Explore Social Work Careers and Salary Expectations in North Carolina

Written by Jack Levinson

visiting patient at home

The world is in need of a wide range of social workers with a variety of skills and areas of focus. As an aspiring social worker, this may make it hard to pick the area of specialization where you will thrive. However, the many possibilities out there mean that social workers have a great number of options to choose from and the opportunity to find a career path that truly suits your skills and addresses the causes you care about.

So how do you choose from the many careers for MSW holders that are out there? It starts by educating yourself about the jobs you can get with a Masters of Social Work, which will help you gain an understanding of how you can fit into the picture to do the most you can for others in need.

Read on to learn about the range of your career options with a Master’s of Social Work, with information about specific job opportunities, the overall salary range for social workers in North Carolina, and more.

Finding the Branch of Social Work That’s Right for You

Anyone who works in the field of social work knows that the profession can ask for a lot from you. Beyond the high energy required to perform a social worker’s duties, one must remain emotionally resilient in the face of distressing experiences. After all, as a social worker, you may be working on the front lines of some of the country’s greatest problems, playing your part to alleviate others’ struggles. This is extremely admirable work, but it isn’t easy.

This is why it’s so important that social workers give proper consideration to the many MSW careers out there, as you’re most likely to remain committed and fortified, even in the face of challenges.

Areas of Social Work Specialization

So how does one determine their professional path in the face of the many Master’s in Social Work careers that are out there? It often starts with your chosen area of specialization.

Some students enter their MSW programs with a strong sense of the focus area they’d like to dedicate their career to. Some of these social workers choose to focus on causes that have impacted their own experiences, while some are drawn to focus areas because they relate to particular skills or interests they have. Still other social work students enter their MSW programs without knowing their intended area of specialization, and this is absolutely okay too.

Your Master of Social Work program is likely to provide a great opportunity to discover your chosen area of specialization.

This is an excellent time to consider your career in the long term, as your mandatory field work hours will require you to find your first work experience in the social work field. Knowing your intended area of focus will allow you to find work opportunities from which you can build a career that will fulfill you for years to come.

Some of the top social worker focus areas include the following:

As you can see, there are a tremendous number of causes you can focus on in your social work practice. Some are directed primarily around individuals’ emotional needs, while others are oriented around practical matters such as food and financial security. Some are at the micro level, dealing directly with individuals and families, while some are at the macro level, addressing issues on the level of policy. With so many options, there should be a path to inspire and excite any motivated social worker.

It’s worth noting that some of these roles require you to hold Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) status, which is mandatory for anyone practicing in clinical contexts such as individual or group therapy or other forms of counseling.

Master of Social Work Careers

There’s no shortage of jobs you can get with an MSW. After narrowing down your focus area, it’s time to take a closer look at the job offerings available in different branches of the social work field.

The following list is not all-encompassing – there are numerous other excellent career paths for social workers, and if your chosen focus area is not listed below, it’s worth doing your own independent research on job opportunities. These should give you a sense of the type of work opportunity you may find in the social work field and the skills required to hold such positions.

Medical and Health Care Social Work

Hospital Social Worker

These social workers help those with health care needs and their families navigate the health care system, helping to coordinate resources and explain information that may be confusing or overwhelming.

Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

These social workers support individuals and families facing life-limiting illnesses, often in hospice or home care settings.

Public Health Social Worker

For those interested in engaging with social work at the macro level, those who work in the field of public health work to address community health issues by promoting health education and advocating for healthcare policies.

Child and Family Social Work

Child Welfare Social Worker

Those who work in child protective services fall into this category. Their work entails monitoring and working to protect children in at-risk situations, whether due to poverty, abuse and neglect, or other issues.

Child and Adolescent Counselor

Some therapists focus their practices on young people, whose emotional and developmental needs can be quite different from those of adults. This is a direct counseling role requiring extensive training.

Adoption Social Worker

These social workers assist families with the adoption process, ensuring that children up for adoption are safe and screening families to ensure that they are good candidates to adopt.

Family Counselor

If you would like to take on a therapeutic role, becoming a family counselor allows you to mediate for families in conflict, sometimes due to serious issues such as domestic violence, divorce, and more.

