North Carolina MSW Jobs in Generalist and Specialist Roles

Written by Jack Levinson

social worker talking with young woman

Those who are drawn to the field of social work are compassionate individuals who are interested in bringing positive change to others. Indeed, social workers can do tremendous things, helping individuals, families, and communities address major challenges and turn their situations around. But what does this look like in practice?

If you’re considering becoming a social worker, it may be helpful to have an accurate sense of the career trajectory ahead of you. This will ground your ambitions in realistic expectations and provide a clearer picture of the ways you can put your skills and energy to use. It will also serve as motivation as you’re completing your Master of Social Work degree.

In fact, there are many different ways social workers can be of service in the world at large, and job descriptions can vary widely.

This is good news for aspiring social workers, as it means you’re more than likely to find a career path that will fulfill you and allow you to use your gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.

This article offers a list of jobs you can get with a Master’s of Social Work alongside information about the average MSW salary in North Carolina, how to optimize your studies to choose the career you want, and more.

How Your MSW Education Can Help Shape Your Career

Part of why it’s so important to learn about the many Master’s of Social Work jobs out there is so that you can streamline your education in service to your ultimate career goals. In particular, knowing what field you gravitate toward can help you pick your social work focus area, which will help guide your studies (especially in the second year of your MSW program) and lead you toward a field work experience that helps you build serious professional skills.

You don’t need to know your intended social work specialization at the outset of your MSW program, but most students begin to find their direction by the end of their program so that they can hit the ground running in finding the Master of Social Work jobs that speak most to them. Your social work education is likely to give you exposure to many of the different areas of the field so that you can determine which one is best suited to your goals, interests, and abilities.

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

Within these specializations are further sub-specializations that are likely to narrow your responsibilities further. While it is possible to shift your focus within a given specialization – or even pivot to an arena outside of your chosen concentration – it is helpful to have a clear sense of what you’d like to do, so you know which social worker master jobs you should apply for.

Choosing your social work focus area early can also help you pick an internship that will go beyond satisfying your mandatory field work requirement and give you a real leg up in pursuing the career you want. With so many social work masters jobs out there, it can be extremely useful to already have meaningful, relevant work experience on your resume, accelerating your career.

Questions to Consider When Planning Your Social Work Career

With so many jobs for Masters in Social Work out there, it can be intimidating to figure out which specialization and career path will be best for you. For some, it’s hard to even know where to start. The following are some of the most important determinations to make at the outset of your Master of Social Work education so that you can set yourself up for the career path you want.


Are you interested in providing direct counseling to individuals and groups, or are you more interested in offering administrative and/or technical oversight to help provide those who are struggling with the resources they need?

Different social work roles can involve vastly different duties, so it’s critical to assess where you’d like to fit into the causes that you care about.

These will help determine where to focus your studies and what kind of licensing you’ll want to pursue after receiving your MSW.

Focus Community

Some social workers are devoted to doing work within the community that they come from, committing their careers to making an impact close to home. Others work with populations outside of their own whose needs may be more dire or require more hands on deck. There are many significant factors that should fit into the question of whom you’d like to support with your work. Other considerations can include age, gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, religion and cultural background, and more.

Work Setting

There are jobs for Masters in Social Work graduates in a number of organizations whose work environments are dramatically different from each other. These can include:

  • Hospitals and medical centers
  • Schools
  • In- and outpatient treatment centers
  • In-home care
  • Homeless shelters
  • Elder care facilities
  • Private clinics

If you’re unsure of some of the particulars of your career goals, thinking through the day to day of working in these different settings can help you visualize which career path will be most energizing and sustainable for you.

These are just a few of the most important factors to take into account as you’re pursuing jobs with a Master’s in Social Work, which may help you find the career path you’ve been looking for.

Masters in Social Work Jobs

The following list features some of the top jobs you can get with a Master’s in Social Work.

Aging and Gerontology

If you are interested in working with senior citizens, you will want to focus on the field of gerontology. This will give you the training you need to work with the elderly, meeting their unique health care and mental health needs.

Elder Care Social Worker

These social workers are typically employed in senior care centers and nursing homes, though there are also many at-home care services they can provide as well for elderly people who still live independently.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

If you wish to work with children and adolescents – potentially in a school setting – this is the path for you. There are numerous opportunities for social workers to work with children and families in need, providing critical support for issues including abuse and neglect, mental health struggles, adoption and foster care, and more.

Adoption and Foster Care Social Worker

If you would like to support children in the foster care or adoption system, this path is the one for you. This role can involve looking after the needs of children in foster care, evaluating prospective families, and more.

Child and Adolescent Counselor

Therapists who work with children and adolescents typically focus their studies around the critical needs of young people, which can be dramatically different from those of adults. These counselors and therapists are frequently employed in schools.

