How to Become a Social Worker in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a social worker. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Addictions & Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers are licensed mental health professionals who counsel and support people dealing with physical or emotional illnesses or those facing societal or family problems. Their job is to help people in vulnerable situations and, on a larger scale, to identify and support communities in need of aid. There are a wide range of social and personal problems that social workers may be called upon to help with, such as personal bereavement, dysfunctional family relationships, illnesses or mental health crises. They may also serve as a point of contact between the general public and social services, often providing access to community resources such as food stamps or healthcare.

Learn more about this career option from the table below:

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree at minimum; clinical positions require at least a master's degree
Education Field of StudySocial Work
Key ResponsibilitiesResearch information regarding cases,
Evaluate and counsel patients and their families in relation to personal, family and social problems,
Maintain records as required,
Offer advocacy and provide resources and referrals
Licensure/CertificationLicensure is required in all states
Certification is optional but can enhance job prospects
Job Growth (2014-2024)12%*
Mean Salary (2015)$49,670*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Social Worker?

Social workers are licensed to give advice, counsel and support to people who are dealing with physical or emotional illnesses or to those who are facing societal or familial problems. They work in nursing homes, social service agencies, hospitals and residential substance abuse and mental health facilities. In this career, you could specialize in certain areas of social work, such as public health, family, youth, mental health and substance abuse. While a good portion of your time would be spent working in offices, you'll also need to travel to participate in community groups or one-on-one client meetings.

Step 1: Research the Career Duties of a Social Worker

As part of your services to their clients, you'd make referrals to housing and job placement services and to financial assistance programs. You'd preside over group or individual therapy sessions with clients and their family members and track the progress of their clients. Depending on your area of specialty, social workers might make arrangements for at-home care, provide crisis intervention services and teach daily living skills.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Social Work

Your first step towards becoming a social worker should be acquiring a bachelor's degree in social work, which is the minimum educational requirement. A typical program of study will include classes such as social welfare policy, social work ethics and values, diversity, social work research, biology laboratory, foreign language and state and local government. With a bachelor's degree, you'll be eligible for entry-level social work positions.

Step 3: Obtain a Master of Science in Social Work

Some social work positions require a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). This is particularly true of jobs in clinical, educational or health environments. You'll also need an advanced degree if you'd like to eventually take on an administrative or managerial position. Graduate social work programs offer instruction in such subjects such as human behavior in social environments, applied social work research, advanced social work practice, assessment and intervention of trauma, psychotherapy theories, family therapy and addiction and substance abuse.

Step 4: Become Licensed

The Princeton Review reported that social workers must obtain licenses in order to work in all 50 states. Licensing requirements may vary, and you should research the requirements of the state you reside in. However, in the majority of states, you'll need approximately two years of supervised clinical work experience before you can become licensed. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) offers social worker licensing examinations, and you can also contact your state licensing board for more information.

Step 5: Consider Earning a Certification

As you gain experience, you may want to earn a voluntary professional certification, which can help enhance your job prospects. You can obtain certifications through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The Princeton Review stated that professional certification also allows social workers with private practices to receive reimbursement from insurance providers.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of other careers that involve helping and supporting a community. Students with a bachelor's degree in social work could become probation officers or correctional treatment specialists, careers that involve working with people on probation to rehabilitate them into the community. Social and community service managerial positions are also available to those with a bachelor's or master's degree in social work or a related field. These positions involve working with both community members and governmental or nonprofit organizations to help provide programs and services. Those who have an interest in providing help to people with addiction problems could also consider becoming substance abuse or behavioral disorder counselors. A bachelor's degree is sufficient for some positions in this field, but earning a graduate degree will enable students to provide more services in higher-level roles.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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