How Do I Become a Social Worker?

May 16, 2019

The steps to become a social worker include specific education and experience, and you may need to get licensed. Find out the requirements for being a social worker and the skills you'll need to develop for the job.

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  • 00:01 Essential Information
  • 0:36 Undergraduate Education
  • 1:16 Graduate Education
  • 1:55 Licensing Requirements
  • 2:35 Career Options
  • 3:18 Job Outlook & Salary

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Becoming a Social Worker

Social workers need specialized college education and professional training to establish the technical and soft skills required for the job. The degree level and field as well as post-grad certification requirements vary based on the type of social work you're interested in.

How to become a social worker can be summarized into a 3-step process, though each step requires significant time and/or financial commitments. The payoff may come in the form of job satisfaction and contentment more than financial reward, depending on where you choose to work. Let's take a look at a snapshot of a social worker career, then break down the steps to become a social worker.

Social Worker Requirements

Degree Required Bachelor's or master's degree
Degree Field Social work, psychology, sociology
Other Requirements State licensure for clinical social workers
Average Salary (2018)* $77,610 (federal gov't), $52,840 (state gov't), $48,430 (child/family/school)
Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)* 16%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Steps to Become a Social Worker?

What you need to become a social worker will depend on the type of social work you want to do. Social workers are found in government service offices, schools, nonprofit and private organizations, hospitals, and other healthcare settings. Most social workers provide advocacy, education, and collaboration, though clinical social workers also support people with therapeutic services.

Step 1: Earn a Social Work Degree

Though programs in psychology, sociology, and social welfare may be sufficient to get a job as a social worker, the Council on Social Work Education accredits undergraduate and graduate degree programs in social work in every state. In a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program, you'll learn how to support people with social difficulties, addictions, behavioral issues, and other health services and provide individual assessment, solutions, and treatment. Internships and practicums are typically part of a BSW program.

At the graduate level, a Master of Social Work (MSW) program digs deeper into leadership, clinical, and more in-depth mental health-related issues. You can usually find programs that allow you to choose a specialization, such as administration or clinical, school, military, hospital, or community social work. Professional practice is a significant part of an MSW program. Several schools offer both BSW and MSW programs fully or partially online.

Step 2: Build Social Worker Skills

A degree program establishes technical social worker qualifications you'll need for the job, but you'll need actual supervised experience in the field to help you build the additional skills you'll need to succeed in the job. The qualities necessary fall into psychology, sociology, and educational categories and include:

  • Effective verbal and written communication
  • Active listening
  • Compassion, tolerance, and empathy
  • Emotional and mental stability
  • Critical thinking and emotional intelligence
  • Social perceptiveness and advocacy
  • Organization, coordination, and time management
  • Self-awareness and self-care practice

Step 3: Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Getting into the field in an assistant or other entry-level position may not require certification; however, most states require all social workers who work independently (not under supervision) to be licensed. Every state mandates licensure for clinical social workers, which also requires an MSW. To become a licensed social worker, you'll need to meet the educational and experiential requirements and pass a test. To maintain a social work license, most states require 15-48 hours of continuing education relevant to the field, including practical training experience.

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