Social Worker: Career Summary, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Social workers coordinate programs to help clients deal with serious issues affecting their personal lives. Read further for information on the career duties, employment outlook and education requirements. Schools offering Addictions & Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Social Worker?

A social worker provides support, advice and education in an effort to help individuals who are dealing with life issues such as chronic or terminal illnesses, domestic problems or drug addiction. As a social worker, you can specialize in specific areas, such as public health, child welfare, substance abuse and mental health. You may provide individuals with access to valuable community and government resources such as financial assistance, housing, education and job referrals.

Your position as a social worker might sometimes have you leading support groups and group counseling sessions for clients and their families. Although 40-hour work weeks are the norm in the profession, it's not unusual for you to sometimes work during evenings or weekends. Work is generally performed in office environments, but you might also spend time traveling to and from meetings with clients. Below is important information that contains details about becoming a social worker.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree, master's often preferred
Education Field of Study Social work
Licensure/Certification Requirements vary by state and by field
Job Growth (2014-2024) 12%*
Median Salary (2015) $45,900* (for all social workers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is the Employment Outlook?

Job opportunities for social workers were expected to grow rapidly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted an employment increase of 12% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Some contributing factors to this increase include the aging of baby boomers and a rise in the numbers of elderly people who will require the services of social workers. The demand for substance abuse social workers is also predicted to rise, mainly because more addicts are being sentenced to treatment as opposed to jail.

About 649,300 people held jobs as social workers and worked in government and healthcare agencies, clinics and hospitals in the United States in 2014. According to the BLS, you might find better job opportunities as a social worker if you have a background in substance abuse and gerontology. You are also likely to find more jobs and less competition in rural areas as opposed to cities.

Child and family social workers who were employed by state government agencies in 2015 earned average annual salaries of $45,730. Medical and public health social workers who worked in medical and surgical hospitals earned about $59,650 in that year, while mental health and substance abuse social workers who worked in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals were paid average salaries of $53,520.

What Education Will I Need?

At minimum, you will need a 4-year college degree such as a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), preferably from an institution that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Your course work will include subjects such as human behavior and social environment, general psychology, social welfare, foreign language and social diversity. A bachelor's degree will qualify you for some entry-level social work positions such as case worker or residential counselor.

Many employers prefer to hire applicants who have attained the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. A master's program should last about two years, and is designed to prepare you for caseload management and administrative roles. Master's degrees are required for positions in schools and health care facilities, and for social workers who perform clinical duties. If you choose to acquire a master's degree in social work, your program should include classes such as crisis intervention, financial management, computer applications, applied social work research and advanced social work evaluation.

What Licensure and Certifications are Available?

Although exact requirements vary by state, you must gain licensure as a social worker before you can practice in your field. Approximately two years of supervised clinical work experience is required for licensure. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers certifications for social workers. If you hold a Bachelor of Social Work degree, you are eligible for certifications such as the Social Worker in Gerontology (SW-G), and the Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW). If you obtain a master's or a doctorate degree, you can seek the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) credential. Such certifications can greatly strengthen your career possibilities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors and social and community service managers are some related jobs that require a bachelor's degree. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with patients who have a variety of disorders or conditions, including drug addictions and eating disorders. They work to provide support and treatment for these patients. Social and community service managers oversee social service programs that serve the public. Another related career is a rehabilitation counselor. These professionals need a master's degree. They work to help people who have various kinds of disabilities live on their own.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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