How To Start A Career As A Social Worker

Social work is a rewarding career that can result in real, measurable changes in society. The School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo describes the field as one in which trained professionals work to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable individuals and local communities by helping them navigate the trials and tribulations of everyday life. In practice, social work can take on many forms, as professional social workers may find themselves based in a variety of environments, from hospitals to nursing homes to prisons.

According to The Princeton Review, some of the most universal daily tasks for social workers include helping families in need as well as abuse victims. They also offer counseling and guidance to those in their care. While the career isn't for everyone and can be emotionally exhausting, leading to negative effects on your health, it does tend to give many social workers a sense of satisfaction because they're providing such a high-value service.

Like other specialized professions, a career in social work requires a medium to long-term commitment to education to attain the right qualifications.

What are the educational requirements of a social worker?

At the bare minimum, social workers require a bachelor's degree to practice in entry-level positions (via How to Become). As part of a social work degree, which typically takes four years to complete, you will study topics such as psychology, cultural diversity, and sociology, along with social work practice. In many states, you can only use the title of social worker if you have graduated from a social work program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). To work as a social worker in a clinical setting, you need a master's degree in social work, which generally adds an additional two years to your study.

As part of your social work degree, you will have the chance to gain experience through fieldwork. According to Online MSW Programs, most master's programs centering on social work require students to complete 900 hours of fieldwork before they are able to obtain the relevant license.

Prior to the completion of your degree, you will need to pass an Association of Social Work Boards Social Work Licensing examination (via Social Work License Map). This and other jurisprudence exams are taken at different points of your educational journey and come at different levels, including bachelor's, master's, advanced generalist, and clinical. Once you've passed the required exams, the last step is to obtain social work licensure, the process and requirements for which vary from state to state. After receiving your license, you can begin your career as a social worker.

Where will you work as a social worker?

Social work is a broad field, and the scope of work depends on the specific area in which you'd like to specialize. Completing fieldwork during your degree can help you to determine which area of social work suits you the most. According to Best Colleges, some of the most common career paths include community social work, child welfare, mental health, and public policy. The website explains that while the average salary of a social worker depends on their specific role, the highest-paid position in the field is as a community services manager, where the median average wage was $69,600 in 2020.

To improve your chances of prospering in your career as a social worker, you can obtain further certifications to enhance your credentials (via Social Work Guide). These are typically offered through the National Association of Social Workers and are open to those social workers who hold a master's degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment opportunities for social work are expected to grow by 9% between 2021 and 2031, which is faster than the average growth rate of all occupations. So, if social work is something that interests you, this is likely to be a job where there will be a steady stream of work openings. If you are thinking of making a career change, journaling about your career goals can be useful in helping you find your next step.