corners of the community. Social workers comprise an essential element of almost every social institution, providing critical support, resources, and advocacy to those who need it most. In our social work careers guide, we’ll unpack the range of roles you can aspire to should you to undertake a degree in social work.

Types of Social Work

Social work spans all levels of society and is often divided into three broad practice categories: micro, mezzo, and macro. These levels of social work refer to the scale and reach of the work; however, it’s vital to recognize that most social work jobs will have some crossover. Social work can also be divided into clinical social work jobs or direct social work practice jobs.

Macro, Mezzo, and Micro Social Work

Macro-level social work roles work towards large-scale change. Macro social worker jobs focus on changing social policy or implementing the rollout of new social programs. They affect a vast number of people on a large scale. There is unlikely to be a direct one-on-one interaction with clients.

Mezzo social work roles work with small to medium-sized organizations, such as schools or neighborhoods. Mezzo social work often focuses on work at an institutional level, such as transformation of the group’s culture or management. Mezzo social work practitioners may engage in work that encompasses both micro and macro levels — meeting the needs of individuals while also considering broader social issues can characterize work at this level.

Micro social work roles include social work at its most granular level. These social work positions often involve working with individuals or families face-to-face. In these micro-interactions, social workers may allocate resources, support individuals to find housing and access health care, or provide them with advocacy. Micro social workers can work with families, children, members of the military, and those with addiction or psychiatric disorders.

Clinical Social Work vs Direct Social Work Practice

Clinical social work may often require a master’s degree in social work and a state license. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) undergo additional training and specialization to perform services that include diagnosis and treatment. LCSW commonly find roles in the mental health sector as substance abuse counselors or group therapists.

Direct services social workers can practice with a bachelor’s degree. Their training allows them to work directly with clients as case managers or community health workers. The requirements to become a direct services social workers tend to be more relaxed.

Social Work Career Settings

The rich diversity of social work environments attracts many to the profession. Social workers can find work in settings as varied as schools, the military, hospitals, outpatient facilities, and child welfare organizations. Work environments can also change on a day-to-day basis for social workers employed in roles where travel is required.

Social Work Jobs

With such an array of varied work settings, there is a multitude of different types of social work available. Some fields of social work include:

  • Child, Family, and School
  • Medical and Healthcare
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Military
  • Community
  • Social Work Administrator

We’ll delve into these social work specialties in greater depth below.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker Jobs

A child, family, or school social worker assists children and youth, along with their parents and guardians. School social worker duties may include offering support in instances where abuse has taken place, or where mental illness, physical illness, or trauma is affecting a child’s wellbeing. They may also help parents access resources so they can better care for their children, or find placement for children whose needs are not being met. The median salary for a child, family, and school social worker in this field is $46,270, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on September 20191.

Medical Social Worker Jobs

Medical and health care social workers provide social support within the medical and healthcare fields. They offer services to patients and their loved ones to help alleviate the social, financial, and relational hardships that may arise when someone falls ill. Their responsibilities may also include providing services that promote health, disease prevention, and addressing socioeconomic barriers to healthcare access.

Medical social workers may work in hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted care facilities. As of September 2019, the expected average salary of a healthcare social worker is $56,200, as reported by the BLS1.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Jobs

Mental health and substance abuse social workers are trained to help people experiencing problems with their mental health and addiction. Common modalities that they use to offer support include individual therapy, group therapy, and crisis intervention. The settings in which they may work include community mental health facilities, crisis relief, and rehabilitation services. The average salary for a mental health social worker is $44,840, as of September 2019 from the BLS1.

Military Social Worker Jobs

Military social workers offer targeted services for men, women, and families within the armed forces. The tasks and responsibilities of a military social worker include providing support during deployment and helping families cope with frequent moves or an absent loved one. Military social workers also assist with the reintegration of members of the military into their family and civilian life following their return from duty. In some cases, military social workers may also help members address substance abuse issues or provide tools for managing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The average salary for military social workers may vary depending on where they work, for instance on a military base, private practice, or with children. Social workers employed in this role usually require a license.

Community Social Worker Jobs

Community social workers often work simultaneously at micro, mezzo, and macro levels within the community. Depending on their specific job, their tasks may include conducting needs assessments and referrals with individuals, working with community organizations, or even planning and administering large-scale programs. Their efforts are critical to helping communities function effectively.

Community social workers are sometimes employed at a state or local government level, and other times are contracted by nonprofits or grassroots organizations. Community social workers earn an average salary of $44,960, as reported by the BLS in September 20191.

Social Work Administrator Jobs

If working in the field one-on-one isn’t for you, you might consider a career in social work administration or research instead. Social work administrators help with the managerial, administrative, and business arm of social work. Their tasks may include writing grants and reports, overseeing accounts, managing tax, researching and assessing communities in need, and creating bodies for the delivery of services. This area of social work is inherently macro in nature.

Social work administrators are also often responsible for managing staff and delegating tasks. A background in business, as well as social work, is often advantageous for this role. Individuals employed in social and community services manager roles earn an average salary of $65,320 per year, as of September 2019 according to the BLS.

Career Advancement for Social Workers

There are many advancement opportunities for social workers who wish to ascend the ranks of their profession. You can further your career as a social worker by undertaking a master’s in social work, completing licensure exams, or becoming specialized or highly experienced in a particular area.

Those with master’s degrees and licensure can access clinical social worker jobs and are better positioned to win managerial roles. A doctorate in social work or Ph.D. in social work may be able to boost your earnings and access to jobs even further. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the upper 10 percent of social workers earn more than $80,0001. These more highly-paid roles are typically directorial.

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Master’s in Social Work Job Opportunities

The benefits of an MSW, or master of social work, are plentiful. The MSW demonstrates that you have additional knowledge and skills, and thus provides you with the ability to secure a wider variety of careers in the social work field. Jobs that require an MSW include clinical social work. Most healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse social worker roles may also require an MSW. An online MSW can be an ideal way to achieve the degree while fitting it in around your life and work commitments.


1 Salary information for Child, Family, and School, Medical, Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Community, and Doctorate level social workers was retrieved from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – Social Workers, as of October 2019.