Social workers strive every day to make life easier and better for individuals and communities. Relying on their training in psychology, interpersonal communication, human behavior, the law and ethics, as well as their access to state and local agencies and resources, social workers interact with individuals and groups to strengthen their relationships, assist in recovery from abuse, and help improve their quality of life. Social workers may also be instrumental in sharing important health information with communities, advocating for people in court or government proceedings, and helping to shape public policies.
Social Worker Education Requirements
Those considering social worker careers should start by evaluating their strengths and abilities. Social workers must be emotionally mature, self-aware, and compassionate.
Social worker education requirements are fairly stringent, as all states and the District of Columbia have guidelines for degrees and licensure. Prior to entering any social work education program, it helps to have some prior training, either through high school or in your work experience. Taking classes in psychology, English, Spanish, sociology and family or consumer studies can be helpful. Also, most colleges and universities require that you complete a college admissions exam (ACT or SAT) for admission.
The baseline educational requirement to become a social worker is a Bachelor's degree, usually in Social Work or a related field. A four-year degree program is comprised of both coursework and a minimum number of hours (usually 400 for accredited programs) of supervised experience in the field. Typical courses or subjects covered in a Bachelor's degree program include:
- At-risk populations
- Community resources
- Human behavior
- Modern social problems
- Social and economic justice
- Social work research methods
- Values and ethics
As part of your studies, you'll likely be required to perform a scientific research study and to work as part of a social service agency.
Social Worker Training and Licensure
Once you've completed your degree, you are eligible to begin the process of obtaining your license to practice. Most states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), require two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience for licensure to work as a clinical social worker. Because requirements vary by state, you should check with the Association of Social Work Boards to find what the licensing and testing procedures are for your state.
Should you wish to work in private practice to counsel clients or earn an advanced position as a supervisor, program manager, agency director or teacher, you'll be required to possess an advanced degree -- a two-year Master of Social Work (MSW) or a doctoral degree (DSW or Ph.D.). A Master's degree program provides training in performing clinical assessments, managing caseloads, working in supervisory roles, and exploring social work resources.
You should make sure that any social work program you are considering is accredited; the Council on Social Work Education currently accredits 500 Bachelor's degree programs and 233 Master's programs. Doctoral education should be accredited through The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work.
It is important to note that voluntarily obtaining national certification (which is usually not required for employment) demonstrates a level of commitment and competency that could enhance your chances for employment. National certification is provided through the National Association of Social Workers and the Center for Clinical Social Work.
Social Worker Education Requirements: Specializations
The BLS reports that social work employment is growing faster than average for all occupations, which is due to a number of factors, including:
- The growing elderly population
- Increasing use by the courts of alternative treatments for criminals, instead of prison
- Increasing recognition of substance abuse and therapies
Because of these reasons, several social work specialties, which may be explored through graduate degree programs, are particularly in demand. Other specialties may include mental health; public health; or child, family and school social work.
According to the BLS, social worker jobs are expected to increase 19 percent nationally during the decade leading up to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations combined. States with the highest employment levels for this occupations in 2013 are as follows:
- California: 14,100 social workers
- New York: 9,590 social workers
- Illinois: 4,210 social workers
Resources for Social Workers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers
- Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work (GADE)
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
- Center for Clinical Social Work
"Accreditation," Council on Social Work Education, http://www.cswe.org/Accreditation.aspx
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Social Workers, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2013," Social Workers, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/CURRENT/oes211029.htm