Social workers provide guidance in handling a variety of difficult life issues. This often includes issues involving mental health, substance abuse, child welfare, and healthcare. Social workers are required to have a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions, a master's degree and state licensure are required for clinical work.
Social workers can help people function in their everyday lives by guiding them through such issues as substance abuse and unemployment. They may focus on a particular specialty or population. Read on to learn about the education and training required to become a licensed social worker.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree for entry-level employment; master's degree required for clinical work|
|Additional Requirement||State license or certification is usually required|
|Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024)||12%|
|Median Salary* (2015)|| $42,170 annually for mental health and substance abuse social workers;
$42,350 annually for child, family, and school social workers;
$52,380 annually for healthcare social workers
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers primarily work for government agencies as well as social assistance and healthcare agencies. They might also work in schools, churches or community organizations. They can specialize in such areas as family and school, medical or public health and mental health or substance abuse, as per BLS. Their role may require them to plan or develop policies, help families through social conflict or find day care. Social workers can obtain membership with the National Association of Social Workers or the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
A bachelor's degree is the minimum degree required for entry-level employment in social work. Advanced education and experience are necessary for licensure at more advanced levels in the field. Students in a Bachelor of Social Work program need to complete a specific number of hours in a social-work practicum. Common course requirements include the study of human behavior and research methods. With a bachelor's degree, an individual can qualify to be employed as a social worker or enter into a Master of Social Work (MSW) program.
A Master of Social Work program focuses on clinical skills and developing relationships with clients. These programs take two years to complete. Common course requirements include two semesters of generalist practice, field seminars and study of social welfare policies. During the second year, it's not uncommon for graduate students to begin clinical practice with individuals and groups.
According to the ASWB, jurisdictions may regulate licensure through four levels of social work, including bachelor's, master's, advanced generalist and clinical. The last two levels require an MSW and two years of experience, either supervised or direct clinical. The BLS notes that every state or jurisdiction may have its own requirements regarding licensure or certification. Applicants are encouraged to graduate from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, although it's not required.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The BLS reports that social workers could see employment opportunities increase by 12%, overall, during the 2014-2024 decade. Social workers' salaries also vary according to their area of specialization. As of 2015, the BLS reported that healthcare social workers earned a median annual wage of $52,380, while child, family and school social workers earned slightly less at $42,350. The median annual salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers was $42,170, according to the BLS.
Individuals interested in becoming a social worker should obtain a bachelor's degree to enter the field and a master's degree to perform clinical work. Social workers must also have the proper licensing and certification. Job growth in this field from 2014 to 2024 is projected at 12%, which is faster than average.