Mental Health Social Work

Addiction and Substance Abuse Counselor

If you are interested in providing therapeutic and counseling services to those struggling with addiction, this is the path for you. Care modalities can include individual and group therapy, drawing from a wide variety of therapy techniques.

Mental Health Counselor

This designation applies to any therapists working with patients who have specific mental health concerns. These professionals sometimes work in mental health clinics and other formal treatment programs.

School Social Work

School Counselor

A role sometimes related to child and adolescent counselor positions, school counselors can provide direct therapy services to students, as well as monitoring students in school to be sure they are well-provided for in all aspects.

Special Education Counselor

Social workers who are interested in supporting students in school may gravitate to the field of special education, where they will assist high-needs students to help equip them for academic success and higher levels of comfort and confidence in social settings.

Elder Care and Gerontology Social Work

Geriatric Social Worker

Working in elder care facilities as well as private practices, social workers working in the field of gerontology help senior citizens with a host of issues to be sure they are well-supported as they face concerns and challenges related to aging.

Criminal Justice Social Work

Corrections Social Worker

If you are passionate about helping incarcerated individuals turn their lives around, social workers who work in prisons and correctional facilities can provide counseling and other rehabilitation programs for inmates.

Victim Advocate

Social workers can help victims of violence and other crimes approach the legal process with support and empathy. These professionals can be especially impactful for victims who come from underserved communities.

Community and Policy Social Work

Community Organizer

Some social workers are most interested in working at the mezzo level, between the one-on-one level of micro level work and the broad policy level of macro level work. Community organizing roles are perfect for such individuals, allowing you to focus on a particular group to address social issues, improve living conditions, and advocate for change.

Policy Advocate

These social workers deal with social causes on a broad scale, providing expertise to support campaigns and legislation that will help communities at the city, state, or national level. Because the best advocates draw from significant on-the-ground experience, many social workers level up to this role after many years of working at the micro or mezzo levels.

social worker with girl on sofa

Social Worker Salary Data

Social workers can earn very different salaries depending on their chosen focus area and the agency that employs them. This is worth keeping in mind as you set career goals for yourself after obtaining your MSW (and, in most cases, the level of licensing required to pursue that path).

Salaries for social workers can also vary considerably by state, though it is worth noting that they often are set in accordance with the cost of living in the region. This means that while states like Rhode Island and Washington boast among the highest salaries for social workers in the country, your earnings will not take you as far. Though North Carolina is not among the five top-paying states for social workers, its lower cost of living may make it a better place for social workers to plot long-term careers.

It is worth noting that those with higher levels of experience and certification are more likely to find leadership roles with salaries that reflect their high-ranking position.

Unfortunately, the BLS does not report earnings for the highest and lowest percentiles in North Carolina specifically.

All information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics accessed October 2023.


Can you become a social worker without a Master of Social Work degree?

No. While some entry-level positions in the field of social work may be open for you without an MSW, you will not be able to take on many of the responsibilities of a social worker without one, and you will not qualify for licensing. This is because the sensitive work of social workers requires intensive training and a strong foundational knowledge of structural issues in society and the measures that must be taken to help individuals through them.

When do I choose my area of social work specialization?

Many graduate students gravitate toward their chosen area of focus over the course of their studies, finding an opportunity that speaks to this interest to satisfy their lengthy field work requirement. This can be a great way of getting useful professional experience while still in school. That said, it can also be possible to pivot further into your career. Sometimes it is advantageous to attend an additional certification program that is focused on this new area of specialty to indicate to prospective employers that you are well-trained in this branch of social work.

Do I need to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) to start my social work career?

Not necessarily, though there are many career paths that will require you to obtain your social work license. This extends to any role where you will be performing clinical services, i.e. therapeutic practices or other forms of counseling. There are some types of social work that do not involve such services, and therefore an LCSW will not be necessary; in most cases, it is still advised to obtain licensure in the form of an LMSW.

Will a BSW help me qualify for top social work jobs?

A BSW on its own will not be enough to make you eligible for most of the social work jobs listed in this article. However, if you are at the beginning of your undergraduate journey, a Bachelor of Social Work may be a great option for you, as it will qualify you for an Advanced Standing MSW, which is an accelerated master’s program that typically lasts only a year. This means you will be able to start your career as a full-fledged social worker more quickly.