If you want to take your social work career to the next level, establishing a career management plan could help you advance in this constantly evolving market. Progressing forward in your social work career could give you a sense of accomplishment, allowing you to showcase your skills, and, of course, it can even result in better pay.

Career planning revolves around establishing objectives for every stage in your career to help you make purposeful and logical moves. 

Instead of something that you do just once and set aside, career planning should be an ongoing process in which you recognize opportunities in your present position to improve your skills, broaden your horizons and build your knowledge.

This article discusses the steps you can take to progress your career in the social work industry.

What is the value of a social work career?

Social work education shouldn’t be considered a simple one-off experience. If you have a social work degree, consider your commitment to professional development a continuous pursuit. 

Development in a social work career involves various practices such as training and networking to improve your efficiency. 

As times change, social workers must work toward getting the latest knowledge in their respective areas.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) refers to continuing education as a primary contributor to professional development. 

Social workers who actively participate in educational opportunities can maintain and enhance their proficiency in service delivery, according to the NASW’s Rules of Professional Education. This helps change lives. 

As the foundation of social work is in education, a master’s in social work degree can help you find your purpose and lead the way to newer career paths.

That said, a degree is the beginning of your social work education. Social work requires aspiring social workers to advance professionally and benefit from new learning opportunities throughout their careers.

Pursuing a master’s in social work

Many BSW graduates or graduates of programs in related fields, such as human services and psychology, can continue their education by applying for a Master of Social Work (MSW) program – for example, via Keuka Online MSW Advanced Track. Getting a master’s degree may lead to more job opportunities for graduates and allow them to work on specified populations or a more generalized practice.

The requirements of an MSW Program

To apply for an MSW program, applicants must have a bachelor’s from an accredited university or college. A bachelor’s in social work is not usually required unless a candidate applies for advanced education. However, most universities may require candidates who have exhibited an understanding of social work or a similar field. As with a BSW program, MSW candidates may be assessed based on criteria such as:


  • Standardized aptitude testing 
  • Past academic performance
  • Credible references
  • Social skills reflected in a personal statement
  • Personal values, behavior and qualities
  • Previous work and volunteering experience

The expected coursework for MSW degrees

While there is no pre-established curriculum for an MSW program, such degrees are usually designed to involve generalist and specialized instruction. Examples of foundational courses can include subjects such as:


  • HBSE (Human Behavior in a Social Environment)
  • Social Work Research
  • Group Work Practice
  • Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families
  • Social Work in a Multicultural Society
  • Community Intervention Strategies

On the other hand, specialized courses may cover a broader range of topics that could include trauma, health, mental health, schools, children, veterans, policy, social services leadership, and clinical social work. Specialized courses from the same course of study can include:


  • Psychodynamic Theory
  • Health Policy and Systems
  • Community Organizing
  • Management in Social Services
  • Development in Social Services
  • Clinical Social Work (Adults)
  • Cross-Cultural Social Work
  • Social Services Staff Development
  • Clinical Social Work Practice in Schools
  • Substance Abuse Social Work in Groups
  • Interprofessional Practice with At-Risk Youth (IPRY) 
  • Policy Analysis for Social Work
  • Social Policy (Older Adults)

Numerous MSW programs also make it necessary for students to complete a clinical component, enabling them to demonstrate the application of academic education via a project, most often achieved via a field education agency.

Licensing in the social work career

Although a master’s degree in social work is crucial to career progression, licenses obtained via regulatory boards are just as vital.

For instance, a social worker holding an MSW but not clinical licensure (LCSW) is not allowed to practice therapy with clients.

Social workers must partake in regular continuing education practices to maintain licensure in most US states. This lets them stay updated with modern research and the latest professional techniques.

Moving forward with your education will also help you to stay in contact with other professionals and give you networking opportunities.

Some licensing can differ from state to state. There are multiple specific titles and certification levels. The most common requirement for obtaining these licenses is an MSW. You can determine your state’s licensing requirements by referring to the Association of Social Work Boards’ database.

Below are a few examples of licenses that require an MSW in most states:


  • LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
  • LCSW (Licensed Certified Social Worker)
  • LMSW (Licensed Master’s Social Worker)
  • LICSW (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker)

What exactly is career progression?

Career progression includes coaching people, getting promoted, availing training opportunities, dealing with new challenges, supervising staff, working harmoniously with new employees, and seeking new opportunities. Understanding how to move forward in your social work career leads to job satisfaction.

This is not to say that you will not see challenges come your way. After all, social work is both a fulfilling and demanding career. Choosing which area you wish to hone in on relies on your existing skills, interests and career goals.

Jobs to consider in your social work career

Many candidates enter the social work field due to the deep desire to aid vulnerable populations. A rather unexpected perk is that social work jobs are expected to surge in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are projected to increase by 13% from 2019 to 2029. The surge is linked to a growing aging populace, an increase in lifespans, and the growing obligation to provide relief to struggling groups and individuals.

