Types of Social Worker Career Paths

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 training and responsibilities, though they are all striving to help those who can’t meet their basic needs on their own due to various obstacles.social work careers

What Are the Different Types of Social Work Careers?

There are three top types of social work:

  1. Macro
  2. Mezzo
  3. Micro

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).i

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.ii

Famous Female Social Workers

Jane Addams, perhaps the most famous female social worker, was awarded the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize because of her work with Chicago’s poor, which led her to found one of the world’s first settlement houses—the renowned Hull House.

5 Types of Clinical Social Workers

The five most common types of clinical social workers are:

  1. Child and family social workers
  2. School social workers
  3. Healthcare social workers
  4. Mental health and substance abuse social workersi
  5. Military social workers

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. 

List of 10 Master of Social Work Degree Programs

As each of the types of social work 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.

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.

1. Boston University

With more than 33,000 undergraduate and graduate students and nearly 10,000 faculty and staff members, Boston University offers 17 colleges and schools and 250 fields of study.

The school offers a variety of MSW options, including a:

This degree emphasizes service and action to advance core values such as social and economic justice and respect for diversity. In addition, the Macro MSW program combines coursework, field education, and supplementary programs to teach theory and skills in community organizing and planning.

2. Rutgers University

As the State University of New Jersey, Rutgers University is a leading national research institution and the state’s preeminent public higher learning institution. Founded in 1766, the school is the eighth oldest higher education institution in the United States.

With one of the most ethnically and racially diverse student populations in the nation, the Rutgers School of Social Work attracts students who are concerned for individuals, respect diversity, and promote social justice.

The school offers a Master of Social Work with two concentrations:

  1. Clinical Social Work
  2. Management and Policy

3. University of Pittsburgh

Founded in 1787, the University of Pittsburgh is also one of the oldest higher education institutions in the United States. Plus, some of the alumni has been responsible for defeating polio, unlocking the secrets of DNA, and leading the world in organ transplantation.

The University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work offers a Master of Social Work (MSW) that was ranked #10 by U.S. News and World Report in 2016. This program has the unique advantage of being able to draw on the dynamic setting and variety of field education agencies in the area.

4. Sacred Heart University

At Sacred Heart University, they know that the true worth of your experience won’t come in the facts and figures you learn. Instead, they believe that the inquiry and the passionate pursuit of knowledge are the greatest gifts they can teach.

The MSW programs at Sacred Heart strive to deepen your level of assistance to vulnerable populations and prepare you to take leadership roles in the field, which is why they offer two concentrations:

However, in order to expand your work in social service and responsibility with advanced, comprehensive knowledge, each program integrates components of both concentrations.

5. The Catholic University of America

The Catholic University of America was specifically founded by the Catholic bishops of the United States to be the national university of the Catholic Church of America. In order to solve the problems of contemporary life and enrich the culture around us, the school finds new and exciting ways to apply the inexhaustible resources of the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Seeking to prepare advanced practitioners who act as agents of change, the Master of Social Work (MSW) at CUA is rooted in traditional values and theory, but also teaches current demands of the changing environment.

6. Widener University

Widener University believes that academic excellence, career preparation, and civic engagement are the foundation of success, which is why those values are incorporated into more than 60-degree options university-wide.

As one of the social work career paths you can pursue, the Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Widener is a trauma-focused degree.

This MSW teaches how trauma is oftentimes a preceding cause of mental-health challenges and incorporates trauma as a central theme in all coursework.

7. Winthrop University

Through an educational experience that blends liberal arts, professional programs, and global awareness, Winthrop University is committed to be among the very best institutions of their kind in the nation.

The Department of Social Work at Winthrop offers a Master of Social Work (MSW) which incorporates the use of advanced social work theories and methodologies for assessment and intervention across systems.

8. Simmons College

For more than a century, Simmons College has offered a pioneering liberal arts education in the heart of Boston. Simmons encompasses the benefits of a small university in one of the nation’s best college towns.

