How to Become a Social Worker

What is Social Work?

For individuals who naturally display excellent people skills, patience, and compassion, social work is a field they may enjoy and thrive in. Social work is an important and growing field that involves various types of professionals who provide care and support to those in need.

Social work practice includes more than just working with individuals seeking guidance, it involves hands on application of research-oriented and evidence based practices as well.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers are unique in the way that they look at many different aspects of a problem, from the individual to the societal; from the psychological to the political. Even though the social work field encompasses a multitude of roles and responsibilities, social workers typically provide counseling, therapy, and education, as well as connecting clients to appropriate public or private resources.

To start a career in social work, it is recommended to begin with a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) or other health and human services program. There are multiple roles available for those with only a bachelor’s degree in the field, however depending on the job and clients, a masters of social work (MSW) may be required.

Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in 5 Steps

The minimum qualifications of a social worker usually consists of an undergraduate degree in social work or a related field and passing the state's licensure exam. Some states issue a entry-level license to those who have earned a BSW.

To advance in the field and provide clinical services, states often require a master's in social work (MSW) or relevant doctoral degree plus passing the state’s social work licensure exam.

1. Meet Minimum Social Work Education Requirements

The first step to becoming a social worker is to meet the minimum social work education requirements. This consists of a BSW degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program. Even though it is highly recommended to participate in a BSW program, entry-level positions may also accept candidates with a bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology, or other related fields.

2. Complete an Accredited MSW Program

After gaining a BSW, the next step in career advancement would be to get a masters of social work (MSW) degree through a CSWE accredited program. There are various options when it comes to picking a program, such as opting for an online master of social work program or choosing a program that does not require the GRE.

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Program Description
University of Denver
  • Research-driven faculty dedicated to making an impact on social problems
  • Prepares you to apply social work skills across practice settings
Fordham University
  • Four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy
Simmons University
  • Four Clinical Specializations: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging
  • Three program tracks: Traditional, Accelerated, and Extended
Case Western Reserve University
  • From Case Western Reserve University’s top-10 ranked School of social work
  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks available
University of Southern California (USC)
  • Offered by USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, a top-ranked graduate School by U.S. News and World Report
  • Features virtual and in-person field education in or near student's own communities
Baylor University
  • Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
  • Specialize in clinical practice or community practice

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs

3. Gain Social Work Field Experience

Field experience is an important and valuable aspect within social work, which is why MSW programs often integrate it into their graduation requirements. However, once you graduate, many states often require additional, post-graduate hours in the field. Field work gives students the opportunity to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it while still being under supervision.

Finding the right social work internship may be difficult and some universities force students find internships on their own; however, there are MSW programs, that provide field placement assistance, specifically for their online students.

4. Meet Your State’s Licensure Requirements

Often times in positions that work directly with individuals, a social work license in required. Many states require applicants to take and pass standardized examinations administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) in addition to having direct service hours under the supervision of a licensed social worker.

It is important to note that some states have their own social work licensure examinations and requirements in addition to, or in place of, ASWB examinations. Be sure to review social work licensure requirements by your preferred state of practice.

Social Work License Exam

Depending on the level of social work experience or education a social worker may have, there are different levels of examinations - bachelors, masters, advanced generalist, and clinical. Depending on state designation, passing students may become a licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW), a licensed master social worker (LMSW), a licensed master social worker-advanced generalist (LMSW-AG), or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

Each of ASWB’s exams have 170 multiple choice questions with questions that touch on the competencies at four categories of practice. Even though each level of exam has the same number of questions, each have their own unique question sample, so the difficulty will vary greatly from the bachelor's version to the clinical level.

5. Search Social Work Jobs and Continue Your Education

Once a social worker has passed their state licensure exam, the next step is to begin the social work job search and maintain their licensure.

Even though the process of how to find social work jobs may be similar to the methods of trying to find any other job, a social worker should also look outside of the national job board postings and common places of employment for social workers, like hospitals and school districts. Consider local agencies and nonprofits, private practices, churches, and community advocacy organizations.

Additionally, it is always important for social workers to stay up-to-date on the best practices through participating in continuing education. Social work continuing education courses and learning opportunities are needed to maintain a social work license.

Continuing education requirements vary from state to state; some boards require only a specific number of hours, while others require it to be in specific topics, so this is why it is important to be sure what your state’s requirements are.

Starting Your Social Work Career Later in Life

Many social workers in the field today are entering the profession from a previous career. Professionals, such as psychologists, counselors, and public health workers, transition easily into a social work career because of the similarities between the experiences and goals of their prior positions and those of a social worker.

But social work is a diverse field, and many professionals with disparate backgrounds will be surprised to learn that their previous training can help them on the road to successful social work education and employment.

Once you have made the decision to transition into social work, you should consider how to receive your training and social work education to fulfill the requirements to practice in your state.

Why Become a Social Worker?

There are many reasons to join the social work field, such as personal reasons and experiences or because the skills come naturally, either way it is a rewarding career choice. The estimated growth projected for the social work field between 2018 and 2028 is 11% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics profile for social workers. This is an estimated 80,000+ social work jobs that will be needed to help provide the support and resources that individuals require.