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WEBSITE: https://www.socialworkguide.

org/

HOW TO BECOME A SOCIAL WORKER: A QUICK GUIDE


If you are considering becoming a social worker, you have come to the right place.
How to Become a Social Worker: A Quick Guide seeks to answer your most
important questions about the social work field as a whole, salary and job figures,
possible educational paths, and the best schools in the field. We also feature
helpful advice from social work experts and explain in depth the specific, up -to-
date licensure requirements for each state so that you can decide not only where
to go to school but also where you might want to start your career.

Table of Contents

What Is Social Work?


What Do Social Workers Do?
Why Become a Social Worker?
How can I learn about the field before making a decision?
Steps to Become a Social Worker
1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.
2. Earn a master’s degree in social work.
3. Make the most of your time in school.
4. Consider getting licensed in your state.
5. Find a job!
Maintaining Your Social Work License and Continuing Education
What Is Social Work?
The profession of social work seeks to improve the quality of life for individuals
and to effect system-wide change through the pursuit of social justice. Just like
any helping profession, such as nursing and teaching, social work seeks to help
people overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges. What separates social
work from other helping professions is its focus on the person -in-environment
model and its emphasis on social justice. Social workers not only consider
individuals’ internal struggles, as a counselor might, they also work with people to
examine their relationships, family structure, community environment, and the
systems and policies that impact them in order to identify ways to help address
challenges.

Social work also emphasizes a strengths-based approach in which all individuals


have strengths and resources and the social worker’s role is to help build upon a
person’s skills and support systems. The profession of social work is varied
serving people young and old, from every walk of life, in a number of settings such
as hospitals, schools, neighborhoods and community organizations. It involves
work with families, couples, groups, organizations, and communities. Social work
is dedicated to the pursuit of social justice through direc t service and through
advocacy on the local, national, and global levels. These areas of practice are
also referred to as the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. You can read more about
specific careers in social work as well as the differences and intersectio ns
between micro, mezzo, and macro social work on our careers page.

What Do Social Workers Do?


Many social workers work directly with individuals, couples, famil ies or small
groups. These social workers help clients cope with problems such as poverty,
abuse, addiction, unemployment, educational problems, disability, trauma and
mental illness. Social workers provide individual, family and group counseling,
case management services connecting clients with resources and service
providers, and other services to empower clients to meet their own needs.

Social workers often work within nonprofit organizations, schools, hospitals and
government agencies working toward the common good. These social workers
may work directly with individual clients or be involved in program development,
program evaluation, and human services management. Many social workers
choose to work with communities, organizations or governments to addr ess social
problems on a systems level. These workers advocate for vulnerable populations,
fighting to end the inequalities and injustices they see in their communities. They
engage in legislative advocacy, policy analysis, and community organizing to
break down barriers and drive reform.

Why Become a Social Worker?


There are many reasons you may be drawn to a career in social work. Some
people become interested in social work because they have been helped by a
social worker in the past or they have experie nced hardship and would like to help
others overcome similar struggles. You may be drawn to the field by a particular
interest in addressing problems such as addiction, abuse, or mental illness. You
may have a strong interest in working with children or wi th elders. Despite the
varied paths that lead social workers to the profession, most social workers enjoy
working with people and are driven by their desire to help others and make the
world a better place.

How can I learn about the social work field before making a decision?
The best way to learn about social work is to volunteer! There are volunteer
opportunities in every community that can give you a sense of life as a social
worker. Many social workers are tasked with volunteer management and are
actively seeking volunteers to help out in hospitals, schools, and community
organizations around the country. Volunteering not only allows you to meet social
workers and learn about what social workers do, it may also provide you with
some experience working directly with individuals, families or groups and/or
advocating for community-wide change. To look for volunteer opportunities, you
can start by contacting local schools, churches, or community centers. For
national listings of volunteer opportunities visit (link)

Steps for Becoming a Social Worker


The guide below will outline the general steps to become a social worker. The first
step in becoming a social worker is obtaining the necessary education. There are
a number of educational paths to consider on the road to become a social worker.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.


The first step for many people interested in becoming a social worker is to obtain
a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work
Education (CSWE) accredited college or university. Bachelor of Social Work
(BSW) programs prepare students for entry-level, professional, generalist social
work practice and for graduate social work education. Stude nts learn to practice
as professional social workers with individuals, families, groups and communities.
Students learn a great deal about the profession while earning their BSWs since
bachelor’s of social work programs combine classroom learning with fiel d
education. Students gain work experience while applying their classroom training
to real-world work settings. Once you receive your BSW, you will be eligible to
begin working as a social worker.

2. Earn a master’s degree in social work.


Whether you received your bachelor’s degree in social work or in any other field,
you may apply to a CSWE-accredited graduate program to earn your Master of
Social Work (MSW) on campus or online. If you receive a BSW prior to applying to
graduate school, you may be eligible for advanced standing allowing you to
receive an MSW in one year rather than the traditional two -year program. While all
accredited social work graduate programs follow similar curricula combining
classroom learning with field education, some schools of social work have strong
clinical programs while others focus on systemic issues such as poverty reduction
and social justice. Choosing a clinical focus or a macro concentration may
determine electives and field education placements but all graduates receive the
same degree.

