What’s the Difference Between Social Work and Sociology?

There are some similarities between social work and sociology, but these fields are different disciplines that can lead to varying career paths. If you want to have a career that focuses on helping people with societal issues, you may be considering whether social work vs. sociology is right for you. 

Social Workers vs. Sociologists

What does a social worker do? Social workers work in schools, hospitals, community venues, addiction treatment centers and other environments where people may be experiencing challenges to living everyday life. They may work with a variety of clients or they may specialize in a specific issue, such as child abuse or poverty. Some licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) are also able to diagnose, and all social workers help address mental health issues. 

Social workers are similar to sociologists, but there are a few differences. What does a sociologist do? Sociologists research social behavior, test theories and prepare research reports. They may collaborate with administrators, lawmakers, educators and even social workers. An important part of the job is presenting analysis and conclusions to help improve social institutions and processes.

One main difference between sociology vs. social work is that sociology is focused on research and presenting findings, while social work typically focuses on providing social services to individuals, families and groups. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that social workers are most often employed by individual and family services, while sociologists tend to work in research and development settings

Although it’s not a requirement, a master’s is the preferred degree for both career paths. A bachelor’s degree may allow social workers to enter the field in an administrative position, but they must complete a master’s degree in social work and pass a licensing exam to work independently in clinical positions. Sociologists typically need a master’s degree or PhD in sociology to enter the field. 

Social Worker Skills vs. Sociologist Skills

Both social workers and sociologists have an interest in helping people and improving social institutions—however, there are some skill sets that are specific to each role.

Social workers may benefit from having strong communication skills, emotional skills and relationship-building skills. This may help them establish an effective rapport with their clients and colleagues. Problem-solving, time management and organizational skills may also help social workers succeed.

Comparatively, sociologists spend more time researching and analyzing rather than directly working with clients. Still, excellent communication skills may help sociologists while they’re conducting interviews and collaborating with colleagues. Other crucial sociologist skills include the ability to analyze data and think critically about information. 

What’s the Difference Between a Social Work Degree and Sociology Degree?

One of the first steps to becoming a social worker or sociologist is to complete the required education. A bachelor’s degree in social work is designed to prepare you to work with clients in a variety of environments. Throughout your bachelor’s degree program, you’ll learn about different social services and gain the knowledge and skills to practice with individuals, families, groups and communities. Bachelor’s in sociology degrees may have more of an emphasis on research methods, statistics and analysis, and how society deals with complex issues such as sexuality, death or social justice. 

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you can move on to graduate school. A master’s in social work program may focus on theoretical frameworks and topics such as mental health, trauma, addiction and child welfare. Part of the curriculum will likely involve working hands-on with clients through a field education experience, internship or supervised practicum.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

University of Southern California

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW@USC is the online Master of Social Work from top-ranked USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. USC offers virtual and in-person field education, and students focus on adults, youth or social change.

  •  Minimum completion time: 16 months
  • Online classes taught by USC faculty 
  • Virtual field training to build skills and confidence

University of Denver

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations

Fordham University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.

Simmons University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 12 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 12 months

Syracuse University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available. 

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice

Baylor University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

Complete the Master of Social Work online program at Baylor University in as few as 12 months. Serve populations in Texas and around the world while ethically integrating faith and social work practice. No GRE required.

  • Address injustice from a strengths-based perspective
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Serve as a trusted resource for clients, no matter their personal background
  • Complete the MSW online program in as few as 12 months

Howard University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months

Case Western Reserve University

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Master of Social Work (MSW)

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years

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In a master’s in sociology program, you may expect to learn about research methods to perform sociological research. Throughout the program, you’ll see how sociological theories can help answer social questions involving topics such as gender, sexuality, nationality and race. Some sociology master’s programs also include internships.

Social Work vs. Sociology Salary

According to the BLS, the 2020 median pay for social workers was $51,760 per year and 2020 median pay for sociologists was $86,110 per year.

When comparing the average sociology vs. social work salary, it’s important to keep in mind that social work salaries can vary widely depending on the social worker’s level of education, employer and specialization. For example, the BLS has found that healthcare social workers tend to earn more than school social workers. In addition, social workers who work in local government often have higher salaries than those working in individual and family services. 

Social Worker vs. Sociologist—Which Career Is Better?

Social work and sociology career paths look promising in terms of expected job growth in the next decade. According to the BLS, there were 715,600 social worker jobs in 2020, with 89,200 new social worker jobs projected to be created between 2020 and 2030. That’s a growth rate of 12%—faster than the average for all U.S. occupations.

Sociologists are not nearly as commonplace as social workers, but this career path is still expected to grow slightly. The BLS reports that there were 3,000 sociologist jobs in 2020. From 2020 to 2030, it is estimated that sociologist jobs will grow by about 5%. 

Whether you decide on a career in social work or sociology is entirely up to you and should be based on your preferred focus. Sociology may be a good fit if you are looking for a research-heavy career, while social work may be right for those who want to work directly with clients.

Last updated February 2022