Social work is proving a popular second career for many professionals. What does the path to social work as a second career look like, and what is the career outlook for social workers?
More professionals are choosing social work as a second career – one that offers them greater satisfaction than they found in their former careers, along with the opportunity to give back.
Where do second-career social workers come from?
A study by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) found that:
- 60 percent of second-career social workers were over 40 when they pursued a second career in the field
- 51 percent of second-career social workers came from the private, for-profit sector
- 26 percent of second-career social workers left the public sector
- 23 percent from the private, not-for-profit sector
Why Make the Switch?
Those pursuing a new career in social work frequently cite a desire to find more meaningful work, where they feel they are genuinely making a difference by helping others.
- Lou Storey went back to school for social work when he was 52, having previously managed a successful business designing exhibitions for museums. He was surprised to find a lot of middle-aged colleagues among his classmates. “I was concerned I’d be the grandpa in the classroom, and I wasn’t,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Storey said his decision to switch careers came down to a desire to “give back more. … What I liked about social work is the human rights and social justice perspective.”
- Similarly, David Dunbeck told the Inquirer that he left a career as a civil engineer at age 40 to get a Master’s in Social Work (MSW). He has gone on to spend close to two decades working in the field, with his latest role as Director of Homeless Services at Horizon House in Philadelphia. Dunbeck said he asked himself if he wanted to “work harder and harder to make a company more profitable. Or make the world more just and alleviate pain?”
- Writing in The New Social Worker, Phyllis Babrove describes how she decided to go back to college at the age of 40 after raising a family. She completed both a Bachelor of Social Work and a Master of Social Work by the time she turned 47 and went on to have a rich and full career in the field, including 16 years spent as a social worker in the public school system. Ultimately, she also fulfilled her dream of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, “after a lot of hard work.” To those who are hesitant to go back to school because of their age, Babrove advises, “Being a student later in life was meaningful, and I was fortunate that I found a profession in which life experience is looked at in a positive way.”
Pathways into Social Work as a Second Career
The degree requirement for social work as a second career and educational requirements for social workers depend in part on people’s previous education and experience, and also which area of the field they want to pursue.
The first step for most will be to obtain a Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited college or university. This prepares students for entry-level positions in the field, as well as for graduate social work education. Students learn how to practice as professional social workers, combining classroom and field education with work experience. With a BSW, an individual can embark on a career as a social worker.
After a Bachelor’s degree, many students apply to a CSWE accredited graduate program to obtain an MSW. Those with a BSW may be eligible for advanced standing, allowing them to obtain an MSW in one year rather than the traditional two-year program.
While all accredited social work graduate programs follow similar curricula, some schools have strong clinical programs, while others focus on issues such as social justice. Choosing a clinical focus or a macro concentration for an MSW can determine a student’s electives and field education placements.
Make the switch today and find out how an education in social work could help you embark on your next career path.