Becoming a Social Worker: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A social worker's mean annual salary is $58,410, but is it worth the education and licensure requirements? Get the truth about the job description and career outlook to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Becoming a Social Worker: Pros and Cons

By getting involved in social work, you'll be getting into a career that can allow you to help your community. Keep reading to take a look at the upsides and downsides of becoming a social worker.

Pros of Becoming a Social Worker
Part time and volunteer work can be pursued to test your interest in this field before committing to it full-time*
Variety of different career specializations are available*
Faster than average job growth (about 19% from 2012 to 2022)*
Favorable job prospects*

Cons of Becoming a Social Worker
Evening and weekend hours can be required*
Licensure or certification is required in every state*
Career advancement can be dependent upon possessing advanced education*
Job competition can be stiff in areas with social work training programs*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Information on Social Worker Careers

Job Description

A social worker helps solve problems in the lives of others, which can involve intervening on behalf of a child in an abusive family environment or helping someone with a disability live a functional and happy life. People who face problems like substance abuse, unemployment or homelessness often turn to social workers for help. A social worker tends to specialize in a specific type of work. For example, there are medical and public health social workers, child, family and school social workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers.

Info on Salary

The salary you'll earn as a social worker is dependent upon what area of social work you're involved in. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014 reported that child, family and school social workers made around $46,000 on average annually. Healthcare social workers had a yearly average salary of about $53,000, while mental health and substance abuse social workers made an average of around $45,000 in a year. Finally, social workers in other categories were reported to make about $58,000 annually, according to the BLS.

Job Growth Info

Overall employment growth for social workers is projected to be around 19% between 2012 and 2022, but growth is dependent on specialization. According to the BLS, healthcare social workers may experience high employment growth of 27%, due in part to the general aging of the population. Additionally, social workers specializing in mental health and substance abuse are expected to have a 23% growth rate in employment, due to increased legislation and more insurance companies offering coverage in this area. On the other hand, child, school and family social workers are only expected to experience a 15% employment growth, due in part to a lack of public funding.

Job Requirements

Education

The minimum requirement most employers are looking for in social workers is a bachelor's degree in social work. Other acceptable majors for this career include sociology and psychology. Social workers that need a master's degree tend to work in school and health settings. Private employers may also prefer advanced degrees, especially for administrative and supervisory positions. If you're looking to get into research or teaching, you'll normally need a doctorate degree. Before enrolling in a program, you'll want to make sure the program has received approval from the Council on Social Work Education (www.cswe.org).

State Licensure

In every state, there is some form of registration, certification or licensure social workers have to acquire. Most states require that you have 3,000 hours or two years of supervised experience in the field to even be considered for a license in social work. Prior to pursuing this career, you'll want to check what the specific requirements are in your state to become employed as a social worker.

What Employers Want in Social Workers

Employers are interested in hiring social workers who can remain impartial and mature while still being sensitive and caring. In order to maintain and build a good reputation, an employer needs a social worker who can keep positive relationships with clients and the community. Generally, an employer wants to make sure a social worker can handle pressure and keep a level-head before hiring them. Take a look at what some employers were requesting for social work positions on various job websites in March 2012:

  • In Alabama, there was a request for a social worker who had the endurance to work on their feet for long periods.
  • An adoption center in Tennessee wanted a social worker with two years of experience in child welfare.
  • A social worker with a master's degree can find a position in education services in New York.
  • A coordinator opening in Kentucky required a social worker with experience in team leadership.
  • In California, a regional center was looking for a social worker who was bilingual and had experience with developmentally disabled children.

How to Stand Out as a Social Worker

As a social worker, you can stand out by getting involved in local government. This allows you to become familiar with social work laws in your area and allow you to campaign to change government policies in a favorable manner. By taking this initiative, you can demonstrate your commitment and professionalism to employers and other social workers.

Another way to stand out is to become educated in the local communities and culture you'll be working with. For example, if you want to work in a Hispanic community, learning Spanish can help make you more valuable to an organization. If you're having difficulty standing out from other social workers in a large metropolitan area, the BLS reported that rural areas have trouble finding and maintaining properly trained social workers due to their remote locations. Finding employment in areas like those might be easier for you than in a big city.

Other Occupational Choices

There are a variety of occupations that utilize many of the same skills as those used in social work. If you feel that social work is not for you, but you're still interested in helping others, consider some of the other possible careers in this area. Some may require additional education and have different licensing requirements that those found in social work.

Health Educator

If you're interested in applying your social work skills towards making an entire community healthier, then you could consider becoming a health educator. A health educator meets with members of the community to answer questions on exercise, dieting and avoiding illnesses. In some cases, a health educator might host a discussion on a specific topic like binge drinking or breast cancer. After hosting a program, a health educator may perform evaluations on the effectiveness of the event. In May 2010, the BLS found that health educators on average made about $50,000 in a year.

Psychologist

If you like social work, but wish to work in a more private setting; you might want to become a psychologist. Having studied human behavior, a psychologist can examine and interpret the behavior of a person in regards to others and the world. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned around $73,000 on average in May 2010, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Human Services
      • MSHUS - Family and Community Services
      • MSHUS - Organizational and Social Services
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
      • BS in Human Services
      • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
    Certificate
      • Certificate in Human Services
      • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
      • Adult Gerontology Practitioner Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Sacred Heart University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
      • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Central Christian College of Kansas

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Online Programs Available
    7. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Child Care Professional
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Widener University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Hybrid Dual Master of Social Work/Master of Education, Human Sexuality Studies
      • Master of Social Work

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Human Services
  • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
  • Certificate in Human Services

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Human Services

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?

Central Christian College of Kansas

  • Associate of Arts

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology

Are you a US citizen?

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services

Are you a US citizen?