How to Become a Social Worker: Education, Licensure & Careers
- February 26, 2021
- Posted by: Ipolani Mugford
- Category: Student Resources,
You’re a naturally selfless person intent on helping others, so it makes sense that you want to become a social worker. Social work presents a golden opportunity to embark upon a highly rewarding career path. It also offers a promising job outlook, as the field is projected to add nearly 91,000 jobs before the year 2030.
Continue reading to discover everything you need to know in order to become a social worker, including:
- the type of education you’ll need,
- how you can gain the necessary license, and
- the different careers you’ll be able to pursue when you’re ready, as well as the salary you can expect once hired.
What Does a Social Worker Do?
Whether it’s working with children, adults, families, or underprivileged groups, social workers help facilitate equity, justice, and positive social change. They do this by ensuring that the individuals and groups who lack the programs and services they need gain access to them.
Generally speaking, social workers help people cope with and eventually solve the problems they encounter on a daily basis. Clinical social workers diagnose and sometimes treat their clients’ mental or emotional issues.
You will find social workers in nearly every facet of everyday society, including:
- senior centers
- military institutions
- mental health clinics.
Some social workers assist their clients by helping them deal with a problem that’s unique to their situation. This might be a long-lasting or sudden disability. It might even be a social problem such as a housing deficiency, a lack of employment, or a struggle with drugs or alcohol.
Social workers sometimes actively engage with the systems that negatively impact their clients. This less personalized approach to social work involves conducting research, advocating for improved programs and services, or directly planning public policy.
Here are some duties frequently held by social workers:
- Identify people or communities who need assistance
- Advocate for valuable resources such as childcare and food stamps
- Ease the transition as clients move to a new phase in life, be it due to illness, lost employment, or changes to marital status
- Handle negative situations such as cases of child abuse
- Collect and maintain official records
Raising awareness of the issues facing their clients through advocacy is one of the most important jobs of a social worker.
If you’re attending school full-time, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology within four or five years. If you decide to go for your master’s degree, expect another two to three years. A doctorate degree in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years.
What Education Does a Social Worker Need?
While non-clinical social workers can practice social work with a bachelor’s degree, clinical social workers must secure their master’s degree and two years of supervised clinical experience in order to gain the license they need to practice social work.
Direct-service workers (such as caseworkers) earn their bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) before joining the workforce. The BSW provides students with invaluable information regarding general human behavior, specific social policies, and some of the more complicated ethical issues involved in social work. Some sort of monitored fieldwork is required of all BSW students.
Clinical social positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). Students typically complete this degree in two years, though some programs allow students to earn their MSW in one year. Earning an MSW prepares students for their area of expertise by developing their assessment and management skills. As with a BSW, students must finish supervised fieldwork before earning their MSW.
It’s recommended that aspiring social workers take courses in economics, psychology, and sociology to better prepare them for a career in social work.
What Credentials and Licenses Does a Social Worker Need?
All states expect clinical social workers to earn their license, while nonclinical social workers are required to do so in most states. Clinical social workers earn their license after completing 1) their master’s degree in social work and 2) two years of clinical experience. They must then pass a clinical exam to be licensed.
Remember: licensing requirements differ from state to state, so you’ll need to reach out to your state licensure board to see what your state’s requirements are.
What Fields Can a Social Worker Work In?
A social worker has the ability to work in many different fields, all of which are organized into one of what the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) identifies as three major categories: micro, mezzo, and macro social work.
Micro social work includes licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) who work on a one-on-one basis with their clients. These workers assist individuals as they try to conquer their emotional, mental, and physical challenges.
Examples of micro social workers might include someone who provides therapy in a mental health facility, someone who works with members of the military to overcome their PTSD, and someone who works as a counselor at a school to counsel students who have been bullied.
Mezzo social workers are also often LCSWs. The difference between them and micro social workers is that mezzo social workers manage multiple clients within families or other groups.
Examples of mezzo social workers include someone who develops a nutrition plan for an entire community, someone who facilitates a drug counseling program in a heavily afflicted neighborhood, and someone who designs a program that teaches health care workers how to better involve elderly patients in their own care.
Macro social workers focus less on individual clients, and more on facilitating systemic change. Their top priority is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the interactions that occur between systems.
Examples of macro social workers include someone who researches and then publishes an article on the causes of drug abuse among youth, someone who pursues funding for a local anti-smoking campaign, and someone who teams with a government agency to address the issue of racial discrimination in a particular region.
Here are just some of the fields to which social workers contribute:
- advocacy and community organization
- child welfare
- developmental disabilities
- justice and corrections
- mental health
- public welfare
- school social work
- substance abuse counseling
As an aspiring social worker, you have a wide variety of exciting career paths from which to choose. Most important, though, is the fact that you’ll be able to positively impact society regardless of which field you pursue.
How Much Do Social Workers Earn?
BLS.gov numbers for 2019 state that, while healthcare social workers earn nearly $57,000 per year, social workers who deal with children, families, and schools earn almost $47,000 per year. Each social worker’s salary depends on their education, their experience, and their chosen workplace and its location.
Entry-level social workers with less than one year of experience should expect to earn somewhere around $41,000. Social workers with one to four years typically earn nearly $45,000. $50,000 is the average salary for social workers who’ve collected five to nine years of experience.
Highly experienced social workers with between one and two decades of experience earn nearly $55,000 per year. Social workers who have worked in the field for more than two decades tend to top out at nearly $57,000.
Exploring Next Steps
You’ve decided that becoming a social worker is your way of contributing to the world in a positive and meaningful way. If you’re wondering what your next steps should be, here’s an overview of what you’ll need to do in the coming months and years:
STEP 1: Earn your bachelor’s degree.
STEP 2: Identify your social work specialty.
STEP 3: Complete an internship.
STEP 4: If you’re interested in clinical social work, earn your MSW.
STEP 5: Get the professional certification you’ll need to earn your license.
STEP 6: Find and apply for a social work position.
While it will require lots of time, planning, and hard work, helping others via a career in social work is truly a most noble endeavor. Not only that, but you now have the information you need to make it happen.