Interested in becoming a social worker? If you care about the welfare of people and want to play a role in the betterment of society, it can be an ideal first career.
The basic educational requirement for becoming a social worker is a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a related discipline. Fieldwork experience is also highly valued by employers, and post-graduate options are available for those who want the knowledge and skills to become prominent in the field.
Here are the basic steps required to become a fully qualified social worker.
Step 1: Research the Job Duties of Social Workers
There are many career paths for a social worker. Some social workers want to help all kinds of people, while others focus on a specific area. These can include public health, family, youth, mental health and substance abuse. Knowing what social work specialty you are most passionate about will influence your study and career choices. If you can’t decide right now, there are usually lots of volunteer opportunities that enable you to trial specific areas and to meet social workers and learn more about what they do.
Step 2: Gain a Bachelor’s Degree
A four-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited university is required for most entry-level social work positions. If you already hold an associate’s degree, you may be able to graduate in just two years.
A BSW degree will cover areas such as social welfare policy, ethics and values, diversity, social work research and biology laboratory. Accredited BSW programs typically require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience, and prepare students for entry-level social work positions in community and public-service agencies. Positions include caseworker, probation officer, school counselor, career advisor, supported employment specialist or health educator.
Why stop at a Bachelor degree? Many social workers go on to obtain a Master’s in Social Work (MSW), giving them access to top-tier social work jobs.
Step 3: Complete a Community Internship
A critical part of social work education is field experience, and an internship provides opportunities to start serving others right away. It doesn’t even have to be in your area of interest – any direct interaction with clients and the community will help to build the skills necessary for a social work career.
An internship could see you working in a non-profit health organization, clinic, hospital or possibly in an elementary or middle school.
Find out more about why an MSW and an MSW field education internship should matter to you.
Step 4: Get Certified or Licensed
In addition to the basic degree requirement for social worker, some states require social workers to be licensed or certified. Regulations vary from state to state, so it’s recommended you check your state’s licensing requirements.
Step 5: Search for a Job
Once you have your degree and certification, you can enter the job market as a fully qualified social worker. According to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the career outlook for social workers is positive, with 12 percent employment growth expected between now and 2024.
Job search engines like Monster and Career Builder are easy to access, but can have a low rate of return. Check the job boards of local National Association of Social Workers (NASW) member organizations, hospitals, school districts, state and local government agencies, and other major employers in your area.
Be sure to attend as many networking events and workshops as possible. Expanding your social circle and maintaining good relationships with people who can help you find a job can lead to a crucial referral down the road.
Ready to take the next step in your social work career? Secure your future with an advanced MSW degree.