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What Can You Do With a Major in Social Work?

Social work degree programs prepare students to help clients and patients to deal with problems in everyday life, from poverty to unemployment. Students in a social work major can earn a bachelor's or master's degree.

Job options for graduates of social work programs include social worker, social services director and mental health counselor. Social work is offered as a major at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Career Options

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are numerous types of social workers, including those in clinical, geriatric, child and family, school, medical and mental health specialties. With a bachelor's degree, which is the minimum education needed to work as a social worker, graduates can pursue careers as licensed social workers, case managers or social services directors. Examples of jobs for master's degree holders include mental health therapist and executive director.

Social Worker

The most common career path for individuals who major in social work is a job as a licensed social worker. After completing their bachelor's degree in social workers, aspiring social workers must pass a licensure exam. From there, they can pursue jobs in community-focused organizations, where they can help clients address life challenges and access community resources. Some social workers choose to specialize their practice; some options include:

  • Child and family social work
  • School social work
  • Healthcare social work
  • Geriatric social work
  • Mental health and substance abuse social work

According to Payscale.com, the median annual salary for an entry-level social worker was $40,217 in March 2017.

Social Services Director

Social services directors, sometimes called social service managers, hold leadership positions at community organizations. They are in charge of coordinating services and overseeing the activities of lower-level social workers within the organization. They evaluate the programs that the organization provides, and develop strategies for improvement. In addition, they manage the organization's budget and write proposals for necessary funding.

Although a bachelor's degree in social work is the minimum educational requirement for this job, directors are expected to have previous work experience in the field of social work. As of May 2016, the median annual salary for social and community service managers was $64,680, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mental Health Counselor

Before working as a mental health counselor, it is necessary for individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in social work to complete a master's-level counseling program and pass a licensure exam. Once licensed, mental health counselors are prepared for jobs in which they diagnose and treat patients with mental health disorders, like anxiety and depression. They may provide individual counseling, as well as group counseling for couples and families. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2016 that the median annual salary for mental health counselors was $42,840.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Universities often have specific schools or departments of social work or sociology that offer the major of social work. After four years of study, this degree program often amounts to a Bachelor of Social Work, which qualifies graduates for entry-level social worker positions. This field consists of a combination of social work, social sciences, and other liberal arts courses required to work in this field upon graduation. Students take introductory courses in psychology as part of the curriculum to understand social systems and human behavior. Other required courses may include:

  • Elementary statistics
  • Human behavior
  • Social welfare
  • Communication

In addition to these courses, students are often required to satisfy internships at local healthcare centers, welfare offices, schools, and government agencies during their undergraduate career. These internships help them understand how social workers assist clients, including homeless children and families.

Master's Degree in Social Work

Master's degree programs for prospective social workers typically lead to a Master of Social Work (MSW). This program type may be meant to prepare current professionals for more responsibility in their field, although many options are available for individuals with very little prior training or experience.

Graduate students can expect to learn strategies for specific problems, such as poverty reduction, influencing government policy and the obstacles faced by current or developing non-profit organizations. Courses may cover topics like:

  • Research technology
  • Social welfare policy
  • Mental health practice
  • Community services
  • Family services
  • Youth services

According to Payscale.com, the median salary for individuals with an MSW who had -4 years of experience was $43,614.

Individuals who choose a social work major at either the bachelor's or master's degree level can find a variety of jobs within the field of community services.

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