How to Become a Social Worker: A Detailed Guide

how to become a social worker: licenses
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There are many steps to becoming a social worker, since it’s a serious job with a lot of responsibilities. A social worker’s clients can be families, individuals, veterans, students, people experiencing homelessness or mental illness, and refugees. Their tasks range from counseling and housing to research and program development. They work with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, so if you’re thinking of becoming a social worker, your skills and passion are badly needed!

Social workers perform a crucial function in their community. There are broad societal issues like income inequality, oppression, and domestic violence that social workers can address. If these issues inspire your passion, then social work is a great avenue to affect change. Read on to discover how to become a social worker. 

Earn Degrees

The first step to becoming a social worker is to earn an education. The basic social worker education requirement is a post-secondary degree.

🎓 Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in social work is the easiest answer to the question of how to become a social worker. Courses for social work will cover things like social justice issues and community research practices. If you’re serious about social work, earning a bachelor’s degree will meet the basic social worker education requirements. 

But social worker qualifications can vary, and some organisations and programs are more flexible. In some cases, precursory schooling for social workers could be a degree in sociology or psychology.  If you’ve graduated with a different degree and still want to know how to become a social worker, your next step could be checking that you have the right prerequisites for a master’s in social work.  

🎓 Master’s degree

A master’s is another degree required for some social workers. Although there are plenty of opportunities for people with a bachelor’s, a master’s degree is a more advanced branch of social worker schooling that is sure to open up more doors. While a bachelors will qualify you for entry level work, a master’s in social work allows you to work in clinical settings or in program planning. Some organisations require a masters for you to become a social worker. 

Complete Required Fieldwork

You will be required to complete fieldwork as part of the process of becoming a social worker. Usually, this qualification for social workers can be arranged through your school, where you will be given a job placement. Hour requirements for social workers could range from 200 hours to 500 or more, depending on where you live. There will also be a fieldwork requirement for a social work master’s program, and the hours could be double what they are at the bachelor level. 

To become a social worker, your fieldwork could take place in any number of organisations. Schools, hospitals, shelters, foster care, NGOs, mental health centers, and rehab centres are just a few examples of places to meet your social worker degree requirements. 

Complete the ASWB Examination

Not sure how to become a licensed social worker after you graduate? The next step in getting your social worker requirements is taking the ASWB exam. The Association of Social Work Boards is a North American organization that provides license qualifications for a social worker. The ASWB exam is a four-hour test with 170 multiple-choice questions. The exam is pass/fail and passing the ASWB will allow you to be licensed in your state. 

There are five levels of ASWB exams, related to your level of education. An associate ASWB exam doesn’t have any social work degree requirements. A bachelor’s exam requires a degree in social work at the bachelor level. The next 3 exam levels – Master’s, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical – all require a master’s degree in social work to take, along with different fieldwork requirements. 

Apply for Social Worker Licenses

Meeting the degree qualifications for a social worker and obtaining a license is essential. In many places, you can’t become a social worker in your state without a license. Proper licensure also ensures that if you move, there are no additional steps you need to take to become a social worker.

Some states have different licensing requirements for social workers. In some states, a degree is required for social workers, and only from accredited programs. A few states don’t require licensure. Fieldwork prerequisites also vary by place. Be sure to check the requirements to become a social worker in your specific state.

There are different levels of social work licenses, and the type of licensure you get will depend on your level of education and the exam you took. 

🎯 Licensed Baccalaureate of Social Work (LBSW)

You can obtain this social work license provided you have a bachelor’s degree, and you passed the ASWB bachelor exam. LBSWs can’t practice therapy, but they can perform case management and support clients. 

🎯 Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW)

This level of social work license is obtained with a master’s degree and the completion of the master’s ASWB exam. LMSWs can provide mental health services and counselling under the supervision of a psychiatrist or Licensed Clinical Social Worker. 

