Millennials claim they want to make positive impacts on the world, but most lack direction when it comes to finding meaningful career paths. For those unsure where to turn, there will always be social work.

Social workers are perhaps the most benevolent people on the planet. They work for average pay, less thanks, and virtually no deference, yet most remain respectfully dogged in their desire to do good. There is no doubt that the world is a better place because of social workers. However, even as social work becomes more and more necessary, it seems to be harder than ever to find a valuable position in the field. This guide will help young students understand and finding social work and determine whether the essential career is right for them.

What Social Work Is

Explained as simply as possible, social work aims to improve society overall through work with at-risk populations. Social work targets clients within their personal surroundings, tackling internal struggles, such as thoughts and fears, as well as problematic external factors, including relationships, family history, work and community environments, and more. Therefore, social work is inherently different from other helping professions, like counseling and therapy, as it involves entering a foreign setting and fixing broken structures. Most commonly, social workers help individuals and groups who struggle with serious, life-threatening issues, like abuse, addiction, poverty, and mental illness; for example, some popular fields within social work include:

  • Clinical. Diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders alongside doctors, usually in private practice.
  • Child and family. Help families become stable by assisting with services like day care and food stamps.
  • Health care. Ease transition between hospital and home with extra explanation regarding diagnoses and treatment.

By teaching appropriate coping strategies and providing a support system for those experiencing such extreme stress, social workers directly better the lifestyle of their clients. However, many social workers also work closely with organizations and governments to end unjust policies and inequalities that continue to put their clients at a disadvantage, thereby bettering society as a whole.

What Social Workers Need

Like a doctor without a medical degree or a lawyer without a law degree, a person simply cannot be a social worker without the appropriate education and certification. Most entry-level social work positions, perhaps case workers or health care assistants, require just a bachelor’s degree in the field, but to become a more impactful social worker, students should return for an additional two-year master program.

A Master in Social Work (MSW) provides essential practical knowledge social workers need to perform well in high-ranking clinical settings; only social workers holding MSWs command full understanding of human behavior, cultural diversity, and other crucial factors necessary to climb the ranks in any chosen social work field. Additionally, social workers must earn a license from the state in which they hope to practice. Conditions for licensing vary from state to state, but most require an MSW at the very least.

Perhaps most importantly, aside from indispensable education, future social workers must demonstrate a supreme strength of character. Alongside their strength, they must be flexible to cope with the diverse demands of the job. Social work is not an easy profession, and only those who are self-motivated to persevere will find success.

Where Social Workers Go

Though many social workers are finding it harder and harder to locate jobs in their field, the fact is that there are thousands of job opportunities for qualified workers. Novice social workers who as yet boast only a bachelor’s degree will likely need to broaden their search for positions that lack the explicit “social work” tag; many entry-level jobs available to BSWs are open to any human services-degree holder and thus can be more competitive to attain. Such jobs might appear under a variety of headings, not just “social services,” so it is imperative to search though nearly all job openings for opportunities. Those holding MSWs have a slightly easier task, as these more specialized professionals more often can find appropriate positions with “social work” in the title.

All sorts of organizations hire social workers: schools, hospitals, private practices, prisons, public agencies, elected offices, and more. Widening the search to include such diverse opportunities will dramatically increase a social worker’s interviews. It is also essential that nascent social workers make the most out of networking connections, as peers, professors, and other professionals more often hear of job openings before the public. By using the same strong characteristics that will make them effective in their field, social workers can find a way to do actual good in no time.