For anyone with a heart for service and a passion for helping vulnerable individuals and communities work through challenges — a career in social work is an ideal profession to put your skills to use and find fulfillment in your work.
While the choice to pursue a career in social work may be clear, the path to beginning that career may seem less obvious. To make it as easy as possible, we have broken down the process into six simple steps. Read on to learn how to become a social worker!
Step 1: Learn what a social worker actually does.
Before you jump into any profession, it’s important to begin by researching your desired field. Begin by looking into the day-to-day life of social workers and the duties and responsibilities that you can expect in one of these roles. By doing this research beforehand, you will eliminate many surprises along the way and avoid investing in a career you may later find out is not what you anticipated.
A great place to start is Baylor’s comprehensive guide to understanding the profession — What Do Social Workers Do? In it, you will find an explanation of social work core values, the characteristics and roles of the profession, testimonials from seasoned social work faculty, and a quiz to help you determine if this is the right profession for you! Another great source for information and insights are the student testimonials on Baylor’s blog, Advocacy in Action. Stories like Ambree’s, Toni’s, and Juliana’s offer a real-life glimpse into what it’s like to be an MSW student.
Step 2: Choose a specialization or area of practice.
The next step in becoming a social worker is to learn about the different areas of practice and opportunities for specialization within the field. One of the unique features of the social work profession is that you can use your skills and training in almost any area imaginable!
Have a heart for children? Consider working in foster care, adoption services, child advocacy, or a school setting. Want to work to combat poverty? Look for jobs in community centers, Veterans Affairs, rehabilitation services, and homeless shelters. No matter what population you want to serve, there is likely one (or more) job out there that will afford you the opportunity to pursue your passion in the field.
Step 3: Earn a social work degree.
To practice as a social worker, you will need to earn a degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program. You can choose your bachelor’s in social work (BSW) or master’s in social work (MSW) from an accredited institution. If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree, even if it is in an unrelated subject, an MSW will set you apart as a highly qualified candidate with the skills and experience needed to land even the most competitive positions.
An MSW goes beyond the basics and provides prospective social workers with advanced coursework, research, and hands-on practice opportunities to help them grow in their understanding of essential social work principles and apply them in real-life settings. During your degree, you will also have the opportunity to take courses tailored to the specialization you are pursuing. To learn more about how an MSW will set you on the path to career success, explore Baylor’s guide to launching your career in social work!
Step 4: Complete fieldwork/internships.
The field placement is a supervised internship with an organization that provides social services. Field placement is a crucial aspect of any BSW or MSW program because it provides students with practical tools and experience and teaches them to think and act like social workers. As part of your degree, you will be required to complete a set number of fieldwork hours. This hands-on experience offers future social work practitioners the opportunity to gain valuable insights that will serve them in their jobs as professionals in the field.
Step 5: Become licensed.
After earning your social work degree, you will need to pass the state licensing exam for the state in which you plan to practice. There are four levels of licensure available: Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW), Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW), Licensed Master of Social Work - Advanced Generalist (LMSW-AG), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).
The LBSW is the license available to those who have earned their bachelor’s in social work. An LMSW is for those who have earned their master’s in social work. The LMSW-AG requires two years of supervised non-clinical social work experience in addition to the master’s level requirements. The LMSW-AG is the highest level of non-clinical licensure. The LCSW is the license for social workers who wish to practice independently and in clinical settings, and requires training beyond the scope of the LMSW-AG. These social workers can diagnose and treat clients using clinical interventions and various forms of therapies.
After completing your degree, you can contact your state board of social work examiners and register for the licensing exam. You can find your state’s contact information on the Association of Social Work Boards’ website.
Step 6: Network and apply for jobs.
The final step to becoming a social worker is networking and applying for jobs. One of the awesome benefits of earning your social work degree is the opportunity to network with colleagues, professionals, and professors prior to graduating. Leaning into these connections can help you secure a job, even before graduation!
The secret to securing the job that you want — is to start early and apply a lot. The more qualified applications you submit, the more likely you are to score an interview and be offered the position. For more information and tips on how to land your dream job after earning your MSW, read this article. You can also explore the wealth of career resources on our social work blog, Advocacy in Action.
Get started today!
If you have any questions about how to get started on your social work degree, we invite you to reach out to us and request more information. You can also explore our digital resource library for valuable tools and information about the field of social work. We wish you luck as you begin your social work journey!