Social Worker: Education Overview for a Career in Social Work

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a social worker. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

Regardless of whether they work in schools, hospitals, or other settings, social workers are required to have a bachelor's degree and be licensed. A master's degree in social work may be necessary for advancement.

Essential Information

Social workers help individuals cope with economic, family and health problems. They're employed in a variety of settings, such as health care clinics or government agencies. While social workers spend most of their time working with clients, they may also develop policies and conduct research to drive social advancements.

Required Education Bachelor's degree; master's degree recommended for advancement
Other Requirements Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 12% for all social workers
Median Salary (2015)* $45,900 for all social workers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Overview for Social Workers

Becoming a social worker begins with completion of a bachelor's degree program in social work. While undergraduate degrees may be sufficient, some social workers pursue advanced education through graduate degree programs. In either case, social workers are required to obtain state licensure to practice in the profession.

Bachelor's Degree

Social workers are generally required to hold bachelor's degrees to obtain entry-level employment in the field. Most complete Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs; however, students may also choose to study a related field, such as psychology or sociology. Aspiring social workers may consider attending BSW programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the nationally recognized agency that sets standards for social work education programs.


BSW programs equip students with the theoretical knowledge and general practice skills needed for entry into the profession. Students may complete introductory coursework in the history, goals and practice of social work. Core courses tend to include social policy, human behavior and diversity. In the final year of a study, students participate in field work, gaining hands-on training under the supervision of experienced social workers.

Master's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers employed in schools, health care facilities and clinics are often required to hold Master of Social Work (MSW) degrees. Compared to bachelor's degree programs, MSW programs tend to have a heavier focus on research and theory in the field. Students typically focus their studies on a concentration of social work, such as clinical or administrative practice. These programs also incorporate advanced practicums, which provide students with intensive training in the field.

Licensing Information

All states have some form of licensing standards for social workers. The BLS reports that most states require clinical social workers to complete either two years or 3,000 hours of supervised experience to become licensed. Some states require applicants to pass an examination. Social workers may be required to renew licensure on a regular basis by meeting continuing education standards.

Salary and Employment Outlook

According to the BLS, job opportunities for social workers were expected to increase 12%, overall, between 2014 and 2024. Healthcare social workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers could see a faster job growth rate of 19%. Child, family and school social workers were expected to experience a 6% increase in job opportunities, while all other social workers were expected to experience only a 4% increase during the same time period.

The BLS reports that salary will also depend on social workers' specialization area. Mental health and substance abuse social workers, for instance, earned a median annual salary of $42,170 as of May 2015. This figure was slightly lower than child, family and school social workers' median annual wage of $42,350 and well behind healthcare social workers' median annual earnings, which were $52,380.

Most people entering the social work field begin preparing for their career by completing a bachelor's degree in social work. Some opt to study sociology or psychology before moving into social work. Social workers must also be licensed by their state, which may involve a period of supervised work experience and/or passing an examination.

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