How to become a Social Worker

Are you interested in supporting those who are struggling to find their feet in society? Whether it is helping people to find a job or assisting individuals to escape domestic abuse, a social worker plays an essential role in supporting people who need to turn their lives around.

Even though being a social worker is a highly rewarding role, becoming one is not as straightforward as many people think. It requires the obtaining of a master’s degree in addition to various certifications. We will guide you through the process below. 

What does a social worker do?

Social workers help individuals to manage and to put behind problems that they are going through at a particular moment in time. They hold one-to-one or group sessions with clients, discussing their issues and offering solutions to overcome them. 

From working in healthcare to helping people overcome substance abuse, social workers specialize in a particular field through their studies and work experience. Due to the variety of roles available, you can work in various environments, including hospitals, schools, and community centers. 

Your university studies

There are broadly two directions you can take at an undergraduate level if you want to become a social worker. 

  • The majority of students who are interested in this role choose to study a standard bachelor’s degree that takes 4 years to complete. It is recommended that you take classes that are related to the field – for example, psychology, sociology, and social services

You should aim to major in one of these subjects as it will increase the likelihood of you successfully being accepted onto a postgraduate course.  

  • However, if you are settled on a career in social work, then you might elect to apply onto a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) course. This is a highly specialized program as it has specific classes on subjects related to the field, including Social Welfare Policy and Human Behavior.  

As a BSW degree provides you with a solid foundation in social work, you might have the opportunity to enroll in an accelerated master’s course later on. It is important to note that some postgraduate programs only accept students with a BSW degree. 

  • In order to gain your degree in social work, you may need to participate in a placement or internship program in the field. Students on accredited BSW courses also have to complete 400 hours of fieldwork during their studies. 

While it is possible to apply for jobs related to social work once you have completed your standard bachelor’s degree or BSW, there will be very few opportunities available and you will not be able to practice on your own in a formal clinic or other institution. 

  • To become a fully qualified social worker, you need to gain a postgraduate degree

Once you have completed your undergraduate studies, you are ready to enroll in a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) program. These usually take 2 years to finish. However, those of you who already have a BSW may be able to gain the qualification in a shorter period of time. 

The BSW would have provided you with a solid foundation to continue your studies at a postgraduate level and some of the content you have covered at an undergraduate level will overlap with the syllabus on the MSW course. 

Depending on the program you choose, an MSW course can be completed both online and in-person. However, online programs may require you to visit the campus during certain parts of the year to complete practical assignments and participate in live discussions.

On your postgraduate degree, you will be the opportunity to specialize in a particular field of social work that you are interested in. Taking classes that are relevant to your career pathway will help you find jobs in that area once you have finished your studies.

Make sure that your MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) as otherwise you might not be able to move onto the next stage of your educational journey. 

Getting a social worker license 

Having attained your postgraduate degree, it is necessary to obtain the right licenses to practice as a social worker. 

Each state has its own licensing requirements, but most of them ask you to complete between 3000 and 4000 practice hours beforehand that are overseen by a qualified social worker. 

All states use the examination provided by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). To be a fully licensed social worker in California, you need to pass the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) test. 

Your license needs to be renewed every couple of years. This can be done by taking continuing education credits, the number depending on the state you practice in. 

If you are interested in specializing and increasing your employability it is recommended to take additional social work certifications, such as ones specializing to work with children. Most of these are available through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

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