The job outlook for social workers has never been better, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for social workers to grow by 16% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average rate for all occupations. Earning an online social work degree unlocks many opportunities in clinical and community-based practice. Some social workers find employment in the healthcare industry and social service agencies.
They also work in a variety of positions in government organizations, mental health facilities, and substance abuse clinics. This guide provides information about career paths and salary potential to help you figure out what to expect from an online social work program and beyond.
While distance programs may not fit the needs of every student, they offer clear benefits to motivated self-starters who prefer to work independently. The convenience of online social work programs appeals to working professionals and people with family responsibilities that keep them from attending traditional campus-based programs.
Many online social work degrees feature flexible scheduling formats, as fully online programs offer asynchronous courses that enable students to log in to classes anywhere and anytime. Students who prefer more collaborative learning models can choose online social work degrees that use synchronous formats, placing students together in courses offered at set times and days.
Students have the option to complete their online degrees in social work part time or full time in an accelerated format that requires significantly less time than an on-campus program. An online degree in social work costs about as much as a brick-and-mortar program, although some schools may offer more affordable tuition rates. Online learners also save on transportation costs and rent.
An online social work degree equips graduates with a versatile skill set that translates into a variety of career paths. In addition to entering positions in traditional social work settings such as healthcare, mental health, and social services, graduates increasingly find positions in counseling services, government agencies, and private clinical practice. An online bachelor's degree also provides the necessary academic foundation for a master's in social work (MSW), as graduate training in social work significantly expands career possibilities, leading to state licensing and supervisory positions.
The best online social work degrees provide their graduates with professional training in counseling principles, interviewing techniques, intervention protocols, case management, and advocacy. Social workers must possess strong written and verbal communication, interpersonal, analytical, and problem-solving skills to offer effective services to their clients. Social workers planning to enter clinical practice or those working with at-risk populations need to develop diagnostic skills to recognize problems, identify sources of conflict and stress, and develop appropriate treatment plans.
Social workers must develop cultural competency, tolerance, and empathy to understand how social differences can impact their relationships with diverse clients. All social work professionals, regardless of their specialized area of practice, must hold a genuine commitment to service and improving the lives of others.
While an associate degree leads to entry-level employment in the helping professions, better paying and more fulfilling positions require at least a bachelor's degree and, in some cases, state licensure. Several certifications, including school social work, gerontology, and mental health and substance abuse counseling, require a bachelor's degree and supervised experience in the field.
Social workers help clients cope with challenging personal situations. They provide services to children, families, the elderly, and vulnerable populations. They often work in stressful conditions in hospitals and medical centers, mental health facilities, and social service agencies, dealing with clients who manifest a variety of behavioral and emotional difficulties. As key members of the helping professions, social workers must apply best practices while displaying a caring and compassionate demeanor, motivated by their desire to improve the quality of life of individuals in need.
Community Mental Health Centers: These community-based facilities serve local residents from low-income backgrounds who lack proper access to healthcare. While bachelor's in social work (BSW) holders employed in these settings cannot offer clinical services, they can provide support in case management, community outreach, rehabilitation services, and resource advocacy.
Healthcare Services: Social workers employed in hospitals and medical clinics offer counseling and support services to patients, families, and caretakers. Although specific duties may vary by the type of facility, healthcare social workers develop treatment plans and coordinate patient needs, such as transportation, equipment, therapy, and home care.
Social Services: Social service agencies provide direct services to children, families, and other at-risk individuals. Although social workers with undergraduate training may not hold a state license for clinical practice, they can execute a variety of other functions for clients coping with behavioral and emotional challenges.
Nursing Homes: Skilled nursing facilities provide care for post-operative patients, the chronically ill, and the elderly who can no longer manage their lives independently. Social workers in these settings work with nurses and other skilled staff members to develop treatment plans and provide custodial and emotional care.
Child Welfare Services: The child welfare system investigates child abuse and neglect and furnishes support and resources to children and families. Child and family social workers arrange for protective services, medical and psychological treatment, foster care placements, and adoptions.
Annual Median Salary: $64,100
These managers work in healthcare and social service agencies, hiring employees, supervising staff, administering procedures, developing programs, and assisting with client issues. They also work with community members to identify their program needs, creating and implementing outreach activities that address community-identified issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence, and unemployment.
Annual Median Salary: $47,980
Social workers treat clients with emotional, behavioral, and social issues. They provide resources and advocate on behalf of their clients, families, and caregivers. Duties include case management, interventions, and referrals. Although licensed clinical social workers must have an MSW degree to provide direct client services, graduates with a bachelor's degree find employment in many social work settings performing non-clinical services.
Annual Median Salary: $43,300
These professionals provide treatment for clients dealing with a variety of challenges, including alcoholism, drug abuse, eating disorders, and violent or self-destructive behaviors. While many social workers enter this field with only a bachelor's degree, most states require licensing for clinical practice. Social workers in these settings often seek specialized certifications in substance abuse and behavioral disorders.
Annual Median Salary: $44,380
School social workers identify students with emotional and behavioral issues and provide them with services that address their challenges. School districts increasingly employ these professionals at the elementary through high school levels. School social workers confer with teachers and staff to identify at-risk students, provide counseling, and arrange referrals to outside professionals if needed.
Annual Median Salary: $45,360
These educators offer personal and group educational services that help people maintain their health and access to healthcare services. Community health workers provide information on health conditions, benefits and insurance, and care and prevention, focusing on the needs of specific groups. They may work in community agencies, government offices, and schools.
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