The social worker requirements you’ll need to meet in order to serve
Social work is a true calling to create positive change for individuals, families or the community. Do you have the patience and perseverance to strengthen the lives of others? Do you feel called to help marginalized populations or impact systems of social justice? If you feel compelled to step up and offer your talents, social work may be a natural fit for you.
Social work is one of the most versatile careers you can pursue, as it’s a profession that changes and grows alongside your areas of interest. As you look into how you can become a social worker and what route is best for your career goals, you’ll notice that there are several social worker requirements you must meet to practice in your state. These requirements range from education to experience, depending on what type of social work you’d like to go into.
We’ve broken down the various social worker requirements to give you a better understanding of the steps needed to begin your career.
5 social worker requirements you’ll need to start your career
Regardless of where you see yourself as a social worker, you’ll need to start with the basics. These steps can help take you where you want to go as a professional in this field.
1. Earn your undergraduate degree
The first step to becoming a social worker is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Some schools specifically offer a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. These programs give you a foundational overview of general social work practice. You likely won’t be able to specialize in a specific area of social work just yet. Instead, you’ll gain experience learning about and providing services to broad communities, families and groups.
All BSW programs will require you to complete a field placement. These supervised internships allow you to put your classroom learning into action. The goal is for you to get an understanding of the type of work you will do once you graduate. Field experiences can also help you decide whether there’s a certain area of social work you’d like to specialize in at some point.
Once you’ve obtained your social work degree, you can qualify for an entry-level position and licensure. With a relevant bachelor’s degree, you may become a Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW). This licensure allows you to practice as a social worker under the supervision of an approved Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
With a BSW and licensure, you can work in areas like public health, substance abuse and family services. If you aspire to a higher or more specialized role, you should consider earning a Master’s in Social Work.
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2. Earn your graduate degree
To become a supervisor, a director or to hold a clinical position, you will need a Master’s in Social Work (MSW). MSW programs cover multidimensional problem-solving relevant to current social work practice. Students in MSW programs can take electives to focus on specific career interests. Common areas include mental health, child welfare, trauma informed care, crisis intervention, military social work and substance abuse.
A Master’s in Social Work provides you with more career opportunities than a BSW. With this advanced degree, you could find employment across a broad spectrum of settings, such as child protective services agencies, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, schools, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, entrepreneurial opportunities and within the government.
MSW programs usually take two years to complete and equip you with the advanced knowledge and practice needed to be a leader in the field.
3. Gain work experience while in school
If you choose to advance your social work career with a master’s degree, you’ll be required to complete a supervised clinical practicum as part of your curriculum. This field experience is invaluable to helping you dive into your new practice.
A practicum is more intensive than the field work completed in a bachelor’s degree program. This experience teaches you to apply classroom training and evidence-based interventions in a specific area within social work. You’ll gain direct practice experience working with diverse populations and strengthen your opportunities to ready you for graduation.
4. Obtain a license in your state
Once you’ve graduated, you will likely need a license to practice in your specialty. Each state’s social worker requirements vary, but many require you to take an exam and have a certain number of supervised practicum hours.
There are several options for licensure, depending on your goals and qualifications. One option is to become a Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker (CAPSW), which requires a few thousand hours of supervised clinical social work experience and a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Master’s level exam.
Another option is to pursue a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) certification. This licensure typically requires around 3,000 hours of supervised practice or two years of professional experience. With this licensure, you are able to diagnose and treat mental, emotional and behavioral issues.
Once you’ve met and earned a social work license in your state, you’ll need to renew your license periodically. During this time, you will likely have to complete continuing education courses to ensure you’re practicing with the most up-to-date information.
5. Pinpoint your career trajectory
The last social worker requirement is to find a job in the field. If you’re thinking of beginning your path to a social work career soon, you’re in luck. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job outlook for social workers will grow 16 percent from 2016 through 2026, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations.
Job growth varies by specialty—the fastest is in health care, with an expected 20% growth. This is due in part to the aging baby boomer population, who, along with their families, require assistance in transitioning to a new lifestyle or coping with medical conditions. Other growing areas include child, family and school social work, as well as mental health and substance abuse social work.
Begin your social work journey
If you feel drawn to make a difference in others’ lives, a career in social work may be worth pursuing. Knowing the social worker requirements can help you in deciding what your ultimate career goals are—whether you want to become a social worker quickly with a BSW or whether you want to earn your MSW and have more opportunities to specialize.
Ready to start your path to helping others? Learn more by visiting University of Massachusetts Global’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Work Degree page.
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