What is a Social Worker?

Social workers are in demand. A career in social work is perfect for those that want to create equity and give back to their communities through advocacy and empathy.

Applications for Pacific’s Master of Social Work Program open in early 2025! Tuition assistance and stipends are available to prospective students from the two-year $1.8 million grant Pacific University received from the Oregon Health Authority to help increase capacity and diversity in the state’s mental health workforce.

Built on a foundation of compassion and understanding, a career in social work allows endless opportunities to solve problems using social justice and conscientious advocacy. 

Integral in connecting people with equitable solutions for problems ranging from housing insecurity to access to technology, a degree in social work means a commitment to helping those in need

There are many different types of social workers, so finding a specialty that suits you can put you on the path to making a difference in people’s lives.

The definition of social work is as varied as the people social workers help. If that sounds up your alley, read on to learn more about a career in social work.


What is a Social Worker?

Social workers — whether as licensed clinical social workers, case managers, or counselors — are helpers and advocates for people in need. 

Jobs in social work involve assisting those who lack essential services — food security, mental healthcare, education, and more — by guiding them through the process of accessing organizations that meet those needs. 

A career in social work is multifaceted and social workers frequently make use of governmental and nonprofit institutions to work toward their client’s need for safety and security.  

Above all, social workers are champions of social justice and believe that everyone deserves the right to be happy, healthy, and housed.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers have a diverse set of skills when it comes to championing their clients. Some (though far from all) of the responsibilities of a social worker include:

  • Observing behavior. Much of social work is based on establishing what exactly clients need in order to be successful.

    One-on-one, at home, or in a group setting, social workers can determine what those needs are through careful observation and conversation.

  • Coordinating housing. Whether currently unhoused or experiencing temporary housing, many social workers help people find permanent living accommodations.

  • Supporting life changes. A large life change can be a big stressor, and social workers can help those experiencing change navigate that transition. 

    Everything from having a child to immigration to reentering civilian life after incarceration can be made easier with the help of social workers.

  • Legal advising. While not allowed to give legal counsel, social workers can point their clients toward organizations that can provide free or low-cost legal representation.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Social Worker?

At minimum, a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is required to begin a career as a social worker right out of undergrad, which can take up to four years

A BSW qualifies prospective social workers for entry-level careers in the field, supporting licensed clinical social workers and their teams. 

For those who want more responsibility and take home greater pay, a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) takes an additional two years to complete. 

Students can apply for graduate social work programs from many different backgrounds, and most applicants leverage the experience of having degrees like sociology, disability studies, and psychology into social work specializations. 

In order to become a licensed clinical social worker, 3,500 hours of on-the-job training and supervised counseling is required (Pacific’s MSW program provides 900 of those hours).  

Who Do Social Workers Help?

Social workers strive to help anyone in need, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation. 

However, due to certain socio-economic and cultural factors, specific groups of people benefit greatly from the presence of social workers in their community. Some of those groups include:

  • The elderly. Helping aging populations with technology, healthcare, and housing access is a huge part of social work, especially when combined with accompanying occupational therapy resources. 

  • People with disabilities. Often discriminated against, disabled persons can gain access to in-home help for indepence-building resources through social workers.

  • Low-income families. Child welfare, access to education, and food security are all issues that can be addressed by access to a social worker.

  • Immigrants. Whether new to the country or long-time residents, helping immigrants through the legal pathways to employment, housing, and citizenship is a popular specialization for social workers.

  • LGBTQ+ individuals. Recent waves of anti-queer legislation have made social workers working within this population more vital than ever.

  • Veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest single employer of social workers in the country. VA social workers are embedded within most VA departments and help veterans and their families access primary care, mental healthcare, community living centers, and more.

What are the Careers for Social Workers?

Jobs in social work are expected to grow by 7% over the next decade, meaning that social work as a profession will be in demand.  

Most social workers work individually with clients as caseworkers, addressing their individual needs on an as-needed basis. 

Caseworkers can be found in mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, assisted care facilities, and anywhere where people may have trouble accessing vital services. 

Many social workers are also employed by local and state governments, helping those in need navigate municipal systems to get the assistance they need.

While not a paid position, social work volunteers are often found performing disaster response, with 40% of all mental health volunteers trained by the American Red Cross being professional social workers. 

How Much Do Social Workers Make? 

The salary for social work can vary depending on the level of education and licensure attained, with licensed clinical social workers making up to $15,000 more a year than those without licensure. 

Across the industry, in 2022 social workers made on average $55,000, with salaries in the top industries being:

Child welfare and education


Ambulatory healthcare 


Local government




Secure your place in Pacific's Master of Social Work Program with our new Guaranteed Graduate Admissions program!