How to Become a Social Worker

By Alison Green; Updated July 05, 2017
Social Worker Visiting Family With Young Baby
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Social workers make a positive difference in the lives of people facing day-to-day challenges. They help at-risk individuals, couples, families and groups access a variety of assistance programs, including income and employment support. Depending on the level of academic qualifications, social workers can find jobs in health care, child and family support or education.

Acquiring the Knowldege

Academic requirements for social workers vary with the field of specialty. Although the vast majority of social workers enter the profession through a bachelor’s degree in social work, sociology or psychology, clinical social workers require at least a master’s degree. Individuals with a bachelor’s in nursing or counseling can also pursue a master's degree in social work to join the profession as health care social workers or mental health and substance abuse social workers, respectively. Importantly, all social work degrees must be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Mastering the Skills

Beyond the education, social workers need excellent skills in analyzing, problem-solving, planning and communications to be well-rounded professionals. Their job involves assessing the needs of individuals and communities, identifying suitable remedial measures, advising clients on how to cope with various issues and sharing information with practitioners such as nurses and human services managers. Other essential competencies include empathy, compassion and the ability to address situations without being judgmental.

Earning the License

Social workers must be licensed or certified to practice in their state. Although requirements vary by state, prospective licensees generally need to be holders of an accredited bachelor's degree in social work, pass a criminal background check and pass a written examination. Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and at least two years’ of supervised experience. The National Association of Social Workers offers certifications in a range of fields, which social workers can obtain to enhance their chances of taking their careers to the next level.

Landing the Job

Qualified and licensed social workers can find jobs in hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, schools, ambulatory health care services and grant-making organizations. With vast experience and advanced qualifications in public administration in social work, some workers become social service managers, while others take up policy-making positions in government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 19 percent job growth for social workers from 2012 through 2012 -- almost twice as much as the 11 percent average for all occupations -- expect plenty of employment opportunities.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.