A few points to keep in mind when deciding which degree path is best for you:

 If you are considering working toward your first bachelor’s degree, a BSW may
be a good choice. A BSW gives you a solid foundation to begin work as an
entry-level social worker. If you decide to continue your education with a
master’s degree, you may apply for advanced standing . This way, you may
receive both your BSW and MSW in only five years.
 If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, there is no need to
seek out a BSW. You may find a position you enjoy in the social services field
with a bachelor’s degree from another discipline. If you would like to become a
social worker, you should apply to a CSWE -accredited MSW program.
 If you are interested in moving to a supervisory role and advancing in your
career in social work, you should consider obtaining an MSW. In creasingly,
employers are seeking master’s level social workers for any position above
entry-level. Even those searching for entry level positions are likely to find that
an MSW opens more doors than a BSW.
 If you are interested in clinical social work, yo u must obtain an MSW and then
become licensed in your state.
3. Make the most of your time in school.
1. Choose courses and consider specialized certifications based on careers that
may interest you. If you plan to work as a clinical social worker, take as ma ny
clinical classes as possible. If you are more interested in macro social work,
choose an elective in advocacy or nonprofit management that will help you
build marketable skills.
2. Make the most of your practicum placements and internship experiences. As a
social work student working at a field placement, capitalize on the opportunity
to position yourself for future employment. Always treat your placement
experience just as you would paid employment. During your field placements,
push yourself to gain new skills and experiences that will prepare you for
employment and keep in mind: you never know when a job may open up at
your practicum site. A hardworking, energetic student who already
understands organizational policies and procedures is a great candidate for
the next opening. Even if you are not interested in working at your field site,
be sure to build connections with supervisors and colleagues who can alert
you to other job prospects and serve as references during the interview
process.
3. Begin your job search well before graduation. Many employers planning to hire
in the summer start interviewing candidates in the spring. Research your
state’s licensing process; you may be able to start the application process
early too. Remember many people graduate at t he same time. It is important
to position yourself ahead of the pack as your graduation date nears.

4. Consider getting licensed in your state.


The purpose of social work licensing is to ensure safe professional practice. Each
state board defines what is required for each level of social work license. The
specific license names and requirements vary significantly by state. There are four
levels of education and training that are commonly distinguished by different
levels of licensure.

1. Bachelor’s level: Baccalaureate social work degree (BSW)


2. Master’s level: Master’s degree in social work (MSW)
3. Advanced Generalist: MSW plus two years non-clinical supervised social work
experience
4. Clinical: MSW plus two years direct clinical supervised social work experienc e
Some states require you to obtain a license before beginning your career in social
work. In some states, it may be important to work toward progressive licenses as
you advance in your career.

5. Find a job!
Finally, once you are fully prepared to enter t he field of social work, it is time to
look for a job. While finding a job in social work can be similar to finding any job,
we have included some ideas below to get you started. If you are ready to look for
available jobs in your area, check out our Jobs page.

Scour the internet.

1. Job search engines can feel too time-consuming given their relatively low rate
of return, but you should be registered and familiar with the major ones such
as Monster, Career Builder, etc. Some engines, such as idealist.org are
directed at the social work profession and nonprofit sector. Setup preferences
to narrow your search, and utilize job alert emails to receive job listings in
your inbox.
2. Look beyond the national search engines and consider local job listings. Some
communities have nonprofit coalitions or task forces that list jobs across
agencies. Check the job boards of local membership organization chapters
such as NASW. Visit job boards for hospitals, school districts, state and local
government agencies, and other large employers in your area.

Expand your search.

1. Social workers are found in many professional settings. Expand your search
beyond schools, hospitals and public agencies. Consider private practice,
small nonprofits, churches and advocacy organizations. Consider your
interests as a social worker and brainstorm nontraditional settings where you
can put your skills to use.
2. You’ve probably already considered common search engines for job posts but
many jobs are never advertised. Professional networking is critical to learn
about job openings and position yourself as a candidate to be recommended
for those positions. Attend as many networking events and workshops as
possible. Utilize continuing education courses as networking opportunities.
Consider attending workshops for counselors, nurses, and other helping
professionals who may know about jobs that fit your search criteria. Maintain
contact with professors, advisors and peers from your bachelors and masters
programs. Reach out to new contacts for informational interviews. Let your
friends know that you are serious about your job search. Expanding your
social circle and cultivating good relationships with people who know you’re
looking for a job, can lead to crucial a referral down the road.

FIND SCHOOLS

Maintaining Your Social Work License and


Continuing Education
Once you have obtained a social work license, continuing education will be
necessary to ensure that you are staying up -to-date on best practices in the field.
Social workers are lifelong learners who value ongoing continuing education
throughout their career. Continuing education require ments vary from one state to
another; some boards require only a specific number of hours, while others
mandate continuing education in certain topics such as social work ethics. You
will find plenty of continuing education courses offered online and in yo ur
community for varying costs. Keep in mind that your state licensing board has
final approval on any continuing education course from any source on any subject.
It is your responsibility as a regulated social worker to contact your board and
verify that your continuing education plans meet your board’s requirements. Be
sure to keep careful records of all continuing education courses you complete
through your employer, at conferences, trainings, workshops, and online. It is your
responsibility to provide proof of continuing education when you apply to renew
your social work license.

Gain additional experience and build connections.

1. Build skills, make contacts and learn more about your desired profession
through volunteering. Call a few nonprofits you are in terested in pursuing and
ask if you can provide regular volunteer help. Commit to a regular schedule so
that you can demonstrate your professional strengths. Also consider
occasional volunteer opportunities at additional organizations in the
community. Even one Saturday volunteer project may open your eyes to types
of work you had not considered before and connect you to like -minded peers.
Remember, volunteering is a great addition to any social work resume.
2. You may desire a full time position but consider taking per diem or temporary
social work positions while you search. These opportunities expand your work
experience and skills, increase your professional network and may even lead
to permanent employment.