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Top 5 Social Work Degree Program Specializations

Take a closer look at the focus areas, job opportunities, and salary potential of these specialized career paths for graduates of online social work degree programs.

The social work profession attracts individuals with the desire to help improve quality of life for at-risk and vulnerable populations. Online social work degree programs and their diverse specializations or focus areas provide a more direct path toward making a difference in your particular area of interest.

The demand for social workers is growing at a projected rate of 16% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average growth rate for all professions.* Advanced online social work degree programs are preparing professionals to make a positive difference in this dynamic field at local, state, national, and international levels.

Top 5 Social Work Degree Program Specializations

The following featured graduate social work degrees share similar strengths, including foundational studies, development of scholarly research skills, practical exercises, and opportunities for field experiences. They may also include internships in master’s programs and face-to-face residencies in doctoral programs.

Top 5 Social Work Specializations

  1. Social Work Administration
    Doctoral programs such as a PhD in social work with a social work administration specialization help prepare you for the field’s most influential positions, including agency leader, program director, social work supervisor, and college professor.* As a doctoral student, you’ll analyze current issues in social work, learn how to conduct and analyze your own doctoral research, and participate in face-to-face residency programs. As social and community service managers, social work administrators supervise those who provide social and human services to the public. In 2017, they earned a median annual wage of $64,100, and the top 10% earned more than $109,990.
  2. Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention
    An online doctor of social work (DSW) degree with a disaster, crisis, and intervention specialization gives you the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and learn strategies for addressing societal challenges, disasters, and crises. Whether it’s a gunman opening fire on shoppers in a mall or a Category 5 hurricane heading straight for a coastal city, professionals with DSW degrees are on the front lines of implementing action plans to help residents cope with the resulting trauma. Doctoral students develop action-driven research projects to address real-world problems in their own communities, and interact with faculty and fellow students through in-person residencies. This specialization prepares you for top management positions such as agency or organizational leader, program director, emergency management director, and supervisor in social work organizations.* In 2017, social and community services managers earned a median annual wage of $64,100, and the top 10% earned more than $109,990.
  3. Medical Social Work
    Programs like a master of social work (MSW) with an elective cluster in medical social work prepare online graduate students to help vulnerable individuals deal with the emotional, financial, and social needs associated with chronic illness, disability, or advanced age. Master’s students often participate in supervised field placements and internships, further preparing them for real-world challenges. As people live longer and the historically large baby boomer population ages, medical social work skills are in greater demand. Social workers in this field may serve as case managers, medical or healthcare social workers, patient navigators, and therapists. Job opportunities may be available in a variety of settings, including hospitals, government agencies, community health settings, and schools. The median annual wage for medical or healthcare social workers was $54,870 in 2017.
  4. Children, Families, and Couples
    Research shows that social workers actually provide more mental health services in the U.S. than mental health counselors.‡ Master’s programs with career-aligned clusters—like an MSW with a focus on children, families, and couples—prepare social workers to help families and couples deal with a wide range of emotional challenges arising from sexual trauma, relationship problems, abuse, behavioral disorders, depression, and anxiety. Through coursework, supervised field placements, and internships, this specialized online social work degree program helps prepare students for careers as licensed clinical social workers, mental health social workers, clinical social workers, or child and family social workers.* The median annual wage for children, family, and school social workers was $44,380 in 2017.
  5. Forensic Populations and Settings
    Master’s programs like an MSW with a cluster in forensic populations and settings help prepare graduates to provide clinical social work services to people affected by legal issues and institutions. Master’s program coursework includes the study of criminal behavior and how forensic populations are treated. Clients are often criminal defendants as well as couples and families dealing with legal issues such as divorce, custody, and spousal and child abuse. As a clinical social worker, you’ll gain the skills to counsel clients in prisons and family and juvenile courts, as well as other individuals affected by the law and its institutions. The median annual wage for mental health social workers was $43,250 in 2017.

Explore Walden University's online social work degree programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

*Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of a degree program.

†Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers, Social and Community Service Managers, Medical and Healthcare Social Workers, on the Internet at

‡National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Pressroom. Mental Health, on the Internet at