What Is Social Work?

A student sits in the lincoln center courtyard on their laptop. they are framed in the middle of the shot, far away across the space. the trees line the left and right side of the image symetrically.

Social Work Is a Profession that Empowers 

You came to this page because you want to do work that matters. We want to help.

You may have come across a social worker in your lifetime. Maybe you searched online about the helping professions and want to learn more about social work, what social workers do, and where they do it. 

Careers in Social Work

The social work profession focuses on helping individuals, families, groups, and communities enhance their well-being and quality of life.

Social workers are trained professionals who promote human rights and social justice. They address social issues and improve the lives of marginalized and vulnerable populations. Their work often involves understanding the social, psychological, economic, and environmental factors that impact people's lives and finding ways to support and empower them.

A student sits in the westchester courtyard reading. they are wearing a red sweatshirt.

What Do Social Workers Do?

Some Social Work Career Avenues

Clinical Social Worker
vector icon of a female therapist with an image of a brain and a clipboard to the right of her.
Government and Policy
maroon vector image of the capitol building
Hospitals and Public Health
maroon vector image of a hospital

The skills social workers learn in their educational training allow them to work in various settings:

  • Clinical Social Work (therapist; L.C.S.W. needed)
  • Child Welfare Agencies
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Palliative Care 
  • Military 
  • Administration
  • Government and Policy

Micro, Macro, and Mezzo Social Work — What Do They Mean?

In your search, you may have come across the terms “Micro,” “Macro,” and “Mezzo” social work. Let’s clear up exactly what those mean. 

Micro, Macro, and Mezzo are names for the three primary levels of social work intervention. A social work position’s scope and focus will determine whether it is a micro, macro, or mezzo job. 

Let’s talk specifics:

  • “Micro” social workers typically work with individuals or families, providing one-on-one support and interventions to address challenges. 

    Micro Social Work Job Examples:

    • Clinical Social Worker: Provides individual and family therapy 
    • School Social Worker: Offers counseling to students facing academic, behavioral, or emotional challenges and connects them to resources.
    • Medical Social Worker: Helps health care patients and their families navigate medical decisions, understand diagnoses, and access resources.
    • Child Welfare Social Worker: Investigates child abuse or neglect allegations, assesses family dynamics, and develops safety plans for at-risk children.
  • “Macro” social workers operate at the societal and systemic levels. They focus on larger social issues, influencing policies and developing programs that impact entire communities or populations.

    Macro Social Work Job Examples

    • Policy Advocate: Influences and shapes social policies and legislation to address systemic issues, such as poverty, health care access, and civil rights.
    • Program Developer: Designs and implements community-wide programs to address specific social challenges, such as homelessness prevention initiatives or workforce development programs.
    • Social Work Researcher: Conducts research to analyze social trends, evaluate program effectiveness, and inform evidence-based practices.
    • Nonprofit Executive: Leads and manages nonprofit organizations focused on addressing social issues, overseeing strategic planning, fundraising, and program development.
  • Think of “Mezzo” social workers as in the “middle” of micro and macro, thus combining skills from both. They work with small groups — families, communities, and organizations — to improve group dynamics, relationships, and communication.

    Mezzo Social Work Job Examples:

    • Family Therapist: Facilitates family therapy sessions to address conflicts, improve communication, and strengthen family relationships
    • Community Organizer: Coordinates community efforts to address local issues, build social networks, and promote civic engagement.
    • Group Facilitator: Leads support groups for individuals facing common challenges, such as addiction recovery, grief, or parenting issues.
    • Corporate Social Worker: Applies social work principles and practices within a corporate or business setting, addressing the social and human resource issues that arise within the workplace.

Remember, social work is holistic, and the three levels are not always clearly divided. In fact, more times than not, they intersect. Sometimes, you must use a micro skillset to negotiate passing a government policy. At the same time, social work clinicians are taught to consider the person and the environment in individual therapy, so you must be able to see the system working around the person and their challenges. 

Luckily, when you achieve a degree in social work, you learn skills to thrive at all intervention levels.


a student's graduation cap that reads: see you all in therapy.

How Do I Become a Social Worker?

Obtaining a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) Degree

A Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree will allow you to pursue advanced social work practice. You could become a licensed clinician, school social worker, or nonprofit executive with an M.S.W. The possibilities are limitless. 

You do not need a bachelor’s degree in social work to start an M.S.W. program. At Fordham, you need:

  •  A bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university
  •  18 undergraduate credits in liberal arts content. 

Fordham allows our M.S.W. students to choose full-time or part-time study plans at one of our three NY campuses — Manhattan, Westchester, and Lond Island. Depending on your admission status, you can complete the degree in as few as nine months full-time or as long as four years part-time. 

Learn more about Fordham’s M.S.W. program by reading this webpage, attending an information session, or connecting with one of our admissions counselors.


Most Popular Undergraduate Degrees of Social Workers

There are plenty of undergraduate degrees that lend themselves well to the social work profession and M.S.W. program studies. And while bachelor of social work programs can be a great way to learn the groundwork of the profession as an undergraduate, the truth is, most social workers did not get their B.S.W. Rather, they studied in a related field and found social work after graduation.

