Social Worker: Occupational Outlook & Job Profile

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a social worker. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

A career as a social worker is about helping people with their problems, which can involve relationships, mental health, abuse, daily struggles, and so on. If you're an organized individual who wants to bolster people's lives through guidance and counseling, then consider becoming a social worker. Depending on the position, a degree in social work or related field such as sociology or psychology is needed, and possibly even a license.

Essential Information

Social workers help individuals and families deal with a variety of issues, including social, personal, medical and mental health problems. They provide counseling, social services and treatment for clients. Most entry-level positions in this field require a bachelor's degree in social work or a related subject, while other positions may require a master's degree. State licensure or certification is also common.

Required Education Bachelor's or master's degree in social work; a degree in a related field such as psychology, sociology, or a similar subject may also be acceptable for certain positions
Other Requirements State licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 12% (faster than average)
Median Salary (2015)* $45,900 per year

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Outlook for a Social Worker

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in social work are expected to increase by 12% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). This growth will be propelled by the needs of children and of the aging population, as well as the substance abusers who are increasingly being placed into treatment programs rather than being sent to prison. As such, the BLS notes that those with a background in substance abuse treatment may have the best opportunities in the industry.


The BLS divides salary information for social workers into those who work with children, families and schools, within in the healthcare industry, and with mental health and substance abuse. As of May 2015, the median salary among all social workers was $45,900.

Job Profile for a Social Worker

Social workers may work for public or private agencies, schools, hospitals and healthcare facilities. They may address the needs of specific groups, such as children, families, senior citizens and students, or choose to focus on specific social and psychological issues like individuals with terminal illnesses, cancer, AIDs or substance abuse problems. Social workers participate in duties that may include interviewing clients, assessing client needs, preparing case reports, provide counseling services, collaborating with other treatment providers and maintaining treatment plans.

Educational Requirements

A bachelor's degree is the usual entry level requirement for a job in social work. Most employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor's degree in social work; however, aspiring social workers may also find jobs with majors in sociology, psychology and similar fields. Social work majors may take courses in human behavior, social work practice and social welfare.

A master's degree in social work may be required for certain positions, especially for clinical work and in schools and health environments. Although a bachelor's degree in social work is not needed to begin a master's program, prior coursework in psychology, social work, sociology and political science are helpful.

Licensing Requirements

Social workers who use titles, such as licensed social worker, or participate in clinical practice are regulated in all states and the District of Columbia. Standards vary by state, but licensure requirements typically include two years of supervised clinical work.

Being a social worker warrants exceptional communication and problem-solving skills, as well as a sense of empathy for one's clients. A master's or bachelor's degree in social work will likely prepare you for a number of jobs, but a degree in psychology or sociology can be suitable. Licensing is mandatory for those working in a clinical field.

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