Becoming a Social Service Worker: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
Learn about a social service worker's job duties, salary, education and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a social service worker career.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Social Service Worker Career

A career as a social service worker can be very rewarding because you are able to help a wide range of clients, from abused children to individuals who are living with drug abuse. Check out the pros and cons of this career below.

Pros of Being a Social Service Worker
Help individuals with personal problems*
Find social services for a client**
Save vulnerable populations from abuse, such as children**
Faster than average job growth (19% growth between 2012-2022)**

Cons of Being a Social Service Worker
Work may be stressful and emotional**
Large caseloads are often given to social service workers**
Frequent travel**
Licensing varies state-to-state*

Sources: *Salary.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Duties and Description

A social service worker directly helps patients or clients with their everyday problems. A social service worker will identify the problem and develop a plan of action; this may involve an assistance program, counseling or rehab. A direct-service social worker is different from a clinical social worker who has to diagnose patients medically or behaviorally and provide therapy.

Job Salary and Prospects

From 2012-2022, employment for all social workers is expected to increase by 19%, according to the BLS. When it comes to specific clientele, childcare, school and family social workers will see a 15% increase during this time. In contrast, careers for general healthcare social workers are projected to grow 27% and jobs for substance abuse or medical illness social workers will increase 23% in the same decade.

According to Salary.com, the median annual salary of a social service worker who has a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) was about $50,000 in 2015. In contrast, Salary.com found that the median annual salary of social service worker with a Master of Social Work (MSW) earned approximately $58,000 during that same year.

Career Requirements

Education Requirements

The BLS states that all direct-service social workers need at least a BSW to gain employment. Higher-level positions in social work, such as those in healthcare or at schools, might require a MSW. A BSW is acceptable for most entry-level jobs, while an MSW provides opportunities to perform some work-training. To become a social service worker, you need to be licensed in the state you are working. The licensing requirements vary from state to state, but generally includes a certain number of clinical hours in the field and an exam.

What Do Employers Look for?

Many of the clients that social service workers represent are children, the mentally ill and disabled. Some jobs may want you to be available on-call in case a crisis occurs. In addition, being bilingual will help you communicate with family, friends or clients who are not proficient in the English language. The following jobs were available as of May 2012.

  • A Utah state department needs a social service case worker who helps in the care of children or youth. The social service case worker will be trained on the job and will network and advocate on behalf of the youth for social services and medical care. Prospective applicants will need to be on-call 24 hours for their clients.
  • A state department in Missouri needs a childcare social worker who can help children who have been neglected or abused. BSW candidates should have one year of experience in childcare services, but an MSW graduate does not need this experience requirement.
  • A California regional health center needs a bilingual social worker who can help and advocate for mentally ill patients. The worker must evaluate the patient to see what social services or private care can be provided. The social worker also needs to interact with family and friends and decide what the best care is for the patient.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Get Specialized

Even if you do not deal with clients in a clinical way, specializing in the field may help you become better prepared for the job. For example, the BLS outlines that there are direct-service social workers who work with children, families, in schools, or with people who live with mental, physical or substance abuse. The BLS states most social workers are trained to handle each client-group with compassion and sensitivity unique to every group. For example, you will need a different level of sensitivity toward a child than you would with an adult living with substance abuse.

Develop Related Skills

In order for your clients to trust you, you'll need to prove that you are reliable. Developing impeccable listening skills, being organized and having good time-management skills can demonstrate your commitment. Since clients need to be in a comfortable, compassionate environment, your role as a social worker is to make sure you are available and provide assistance when needed.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Social Community Manager

If you still want to help provide social services to clients, but you prefer to have greater managerial control, you can become a social community manager. A social community manager helps social workers and members of the community find the best ways to allocate social service resources across a region. The BLS reports that social community managers should see an employment increase of 27% from 2010-2020. The median annual salary for a social community manager was approximately $59,000 in 2011. The BLS states that employers typically want a candidate with a bachelor's degree or master's degree in social work.

Mental Health Counselor

If you want to focus more on mental health issues with clients rather than finding and providing social services, a career as a mental health counselor might be for you. A mental health counselor is a professional who works with a person or group of people with psychological or emotional problems. The BLS outlines that all states require a mental health counselor to have a master's degree and a license to practice in their state. In addition, the BLS states that the employment growth for mental counselors will grow by 36% from 2010-2020. The median salary for mental health counselors was about $39,000 in May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Human Services
      • BS - Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Psychology - Gerontology
      • Doctor of Psychology - Gerontology
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychology
      • Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Seton Hall University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management
      • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services
      • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • High School with Child Care Professional Pathway
      • High School with Child Care Professional Pathway
    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Child Care Professional
      • Career Diploma - Guest Service Agent
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Sacred Heart University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
      • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    9. View High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • High School Diploma
      • High School Credit Recovery
      • High School for Homeschoolers
      • High School for Adult Learners
      • GED Equivalency
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Social Work - Advanced Track
      • Master of Social Work - Standard Track
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. General Studies - Human Services
      • Bachelor of Social Work - Pre-Social Work
      • B.S. General Studies - Liberal Arts
    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Human Services
      • A.S. General Studies - Liberal Arts
    Certificate
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Human Services
      • Undergraduate Certificate - General Studies

Featured Schools

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Human Services

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Psychology - Gerontology
  • Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Seton Hall University

  • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services

Are you a US citizen?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology

Are you a US citizen?

Penn Foster High School

  • High School with Child Care Professional Pathway
  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma - Child Care Professional
  • Career Diploma - Guest Service Agent

What is your highest level of education?

Sacred Heart University

  • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
  • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?