Besides this, social workers can also expect a good income, with the median yearly pay being $50,390. Acquiring an MSW can help to broaden your employment opportunities and make for above-average earnings. If you are planning to move forward in your social work career (or aspire to), you can consider the below careers.

Gerontological social worker

The senior citizen population is seeing a constant increase in the US. 22% of Americans were above 65 in 2019, and this is estimated to go up to 39% by 2050. With the population of senior citizens growing, the need for geriatric social workers is also rapidly increasing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the senior social work profession may grow by 20% in the next decade.

Those who pursue this type of social work will have employment security and expect a slightly higher income. Such social workers work in mental health clinics, senior centers, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and community health centers.

Geriatric social workers have the following responsibilities:


  • Aiding senior citizens in their transition to nursing home facilities.
  • Understanding and fulfilling seniors’ needs.
  • Offering information to patients and families on their duties and rights.
  • Assisting senior citizens and their families in getting private transportation and healthcare services. 
  • Advocating for their clients’ needs.
  • Identifying aging trends in seniors, normal and abnormal.
  • Recognizing signs of elderly abuse and neglect.
  • Referring clients to psychologists and therapists to promote their mental health.

Mental health and substance abuse social worker

Nearly 8.4 million individuals were reported suffering from substance abuse and mental health disorders.

The growth rate of mental health and substance abuse social workers is also expected to be 17%. The two conditions impact individuals of all age groups and financial classes. 

Such professionals can work in welfare organizations, hospitals, health clinics and residential treatment centers. They may also go into private practice to provide psychotherapy or counseling.

The responsibilities of these social workers include:


  • Educating families to understand and help the patient.
  • Assessing and assisting individuals with mental, emotional and substance abuse, such as alcohol and drugs.
  • Offering clients therapy, case management and educational resources.
  • Joining forces with nurses, physicians and counselors to organize treatment.
  • Checking patients’ progress during their treatment.

Healthcare social worker

Social workers who progress into healthcare can expect a promising career ahead as this sector may grow 20% over the next decade. Healthcare social workers may work in hospital wards, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, among other settings. Such professionals usually receive some of the highest salaries.

The obligations of social workers in the healthcare field include the following:


  • Providing counseling and patient education.
  • Removing obstacles in the way of healthcare access.
  • Directing patients or their families to recovery resources.
  • Providing support to aid families, individuals and groups tackle acute, chronic and terminal illnesses.
  • Working with other health professionals to identify a patient’s diagnosis and needs.
  • Offering advice to caregivers on their treatment options and helping with their needs.

Veterans Affairs (VA) social worker

Veterans stand for patriotism with the undying will to serve our country. Unfortunately, when these individuals return from war zones, they suffer from many problems, most notably when re-entering everyday life. Veterans Affairs social workers can help these veterans with disability compensation, counseling, housing assistance, training and education.

Such social workers can work in Veterans Affairs centers and programs such as Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV), Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO), and Support Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).

The responsibilities of these individuals usually include:


  • Helping veterans apply for benefits from Veterans Affairs (or other organizations).
  • Advocating for veterans’ emotional, mental, social and physical wellbeing.
  • Helping veterans tackle the emotional, psychological, social and familial challenges of returning from war.
  • Offering outreach to displaced veterans and helping improve their situations.
  • Providing counseling to veterans. 

Child welfare social worker

If you are passionate about helping and working with children, a child welfare social work career may suit you. In this social work sector, you will be given the unique opportunity to make a meaningful impact on a child’s life.

As the name suggests, social workers provide services to abused and neglected children or children from low-income families who cannot care for them. These specialists work with child protective services to analyze child neglect and abuse reports, intervene in house environments considered unsafe for children, and place them in safe environments.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for child welfare workers is expected to increase by 16% over the following years.

Child welfare social workers look for careers in charitable organizations, adoption agencies, foster care, and child assistance agencies.

Wages for this kind of job may increase based on where the professional works. A bachelor’s in social work qualifies you for entry-level roles, while a master’s offers higher-level opportunities.

The crucial responsibilities in this social work field may include:


  • Reporting case files.
  • Investigating and analyzing child abuse and neglect cases.
  • Placing children with foster care or adoptive families. 
  • Vetting families who are to adopt children.
  • Protecting and advocating for abused, mistreated and neglected children.
  • Promoting the emotional, psychological and social wellbeing of neglected children.

Skills to embody in your social work career

The following are some vital skills to help you achieve success in your career as a social worker:


  • Emotional intelligence – When working with clients, social workers must be emotionally intelligent to identify their clients’ social cues, which may help in their cases.
  • Social skills – Practical communication and active listening can help you work more closely with clients, gathering all the crucial details.
  • Organizational skills – Organizing electronics and paper can help you stay focused while simultaneously working on multiple cases.
  • Cultural awareness – To display cultural competence is effectively examining your background and belief system and being curious and respectful about other identities.
  • Professionalism – Constantly developing better ways to help your clients via hands-on learning and classes. Applying that knowledge professionally will help you move forward in your career with grace.