🎯 Licensed Master Social Worker- Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG)  

Like the LMSW, this license requires a master’s in social work, but it has an additional social worker requirement. You must also complete two years of supervised experience after graduation to be certified at this level. LMSWs and LMSW-AGs tend to work on broader, community programs rather than at the individual level. 

🎯 Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

If you’re wondering how to become a licensed clinical social worker, you need a master’s degree and you must pass the clinical ASWB exam. You will also need two years of supervised experience. Unlike an LMSW, a LCSW can provide services without needing supervision by a licensed psychologist or another social worker. 

Choose a Social Work Career Path

Since there are many places you can work after you become a social worker, your career possibilities are endless. Think carefully about the groups of people you want to help after you become a social worker, and it may help you narrow down your options. Your fieldwork social worker requirement is also a good way to get experience and narrow down your preferences. 

💡 School social work

If you want to become a social worker to help young people, then getting involved in a school board is a great option. School social workers work with students, staff and families to help advance the student’s learning and success. In addition to basic social worker requirements, you might also need additional certificates, like non-violent crisis intervention. 

💡 Mental health

After meeting your social work degree requirements and getting licensure, you can find abundant possibilities in mental health. You can work in rehabilitation centres, in hospitals and mental health facilities, and for private or government organisations. If you want to know how to get into social work in mental health, try searching for opportunities in your area for inspiration. 

💡 Medical social work

During your social worker schooling, you might get assigned fieldwork in a hospital. A medical social worker will talk to patients about their needs and provide information like financial assistance and bereavement counselling. If you’ve become a social worker to help improve people’s access to healthcare, then this is a great option. In addition to basic social worker requirements, you might need to do your fieldwork in a hospital or medical environment. 

💡 Program director

A program director is a unique opportunity for people who want to become a social worker. A program director is a management role that governs the operation of a program that’s targeted to the community. Their job could involve strategic planning, hiring, administrative work, and research. 

💡 Case manager

If you’ve met the qualifications for a social worker and discovered that you enjoy working with vulnerable individuals and families, a case manager is a great option. Case managers are often employed when families or individuals have special needs, like homelessness, mental illness, or fleeing violence. Case work is a big reason why people become a social worker, since it can make a direct impact. 

💡 Social services director

While similar to a program director, social services directors have a broader focus in the community. Social services directors manage a department with a specific target demographic in the community. After social work schooling, you may have become aware of specific problems in your community and could research and develop a program that meets those needs. 

Find a Job

You might be wondering what to do next after you’ve narrowed down your field. There are still a few more steps to becoming a social worker. After you finish your education, do fieldwork, get your license and meet any specific social worker requirements in your state, you’ll begin your search for a job. The most important thing is to write a resume and cover letter to showcase your skills and social worker qualifications.

Social worker resume

Your resume is the perfect way to highlight any social worker schooling you took, your fieldwork, and licensure. A chronological resume is the simplest way to describe your work history and social worker education requirements. Include any volunteer work under your professional experience, to demonstrate your commitment to the community. 

Social worker cover letter

While your resume will detail how you met the basic qualifications for a social worker, you can use a cover letter to explain why you want to become a social worker. Describe your fieldwork and what you learned or achieved in your placements. Don’t forget to write about what motivates you. A well-written, genuine letter can set you apart from other applicants and improve your chances to become a social worker. 

📚 Further reading:  Tips on Answering Social Worker Interview Questions

🔑 Key Takeaways:

Social work is a tough career with a lot of responsibility, so it should come as no surprise that the process to become a social worker is challenging. You might be wondering how long does it take to become a social worker? Meeting all the social worker requirements can take anywhere from four to six years and beyond.

 After getting a degree, doing fieldwork, writing your exam, and obtaining your license, you have the task of finding work that is meaningful and important to you. Although it’s a huge undertaking, becoming a social worker can lead to a rewarding career that’s worth your perseverance and time.

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--- Originally written by Tiffany Quinn ---

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