Pursuing a Career Path in Social Work: What Opportunities Are Out There?


Social work is not exactly a career specialty; rather it is a broad category, which means that although it may seem like a singular career path, it is in reality much bigger and more varied in scope than that. While much of the work is indeed related to or stems from various social aspects, that isn’t a limiting factor for social workers.

As we explore some of the varied opportunities in the field of social work, anyone interested will become more aware of the numerous prospects out there. More interestingly, it should be noted that if you already are a professional in any other field of work, there is a high possibility that a flexible online MSW can help you extract more from your career than before. More on that as we progress further into the discussion.


Social Worker for Healthcare: Public and Private

Some of the most prospective career paths with high income potentials as a social worker go through healthcare. However, it should be noted that the social worker’s income and progress in healthcare or any other field will depend on three primary factors, as stated below:

  • Experience in the field
  • Qualifications and expertise relevant to the field
  • The company/state agency

Experience will always play a role in every profession, so there’s little to explain there, but depending on the demographics that the healthcare worker is handling in the public sector, their responsibilities and the pay scale will vary.

For example, if you are working in a rural setting with a small community of people,making them aware of certain important aspects of local healthcare and public wellbeing, you are working within a relatively smaller demographic. However, if multiple villages/small towns within a large rural section are put under your responsibility, both the workload and the payment will increase.

As far as qualifications and expertise are concerned, it has to be directly related to either social work in general, or the field of healthcare. For example, those that already have a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, stand to benefit quite a bit by completing their online MSW from a University with Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Accreditation.

Not only does it guarantee a pay bump, but a master’s degree will provide the training and knowledge necessary for handling more advanced situations and duties. Given that online MSW programs are meant for working professionals, these offer a practical way to gather experience and boost one’s social work qualifications at the same time.

On the other hand, if the social worker also happens to be a physician, a nurse or any other kind of medical professional qualified and experienced in direct healthcare, that would be a huge bonus for the agency he/she decides to work for.

Next, let’s take a brief look at the possible career opportunities which a pure social work graduate may look forward to on joining this section of the industry:

  • General healthcare social work
  • Clinical/hospital/hospice social work
  • Medical social work
  • Psychiatric social work
  • Social workers for geriatric healthcare
  • Community health workers and educators
  • Public health administrators and public health policy workers
  • Healthcare administrators in private agencies
  • Healthcare workers with environmental specialties

There are various subdivisions to each of the divisions we just mentioned, and furthermore, depending on your social work and medical qualifications, the creation of new roles and further augmentation of the old ones are also possible. 

This is precisely what makes a career in this sector so lucrative; it’s such a vast field with numerous prospects.New ones are often added specifically to cater to a particular region or section of the population, or at times, to deal with specific, urgent developments.

Becoming a Teaching Professional in Social Work

There is currently a huge gap between the number of social workers available and the vacancies in the sector. Alarmingly, it’s as high as 25% in some states, and they are also the ones that need social workers the most.

The pay scale has been revised to raise the median salary of the average social worker to roughly $58,000 per year, with the upper echelons of the wide sector earning well over $100,000 per year or more. In order to fill these vacancies, more qualified professionals are needed, which actually presents another job opportunity for those that are already in it.

Social work teachers, professors, trainers and instructors are most often people who have worked in various sectors for years, before joining an institution to prepare more social workers and meet the growing needs for SWs across multiple sectors.

Those that are looking to pursue a more academic path later on should at least complete a CSWE accredited online MSW program and preferably, should continue to pursue their PhD later on. As far as the pay range is concerned in teaching social work, it usually scales with one’s experience and educational qualifications, in addition to any other qualifications that are relevant to the field of SW that they are teaching in.

Counseling: A Wide Field in Itself

Counseling is a truly wide career path for social workers to pursue, and it actually is an intricate section of what psychiatric SW involves. Once again, do note that just like healthcare (which psychiatric counseling is a part of), any social worker with additional experience in the field of psychology will be able to do a better job and will in turn, receive higher payments for it.

Also, depending on how qualified the counsellor is, there will be differences in their ability to take on certain responsibilities or offer aid. For example, a counselor who is also a qualified psychiatrist will be able to prescribe medication to those that need it, if and when required.A psychologist or a general counselor on the other hand, will not have those privileges, and therefore must stick to therapy alone. With that being cleared up, let’s now take a look at the multiple career options that social workers can pursue as a counselor.

