If you enjoy working with people and want a job that allows you to help others in need, you may be considering a career in the social work field. Social work is often a rewarding job where you can make positive changes in people’s lives and positively impact your community.
There isn’t necessarily one perfect way to become a social worker. People often take different paths that lead them into the social work field. However, there are a few common steps that you’ll usually take if you know that you want to be a social worker. This guide will help you figure out how to become a social worker.
Typical steps to become a social worker:
- Choose your field of study
- Get your bachelor’s degree
- Get your master’s degree
- Do required fieldwork
- Get your social work license in your state
- Find a job
- Continue your education
Choose Your Field of Study
There are many different fields and positions for social workers. You can help with diverse populations, such as underprivileged youth or the elderly. If you don’t want to work directly with people, you may also work in policy-making or organizational positions. You may also consider where you want to work, such as a school or a government office.
Choosing your field of study will help you decide the best path for your education. You can select your courses based on what you plan to do. It can also guide you to the best programs for your chosen field of work.
Get Your Bachelor’s Degree
If you’re just starting on your bachelor’s degree and know that you want to go into social work, you can begin on a BSW (Bachelors in Social Work) path at your school. If you’ve already started working on a degree that’s outside the social work field but want to change, you can still become a social worker through a nontraditional path.
A BSW may also help you to get your master’s degree faster, as you’ll have all of your entry-level social work classes complete. You’ll take courses that will introduce you to the social work field, its policies, and working in communities. These courses are designed to prepare you specifically for a career in social work.
Many social workers got their start with another degree. Some degrees lend themselves really well to a career in social work. If you majored in a field that teaches about humans and their interactions, such as psychology or sociology, you’re primed for social work. Other degrees, like child development and social justice, will also give you a solid background.
If you have a degree other than a social work degree, you’ll need to check with the college where you want to get your master’s in social work to see precisely what’s required. You may have to take a few extra courses or gain some certifications, but there shouldn’t be a problem.
Get Your Master’s Degree
While you can get a job in social work with only a bachelor’s degree, getting your MSW (Master’s in Social Work) will open up many more employment avenues and allow you to become a licensed social worker.
When choosing a program for your MSW, you’ll first want to ensure that it’s accredited through the Council on Social Work Education. Accredited programs offer the types of coursework that will help you get your licensure and prepare you for your work.
Types of Programs
If you got your BSW, then you may be eligible for an advanced standing program for your MSW. Since you already have a solid foundation of social work courses, you may be able to complete your MSW faster through an advanced standing program.
If you took a nontraditional path for your bachelor’s degree, then you’ll need to do a traditional standing program to get your MSW. These programs usually take around two years to complete.
On-campus vs. Online
As you look at MSW programs, you’ll need to consider whether you want to go with an on-campus program or an online program. Your choice will depend on how you learn best and your circumstances. Many students prefer on-campus classes because it can help them stay more focused on their lessons and work.
However, you may have a life situation that makes it easier to get your MSW online. You may live far away from college, or you may need a more flexible schedule. Fortunately, as long as a program is accredited, you can rest assured that you’re getting the necessary coursework.
Do Required Fieldwork
One of the most essential parts of your social work education is your time spent doing fieldwork. While you learn a lot in the classroom, fieldwork gives you the chance to observe social workers in action and get a feel for what the job really requires.
You’ll have to check with your program to see how many hours are required for your degree. Some programs require as few as 20 hours, while others may require several hundred hours. Requirements will also depend on whether you are doing traditional standing or advanced standing.
Get Your Social Work License in Your State
Your social work job of choice may not require you to get a license, but if you plan to work directly with people, then you’ll most likely need to get licensed. Each state has different rules about what type of license is required, so you’ll want to check with your state to make sure you’re doing everything correctly.
Typically, you’ll either become an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) or an LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker). The main difference between the two is that you’ll need the LCSW if you want to offer clinical services like psychotherapy or have a private practice. Otherwise, you should be fine with an LMSW.
Find a Job
Once you’ve gotten your degrees and your license, it’s time to find a job. In some cases, you may find a job before you get your license. This strategy can be beneficial as some jobs will help you through the licensure process.
While you may have already chosen your field, such as working in a school or hospital, you may have discovered through your studies and fieldwork that you have a passion for another area of the field. Be sure to keep your options open as you begin the job search.
One field that often needs workers is the macro social work sector. Many social workers don’t go into this field because they want to work directly with people, but the macro area is essential. This field allows you to make policy changes that can have an even bigger effect and can be very rewarding.
Continue Your Education
Once you’ve started your career as a social worker, your educational career isn’t over. It’s essential to continue your education to stay on top of the latest research, policy changes, and best practices in the social work field. Most licenses will stipulate a certain number of continuing education hours before each renewal.
You can continue your education in several ways. You may attend professional events and meetings, such as conferences and workshops. Another great way to continue your education is individually, through courses, or by conducting your own research and publishing the results.
Social work can be a gratifying job, as you have the chance to help others and make impactful changes in your community. By following these steps and dedicating yourself to how to become a social worker, you can become a social worker and make a difference in the lives of others.