Child Welfare Social Worker

Child welfare social workers work to support at-risk children, providing emotional and mental health resources as well as monitoring children in need and supervising protective services when needed.

Medical and Health Care Social Work

The medical system is daunting, and many who seek medical treatment lack the know-how to navigate the health care world. Medical and health care social workers can help individuals during critical moments of need, providing emotional support as well as administrative assistance that can help vulnerable individuals coordinate resources and more.

Hospital Social Worker

If you would like to work in a hospital setting, this is the path for you. Hospital social workers provide direct support to patients, helping them manage stress and find the resources they need to support their care.

Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker

These social workers work in hospice settings, helping individuals at the end of their lives as well as their families. This is difficult, honorable work for those who wish to take on challenging but deeply meaningful responsibilities.

At-Home Care Social Worker

For patients who require round-the-clock care or are unable to leave their homes, some social workers provide at-home services, tending to the day-to-day needs of those with serious health conditions.

Mental Health Social Work

For those who wish to work directly with individuals who are struggling with emotional and mental health challenges, this is the path for you. These are typically clinical therapeutic roles that require an LCSW in order to practice.

Addiction and Substance Abuse Counselor

Therapists who focus on addiction and substance abuse typically have extensive training on the topic. They can be employed by treatment centers, in- and outpatient clinics, private practices, and more.

Mental Health Counselor

One can specialize within a certain arena of mental health counseling, but the all-encompassing title for these social workers is mental health counselor. There are a wide range of employment contexts for such clinicians.

Other Social Work Masters Jobs

Beyond the more traditional contexts listed above, social workers can work in a variety of other settings and fields. Some of the other top titles for social workers include:

As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways that social workers can change the individuals, communities, and larger world around them. It’s all just a question of where your gifts will do the most good.

Masters in Social Work Salary

The salary of a social worker with a master’s degree can vary greatly depending on your place of employment, the type of work you do, and the level of experience you have. This is important to keep in mind as you’re envisioning your long-term career, as social workers in different branches of the field should have a clearly defined sense of what to expect from their chosen area of expertise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, child, family, and school social workers in the state of North Carolina earn a mean annual salary of $50,420 per year. This is fairly comparable to the national average in that social work sector, which is $56,680. Though the BLS does not report the higher-percentile averages for the state of North Carolina, they report that the top 90th percentile of child, family, and school social workers nationwide is $81,920. Using this, one can deduce that the high range of the social worker salary in North Carolina is similar.

Health care social workers in North Carolina, meanwhile, earn a mean annual salary of $63,110 per year. This exceeds the national average of $62,760. The 90th percentile of health care social workers earn $87,830 a year or more, and North Carolina based social workers can expect a similar range at the top of their field.

The MSW average salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers in North Carolina is $53,940 per year. This is a bit lower than the national average of $60,130 in the sector, though the lower cost of living in North Carolina than many other states may mean your money will go further. At the high end, mental health social workers in the 90th percentile nationwide can earn $97,660 or more.

For all others in the profession, the average social worker salary in North Carolina with a master’s degree is $63,770 per year. This is just in line with the national average of $64,360. Those earning the top salaries for all other social workers make $95,560 or more.

One can see from the master’s degree in social work salary range that it is quite possible to earn a competitive income in whatever field you choose. What’s important is building skills, expertise, and leadership experience so that you can work your way up to high-ranking roles with salaries to match.

All data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects figures published in May 2022. Data accessed October 2023.


Can I become a social worker in North Carolina without an MSW?

No. While there may be some entry level positions in the field of social work that one can take without holding an advanced degree, if your goal is to perform the full responsibilities of a social worker, you will not be able to do so until you obtain your MSW. This is because social workers are called upon in sensitive and often stressful situations that require intensive training and a strong base of knowledge. An MSW is also required to obtain your social work license in North Carolina, which is typically the threshold for entry in most social work positions.

How can certifications help social workers who already hold MSWs?

Certifications for social workers with MSWs not only deepen their expertise and knowledge but also enhance their career prospects, credibility, and ability to make a positive impact on the lives of the individuals and communities they serve. These certifications demonstrate a high level of expertise and competence in a particular field, making social workers more competitive and knowledgeable in their chosen specialization.

Is it possible to change your area of specialization after beginning your career as a social worker?

It is entirely possible to change your area of specialization after beginning your career as a social worker. Social work is a highly diverse and adaptable field, offering professionals the flexibility to transition between different specializations. However, it’s important to acknowledge that changing specializations might require dedication, time, and effort to acquire the necessary qualifications and experience. Social workers considering a switch should thoroughly research their desired field, understand the specific requirements, and be prepared to invest in their professional development.