Some undergraduate degrees that complement social work are:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Criminal Justice 
  • Anthropology
  • Political Science 

Most of these degrees deal with human reasoning and motivations — an advantage for every social worker, micro, macro, or mezzo. Social work is about relationships, and the better you can understand others, the better you will be. 

While you do not have to obtain your bachelor's in social work to start your M.S.W. program, it can be an excellent way to put yourself on a fast track to professional status. By completing your bachelor's degree in social work at an accredited institution like Fordham, you will have already completed the first year of your M.S.W. program — allowing you to finish the graduate degree in as few as two semesters as an advanced standing student.


GSS Alumni Success Stories

Social Work Alumna Expanding Access to Mental Health Care Across Latin America

Social Work Alumna Expanding Access to Mental Health Care Across Latin America

Joy Bittner, GSS ‘08, wants to make evidence-based mental health care more accessible to the people of Ecuador, where she’s lived for 13 years. She’s using the power of strong community ties to overcome the barriers currently in place. Bittner moved to Latin America after graduating with her Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) from Fordham’s […]

First-Generation M.S.W. Graduate Champions NYC Asylum Seekers

First-Generation M.S.W. Graduate Champions NYC Asylum Seekers

For years, Erica Vargas, LMSW, GSS ’23, was a teller at Chase Bank. Her branch was a short walk away from Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.  “I would actually go to Lincoln Center [Performing Arts Center] on my lunch break,” she said. “And I would see Fordham and say, ‘That’s such a beautiful campus.’” Vargas’s mother […]

Fordham GSS Alumni Block Party Highlights Social Work’s Impact

Fordham GSS Alumni Block Party Highlights Social Work’s Impact

There’s no better way to kick off the summer than to connect with friends and colleagues. On Friday, June 7, members of the GSS community did exactly that, gathering in the Bateman room at Fordham’s Law School for a GSS Reunion at the 2024 Fordham Alumni Block Party! Block Party festivities began at 4 p.m. […]

From Journalism to Social Work, A Search for Connection

From Journalism to Social Work, A Search for Connection

As a journalist, Madelynn Schulte, GSS ’21, didn’t find the connection she wanted. She’d planned it all out in undergrad. Schulte wanted a profession where no two days were the same, and your job was to engage with others. And what’s at the heart of a good story? Relationships. How else could you facilitate a […]

Study Unveils Stigmas Facing Khwaja Sira (Third-Gender) Community in Swat, Pakistan

Study Unveils Stigmas Facing Khwaja Sira (Third-Gender) Community in Swat, Pakistan

The khwaja sira community in Pakistan, identified as third-gender people, has long faced severe social marginalization. A new study co-authored by Fordham GSS Assistant Professor Sameena Azhar, Ph.D., Maria Mercedes Guzman Herrera, GSS ’23, and Riya Lerner, GSS ’24, examines this community’s lived experiences in the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the stigma and discrimination […]

An M.S.W. Helped This Alumna Climb the Career Ladder

An M.S.W. Helped This Alumna Climb the Career Ladder

Tamika Mcknight-Ray wants to dispel the idea that social workers can’t make a good wage.  She’s living proof of the opposite. Mcknight-Ray said that since earning her M.S.W. from Fordham in 2017, she has received a promotion every year as a government agency employee—and her salary has almost tripled. She thanks Fordham’s program for her […]

Three GSS Alumni Selected to City & State NY 2023 Responsible 100

Three GSS Alumni Selected to City & State NY 2023 Responsible 100

Exciting news for GSS alumni! Three of our esteemed graduates—Nathaniel Fields, GSS ’96; Michael Kohlhagen, GSS ’88; and Sandra Moody, GSS ’99—have all been named to the 2023 City & State Responsible 100! Congratulations! Selectees are described as being “selfless leaders…among the countless New Yorkers who are quietly toiling to create a better world for […]

M.S.W. Grad Collaborates with Professor on AI Research

M.S.W. Grad Collaborates with Professor on AI Research

Barbara Pohl is a 2023 graduate of Fordham GSS’s Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) program. She has recently collaborated with GSS Associate Professor Lauri Goldkind, Ph.D., on two research publications. The first is titled “Social Work and the Platform Economy: A Labor Process Theory Analysis” and was published in Social Service Review. The second is […]

Occupational Social Work Needs a Revival, Professor Says

Occupational Social Work Needs a Revival, Professor Says

Congratulations to Fordham GSS Professor Mary Ann Forgey, Ph.D., whose article, “Occupational Social Work: A Field of Practice in Need of Revival,” has recently received the 2023 “Best Conceptual Article” award from the academic journal Families in Society.  Forgey co-authored the piece alongside GSS alumni Kundong He, GSS ’16 and Yafei Cai, GSS ’16. She […]

GSS Professor Collaborates with Alumnus on Latina Relationship Research

GSS Professor Collaborates with Alumnus on Latina Relationship Research

Fordham GSS Assistant Professor Jenn Lilly, Ph.D., teamed up with GSS alumnus Maddox Emerick, GSS ’23, this month to produce a qualitative research study examining Latina girls’ relationship preferences. The paper, titled “Latina Young People’s Perspectives on Healthy Romantic Relationships: A Strengths-Based, Qualitative Inquiry,” was published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.  According to […]