Last Updated: August 11, 2021
Social Work Degree
Social work refers to an academic as well as a professional discipline that serves to improve the overall quality of life as well as the subjective well-being of members of the society, including individuals, groups, communities, children, couples, and families. Social work also involves education for disadvantaged individuals suffering from poverty, physical or mental illnesses, social injustices, violations of human rights, and violation of civil liberties. The profession of social work involves both the protection of the rights and well-being of individuals and communities that have been marginalized along with the overall pursuit of social justice.
A professional social worker is a worker who is licensed and registered and also holds a professional degree in the field of social work. As such, to be able to practice in the US, a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or a doctoral degree in social work from an accredited program is mandatory. To start working as a social worker in most of the states, a license is also necessary.
There are over 600 colleges spread across the US which offer various degrees in social work including certifications, associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, graduate-level certifications, doctoral degrees, and also first professional degrees.
Social Work Degree Programs
Top Colleges for Social Work Programs
Some of the top ranked schools and universities in the US offering degrees in social work include:
- University of Chicago
- Columbia University
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
- University of Wisconsin
- University of Pennsylvania
- Case Western Reserve University
- Brandeis University
- University of Pittsburgh
- Washington University
- University of Minnesota
In the US, both the undergraduate as well as master's programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The largest organization of professional social workers in the US is the National Association of Social Workers.
Professional social work is considered to be of multiple disciplines and draws itself from many areas including sociology, psychology, politics, economics, law, health, philosophy, anthropology, ecology, and also criminology, among many others. Social work is considered to work on a continuous model of development and requires study as well as experience to apply for social work professionally.
Specializations and Estimated Salaries in Social Work
Social Work degrees can include a number of specializations. Some of the top ranked specializations in social work, as well as their average estimated median salaries, are listed below:
- Master's in Social Work Counseling: $49,500
- Master's in Social Work Case Management: $54,900
- Master's in Social Work Geriatrics: $41,000
- Master's in Psychiatric Social Work: $51,000
- Master's in Social Work Operations Management: $65,000
- Master's in Social Work Fundraising: $49,500
- Master's in Social Work Program Management: $57,250
Career Options for Undergraduates
With an undergraduate degree in social work or even an associate degree, one can get into entry-level job positions. The popular career options are:
- Case Management Aide- The job of a case management aide is often hectic as they are required to communicate with several people with regards to cases and social services. This also includes being adept at using computers and technology, doing tons of paperwork for the administration and the clients, ensuring the well-being of the people, identifying problematic areas in different cases, managing case files, and a lot more. Case management aides deal with different people with different issues related to child welfare, mental health, physical violence, immigration, crime, homelessness, drug abuse, disabilities, and more. It is the responsibility of the aide to manage work within the management, assist people in need, inform different communities and clients about the prerequisites of applying for cases, ensure the safety of clients and their data, etc. The average annual salary for a case management aide is around $39,000 to $40,000.
- Probation Officer- Probation officers assist to rehabilitate criminal offenders and track their progress to avoid further criminal activities. Probation officers are required to conduct a thorough inspection of the people accused of crimes, look for previous records of crime (if any) and check the circumstances that may have led to the crime. Probation officers are to regularly check on the prisoners to ensure that they are abiding by the rules of the probation sentence, and inform the court in case of any violation of the guidelines. The job of the probation officer is a type of community service as they are required to apply methods that help the offenders correct their behaviors, (with a view of avoiding any form of threat to society) and not follow a life of crime thereafter. The job requires extensive training in different areas as it involves dealing with different kinds of offenders of different age groups. The average base salary of a probation officer is around $45,000, annually.
- Human Services Specialist- The main responsibility of a human service specialist is to give guidance or any form of assistance (monetary, emotional, or healthcare) to different communities in society. They are trained to assist people who seek to get enrolled for a government-aided program, monetary assistance, or community services and evaluate if the candidate is qualified for admission. They may have to organize and manage programs based on different kinds of people and their needs like counseling, health treatment plans, family or child welfare programs, employment workshops, and so on. A human service specialist is also required to handle various distressed clients, communicate with them, manage cases, and educate them about different policies, programs, or laws that may be beneficial to them or their situation. Even though an undergraduate degree is sufficient to get hired as a human services specialist, some states or organizations require the candidate to procure a license or certificate. The average base salary of a human services specialist is around $34,000, annually.
- Community Outreach Worker- It is the duty of a community outreach worker to look out for diverse communities or marginalized groups in need of help (food, shelter, financial assistance, legal help, emotional distress, substance abuse, etc.) and represent them in society by conducting various programs that facilitate assistance. They are also required to enlist and train eligible volunteers, hold fundraising programs and follow up on potential donors and sponsors who are willing to make donations for different causes. Responsibilities also include making different services accessible to the needy, educating and creating awareness among the masses about various issues existing in society, building and maintaining strong bonds with the leaders of different groups or communities, local authorities, and so on. The average base salary of a community outreach worker every year is around $44,000.
Career Options for Graduates
Graduates having an online MSW degree from an accredited university meet the educational qualifications for most social work careers. They can work in a variety of environments, including but not limited to schools, hospitals, and community organizations. They can be employed as the following:
- Social Service Manager- The role of a social service manager is to direct and manage major community outreach programs and also take actions to assist the destitute and people ostracized and marginalized in society. Social service managers voice the needs of such people and the major issues they face among the masses, thereby, spreading awareness. They are responsible to reach out to the staff members and lead them with regards to administering various duties for the administration as well as the society, and also review and revise or bring improvements in the rules and policies within the organization. They work in tandem with various other organizations (government or non-profit) and establish strong connections with different people and communities. The annual average base salary of a social service manager may be estimated to be around $57,000 and may increase up to $70,000 based on experience.
- Juvenile Court Liaison- The role of a juvenile court liaison is to address issues related to children or adolescents. They are required to track the history, family background, and health records of children and do detailed research on their cases ( mental issues, emotional trauma or distress, drug abuse, etc.). They are also responsible for providing appropriate guidance to probation officers with regards to correcting the behavior of the child or fostering treatment plans. Some states or organizations require the candidate to go through an extensive training process through court. The average annual salary of a juvenile court liaison may be estimated to be around $46,000 per year.
Places of Employment for Social Workers
- Adoption Agencies
- Area Agencies on Aging
- Child and Family Services
- Child Welfare Organizations
- Community Action Programs
- Domestic Violence Centers
- Foster Care Agencies
- Government Agencies
- Health Care Centers
- Health Maintenance Organizations
- Homeless Projects
- Nonprofit Organizations
- Public Service Agencies
- Private Social Service Agencies
- Religious organizations
Other Career Options
It takes great responsibility, dedication, patience, and discipline to pursue a career as a social worker. Like most fields of work, social work has also got diverse areas of focus but may not be as lucrative in the initial stages. With advanced educational qualifications and experience, it will be advantageous for candidates to get jobs in high-paying positions. Other career options with an MSW degree include School and Career Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, Substance Abuse Counselors, Health Reform Advocates, Behavior Analysts, and so on. With a doctorate in social work, one can also work as a Professor of Social Work, Human Services Administrator, Child Welfare Researcher, etc. According to the chosen area of focus during graduation, a license is a must to start a career as a social worker. The rules and requirements are different for every state. Enumerated below are the several types of social work licensure as mandated by The Association of Social Work Boards -
- Licensed Social Worker (LSW)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Macro Social Worker (LAMSW)