Have you ever considered a new career field or job, only to find that you don’t meet all of the necessary requirements or have the training you need? We get it — it’s a frustrating experience not knowing what is expected to enter the field.
Maybe you’re just becoming interested in social work, or maybe you know for certain that it’s the path for you. Either way, to help you get started and to make sure there are no surprises later down the line, we’re clearly laying out the social worker requirements that are essential for beginning a career in the field.
Earn a Required Degree
To gain the skills required for an entry-level career in this profession, you’ll need a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from a school accredited by the Council of Social Work Education.
The bachelor’s in social work (BSW) is your first point of access in the discipline. A BSW gives you the education and training necessary to begin serving others and prepares you for the licensure exam — the minimum requirement to practice social work in most states. Most BSW programs offer a practicum or internship, knowing that hands-on field experience is invaluable to your future as a social worker.
A master’s in social work is typically a two-year degree with more hands-on exposure and in-depth training than a BSW. If you already have a bachelor’s in social work, the MSW program builds upon your knowledge and refines the skills needed for the field. An MSW degree also offers students the opportunity to explore social work specializations, increasing your exposure to the many different areas of practice and helping you focus on the type of work you want to do post-graduation.
Don’t have a BSW? Not a problem! Many MSW programs do not require a BSW, making it ideal for those looking to change into a mission-driven career. Along with advanced training, the MSW gives you the edge you need to break into the most competitive fields of social work and helps you secure higher pay and more opportunities for advancement.
Earn the Required License
A BSW or MSW is a major stepping stone, but it’s not the finish line. Another social worker requirement is to obtain a license to practice in your state. There are four types of licenses you can obtain after completing your degree.
The Licensed Bachelor of Social Worker (LBSW) is the license required for entry-level positions in social work, after earning a bachelor's degree. The Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) is the licensure you apply for after earning a Master of Social Work. To be a Licensed Master Social Worker - Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG), you need to complete all of the social worker requirements for the LMSW and additionally, complete two years of supervised, non-clinical social work experience. The highest level of licensure is the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). An LCSW requires supervised, clinical social work for two to three years (depending on the state.) With this license, a social worker can practice independently, as well as diagnose and treat patients.
Explore Entry-level Careers
Once you have a license, the last step in becoming a social worker is to find your niche in the field — the place where your passion can make a positive impact. There are endless possibilities for how your career can take shape, but here are four entry-level social work careers you can explore:
- School Social Worker — Want to work with kids to promote their safety and success? As a school social worker, you would work with students of all ages, addressing their academic, behavioral, and interpersonal struggles to support them in the classroom and beyond. School social workers also help bring to light cases of child abuse and neglect in the school system and act as a bridge between the school and outside resources. Some positions may only require a BSW, but an MSW is encouraged.
- Child and Family Social Worker - Children and families have an array of unique needs, resulting in diverse careers for these social work professionals. These individuals work in adoption and foster care, advocate for children in vulnerable family situations, and provide services for families to help them navigate medical and mental health needs. A minimum of a BSW is required and an MSW is preferred, especially for managerial positions.
- Psychiatric Social Worker — Want to work in a hospital or treatment center helping address mental health needs and providing psychiatric care to patients? These social workers help individuals and their families cope with mental illness by providing resources, therapies, and treatments. They also create discharge plans suited to the unique needs of the patient, helping them transition back into their community. A BSW is the minimum requirement to start in this field.
- Clinical Social Worker — Requiring an MSW and LCSW, clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental health issues by providing counseling, therapies, assessments, and resources. These trained professionals can have their own practice or work in a wide variety of social work settings such as healthcare and medical institutions, schools, community outreach programs, and with children and families.
Ready to learn more?
We want you to feel fully prepared, confident, and supported on your journey to becoming a social work professional. To do this, the expert staff at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is here to help you navigate all the social worker requirements necessary to practice in your state. If you have any questions, we encourage you to reach out and request more information, or explore our resource library. Best of luck on your social work journey!