How to Get Started With a Career in Social Work

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Social workers have a hugely important role to play in terms of helping people enhance their quality of life. They address a range of barriers on both physical and mental levels, including poverty, abuse and substance misuse. If you want to know how to get started with a career in social work, you must first learn about the profession as a whole.

Can You Be a Social Worker?

Naturally, you need to complete a number of educational requirements to be a social worker, although these vary between states. However, you also have to have the right personality. You must be objective, sensitive and an excellent listener. You must be able to listen to information in a variety of formats and work out what is really being said. You also have to be an excellent problem solver and decision maker.

Educational Requirements

In the majority of states, you will require at the very least a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE accredited institution. However, most states will also require you to hold a master’s degree. Your bachelor’s degree will usually look at areas such as principles and practice, human services, social welfare, research, issues in social work and statistics. It usually takes four years to complete your bachelor’s.

To then complete your master’s, you will need to spend another two years in school. If you want to deliver therapy, you will need a master’s degree regardless of what state you live in. You will look at things such as social work with adolescents, child abuse and practice with gerontology populations.

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You can also continue on to achieve a Ph.D. or Doctorate in Social Work. The DSW (Doctorate) has a clinical basis, whereas the Ph.D. looks more at research. It will usually take you another four years to complete this program. All degrees are accredited by the Council for Social Work Education. Only these programs will allow you to work as a social worker at any level.

Social workers need to participate in classroom education as well as completing field education. An internship will always be required. This is a chance to apply the theory that you have learned to real-life situations.

Getting Into a CSWE Program

Most CSWE programs at all levels will require a number of prerequisite courses to admit students. Additionally, applicants will need to write a personal statement and provide a resume. Admission for master’s and doctoral programs are even more stringent and will require a set amount of working hours, a high GPA, letters of references and more.

To be accepted to a master’s in social work program, you do not necessarily have to hold a bachelor’s in social work. However, if you want to take part in an Advanced Standing Program, you will not only need a bachelor’s in social work, you will also need a very high GPA (usually at least 3.5). For doctorate programs, you will need a master’s in social work, although some schools are now accepting those with a Master of Science in Nursing. Acceptance will almost always depend on an interview as well. A good resource is found on the Graduate School Site from

What to Do After Graduation

To become a social worker, you need to not only complete a degree, you must also get licensed. Each state, as mentioned, has different requirements in terms of educational achievement and work experience. However, you will always have to pass the applicable ACSW/NASW examination.

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Make sure that you consult the licensing boards in your own state in order to find out whether there are additional requirements. Also, this is where you will find out what type of social worker you can actually be. For instance, the most highly educated social workers can often be classed as mental health workers, but requirements for them vary from one state to the next.

Getting a Social Worker Job

Becoming a social worker takes a long time, but you will ultimately get there. At that point, you will need to look for work. Employers look for more than just a degree, however, and your personal qualities are equally important. You therefore need to take a look at what kinds of skills (and soft skills in particular) a potential employer is looking for. Often, they want you to be able to deal comfortably with volatile situations while remaining in control even if you are exposed to physically or verbally threatening and aggressive behavior. You will also be expected to be a great communicator, both written and spoken, and you must have great interpersonal skills. Furthermore, you will need to understand the guidelines for reimbursement and you must be able to demonstrate that caring properly for your clients will always be your main priority.

About the Author: Ann Steele

This website is co-authored by Ann Steele, a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with extensive experience with children and adolescents. Ann Steele attended American School Of Psychology & Argosy University Online. She especially enjoys using music therapy for mental and emotional well-being.

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