Are you interested in helping others? If so, you may have decided that a career in social work is the right fit for you. Making a difference may take a lot of hard work and emotional engagement, but for someone who truly loves it, it is fulfilling. In order to become a fully-fledged social worker, though, you will need a bachelor’s degree and probably a master’s degree, depending of the specific job you pursue.
Here are a few guidelines for people who are beginning their education in social work.
If you’re relatively young, you may want to get an undergraduate degree in social work: a Bachelor of Social Work (or BSW). A BSW is great for entry-level jobs like public health, child services, rehab case worker, etc. From there, you can decide if you want to continue on to a graduate degree and get licensed.
Writers at Social Work Licensure published an informative piece outlining what it takes to become a social worker. They open with some critical advice. The only degree programs and/or licensure worthy of consideration are those accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Staff at the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) echo that point. Fortunately, it’s a relatively simple litmus test. You should know that while they might seem appealing in some respects, programs without CSWE accreditation are unlikely to properly prepare students for state licensure exams and fieldwork.
But what if you already have a degree but it’s not in social work?
Not to fear! If you already have a college degree, you probably don’t have to go all the way back and get a BSW. The writers at Social Work Licensure highlight the fact that many graduate programs don’t require a bachelor’s degree in social work. Many programs instead only require a degree in liberal arts. This is often the case because the objective of most graduate programs is to help its students specialize regardless of their more generalist undergraduate experiences. In other words, graduate programs prepare students to work within the specialties that you’re trying to understand.
Throughout your education and training, keep an eye out for the specific type of work you want to do. You might take a look at this list by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) of the types of social work out there.
Each job category helps a particular group of people struggling with unique issues and circumstances. Some social workers focus on helping those with disabilities, whereas others are devoted to child welfare and domestic interventions. Contributors at Social Work Guide released a comprehensive retarget on the social work career path that adds even further clarity.
This is all to say that your educational route — especially a grad program — should align well with your desired career specialization. Take enough time to reflect on what that specialization might be, and use that as the basis of your program evaluations. Writers at The Best Schools have made a list of the best masters of social work programs. They’ve specified the relevant concentrations and specialties of each program. It’s also important to note that many professional students elect to pursue a social work degree online. There’s no disadvantage to that route as long as the program retains CSWE accreditation.