What Degree Do You Need To Be A Social Worker?

"I’ve always been fascinated by a career in social work ever since I started volunteering for a child welfare agency. The social workers there really cared for and made a difference in the lives of the children they help. I’m thinking of going into this profession so I’d like to ask: What degree do I need in order to become a social worker?"

asked by Trent R. from San Antonio, Texas

The most common educational requirement to become a social worker is that of a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) which takes four years to complete. In a BSW program, you are taught about social welfare policy, diverse populations and human behavior and are given the chance to do hands-on work through an internship or supervised fieldwork. With a BSW degree, you can work in entry-level positions in community mental health clinics, child welfare agencies, state and local government agencies and substance abuse clinics as a caseworker or mental health assistant. It is also possible to enter the field of social work with a bachelor’s degree in sociology or psychology.

A bachelor’s degree is usually not enough if you want to work as a licensed clinical social worker. In this position, you will be able to diagnose and treat anxiety, depression and other mental, behavioral and emotional disorders.

You can provide therapy to clients in an individual or group setting so they can cope with their difficulties. Clinical social workers typically work in their own private practice or in hospital and school settings.

A master’s degree in social work (MSW) and a couple of years of supervised experience in a clinical setting afterwards are the prerequisites towards becoming a licensed clinical social worker. Students are taught how to perform clinical assessments and undertake supervisory roles and the tasks associated with the position.

While a master’s degree in social work takes two years to finish, there are programs that enable bachelor’s degree in social work holders to get their master’s degree within one year. It’s also important to understand that a bachelor’s degree in social work is not the only entry point towards getting a MSW degree. In most cases, MSW programs accept those who hold degrees in almost any major, including psychology, sociology, political science and economics.

In addition to education, states also require social workers to hold a license or get certified. Clinical social workers, in particular, need to be licensed although there are states that exempt those working in government agencies from licensing. While requirements vary by state, common criteria are that of the clinical social worker holding a masters degree in social work, having 2 years of supervised clinical experience right after graduation and passing a clinical exam.

For the specifics of the licensing requirements in your state, you should get in touch with your state board. Aside from clinical social workers, most states also require licenses for nonclinical social workers.

Career Spotlight: Social Worker

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