Finding The Right Path to Be a Social Worker
How to become a social worker can be a complex question to answer. Historically, social work has been a very generic term. Thanks to the Council of Social Work Education, National Association of Social Workers and other advocacy groups, there are specific requirements for the education of a social worker.
These requirements can overwhelm you. As a result, the path to your career goals may feel impossible to achieve.
As this path is difficult to navigate, let us help you make simple sense of it!
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There are technically four levels of education for social work: technician, bachelor, master, and doctorate. I will be focusing on the bachelor and master levels.
Education of a Social Worker- BSW
The education of a social worker varies. Minimally, you will need a Bachelor of Social Work. So how do you complete the necessary requirements to obtain your degree and license?
There are a few options for you!
It will be important to evaluate your specific circumstances. With the forging of online programs, many non-traditional students are returning to pursue their Bachelor of Social Work. If you are a non-traditional student, don’t get discouraged. So keep your sights on the end goal.
The qualifications to be a social worker may change between states. You should always check with your state’s licensing agency before enrolling in any program. With a change in licensing, you can expect the scope of practice to also change. Do your research in advance.
Find out if you’re actually able to deliver the service you hope to.
The most central service provided by a bachelor level social worker is case management.
Case management is a fantastic role to build your foundation. It touches on nearly every part of advanced practice interventions. As a result, the BSW education of a social worker will center on this skill set.
As a side note, the field of substance abuse sometimes has more loose standards. You might also be able to obtain a certification in your state to provide some therapies.
So, you’ve reviewed the licensing requirements. You are now ready to begin working towards a career in social work.
You will need to find a Council of Social Work Education accredited program. There likely is not much variation between programs.
The education of a social worker is standardized when the school is accredited. Each school will establish a foundation in the intersection of social, psychological, and biological systems. There are some schools that might focus on macro or micro practice.
If you have an interest, talk to your adviser about opportunities.
This can significantly help you when you’re looking for a job. Most applicants right out of college have nearly no experience. Therefore, any way to expand upon the education of a social worker will help. Look for ways to set yourself apart! Your qualifications to be a social worker can be very different than another’s.
If you can add to your resume and skill set- do it!
While pursuing your bachelor degree, also consider whether you are wanting to go back to school for your MSW or other advanced degree. The education of a social worker is a long journey! There can be different paths to the field.
It is not uncommon for students to take a break. However, be cautious. It may be difficult to return. You often will have added priorities later in life, which can take away from your studies.
So, you will need to evaluate the benefit and burden of an advanced degree. It can increase salary, promotion potential, and private practice. Though, there can be an equal amount of burden. This can include burnout, finances, and other personal obligations.
Getting your Bachelor of Social Work will open many doors. Some options can include mental health, non-profit, and some government positions. It is also one of the few bachelor level degrees that offer a license to practice.
The Advanced Education of a Social Worker
The steps to become licensed as a master level social worker are time consuming. The qualifications to be a social worker is nearly the same at the micro and macro levels.
First, you must graduate from a Council of Social Work Education accredited program. There are many ways to do this. I highly encourage you search programs located in your drive-able distance. Accredited online schools are also an option.
It is in your best interest to take your licensing exam following graduation! if your state allows it Your schooling is fresh in your mind. Therefore, your chances of success are much better.
To add to your chances of passing your exam, find a great study guide! This is critical whether you can take your exam right away or years later. There is one that I by far recommend.
First of all, I have vetted this study guide. It is fantastic! The guide offers test questions and great explanations for the answers. What else? There’s an app for on-the-go!
If you have not yet done so, I also suggest you obtain full time employment in the field. As a limited licensed social worker, you can begin counting supervised hours. This step is critical!
As a rule of thumb, each year of full time employment is equivalent to 2,000 supervised hours. Most states require 4,000 hours at minimum to receive your LCSW.
Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough, check with your state’s licensing agency!
Your full license is the goal- don’t flounder it with laziness near the finish line.
Each state will have its own requirements for how long you can go without your full license. As an example, in Michigan we have 7 years to get our full license.
Clinical supervision is a keystone of social work. Therefore, when searching for full time employment, consider how you will get your clinical supervision. Ask your potential employer about it. If they offer free supervision, I would consider that to to be an added perk to any benefit’s package.
The education of a social worker can be very expensive. So here is a tuition tip! When interviewing, find out if the employer would qualify for the National Health Service Corp. If so, that is a huge perk!
They can pay up to $75,000 simply for committing to the job for at least three years! For more details, check out my post on student loan hacks!
The Education of a Social Worker includes Clinical Supervision
The cost of contracted supervision can be upwards of $100/ hour or more. You also should expect to complete one hour of clinical supervision per 40 hours.
So, if you are contracting your supervision, shop around! Check with your state’s National Association of Social Work chapter before agreeing to an independent contractor.
If you are considering a return to school for your MSW, I highly suggest you read my blog ‘How to get your MSW while working full time‘. It will provide a road map for success in achieving your degree with a family and job.
Before you make any commitments, evaluate your options and school placements. Any school that is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education will have similar qualifications for students.
The end goal of obtaining your full license is a long road.
I encourage you to stick with it. The field needs great people. A sure sign that you may be one of them is that you’re reading this post.
As a social worker who has stumbled through the process, I can tell you that it’s all worth it. So, if you have specific questions, please contact me! Though our field will continually be over-worked and under-paid, it is critical and amazing work. Take the plunge into social work. Do not let the education and qualifications to be a social worker discourage you!