How to Become a Social Worker: Qualifications & Requirements

5 minute read

High job satisfaction, stability and a fulfilling career path make becoming a social worker the perfect opportunity if you’re looking to do good and make a positive change in your community.

Social work positions are consistently featured on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the 100 Best Jobs, with child and family social workers and clinical social workers earning a spot on the most recent list. The benefits of becoming a social worker are clear. Read on to understand the qualifications, educational requirements and opportunities for social workers.

Responsibilities: What Social Workers Actually Do

Social work is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of careers. At a high level, social workers help people resolve their issues in order to improve their quality of life. But in reality, there’s no typical day in the field. One day you might be assessing a family’s situation and developing a plan of action, while the next day you could be involved in crisis management.

Social workers are needed at federal, state and local levels, and throughout diverse populations — from infants to the elderly and in small towns and big cities. You may work with individuals, families or groups of people.

Some of the responsibilities of a social worker include:

  • Counseling
  • Recommending resources
  • Case management
  • Legislative advocacy
  • Community organization
  • Reviewing and implementing policies
  • Helping people with Social Security or welfare

With the right training and a degree in social work, you’ll be prepared to help people who are struggling with mental illness, addiction, poverty, homelessness and other matters.

Career Opportunities in Social Work

Where do you see yourself working? Are you interested in substance abuse counseling in a clinic or patient advocacy in the healthcare industry? The exact responsibilities of your job will depend on the career path you choose and where you want to work.

As you progress toward becoming a social worker, you’ll need to select a speciality as soon as you can since there are a variety of practice areas available.

Possible specialty areas include:

  • Community Social Work
  • Child and Family Welfare
  • Mental Health
  • Substance Abuse Social Work

Places where you might work include:

  • Rehabilitation Clinics
  • Government Agencies
  • Hospices
  • Mental Health Facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Schools

Research the focuses that you’re interested in and browse job opportunities to get an idea of what your role would entail. You may also be able to find internships where you can get a taste for a certain speciality in a hands-on way.

Qualifications & Requirements to Become a Social Worker

Knowing your ideal career path is the first step toward becoming a social worker. Once you’ve selected a speciality and a place where you’d like to work, you can start fulfilling the necessary requirements.

Education
For an entry-level position, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). Most of these positions consist of working in direct-service roles, like as a caseworker.

For more advanced roles, like clinical social work, a master’s degree is required. You don’t need to have a bachelor’s degree in social work if you’re interested in pursuing your master’s in the field.

Internships & Experience
Since social work is a field that involves a lot of face-to-face interaction, experience will be incredibly valuable to you and the community you serve. Most positions will require some level of experience. For example, in addition to a master’s degree, clinical workers need at least two years of experience.

Hands-on experience through an internship is a great way to develop your skills. Popular places to intern are at local nonprofit organizations, clinics or hospitals. But if an internship isn’t available to you in your chosen speciality, any experience you can get in your community will be beneficial and should satisfy experience requirements.

Licensing 
Depending on the state where you’re practicing, you may need to become a licensed social worker. You can find the license requirements for your state here.

To receive your license, you may be required to:

  • Perform a certain amount of hours of supervised work
  • Take and pass an exam
  • Pursue continuous education opportunities

Once you’re licensed, your job title will also be dependent on where you are. A Licensed Social Worker (LSW) in the south could mean something totally different on the west coast. You may often see variations of the Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker job title listed as LISW, LCSW or LICSW.

Interested in clinical social work? Just know that licensing for this position is required in every state.

Skills
Since social workers help a variety of people in many different environments, the following skills are a must-have if you’re looking to enter the field:

  • Communication and Listening Skills
  • Empathy Skills
  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Organizational Skills

Salary & Career Outlook for Social Workers

Social work involves helping others, so there will always be a need for people with the right education and experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in social work are expected to grow 16% over the next decade, which is much faster growth than the average for other specialties.

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the median pay for social work positions in various industries as:

State, local and private hospitals  $60,100
Local government (not including hospitals or education)$54,430  $54,430
Ambulatory healthcare $49,840
State government (not including hospitals or education) $48,590
Family services $41,810



Career stability combined with the satisfaction of helping those in need make becoming a social worker the ideal path for anyone with a passion for improving the lives of others.

To get started in the field, take a look at our online bachelor’s in social work degree program. It’s the perfect way to earn your degree in a convenient online structure, and you’ll have the required education to compete for entry-level positions or go on to pursue your master’s degree.

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