How to Become a Social Worker in 5 Steps

As a social worker, you could work in nursing homes, social service agencies, hospitals and residential substance abuse and mental health facilities. Read further for the five steps you can take towards a career as a social worker. Get info about undergraduate and graduate programs in social work, licensure and certification. Schools offering Addictions & Social Work degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Social Worker?

A social worker is licensed to give advice, counsel and support to people who are dealing with physical or emotional illnesses or to those who are facing societal or familial problems. In this career, you could specialize in certain areas of social work, such as public health, family, youth, mental health and substance abuse. While a good portion of your time would be spent working in offices, you'll also need to travel to participate in community groups or one-on-one client meetings.

Step 1: Research the Career Duties of a Social Worker

As part of your services to their clients, you'd make referrals to housing and job placement services and to financial assistance programs. You'd preside over group or individual therapy sessions with clients and their family members and track the progress of their clients. Depending on your area of specialty, social workers might make arrangements for at-home care, provide crisis intervention services and teach daily living skills.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Social Work

Your first step towards becoming a social worker should be acquiring a bachelor's degree in social work, which is the minimum educational requirement. A typical program of study will include classes such as social welfare policy, social work ethics and values, diversity, social work research, biology laboratory, foreign language and state and local government. With a bachelor's degree, you'll be eligible for entry-level social work positions.

Step 3: Obtain a Master of Science in Social Work

Some social work positions require a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( This is particularly true of jobs in clinical, educational or health environments. You'll also need an advanced degree if you'd like to eventually take on an administrative or managerial position. Graduate social work programs offer instruction in such subjects such as human behavior in social environments, applied social work research, advanced social work practice, assessment and intervention of trauma, psychotherapy theories, family therapy and addiction and substance abuse.

Step 4: Become Licensed

The Princeton Review reported that social workers must obtain licenses in order to work in all 50 states. Licensing requirements may vary, and you should research the requirements of the state you reside in. However, in the majority of states, you'll need approximately two years of supervised clinical work experience before you can become licensed. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) offers social worker licensing examinations, and you can also contact your state licensing board for more information.

Step 5: Consider Earning a Certification

As you gain experience, you may want to earn a voluntary professional certification, which can help enhance your job prospects. You can obtain certifications through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The Princeton Review stated that professional certification also allows social workers with private practices to receive reimbursement from insurance providers.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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