What Can You Do With a Master’s in Social Work?
Social work is one of the fastest growing and most diverse fields in the United States. Within the field of social work, there are dozens of potential specializations and hundreds of possible job descriptions, leading to almost limitless career options. But what exactly is social work, and what can you do with a social work master’s degree?
Understanding the Field of Social Work
Social workers empower individuals and communities — particularly those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed — to address challenges and thrive. Careers in social work are extremely versatile, and social workers practice in a wide variety of settings, such as health care, community mental health, child welfare, hospice or long-term care, schools, ecological justice organizations and public-policy think tanks. Learn more about how to become a social worker and the social work skills you will need to succeed.
The Demand for Social Workers
In the United States, social work is expected to continue growing faster than average through 2031, with more than 70,000 social work jobs available each year. The field of social work is growing internationally, too!
Social Work Salary
Salaries for social workers can vary a lot based on the job and the location, but nationwide, the median annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in 2021. With a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, you’ll earn more than you would with a bachelor’s degree alone. Most graduates report becoming managers and experience increased salaries and responsibilities within two years of earning their MSW.
Available Careers with a Master’s in Social Work
Aging Services & Policy
Are you interested in aging, working with older adults and their families, and leading change efforts for an aging world? Social workers interested in aging services and policy provide clinical care in health, behavioral health, memory care, community and residential settings. Additionally, social workers intervene in social justice issues impacting older adults through educational outreach, program management, and development, advocacy and policy work. Potential career options include:
- Working in medical settings, hospice agencies, long-term care, behavioral health settings, adult protective services or community outreach organizations
- Working within organizations or government as a policy analyst, researcher, program director or program innovator
- Increasing social connections between and with diverse older adults through services that promote intergenerational connections, serve older refugee and immigrant adults, older persons of color and older LGBTQ+ adults
Are you passionate about working with vulnerable populations, transforming individual lives and empowering children and families to thrive? If so, you may enjoy a career working with children, youth and families across the continuum of care within the child welfare system, from entry to exit in both public and private child welfare agencies. Potential career options include:
- Working in human services as a child welfare caseworker, supervisor or case manager; foster care social worker; adoption specialist; or as a family or child protection specialist
- With a focus on policy and administration, career options could include working in the office of the Guardian Ad Litem, in the legislature, as a grants administrator or as a child welfare researcher
Children and Youth
Are you passionate about prevention, curious about child and youth development, and interested in developing new ways to promote positive outcomes for young people? If so, consider focusing your career on children and youth. Work across developmental stages, from birth to early adulthood, in settings that include mental health clinics, family services, community and government agencies, schools, youth programs, treatment centers and the juvenile legal system. Potential career options include:
- Working as a school social worker, mental health clinician or intake/assessment specialist
- Focusing on program development as a before- and after-school program director, college promotion program manager or wilderness program leader
Climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, natural resource depletion and other urgent environmental problems are rooted in structural inequalities, oppression and lack of understanding of social–ecological systems and interdependencies. Social workers who specialize in ecological justice have a deep understanding of these systemic issues and work to address them. Potential career options include:
- Working as a climate justice director, community organizer, grants administrator or sustainability specialist
- Applying a clinical focus as a therapist, advocate, case manager or disaster relief worker
- Advancing wellness as a recreation specialist or wellness program coordinator
Family Systems Practice
Are you interested in working from a family systems perspective with clients in a variety of direct-service, private-practice and family-policy settings? Family systems techniques can be applied to working with individuals, couples, families, organizations, constituencies and communities in a wide variety of settings, including mental health and family services agencies, child welfare, legal systems, schools, treatment centers, private practice and community social service agencies. Potential career options include:
- Applying a clinical focus as a therapist, case manager, juvenile case worker, adoption social worker or parenting coach
- Improving health and wellness as a behavioral or wellness health coach, medical social worker or case manager
- Making a public impact as a policy analyst, program manager, research associate, public educator or community organizer
Health & Wellness
Do you want to explore health and wellness from either a traditional or holistic/complementary perspective? Interested in shaping health care programs and policies or helping to improve the health and wellness of individuals and communities? Social workers with this focus work in hospitals, federally qualified health centers, primary care clinics, dialysis centers, hospice and palliative care programs, long-term care centers, rehabilitation centers, school-based clinics, university health promotions, and wilderness/nature based programs. Potential careers include:
- Working as a medical social worker, dialysis social worker, hospice social worker, case manager, LCSW social worker or behavioral health treatment therapist
- Working in an integrated health care setting as a behavioral health provider or consultant, mental health clinician or LCSW/LSW social worker
- Working as a wellness or behavioral health coach, health navigator, prevention specialist or program director
- Working in public health policy, hospital administration or veterans’ affairs
Coping with trauma, balancing mental health needs or helping communities through feelings of isolation and loneliness are all ways a mental health practitioner can affect the day-to-day lives of the people they serve. Students often ask if they can become a counselor with a social work degree. Yes! With a master’s in social work, you can become a counselor or therapist in community mental health once you have your LCSW license. Potential career options include:
- Addressing trauma as a case manager for people experiencing homelessness or interpersonal violence, a clinical social worker in a hospital or medical setting, a mental or behavioral health therapist at the VA medical center, or a counselor at a community mental health center
- Working within organizations or government as a mental health policy analyst, grants manager or national policy director
- Working as a counselor/therapist, certified addiction counselor or substance abuse prevention specialist
Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice
If you want to build the capacity of communities, organizations and policymakers to advance human rights, social justice and the well-being of all people, then consider an organizational leadership and policy practice social work career. Community social workers use leadership skills to develop programs, lead and manage organizations, build community coalitions, craft and analyze social policy, implement programs, engage in policy research and advocate for policy and program change to support best practices for social service and social change. Potential career options include:
- Working as an organizational leader and manager, fundraiser, program evaluator or program manager
- Working as a policy researcher, advocate or policy evaluator in nonprofits, government organizations or in the legislative arena
- Serving as a community organizer, coalition leader, communications manager or social justice advocate
With an MSW, you’re not limited to working in social work. For instance, you could work in the corporate world as a diversity, equity and inclusion officer, corporate social responsibility executive or human resources expert. Put your degree to work in international human rights, or get a law dual degree and represent undocumented immigrants. You can also consider social work positions in nontraditional settings, such as working in a public library assisting people experiencing homelessness. With an MSW degree, career options are practically limitless.