With a progressive, hands-on curriculum that integrates education and practice with social justice values, multicultural perspectives, and a strong emphasis on field education, the Master of Social Work program at Simmons provides a rigorous clinical social work education.

9. Our Lady of the Lake University

Founded in 1895 by the Congregation of Divine Providence as a coeducational comprehensive institution, Our Lady of the Lake University prepares graduates to transform their communities, families, and professions.

For 75 years, Our Lady of the Lake has taught social work that prepares students to change the lives of children and families in need.

With the goal of preparing professionally trained social workers for specialized intervention, the Master of Social Work (MSW) fosters commitment to culturally competent practice with diverse populations.

10. University of Washington

As one of the world’s preeminent universities, the University of Washington has a profound impact on individuals, the region, and the world. By offering an unshakable optimism and a strong belief in possibility, UW possesses a strong conviction that together we can create a world of good.

The nationally ranked MSW and Social Work Program at UW prepares students for leadership and direct path positions. The school offers a variety of learning options to accommodate the personal and professional interests of students and their work-life demands.

Different Social Work Careers and Their Paths

social work careers; clinical vs macro

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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 managing 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

Social and Community Service Mangers

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were a total of 147,300 Social and Community Service Mangers in 2016.iii

Mezzo Social Work Careers

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.

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 military social work, which includes working with military service members and their families to cope with the challenges accompanying military life and reentering civilian life.

Micro Social Work Jobs

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

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Private practice
  • Homeless shelters

Did You Know?

According to the BLS, the expected job growth for social workers for the years 2016 to 2026 is 16%, well above the average for all jobs.iv

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker?

All clinical social workers are required to become licensed by their individual state. In order to become a licensed social worker you need to earn a master of social work, or MSW.

However, if you earned a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than social work, but still want to help the less fortunate overcome their challenges, have no fear!

Many MSW programs allow students from any major to enter the field, though courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended.ii

Other requirements to become a licensed social worker include:

  • Minimum of two years of supervised clinical experience after graduation
  • Pass clinical exam
  • Accrue state-specified number of hours working directly with clients

Keep in mind that specific licensure requirements vary from state to state. For instance, many states have on-going or continuing education credits and on-going supervision requirements.

There are two main types of licensing for social workers, which are listed below.

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

For most states, earning your MSW is enough to qualify for the Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW). Social workers with this licensure are dedicated to enriching the lives of their clients by helping them overcome obstacles and investigating the root causes of their emotions and negative behavior.

Some of the ways those with a LMSW can help are:

  • Careers in case management for child protection or government agencies evaluating eligibility for public assistance
  • May work on policy reform or social advocacy jobs
  • Help clients change harmful behaviors
  • Empower clients to create new choices to become happier and reach their full potential

While the LMSW licensure is an important step for social workers, many find that advancing their careers requires continuation to LCSW.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

While many social workers begin their careers with a LMSW license and move onto a LCSW, it’s important to remember that one is not necessarily better than the other.

However, those who are Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) are the only types of social workers allowed to provide, without supervision:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Assessment-based planning
  • Diagnosis

Those with a LCSW may be able to:

  • Have direct service positions such as schools, hospitals, drug rehab centers, inpatient psychiatric facilities, outpatient mental health clinics, emergency and crisis evaluators, private practices
  • Offer professional supervision to newer clinicians in the field, which may lead to professional advancement

LCSW Requirements

Keep in mind that earning a LCSW usually has many more requirements than a LMSW. One of these requirements includes a minimum of 2,000 client contacts over a continuous three to six-year period. Usually, this also includes at least 100 hours of individual or group clinical supervision during that time.

Every state has their own requirements, which is why it’s important to check out the specific qualification requirements in your state.

Importance of MSW

92% of healthcare social workersvand 57% of mental health and substance abuse social workers have a master of social work degree.vi

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.

Check out any of the sponsored listings on this page to learn more about the curriculum, available concentrations, and how to apply. Or, click on the button below to get matched to the perfect program for you.


[i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-2 [ii] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-4 [iii] bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm#tab-6 [iv] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-6 [v] onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1022.00 [vi] onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1023.00

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