How to Become a Social Worker: Job Description, Salary, Education & Training


If you like to help people and aren’t going to be annoyed by being on call nearly 24/7 then a career as a social worker is for you. Stay tuned with us while we lay it all out for you and give you all to juicy details of how to become a social worker. Are you ready?

How to Become a Social Worker

There are three main steps that are required to become a social worker. Luckily none of the steps requires you to be skilled at hoop jumping as they are all pretty easy for the most part.

We’re going to stop blathering at you now and get right to the fun stuff!

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

The very minimum amount of education that you can earn to become a social worker is a bachelor’s degree. Those with a Bachelor of Social Work degree can expect to spend 4 years in school during which they will be equipped with interviewing skills, problem solving skills and case management skills.

This degree will also require you to incorporate at least 400 hours of supervised field work in order to comply with the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) guidelines.

Here are a few schools that offer programs in social work:

The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a CSWE-accredited online Master's in Social Work. The GRE is not required to apply to the MSW@USC program. Complete in as little as 1 year with a BSW.

The MSW@USC is the first top-ranked MSW program offered nationally. Many online programs are limited to certain geographic areas or the availability of courses, making it necessary to travel to campus. Our program can be completed from virtually anywhere without the need to relocate to Southern California.

Programs:

  • Master of Social Work

CTU can help you connect to what matters most: a powerful professional network, faculty who are real-world professionals and innovative technology. And now several CTU degree programs are ranked by U.S. News Best Online Programs for 2015.  Are you in?

Programs:

  • Doctor of Management - Environmental and Social Sustainability (Executive Format)

Step 2: Consider Graduate School

Getting a Master of Social Work degree is not absolutely required, but there are some jobs that will require one to gain employment. Some of the jobs within the social work field that commonly require a master’s degree are in clinical settings or schools. Getting a Master of Social Work degree will take an extra 2 years schooling and 900 hours of field work in your specific area of study. Chew on that bit of information before making a decision and perhaps get an idea of what type of job you may pursue after graduation.

Step 3: Become Licensed

To become a social worker in the United States you have to be licensed. The licensing requirements will vary from state to state, but there are typically four areas of licensing. The four categories are:

  • Bachelor’s licensure requires that you have a Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW)
  • Master’s licensure requires that you have a Master’s of Social Work (MSW)
  • Advanced generalist requires an MSW degree with two years of supervised experience
  • Clinical Licensure requires you to have an BSW degree with two years of clinical experience

You will also have to pass a 170 (yikes!) question competency exam that will be given by the Association of Social Work Board. That’s it! You’re ready to move on to finding a job!

What Does a Social Worker Do?

What Does a Social Worker Do?

There isn’t really a simple answer here because social workers do a lot. They are the wearers of many hats and the jacks of many trades. Here is a quick rundown of what you can expect to do as a social worker:

  • Determine who needs your help
  • Evaluate each possible client and their needs, strengths and their available support network
  • Determine and develop goals for the client
  • Aid clients in the changes that can be expected in life, such as illness, divorce or unemployment
  • Research resources in the community like food stamps, child care and health care. You will also refer your clients to the appropriate entity for help
  • Aid clients in applying for government aid and benefits
  • Tend to minor children during times of crisis such as abuse or the death of a parent or guardian
  • Become an advocate for your clients in hopes of helping them get the resources that they need to improve their well being
  • Keep close tabs on clients to ensure that they have what they need and that their situation is improving
  • Keep tabs on anyone else that is assisting them with their case to ensure that others involved are meeting the standards of the clients

Important Qualities of a Social Worker

As with pretty much any career that you pursue, there will be some special qualities that will help you to perform your job more efficiently. Here are the qualities that we are talking about:

  • Compassion – Social workers are often put into stressful and difficult situations that will require you to have empathy and compassion for your clients
  • Interpersonal Skills – You’ll work with a lot of different people and encounter many clients that are from so many different walks of life. There is a need for the ability to interact will these people to form bonds and have working relationships
  • Listening Skills – As a social worker you will do a lot and we do mean a lot of listening. To effectively aid your clients you’ll need to have excellent listening skills
  • Organizational Skills – There will be many cases and lots of paperwork and documentation that will need attention. Keeping yourself organized will make your job easier and will overall help you to better aid your clients
  • Problem Solving Skills – In this career you will largely be tasked with solving the problems that your clients have, so naturally the best way to accomplish that is by having some pretty stellar problem-solving skills
  • Time Management Skills: Hopefully you are a good juggler because that it what you will be doing as a social worker. You’ll have many clients to tend to and will have to manage your time in order to take care of everyone in a reasonable time frame

Where Can I Work as a Social Worker?

