Social workers help people, families, or groups of people manage difficulties that arise in daily life — situations that may include emotional, behavioral, or mental issues. They may serve in hospitals, mental health facilities, schools, community organizations, private business, human service agencies, adoption offices, government institutions, and a variety of other locations.
In addition to workplace flexibility and secure job growth, social workers have the ability to make a difference in people’s lives.
A career in social work begins with education. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum standard, and most of the top positions in the field require a master’s in social work. An online master’s in social work program can allow working professionals to earn their degree without disruption to their work or family responsibilities.
How to Become a Social Worker
Many people ask themselves, “How do I become a social worker?” Here is the basic path for achieving that goal:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree
Higher education is a requirement for all aspiring social workers. The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from a college or university accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CWSE), according to Social Work Guide, an online resource for people beginning or advancing their social work careers.
“Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs prepare students for entry-level, professional, generalist social work practice and for graduate social work education,” according to the Social Work Guide website.
Programs combine classroom learning with field education, allowing students to gain work experience in real-world settings, the guide continues.
- Choose a social work specialization
While in school, students can choose from a variety of specializations. One of the most common is working with children and families, also known as child welfare. Others include school social work, gerontological social work, and clinical social work. In the clinical field, social workers assess, diagnose, and manage individuals with mental health problems or addictions.
- Get an internship
Internships provide hands-on experience with real clients, and students should approach them the same way they would full-time employment.
“Make the most of your practicum placements and internship experiences,” Social Work Guide advises.
“As a social work student working at a field placement, capitalize on the opportunity to position yourself for future employment. Always treat your placement experience just as you would paid employment. During your field placements, push yourself to gain new skills and experiences that will prepare you for employment and keep in mind: you never know when a job may open up at your practicum site.”
Students may intern at hospitals, public welfare programs, non-profit organizations, geriatric facilities, and other institutions that employ social workers.
“Even if you are not interested in working at your field site,” Social Work Guide continues, “be sure to build connections with supervisors and colleagues who can alert you to other job prospects and serve as references during the interview process.”
- Enroll in an accredited master’s program
For those who aspire to supervisory, clinical, and administrative positions or specialty practice careers, a master’s social work is essential.
An online master’s in social work program offers a flexible schedule that lets students work, pursue internships, and complete coursework on their own time.
A master’s program covers human behavior and environment as well as research, advanced field work, and direct practice opportunities.
- Obtain the required certifications and licenses
Most social workers are required to be licensed at the state level to be able to practice. Standards are set by professional boards at the state level.
Four levels of licensure are common among all states, whether social workers provide clinical services or not, according to Social Work Guide. They are:
- Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW)
This is the most basic level of licensure. Social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work and to pass the Association of Social Work Boards’ Bachelor’s exam. In most states, no on-the-job training or work experience are required.
- Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW)
For an LMSW, social workers need a master’s degree in social work and to pass the Association of Social Work Boards’ Master’s exam. Some states require additional instruction in topics such as social work ethics. Generally, no supervised work experience is required. In addition to clinical practice, LMSWs may progress into management roles.
- Licensed Master Social Worker-Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG)
Social workers generally need two years of supervised non-clinical social work experience in addition to completing requirements for the LMSW.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
An LCSW is the highest level of licensure available. LCSWs must hold a master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program and pass the Clinical ASWB exam, as well as any other exams or programs required by their state board of examiners.
- Apply for a job
Career opportunities can be found by conducting internet job searches, attending a job fair, and networking with other social workers. Potential employers will expect resumes with relevant and recent experience.
Job Forecast for Social Workers
Social workers generally are employed full time and work primarily during regular business hours, though evening and weekend work may be needed.
The job outlook for social workers is positive. The median annual salary for social workers is $49,470, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the field is projected to grow 14% from 2016 through 2026.
Healthcare social workers are one of the fastest growing social work specializations. The BLS predicts that jobs for healthcare social workers, who play a significant role in helping older adults with medical treatments, taking prescription medications, and adjusting to a new lifestyle, will increase by 20% from 2016 to 2026.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers work with drug offenders and addicts, as well as with people dealing with mental illnesses. Positions in this field are projected to expand by 19% from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS.
About Ohio University’s Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Program
Ohio University’s master’s in social work program provides a solid foundation for those who want to pursue a career in social work. Graduates can learn the necessary information to sit for licensing exams or obtain other credentials.
The university is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The program, which is also accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), is 100% online and does not require a GRE or GMAT for admission.
For more information, visit the Ohio University online master’s in social work webpage.
How to become a social worker: Social Work Guide
Levels of licensure: Social Work Guide
Social Workers Job Outlook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics