Whether you are looking for your first career and want to make a difference in the world, or you are already employed but looking for a more meaningful occupation, a career in social work is worth exploring. But how do you become a social worker? Regardless of where you’re starting, follow this checklist to launch yourself on the path toward this meaningful and fulfilling profession.
Step 1: Complete Your Education
Many prospective social workers wonder how much education is necessary to embark on this career. The answer is that it varies. Some social workers begin their journey by earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), which serves as preparation for an entry-level position in the field.
However, most social workers who wish to move beyond entry-level work and take on supervisory roles earn a Master of Social Work (MSW). The MSW degree is also a requirement for anyone who wants to pursue clinical social work. The good news is that you do not have to have a BSW in order to enter a graduate program in social work. If you already have a degree in social work, you may be able to finish a master’s program more quickly, but in general, you can have a bachelor’s degree in any field and still earn your MSW.
Much like a bachelor’s program, a graduate program in social work combines both classroom learning and fieldwork. Graduate programs tend to be more specialized, however, allowing you to focus on a specific area, such as individual and family practice or group work. The specialization you select will guide your course selection and typically determines the electives that you take.
Any good social work program will include practica, fieldwork, and/or internships where you will put your knowledge into practice. Not only are these experiences valuable to your education, they are also important for networking. You may find that you click with the team where you do your fieldwork, and they just might have a place for you (or could help connect you to other organizations) after you graduate.
Step 2: Get Licensed
Depending on where you live, you may be required to have a license in order to call yourself a social worker or even to qualify for social work jobs.1 In some cases, you may be able to work in the field without a license, while other states not only require a license, but will only issue one to those who have an MSW. You will have to research the requirements for becoming a social worker in your state, which may include passing an exam to demonstrate your knowledge.
The license you earn depends on your level of education. Those with a bachelor’s degree can have a Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW), while a master’s degree will make you eligible for the Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW). The highest levels of licensure are the Licensed Master of Social Work-Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG) and the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which require exams and supervised social work experience.2 Again, because every state has its own requirements, you’ll need to determine which rules apply to you based on where you want to work.
Keep in mind as well that maintaining a valid license also generally requires completing ongoing continuing education. So, while your master’s degree in social work can take as little as two years, becoming a social worker is a lifelong commitment to learning.
Step 3: Find a Job
Once you have completed your education and training, the next step on your journey is to find a job. While many new social workers tend to focus their searches on schools, hospitals and public agencies, there are often positions to be found in other areas. For example, insurance companies often hire social workers to serve as case managers or to provide services to policyholders. Law enforcement, churches, advocacy groups and nonprofits might also have jobs for social workers.
For clinical social workers with some experience, private practice is also a viable option. Tap into your network to find positions that might not be advertised, and consider taking temporary, per diem or even volunteer positions to build your experience and make contacts that could lead to employment.
Being a social worker is a rewarding job, and one that welcomes both those trained in social work at the undergraduate level and career changers. If you have the determination and passion for helping others that this field requires, you can begin working on your degree and making progress toward a career right away.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a social worker, contact Yeshiva University and learn about getting your MSW online from our CSWE-accredited program.
1 Retrieved on February 21, 2018, from socialworkguide.org/licensure/
2 Retrieved on February 21, 2018, from socialworkguide.org/licensure/