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How to Become a Social Worker

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Live Your Purpose by Serving Others

If you want to help people in need and derive meaning from life while serving others, a career in social work may be a fulfilling choice. Whether your passion is working with children, adults, seniors, families or special populations struggling with homelessness, addiction or mental illness, the social work field has a need for your unique style of caring. Depending on the setting, hours can be long and unpredictable, so reliable child care makes it possible for you to be fully present in your duties without feeling stressed about your home life. Social work is a quickly growing field open for people who want to get paid to live out their deep purpose to make a difference in the world.

Job Description

Social workers help people with a wide variety of living and mental health challenges. They are problem-solvers who assess needs, refer clients to services, assist clients in adjusting to big life changes, respond to crises or emergencies, design helpful programs, provide psychotherapy and complete paperwork. They help people increase their coping skills, coordinate services and develop a network of support during difficult times. Social workers are compassionate, caring, kind and resourceful.

Education Requirements

Entry-level, administrative, mental health assistant or casework positions normally require a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) to get started. A two-year master's degree in social work (MSW) provides needed training to enter into clinical social work positions by engaging students in clinical assessment, management and supervised clinical internships in mental health settings. Every state requires clinical social workers to engage in two years of clinical supervision following graduation before taking the licensing exam. Most states require bachelor's level social workers to be licensed as well, but the requirements vary by state.

Social workers of all educational levels earn a median salary of $46,890, which means that half of all social workers earn more than this, and half earn less. The lowest 10 percent of earners take home $28,800, while the highest 10 percent of earners make salaries above $78,510. Clinical social workers tend to earn more, with a median salary of $61,368, closer to the top end of the pay scale.

Industry

Almost half of all social workers are child, family and school social workers, while the remainder work in health care, mental health or other specialties. Top employers include individual and family services organizations, state and local government, ambulatory health care services and hospitals. Most social workers work full-time in office settings within the organization that employs them. While salaries vary widely, most employers offer full benefits, which is an advantage when you are raising children and supporting a family.

Years of Experience

Social worker salaries vary widely, but they tend to increase with time and experience. Working in clinical practice or in other private settings could result in a slightly higher starting and ongoing earnings. Over the years, salary growth looks something like this:

  • Entry-Level: $29,595‒$54,826 
  • Mid-Career: $32,970‒$64,262
  • Experienced: $35,258‒$72,564 
  • Late-Career: $37,284‒$78,124 

Job Growth Trend

Social work opportunities are growing faster than opportunities in most other fields and are expected to increase by 15 percent over the next decade. The baby boomer generation is aging, creating demand for health care social workers, while family social workers are needed to help intervene in crisis, educate parents and ensure a safe living environment for children. Mental health social workers are in demand, with increased awareness about mental illness and addiction, as well as a willingness to seek help from professionals.