Social workers are typically mature, sensitive, and stable individuals who assist others through challenging situations, such as emotional, physical, sexual abuse, unemployment, death, divorce, or life-threatening illnesses.
Some social workers interact with people on a personal level, while others work on an administrative level. The work is often stressful, and large caseloads or understaffing are the norms.
Social workers need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field, but many also possess a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Licensure is required in all states to become a social worker, but licensing requirements vary from state to state.
How To Become a Social Worker
1.Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program
What degree do you need to become a social worker? An aspiring social worker typically starts preparing for his or her career by earning a bachelor’s degree. Many students obtain a degree in social work, but sociology and psychology programs can also provide the necessary social worker education.
Bachelor’s degree programs in social work commonly include foundational courses that introduce students to different social work types, including work involving individuals, families, and communities. Also standard are courses in social policy, welfare, research methods, diversity, and human behaviour. A fieldwork component is also required.
As part of the practicum, students might work with immigrants, foster children, homeless people, or the elderly; they may also study abroad. These hands-on experiences can help students select the area of social work that interests them.
Social workers may work in schools, government agencies, healthcare facilities, or residential facilities, depending on the area in which they choose to specialize. Many social workers focus on working with specific population segments, such as children or families, people with physical or mental disabilities, populations vulnerable to medical problems, or individuals with substance abuse problems. Other social workers work in administration or public policy to develop programs and lobby for changes to address societal issues.
2.Complete a Master’s Degree Program
Master’s degrees are mandatory for all clinical positions as well as many healthcare and school settings. These programs typically admit students with undergraduate degrees in any major, but students who didn’t major in social work may have to take additional prerequisites.
Graduate-level social work programs often begin with foundational courses and focus on more specialized areas, such as clinical practices, policy creation, research, or management. Like bachelor’s degree programs, master’s degree programs in social work also require field education, though there is a heavier emphasis on graduate programs’ practical experience.
Graduate students may wish to join a professional organization, such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Membership in these groups may offer many benefits, including professional development and networking opportunities and job search assistance and career resources.
3.Obtain State Licensure
All states require social workers to obtain licensure to work in certain settings. Specific requirements vary by state and specialty; however, most states mandate that individuals wishing to perform clinical work complete at least 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical practice before qualifying for licensure.
Licensed social workers must complete continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials. Positions available to unlicensed social workers depend on the state in which they work. Aspiring social workers should research their state licensing requirements before selecting a specialty.
4. Become Certified
Though certification is not required, social workers may consider voluntary certification in their field of work. The NASW offers various certification options, including credentials for clinical social workers, healthcare social workers, child, youth, and family social workers.
The qualifications for these credentials vary but generally require a combination of education and experience in addition to a license. Certification may be beneficial when seeking a social work position; credentials demonstrate expertise and dedication to potential employers.
5.Advance in the Occupation
Social workers can use continuing education opportunities to enhance their knowledge and develop their leadership skills. This will allow them to move into the management side of social work possibly. Training in areas such as communication, management, evaluation, and ethics may be beneficial.
Social workers moving into the management side of social work may have a difficult transition. It’s important to lean on mentors or others in similar roles to help navigate this position. Those who have been in leadership roles for longer periods of time may give inexperienced administrators new ideas or perspectives to problems or difficulties that they are facing.
Social workers need a license and a bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, sociology, or a related field, though a master’s degree is required for clinical positions.
Social Worker Job Description
Social workers work to support individuals or families who are experiencing or have previously experienced social difficulty or hardship. Social workers can be employed in a variety of settings.
Some work in hospitals, providing case management services to patients to ensure that they have the resources they need after leaving the hospital. Alternatively, they may work for Child Protective Services, engaging with children who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise endangered by their parents or guardians.
Many social workers earn Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) credentials and become therapists, providing mental health counselling to individuals.
Social Worker Requirements
|Degree Level||A bachelor's degree is required; some jobs, particularly clinical positions, require a master's degree
|Degree Field||Social work, sociology, psychology, or a related field is required
|Licensure & Certification||Some form of licensure is required in all states (licensure varies by state and by specialty); voluntary certification is available through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
|Experience||No experience is necessary for entry-level positions
|Key Skills||Organization, listening, problem-solving, and time-management skills; compassion; ability to work directly with different types of people; experience with Microsoft Office and medical software programs, such as electronic medical record software
|Salary (2019)||$54,190 (average salary for all social workers)