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Social Work Major Overview

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Posted: September 24th, 2021
Social Work Major Overview

Do you have a passion for helping others through their difficult times? Do you enjoy working closely with individuals, families, and organizations? If so, you might be interested in pursuing a career in social work – a field of study dedicated to finding the best solutions to help those who are vulnerable or disadvantaged.

Keep on reading to learn all about the social work major, including what it is, coursework you can expect, and possible post-graduation career options!

What is a social work major?

Simply, social work majors study and learn how to improve people’s lives, trying to understand the problems and challenges they face in order to do so. More so than in psychology, these problems are often tangible, and can include issues like homelessness, addiction, or family violence. Social work majors study social welfare systems, including (but not limited to): health care, unemployment compensation, housing and child care assistance, food stamps, and more. Such knowledge helps majors learn about the possible ways that they can help people in trouble. Introducing people in need to relevant resources or counseling is a big part of being a social worker. 

By the time a social work major graduates, they should be able to critically analyze social work policies. In addition to this, they should be capable of suggesting well-thought-out solutions for people’s problems. They will better understand how to work with individuals, families, communities, and organizations.

P.S.: If you’re looking to major in social work but want some help funding your college journey, check out top social work scholarships!

Also see: Top 15 college majors for the future

Coursework to expect

Besides the major-specific classes that one can expect in any major, social work majors should also expect to take a range of liberal arts classes. Such liberal arts classes may include subjects like foreign language, philosophy, history, political science, or even law. Additionally, one’s social work classes will likely cover a range of topics and issues, from research, to ethics, to analysis.  

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a social work major:

  • Welfare State
  • Social Work Research
  • Human Behavior
  • Ethics of Social Work
  • Policy Analysis
  • Community Resources
  • Modern Social Problems
  • Populations at Risk
  • Social and Economic Justice
  • Social Policy and Services

Earning a Bachelor’s in Social Work often requires students to complete fieldwork of some sort, where students receive social work training at internships or through volunteering. Such programs also allow students to network, which may help them more easily find jobs post-graduation.

Opportunities after graduation

On that note, what are some of the career options that social work majors can pursue after graduating? Well, like many of the fields within the humanities or social sciences, there are a variety of industries post-graduation. From health care facilities, to governments, correctional facilities, schools, and even military bases – those who major in social work have much freedom to choose where they want to work once they graduate. The jobs performed at each place will likely differ though, and some occupations may require state-administered licenses.

For now, though, here’s just a few career options you can pursue with a degree in social work:

  • Behavioral Management Aide
  • Community Outreach Worker
  • Eligibility Worker
  • Human Services Specialist
  • Probation Officer
  • Rehabilitation Case Worker
  • Child and Family Social Worker
  • Behavior Analyst

Also see: What are the fastest growing careers?

Jobs you can get with a Social Work degree

Generally, no matter what type of industry or work setting you want to enter post-graduation, the job of one with a degree in social work will revolve around helping others. Whether this be on a one-to-one basis, or working with communities and groups, you’ll be working to make a positive change in others’ lives. What exactly does that look like though, and what type of jobs will allow you to do that? Well, let’s check out a few (with data straight from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)!

1. Social Worker

Social workers help people solve the problems in their daily lives. This includes issues in their homes, communities, and other local environments. To do so, they assess their clients needs, support networks, and situations, helping them face challenges in a way that will best fit them. Social workers also respond to crisis situations, such as child abuse or mental health crises. They make sure to follow up with their patients, checking for improvement and providing additional help if need be. While some social workers only hold a bachelor’s degree, most hold a master’s degree and have at least 2 years of post-master’s experience in a clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state they work in. 

2020 Median Pay: $51,760/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 12%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists work directly with probationers, parolees, and their friends and family to evaluate rehabilitation progress. With this information, they try to develop the best courses of action to further help their probationers. To help inmates prepare for life post-release, they also provide them with relevant resources and programs, including job training. To become a Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist, one must hold a bachelor’s degree and will often be required to pass oral, written, and psychological tests.

2020 Median Pay: $55,690/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

With a focus on promoting health and wellness, Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers determine the health needs of communities. With this information, they teach people about relevant wellness topics and how to stay on top of their health. Further, they create health-related events and programs, and evaluate the success of each of their programs and educational materials. While Health Education Specialists typically need a bachelor’s degree, Community Health Workers generally only need a high school degree and some on-the-job training.

2020 Median Pay: $48,140/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 17%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Rehabilitation Counselors

Assisting those with mental, emotional, physical, and developmental disabilities to live independently, Rehabilitation Counselors help their clients overcome the struggles that living with a disability might bring. Consulting with their clients’ doctors, therapists, and other professionals, they develop appropriate treatment plans to help their clients progress. In order to become a Rehabilitation Counselor, one must hold a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a similar field and may need a license as well.

2020 Median Pay: $37,530/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 10%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently asked questions about social work majors

Is getting an MSW (Master’s in Social Work) worth it?

Whether getting an MSW is worth it is ultimately dependent on someone’s goals. While there are plenty of social work positions open to those who only hold a bachelor’s degree, earning an MSW can lead to more advanced career opportunities and higher salaries. MSWs are also required in the majority of states to become a licensed clinical social worker but are not necessary for caseworker or mental health assistant positions. For many, a major consideration in whether one should pursue a MSW or not is money. While those with an MSW earn around $13,000 more per year than those holding a bachelor’s in social work, pursuing an MSW also means accruing more student loan debt. To learn more about what an MSW entails and costs, check out Is It Worth It to Get a Master’s in Social Work?.

Related: What is a master’s degree?

How do I know if a major is right for me? 

It’s always a little difficult to know whether a major is a good fit for you or not. So, if you’re thinking about majoring in social work, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Are you curious about modern social issues?
  • Do you value empathy?
  • Are you passionate about helping people?
  • Do you enjoy thinking of new ways to solve problems?
  • Are you a “people person”?

If you answered “yes” to the majority of these questions, then a social work major may be a great fit for you! Good luck in college!

See Also: How to pick a major

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