Types of Social Worker Career Paths

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Social Worker Career Paths

Social workers have a variety of career paths from which to choose. This blog post will outline the different types of social worker career paths and their associated duties. It is important for students who are interested in pursuing a social work career to understand the many different options that are available to them.

social work careers


What is a Social Worker?

Social workers are human services pros who help people solve and deal with issues. These issues may be emotional, behavioral, mental or physical. Since the field is so broad, many social workers stick to a specific area or work with a particular group. Like veterans, the homeless, poor or youth services. In each role, they may counsel, listen and help people who struggle. Often this means linking out to resources like food stamps, shelter or childcare. If curious about social worker jobs, you are likely to need a social work degree.

There are many different types of social workers, and each type has its own set of skills and responsibilities. The different types of social workers can be organized into three different levels.

What Are the 3 Levels of Social Work?

Social Work career types can be organized into 3 main broad categories. The three top types of social work include:

  1. Macro (large systems)
  2. Mezzo (institutions and smaller groups)
  3. Micro (clinical, usually individual or family)

While many people think of clinical social workers as the only type of social workers, in reality there are many different types of social work careers. All types of social work careers have their own unique education and responsibilities, though they are all striving to help those who are unable meet their basic needs on their own due to various obstacles. Here’s what you need to know as you consider a social worker career path.

While each of these have different roles and responsibilities, they share the common goal of helping people cope with problems in their everyday life (such as mental health, substance abuse issues, or a lack of resources) (BLS). In order to become a social worker, some entry-level positions only require a bachelor’s degree. The most common social worker operates at the micro level and is also referred to as a clinical social worker.

In order to become a clinical social worker, you must earn a master of social work and have two years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after you earn your degree (BLS).

What is Macro Social Work?

Macro social work careers strive to help people and clients at a large scale, such as through advocating public policy change to support at-risk populations. Therefore, these social workers usually address issues experienced by mezzo or clinical social workers to help them perform their jobs better and to help their clients.

Through these types of systematic changes and support, macro social workers strive to help empower those to overcome the challenges and obstacles they face. By performing, organizing, and analyzing research and studies, these types of social workers try to understand and alleviate problems on a large, systematic scale.

Macro Social Work Examples

Some examples of macro social work include:

  • Researching social issues
  • Developing and managin social work programs
  • Advocating for the needs of specific populations
  • Lobbying to change a health care law
  • Organizing a state-wide activist group
  • Large-scale social policy change

Macro Social Work Jobs

Some of the macros social work careers available to those interested in macro social work include:

  • Community organizer
  • Public official
  • Researcher
  • Immigration policy advocate

Quick Fact:

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were a total of 178,400 job opportunities for Social and Community Service managers in 2022.

What is Mezzo Social Work?

Mezzo social work falls between micro and macro social work and involves working with smaller groups or institutions. As opposed to working with individual clients, these types of social workers look to engage in institutional or cultural change.

However, because of the unique challenges that face mezzo social workers, usually they have experience with both macro and micro level work. This experience, plus education and licensure, allows important skills to develop, such as interpersonal relations and community involvement.

Mezzo Social Work Examples

Some of the examples of mezzo social work include:

  • Providing group therapy or counseling to support groups
  • Organizing community groups
  • Evaluating an organization’s goals, structures, and operations
  • Strengthen relationships within a team, business, or community group
  • Facilitate group discussions or processes to improve decision making

Mezzo Social Work Jobs

Mezzo social work includes working with certain groups, institutions, and organizations, such as:

  • Small and medium-sized businesses
  • Schools
  • Local charities or non-profits
  • Community service organizations

Did You Know?

Only about one third of all professional social workers are employed by the federal, state, and local governments combined.

What is Micro Social Work?

As the most common type of social work, and the one most often thought of when people say “social worker”, micro social work involves working directly with individuals, families, groups, and communities.

Also referred to as clinical social work, micro social workers are the largest group of mental health providers in the U.S. Therefore, these social workers are on the front line and are often involved in one-on-one counseling services for individuals in need.

Micro Social Work Examples

Some examples of clinical social work include:

  • Diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders
  • Providing group, family, or couples therapy
  • Collaborating with clients and health care professionals on treatment
  • Creating and implementing treatment plans
  • Helping individuals find appropriate housing

Micro social work may also include:

Did You Know?

According to the BLS, the expected job growth for social workers for the years 2022 to 2032 is 7%, well above the average for all jobs.

Micro Social Work Jobs

Clinical social workers usually work in a variety of settings, which include:

The five most common types of clinical social workers are:

  1. Child and family social workers
  2. School social workers
  3. Health social workers
  4. Mental health and substance abuse social workers (BLS)

Clinical social workers can have a variety of other positions, so check with your school or job listings for other opportunities in careers in social work.

Different Social Work Careers and Their Paths

social worker career path

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How to Become a Social Worker?

A social worker must have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree or a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Most states also require social workers to be licensed.

Some LCSW programs allow students to build a professional skillset that allows them to be identified as a social worker. They may also learn legal and ethical standards as it relates to the field, use evidence based research to meet the needs of their clients, and apply theories such as those on human growth and development to the work they do.

What Is a Master’s Degree Program in Social Work?

A master in social work (MSW) is a graduate level program that prepares students to work as a social work leader. This may include preparing them to address regional or national concerns, and sometimes global issues. The curriculum may differ from one program to the next, but here are some tips that may help you how to choose a grad program in social work. Students often study topics related to providing services, administrative practices, policy reform, community change, and advocacy.

As each of the types of social work career path have different responsibilities, there are a variety of master of social work, or MSW programs, that emphasize different aspects of the field. Most common are clinical social work masters degrees because it is a requirement to become a clinical social worker. However, many programs allow you to choose a concentration, which may include the option of macro or mezzo social work.

  • Some of the nation’s most affordable tuition rates, from a private, nonprofit, NEASC accredited university
  • Qualified students with 2.5 GPA and up may receive up to $20K in grants & scholarships
  • Multiple term start dates throughout the year. 24/7 online classroom access

What Kind of Jobs May You Get with an MSW?

Those who earn an MSW may qualify for a range of positions in various levels of the industry. This could include working in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, government agencies, and rehabilitation centers. Some of the potential positions may include:

An online social worker degree may help ready you to pursue or enhance a career. Many of the jobs are for full time roles in these top industries.

  • Individual and family services
  • Local government agencies, except education and hospitals
  • State government, except education and hospitals
  • Ambulatory health care services


According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for social workers was $55,350 in May 2022. Find out more on Social Worker Salary.

Find the Perfect MSW Program for You!

Are you looking for ways to help those in need? One of the best ways to do that is to earn a graduate degree in social work or master of social work.

If you want to learn more about social work you may be interested in these other topics:

Macro social work degrees deal more with larger scale policies and best practices issues that affect entire communities. On the other hand, mezzo social work options at the intermediate scale at the neighborhood or institution level. Check out some of the sponsored MSW programs available below to learn more about the school, the specific program, and follow any of the links to contact the school directly.

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