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How to Become a Social Worker
How to become a social worker can differ from one state to another, but the underlying basics are identical anywhere in the country: You must obtain formal education and pass a state exam.
What Kind of Schooling Do I need to Become a Social Worker?
State governments recognize both the importance and impact a social worker has on families, individuals, and society. Therefore, social workers cannot step into a job and learn it as they go. All entry-level social workers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a field related to social work. Many states require an online masters degree as the initial benchmark.
The online courses you should take in your initial education phase in how to become a social worker should include subjects like psychology, biology, sociology, economics, and social work. Additional courses in languages, humanities, and communication can be extremely helpful, as well.
The most directly related degree you might seek is the Bachelor of Science in Social Work, or BSW. Tailored specifically for this career path, this degree should be from a campus-based or online school accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).
If your state requires only the baccalaureate degree, you should then be ready for your state accreditation. However, the four-year degree is usually the entry mark only in smaller communities. Even if state requirements accept the undergraduate degree, many agencies, hospitals, and other employers may require at least a Master in Social Work, or MSW.
Fortunately, the CSWE has accredited over 196 master’s degree programs, and the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education listed over 70 programs that grant a Doctoral in Social Work or a PhD, at least some of which may be available via distance education. Determine what degree level your state requires and confirm the degree local employers demand and formulate your degree path as the launching point in how to become a social worker.
Your education will include extensive career training in clinical settings—supervised interaction with patients and clients. This invaluable experience lays the foundation for much of your effort as a social worker. Use the opportunity to verify your career choice; you’ve chosen an occupation that can be extremely stressful and frustrating. It takes a special attitude and desire to do the job well and effectively.
Once you have gained the proper education level for your state, the next phase in how to become a social worker is to take and pass your state’s licensing exam. A few states may require only registration, but many more, as well as the District of Columbia, require actual licensing.
Not all positions are treated equally at the state level. Determine what restrictions, if any, your state has in place for application of your degree. Some certifications may authorize work in clinical settings only. Others may allow field evaluations and, in extreme cases, actual physical removal of at-risk children from the family environment.
If your state has separate licensing standards for different job responsibilities, it is highly recommended that you do not stop at the undergraduate degree but pursue a post-graduate course and degree as your minimal education benchmark.
Determine your education path by looking at the end from the beginning. This will allow you to properly plan for your future. Then plot exactly where you will accomplish these goals as you work through each step on how to become a social worker.