Every state has its own requirements for clinical social workers aspiring to gain licensure in the field, but most require the completion of a master's degree, such as a Master of Science in Social Work. These programs include didactic coursework and clinical experience working in the field. Master's degree programs are available in flexible formats, including online, and include a thesis project. Even more research-intensive, students may pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program.
Master of Science in Social Work
A master's degree program in social work provides students with the clinical training and educational background necessary to gain licensure as a clinical social worker. Students should check on exact requirements for the state where they plan to work. Students enrolled in such a program gain a first-hand look at the helping services and the types of agencies that employ social workers, including community care clinics, government agencies and child services agencies.
Aspiring clinical social workers enrolled in a graduate degree program in the field learn how to work with at-risk individuals. They guide them through the U.S. legal system, providing them with counseling services and offering them the tools they need to function in day-to-day life. The 60 credit hours are often divided up into 30 credits of didactic foundation courses and 30 credits of clinical experience in the field.
Most universities offering master's degree programs in social work require incoming students to hold at least a baccalaureate degree. Students should have completed college-level courses in the social sciences, psychology, economics and political science. They are typically also required to take the GRE to gain admission.
Universities with graduate programs in social work often offer full-time, part-time and online course plans for students who need flexible hours. In addition to completing a thesis project, students may take the following courses:
- Social welfare policies
- Social and political environments
- Human lifespan development
- Evidence-based and field practice
- Working with children and families
- At-risk populations
Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work
Ph.D. programs in social work are ideal for individuals who aim to pursue lines of research in the field. Many graduates work with specific applied research teams or social work training organizations. Such programs typically consist of 47 to 51 program hours as well as a dissertation. Students are expected to research theories of social work as they are related to principles and practice in the field.
Most Ph.D. programs in social work contain little to no clinical course hours and require that students have some practical or professional experience in the field before applying. They often only accept licensed clinical social workers with a master's degree in the field.
The majority of courses to be found within a Ph.D. program in social work cover methods of research, social work data analysis and specialized electives. Example courses include:
- Advanced social work theories
- Data analysis
- Quantitative and qualitative research methods
- Pedagogy in social work
- Theoretical approaches to understanding human behavior
- Analysis of public policy
Popular Career Options
Licensed clinical social workers are professionals in high demand throughout several industries. Graduates of a master's degree in social work can go on to become case managers, group home workers, counselors and more in:
- Social service agencies
- Domestic violence shelters
- Correctional facilities
The most advanced career options in the field of social work are open to graduates of doctoral programs. Positions in the areas of research, policy development, academia and organizational management include:
- Advanced clinical scholar
- University professor
- Social work practitioner
- Executive director of social service agency
- Social policy consultant
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers are projected to see a 12% increase in jobs from 2014-2024. In May 2015, the mean annual wages were $46,610 for child, family and school social workers, $54,020 for healthcare social workers and $47,190 for mental health social workers.
Certification Options and Continuing Education
All 50 U.S. states require clinical social workers to gain licensure before they can begin practicing in the field. A master's degree is a standard prerequisite for gaining licensure in most states, although a state may impose additional conditions.
Acquiring work as a clinical social worker requires a hefty investment of education--either at the master's or doctorate level. Licensure is also another must-have for those aspiring to work in the field.