How to Become a Social Worker
Social workers help people to cope with challenges in their lives, by listening to and understanding their clients’ needs.
Although most social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and two years of post-master experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.
A bachelor’s degree in social work programs prepare students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, and social welfare policy. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.
Some positions, including those in schools and in health care, frequently require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). For example, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree in social work and two years of post-master experience in a supervised clinical setting.
A master’s degree in social work generally takes 2 years to complete. However, some programs allow those with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in 1 year. Master’s degree programs in social work prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing the skills to do clinical assessments, and take on supervisory duties. All programs require students to complete supervised practicum or an internship.
A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required to enter a master’s degree program in social work. A degree in almost any major is acceptable. However, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended.
The Council on Social Work Education offers a Directory of Accredited Programs that lists all accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states have some type of licensure or certification requirement, which varies by state. All states require clinical social workers to be licensed. However, some states provide exemptions for clinical social workers who work in government agencies.
Becoming a licensed clinical social worker usually requires a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.
Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state board. Most states also have licenses for nonclinical social workers. For more information about regulatory licensure board by state, contact the Association of Social Work Boards.
Compassion. Social workers often work with people who are in stressful and difficult situations. To develop strong relationships, they must have compassion and empathy for their clients.
Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different groups of people is essential for social workers. They need strong people skills to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients and colleagues.
Listening skills. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. To effectively help, social workers must be able to listen to and understand their clients’ needs.
Organizational skills. Helping and managing multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment, requires good organizational skills.
Problem-solving skills. Social workers need to develop practical and innovative solutions to their clients’ problems.
Time-management skills. Social workers often have many clients. They must effectively manage their time to provide adequate service to all of their clients.