The doors of opportunity are wide open and waiting for you when you have a degree in social work. You can do a lot of things and help a lot of people, which is a pretty big plus. It’s nice to think that you have options and that you won’t be pigeonholed for the rest of your working days. So where can you work as a social worker? Well let’s get right to it!

At Risk Children: As a social worker you may provide services to children that have troubled families. There will be times when you will have to intervene and place kids in foster care or up for adoption. The main goal of a social worker in this setting is to serve children that are in rough spots to ensure that they remain safe and well cared for.

Social workers that work with at risk children will work in a variety of different settings. There will commonly be jobs available in public child welfare agencies, private children’s agencies, adoption agencies, residential and foster care facilities and on the occasion in day cares.

Clinical Therapeutic Services: In this position you would provide counseling and therapy that will aid in the resolution of a client’s psycho-social and/or emotional issues. As a social worker, you will work in a clinical setting that will assist a pretty large variety of clients that come from many different socio-economic backgrounds. We should also add that a Master of Social Work degree is often required for these jobs, especially if you are going to be employed through a private practice.

Once you are ready to commit to this position and are looking for a job you will have a smaller pool to fish from, but still one that has some good catches. You will be able to snag a spot in a community mental health center, psychiatric hospital, day treatment facility, employee assistance programs, schools, family service agencies and jails or prisons.

Criminal Justice and Corrections: In this setting you will work in counseling and therapeutic rehabilitation of parolees, youth offenders, inmates and with victims. The main focus of social workers will be to assist victims in court, help courts or attorneys lock down the truth in criminal matter and of course there is a strong emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders.

There are jobs available in prisons, correctional facilities, courts, police departments, probation offices and victim services offices.

Community Development: In a community development position you will work to plan and develop various community programs that will essentially improve the lives of those living nearby. There will be a bit of education and advocating involved in getting these improvements underway, which may include rubbing elbows with community politicians. As a social worker in a community development setting you will be striving to make the quality of life for the residents of the community better as well as involving them in a bit of the political process.

Employee Assistance: As a social worker in an employee assistance position will task you with the promotion of wellness within a company. There will be some counseling of employees, developing and improving the work environment. You will also encounter a bit of employee hiring, preservation of employees and you will also assist with retirements and terminations. This is a little bit different compared to some of the other areas that you might find a job in as a social worker and it may not be that easy to find a job as easily as it is somewhat of a niche market.

If you are interested in a job as a social worker in an employee assistance position, you may want to apply at corporations, businesses, employee assistance programs, labor unions and drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Developmental Disabilities: In this position you will work on behalf of those that are developmental disabilities. There will be some case managements and finding ways to help them adjust to normal life. It’s also common for social workers to aid in the development and advocacy of disabled acts to help your present and future clients.

There will be quite a few places that you can find a job as a developmental disabilities social workers. You may land a job at a residential home for disabled people, local, state or federal agencies, medical facilities, schools and mental health clinics.

Social Worker Salary

It’s all about the Benjamin’s in this section because we are going to tell you all about the salary requirements of a social worker. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2012, social workers are reported to make an a median annual salary of $44,200. There are those that work in the field that have a bit less experience and they are said to earn $27,450 a year. Those in the social work profession with more experience are also said to earn $72,980 a year. As you can see there is a pretty good range with lots of room to work your way up to a higher salary.

Social Worker Quiz

We love to find quizzes to toss into these little articles. They are fun, sometimes silly and are more productive than the quizzes that you have been taking in your Cosmo magazine. Today we have a fun little career quiz that will tell you whether or not you have what it takes to become a social worker. Get your number 2 pencils and scantron out because it is quiz time kids! Go ahead and click right here to be taken to the quiz!

Most Influential Female Social Workers in History

The field of social work has seen some very influential women that have served as pioneers and pillars of the profession. We thought we would give a nice little shout out to all of the ladies that had such an impact on this important field. Who knows, one day maybe your name could be on a list like this!

Barbara Mikulski (1936 – )

Barbara Mikulski is no a senator and she was actually the first Democratic woman that served in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. She was also the first woman to win the statewide election in Maryland. So basically she saw a glass ceiling and decided to knock one out of the parkto shatter it. Before working in the senate, Barbara was a social worker in Maryland. She worked specifically with at risk children in Baltimore. She is most known for her mission to prevent a harbor area from being developed that would have cut through the first neighborhood that would have been under African American ownership. Barbara is also easily one of the most influential women in our country.

Frances Feldman (1913 – 2008)

Frances Feldman was a professor at the University of Southern California and a well-known social work pioneer. She is responsible for the groundbreaking 1970’s study that was about cancer patients that were receiving discrimination while in the workplace. She did a lot of research that provided evidence that there was systematic discrimination from co-workers and employers. She worked to make this treatment illegal with harsh consequences if the discrimination still occurred. As a result of her research, the National Association of Social Workers  reports that many states modified their legislation because of it.

