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.

A Profession that Empowers 

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

You may have come across a social worker in your lifetime. Or an online search about the helping professions left you wanting to learn more about social work, what social workers do, and where they do it. 

We want to help.

Careers in Social Work

This profession focuses on helping individuals, families, groups, and communities enhance their well-being and quality of life. Empowerment is the end goal. But how do we get there?

Enter social workers.

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

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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

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The Unique Challenges and Issues Faced by Social Work Doctoral Students with Migrant Backgrounds

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Fordham GSS doctoral graduate Tanzilya Oren, GSS ’23, was recently featured in a webinar conducted by the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE). In this webinar, Oren and her colleagues presented updates on their recent project “Students from Migrant Backgrounds in Doctoral Programs in Social Work: Increasing Access and Creating […]

A Cultural-Ecological Analysis of Latinas’ Narratives of Teen Dating Experiences

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Fordham GSS Assistant Professor Jenn Lilly, Ph.D., has teamed up with two additional GSS Community members to produce new research examining the dating experiences of Latina teens in New York City. The article, titled “‘¿Y tu novio? Where’s Your Boyfriend?’: A Cultural-Ecological Analysis of Latinas’ Narratives of Teen Dating Experiences,” was published in the Journal of […]

Fordham GSS Moments From APM 2023

Fordham GSS Moments From APM 2023

This year’s APM conference was filled with colleague connection, quality research, and a whole lot of fun. We thank CSWE and all of the schools of social work for making this conference the best it could be. We already can’t wait for next year! Take a look at some of our favorite moments from the […]

Fordham GSS Hosts 5th Annual One Girl Conference

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On Saturday, October 21, Fordham GSS hosted the 5th Annual One Girl, Inc. conference to an audience of over 100. One Girl, Inc. Background and Mission Founded by GSS alumna Meghan Barakett, One Girl, inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in NYC dedicated to developing and strengthening its members through charity, advocacy, and community […]

GSS Alumna Presents at NASWF Pioneer Event

GSS Alumna Presents at NASWF Pioneer Event

This month, Fordham GSS alumna Chelsea Bonosky, GSS ’23, presented her research at this year’s National Association of Social Work Foundation’s (NASWF) Pioneers® event. Bonosky’s research presentation was titled “Benefits of Movement Interventions: Prevention and Rehabilitation.” “Being able to present at the NASW Pioneer Luncheon alongside a panel of such inspiring colleagues was a true […]

Alumni Speaks on Post-Traumatic Growth with Women Offshore Podcast

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Mandy Culbreath, GSS ’20, recently spoke with Christine MacMillan on the Women Offshore podcast about the CDC-Kaiser Permanente adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study, post-traumatic growth, and gratitude as a generational gift. Women Offshore is a national nonprofit dedicated to propelling women+ “into meaningful careers through access to a worldwide community and professional development resources while […]