Substance Abuse and RecoveryCounseling

As the title suggests, counseling in substance abuse and recovery requires the SW to help addicts come out of their dependence on the substance/substances to which they are addicted to. It also entails helping former addicts prevent a relapse, or potential addicts being counseled out of forming a habit.

You will need special training to deal with people suffering from substance addiction, but it is a very lucrative path to pursue, especially if you have a background in psychiatry. However, as judges will often send convicts who are facing jail time to substance abuse and recovery therapy, the job will need you to deal with people from all walks of life on a daily basis.

General Mental Health Counseling

Your field of work as a general mental health counselor can include any establishment from a school or a corporate building, to a prison facility, depending on your own choices and the demand in the area where you are working currently.

This is one of those areas of social work which is indeed occupied by psychotherapists and psychiatrists, since it deals directly with various kind of mental health issues. A highly rewarding and well-paid job, it should be pursued if you have always found the human mind to be quite interesting, if not fascinating. Also, it might be time to get a more advanced degree in psychiatry as well.

Child and Family Therapist

Although these positions are often filled by general mental health counselors, it is a specific section of social counseling which involves mostly schools, families, children and public sectors in childcare. Depending on the job title and where you are working, child and family counselors may work in helping troubled families, children in troubled families, orphans, foster parents, adopted children, school students and the like.

Many social workers with counseling careers prefer dealing with family and children in particular, because they are, more often than not, the most willing and probable to be affected positively and make changes post therapy. Also, children often do need psychological support more than adults, including teenagers.

A family and childcare counselor might also be able to act as a connection between a child and his/her parents to help them resolve issues.Perhaps most importantly for those that work in the public sector, childcare counselors are often able to detect at-risk children and take measures to protect them from harm, be it from peers, teachers, one or both of their parents/guardians, or even themselves. On the flipside, they should also be able to detect hostility in school children before they bubble out in a way that ends up harming others.

Human Resources: The Unorthodox Role of the Social Worker

Human resources was originally not part of the many fields that social work covers, but it is so now. It shouldn’t come as a surprise really, since the job of the HR department is quite similar to what social workers working in community building are already used to;a much more privatized way to do the same, but with a more professional and much smaller set of individuals.

The difference in the type of personalities a social worker usually deals with should not be too hard to get used to at all, especially given that the objectives of building and maintaining a harmonious, comfortable and productive in-house environment are so similar to what a social worker may already be used to doing on a much more complicated level.

Research and Progression in Social Work

One of the most specialized roles reserved only for experienced and highly qualified professionals, research in the field of social work is dedicated towards achieving any or all of the following, depending on the research project itself:

  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of a particular method/theory/project
  • Identification of the problems that are hindering the concerned project/theory
  • Identification of the deficits in any current project and/or the theories applied to achieve the end goals
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness for all of the aforementioned, in relation to a particular agency
  • Qualitative and performance-based evaluation of the agency and/or project
  • Comparative analysis of the qualitative and performance-based evaluation reports on multiple agencies and/or projects
  • Development of improved theories and models of social work, based on the aforementioned findings

Social work researchers are hired by both the government and the private sector for their expertise in research, evaluation, comparison and development of solutions to different problems that concern a certain demographic.

Initially, you may want to get started as a research assistant to one of the more popular names in the field of social work research, and work your way up from there. Having a master’s degree in social work is a basic requirement, but a doctorate might also be necessary. In fact, a lot of social work research assistants get their first job in that role while completing their doctorate.

The Social Policy Makers: Politicians and Lobbyists

Perhaps the most powerful position to hold in the field is that of being a social policy maker in the state or federal government. This is not exactly a career path for social workers, so to say, but more of a goal for public policy workers.

The idea behind the work is to first promote positive social changes via education and government sanctioned programs to establish whether a theory is workable or not. If it works and turns out to be a success, the next step would be to make the legislative changes necessary to turn the theory in practice, into a social policy for improvement and public benefit.

The role of the public policy workers is quite straightforward, but in order to become an actual policy maker, political, financial and social influence will be necessary.

Consider that even after such a long discussion, we have not even been able to cover all of the broad classifications that define social work, to get an idea of how vast the field really is! In summary though, it would suffice to state that there is opportunity, vacancy, numerous variations, specializations and actual, social benefits to pursuing a career and higher studies in social work.