Grace Coyle (1892 – 1962)

Grace Coyle is largely responsible for the development and implementation of group work within the social work field. She is very well-known for her influential works that include Social Process in Organized Groups (1930), Group Experiences and Democratic Values (1947) and Social Science in the Professional Education of Social Workers (1958).

Mary Ellen Richmond (1861 – 1928)

Mary Ellen Richmond is most notable for being one of the very first social workers that pushed for the standardization and for professionalization in the field. Her work encompassed a great many things, but most notable was her creation of the first statement of principles for direct social work practice. Her speech in 197 at the National Conference of Charities and Correction was notable for her imploration to schools to train social workers. She also was a notable author, penning her book Social Diagnosis, which was one of the first books about social work that included scientific principles from law, medicine, psychology, psychiatry and history.

Harriet Rinaldo (1906 – 1981)

Harriet Rinaldo was a well-known pioneer in the social work profession. She went on to create many rating and recruitment procedures as well as some of the higher standards for employing personnel for the Veterans Administration Social Work Service. The standards that Harriett introduced were later adopted by the federal government and are still in practice today.

Edith Abbott (1876 – 1957)

Edith Abbott was a social worker from Nebraska. Edith earned a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate degree in economics from the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics. Earning these mega degrees during the time that she did was a pretty big accomplishment for a women. Edith helped to write the Social Security Act of 1935 and she also founded the Social Service Review. To add to her impressive list of things she did make her mark on the social work world, Edith also went on to become the American Association of Schools of Social Work and the National Conference of Social Work.

Jeannette Rankin (1880 – 1973)

Jeannette Rankin was one of the first women to ever be elected to the U.S. Congress. She was also a graduate of Columbia School of Social Work. During her early years in congress she pioneered the women’s suffrage movement and introduced it the amendment to the House floor. With her help the amendment was passes a year or so later. Continuing her string of firsts, Jeannette was also the only member that Congress voted against entering World Wars I and II. They clearly were intimidated by her awesomeness.

Frances Perkins (1880 – 1965)

Frances Perkins also had a lot of firsts under her hat. She was the first woman to ever be a Presidential Cabinet member where she served as Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Frances was one of the leading forces in getting the act for minimum wage law passed as well as being one of the drafters of the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act. As a standing testament to all that Frances Perkins did for the social work field, the Department of Labor’s headquarters that is located in Washington, D.C. is named after her.

Jane Addams (1860 – 1935)

Jane Addams is easily one of the most famous and decorated social workers in history. Jane founded the renowned Hull House that was one of the first settlement houses in Chicago, which earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. During her time in Hull House she became very familiar with the less fortunate in Chicago and that spurred her to build services in accordance to the needs of the city’s citizens. She ensured that a library, gymnasium and that education centers were built for the betterment of everyone.

Grab the Popcorn – It’s Movie Time!

We can’t post something on our website without also adding a movie to keep you entertained. We hit up YouTube to see if we could find anything that made us sit up and pay attention in regards to some interesting information about social work. We totally lucked out and found a really great video from someone that have been there, done that and has the t-shirt already. The video we are going to push your way is from Jasmine. She tells it like it is and has the good, bad and the ugly for the position as a social worker. Don’t miss out on this awesome video and make time to watch it!

Final Grade

We always like to throw some final grades at you to see how good your reflexes are, so think fast because here they come!

  • Degree vs. Debt: B-

The pay for social workers is good and nothing to pout about. The cost of a bachelor’s or master’s degree is is pretty high as well and with that usually comes some loans to pay off. This can be a pretty rough hit to the wallet. It could be worse, but it’s something to think about

  • Difficulty of Degree: B

This degree isn’t super hard, but it is intense. There is a lot of information to take in during you schooling. There will be many notebooks filled with chicken scratch and there will be many late nights that will have you slaving over your computer

  • Happiness Quotient: C

There are a few different sides to this job and some of them are good while some of them are depressing and difficult to deal with on a regular basis. You will be able to help people that are in need on a regular basis, which can be very fulfilling. There is also the hard part of see people treated poorly and there won’t be anything that you can do to fix the pain they’ve felt. Instead you can only help to ensure that it doesn’t continue

  • Job Outlook: A

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tossed out some pretty impressive figures when it comes to job growth for social workers. According to the BLS website this career is expected to see a 19% growth rate from 2012 to 2022. This is quite a bit faster than most other occupations. The large growth can be attributed to the increasing demand for those in the social services

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Sources and Recommended Reading

Oh sources, how we love thee…let us count the ways! We know that you probably get tired of us saying that our sources are awesome and that we’d be nowhere without them, but it’s totally true. Here are the sources that we used for you today and we hope that you find them to useful.

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