How to Become a Social Worker
Noted American pacifist and social worker Jane Addams once was famously quoted
saying, “the good we secure ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
Like Jane Addams, social workers are inherently caring individuals who care about the good of all mankind. Being a social worker has the potential to be an intrinsically rewarding career for those who have a strong desire to help others. Although the environments you work in can be stressful, the benefits to society cannot be overstated enough.
For those who want to play an important role in the betterment of society by assisting individuals and empowering them to find solutions to life’s many challenges, you may want to consider a career in social work.
And if you do, here is a general roadmap that will help you prepare for your career:
Choose a Specialty
Before you begin your formal education as a social worker, you should consider the
many career paths available in the field. For example, child and family social workers cater to families in need of assistance. Geriatric social workers take care of elderly clients and their families. Hospice social workers are there for end-of-life transitions.
You might take a position at a school where you can work closely with parents and teachers to ensure that students are matched with the right programs. In a healthcare setting, you will be a patient advocate who keeps families informed and works to preserve patient rights. Knowing what social work specialty most interests you will greatly influence your post-secondary education.
Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
For most entry-level social work positions, a four-year bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field from an accredited university is required. If you already have an associate degree, you may be able to transfer credits and cut the time to graduation to two years. A bachelor’s degree typically prepares you for direct service positions such as a caseworker or mental health assistant.
Complete a Community Internship
Actual fieldwork experience is considered the most important element of a social work education, so you should take on opportunities to serve others as soon as possible.
Interaction with clients and the community builds skills necessary to careers in social work. Even if an internship is not exactly in line with your specific interests, the experience is critical. Internships may include working for a local nonprofit health organization, clinic or hospital, or perhaps you might work at an elementary or middle school.
Earn a Master of Social Work (MSW)
Earning a Master of Science in Social Work opens opportunities to secure a variety of careers and shows that you have the knowledge and skills to become a prominent member of the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, virtually any undergraduate major is acceptable for entry into an MSW program. Generally speaking, master’s degree programs incorporate clinical practice with coursework to ensure that students are properly prepared for positions in the field.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), is a nonprofit national association representing more than 2,500 individual members as well as graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. This partnership of educational and professional institutions, social welfare agencies and private citizens is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States.
Earning a master’s degree online can allow you to partake in an internship while you complete your advanced degree. Here are some online MSW programs.
Earn the Necessary Certifications
Some states require social workers to be licensed or certified. Since regulations vary from state to state, you should inquire about your state’s requirements from the Association of Social Work Boards. Working as a clinical social worker may require a license where you live, and licensing regulations typically call for a master’s degree, supervised clinical work (a minimum of two years or 3,000 hours) and a passing grade on the pertinent exam.
Find an Entry-Level Job
Now that you have your degree(s) and certification(s), you can officially enter the
profession by finding a job. Depending on where you live and availability, your first job may not be in the exact specialty you intend to pursue. At this point, the important thing is to gain as much relevant experience as possible. Once you enhance your experience and skill sets, you can seek job opportunities more in line with your ideal career.
Advance in Your Career
There are many ways to advance in the social work field, including returning to college to add a post-graduate degree. Also, many public service organizations require employees to take part in continuing education. Advancement and rank promotions typically come with years of service, work performance, and formal advanced training.
As you continue to grow in your career, you may want to switch specialties, or you may want to get more involved with research projects that can help advance the field. Or you may want to write a book based on your professional experiences. The most important thing is that you are happy and find gratification in your work. For social workers, knowing they are helping others usually provides ample career satisfaction.