How to Become a Social Worker
Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives and social workers must listen to and understand their clients’ needs.
A bachelor’s degree is required for most direct-service social work positions, but some positions and settings require a master’s degree. Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree. Licensure varies by state. Clinical social workers must be licensed.
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.
BSW 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 healthcare, frequently require a master’s degree in social work (MSW). All clinical social workers must have an MSW.
MSWs generally take 2 years to complete. Some programs allow those with a BSW to earn their MSW in 1 year. MSW programs prepare students for work in their chosen specialty and develop the skills to do clinical assessments, manage a large number of clients, and take on supervisory duties. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.
A BSW is not required to enter MSW programs. In fact, a degree in almost any major is acceptable. However, coursework in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended.
Licensure varies by state. All states have some type of licensure or certification requirement. 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 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass an exam to be licensed.
Although most states also have licenses for nonclinical social workers, these licenses are often optional. For more information about licensure 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.
Listening skills. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. To effectively help, social workers must 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.
People 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.
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 manage their time well to provide adequate service to all of their clients.