If you are considering a career in social work, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the field is growing at a faster than average rate with a projected increase of 25 percent -- or 161,200 -- new jobs between 2010 and 2020. Social worker, although a major in itself, careers require an academic degree with a social sciences, education or human development focus.
The most obvious major that social workers have is social work. According to the BLS, a bachelor's in social work is the most typical type of major for an entry level job in this field. BSW majors usually prepare the pre-service social worker for a career in case management or a direct client-care job. Social workers who are looking for a higher level career option, such as working in an academic research environment or heading a hospital department, will need at least a master's degree in social work.
As part of the mental health profession, social workers also take college level courses in majors such as psychology. While a psychology major will provide you with the knowledge and basic skills to work with patients that have mental or psychological disorders in direct care or case management capacities, the Association of Social Work Board does note that most states only accept a specific social work major -- such as a BSW or MSW -- in order to apply to become a "licensed social worker."
Sociology and Social Sciences
Sociology, while not the same as social work, includes the study of race, culture, organizations and gender. These topics all play pivotal roles in communicating with diverse populations in a social worker capacity. Having a sociology major can provide you with the skills to work with or manage cases in a variety of different environments. Additionally, sociology as a major can prepare you for a graduate program in social work. Classes that sociology majors typically take, such as social psychology, sociology of race relations or sociology of gender may all fall under the "social work" umbrella when applying to grad schools.
Understanding the developmental continuum, from birth through adulthood, is crucial for working as a social worker. Social workers may find employment working with children and families, requiring a specialized background in child growth and development. While most states won't allow you to apply for or obtain a social work license with a human development degree, some organizations or mental health facilities may still hire social workers with this type of major. The National Association of Social Workers notes that knowledge of human development is an essential part of practice. A major in child development, developmental studies or a similar program can help you to better understand the behaviors of your clients, assess family situations and create care plans to help maximize skills or even educational abilities.
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.