Psychology & Social Work

Social Work

Is social work the right career for me?

Social work is an excellent career choice for those who care about human dignity and social justice-and it may be just what you are looking for.

If you want a career with meaning, action, diversity, satisfaction, and an abundance of positions, social work is for you! Social workers are skilled professionals who work to empower individuals, relieve suffering, and affect social change. They are generalists and specialists who work in a wide variety of settings but apply common core values, principles, and techniques.

Video: On Any Given Day: Social Workers Help »

Social work is set apart from other helping professions by its "person-in-environment" orientation. Social workers view clients within an environmental system that includes their personal and significant relationships, economic and social conditions, and physical and mental health issues. Social workers help people identify and manage the interrelated factors that have created or contributed to the problems they face, and select interventions that might provide relief or resolution.

Social workers are also advocates for social change. They serve as facilitators, coalition builders, and activists in organizations, communities, and local, state, and federal governments to help meet the basic needs of all people and strengthen those who are vulnerable, oppressed, or living in poverty.

For sheer variety, few occupations can match social work and the broad range of opportunities and settings it offers (Careers in Social Work: Part 1 and Part 2). Social workers work in mental health and health care, in child welfare and aging, in management and in clinical settings. They work in hospitals, schools, businesses, public agencies, police departments, private practices, and many other interesting workplaces. They are managers, therapists, community organizers, educators, and researchers. They are on the front lines and behind the scenes. They are in large cities and in small communities. Wherever people are, social workers are.

» Read more about social work careers

Are there any college loan forgiveness programs for social workers?

A number of loan forgiveness programs are available to help social workers pay off student loans. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is a good source for up-to-date information on these programs (

Can I earn a living working as a social worker?

The median income reported by National Association of Social Workers (NASW) members working full-time in social work employment in 2004 was $51,900. The data show that 11 percent of members earn $80,000 or more; 22 percent, $60,000-$79,000; 20 percent, $50,000-$59,000; 23 percent, $40,000-$49,000; 19 percent, $30,000-$39,000; and 5 percent, under $30,000.

How much education do I need to work as a social worker?

Three levels of social work education-bachelor's, master's, and doctoral-are offered in colleges and universities across the United States. Professional social workers, as defined by the NASW, hold a degree in social work from an accredited Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) college or university at one of these levels. Degree programs include both classroom study and practical field experience.

The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is the undergraduate or baccalaureate degree. It provides a professional social work foundation that prepares students for professional practice and is transferable to different settings, populations, and problem areas.

The Master of Social Work (MSW) is the graduate degree. It prepares students for advanced practice and is the degree necessary to provide mental health counseling in most states.

The Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) and the PhD are post-graduate degrees that prepare students for teaching and research at the university level.

(Source: CHOICES: Careers in Social Work, National Association of Social Workers, Washington, DC.)


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