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How to Become a Social Worker

There is a lot to consider if you’re thinking about embarking on a new career path. First, you want to be sure that you understand exactly what you’re getting yourself into. For example, without a firm understanding of the career or profession, you might not know if becoming a social worker is really what you want.

In this instance, you’ll want to understand exactly what social workers do, what skills you’ll need to excel as a social worker, and how much you can expect to make financially. Finally, you’ll want to read up on the steps you need to take to become an excellent social work professional.

What Is a Social Worker?

A social worker is a social services professional who helps others navigate systems and get through challenging situations. They are often affiliated with professional organizations like the Nations Association of Social Workers, which requires a social work license to become a member. Requirements vary depending on the kind of social work you want to pursue.

You may be able to gain work experience with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and social work licensure, or you may need to get an MSW degree (master of social work) to pursue clinical social work.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social work is a vast field and social workers have many different responsibilities depending on their setting. Whether they work with youth or seniors, at schools or in hospitals, social workers focus on connecting others with essential services and resources.

Promote Social Justice

Many social workers do work that promotes social justice as a whole. Those who work in criminal justice may be working toward criminal justice reform and social justice within the system. Those who work with victims of domestic abuse, on the other hand, may work to amplify social justice issues surrounding misogyny and violence.

Reduce Harm

In the process of promoting social justice, social workers also facilitate harm reduction. The promotion of social justice with domestic abuse victims also promotes harm reduction to the women and the communities affected by domestic violence.

Provide Services and Needs

At their core, social workers are human services professionals. This means that one of their main responsibilities is to provide services, often basic needs, to the people they serve. For example, social workers that work with homeless communities work to help provide people with access to resources like food, shelter, and counseling.

Address Psychological Well-Being

Some social workers focus on macro social work, which addresses larger issues that affect social issues. This kind of social work is similar to counseling psychology, where the social worker provides the service of therapy to his or her client.

Essential Social Worker Skills

Social workers are right up there with teachers and nurses for being heroes in our society. The work can be very demanding and the pay is not often in line with the work. That said, people who become social workers tend to have rewarding experiences since the work is intrinsically all about helping others.

Emotional Intelligence

Social work is a field that demands high levels of empathy and compassion. To work with populations of people who are going through a variety of struggles that you may not identify with is tough. By being emotionally intelligent, social workers can connect with their clients and express empathy and care.

Boundary Setting

Though empathy is important, social workers also need to make sure that they don’t give too much of themselves to their work. The work is demanding and sometimes, quite emotionally difficult and draining. This is why social workers need to be capable of setting personal boundaries so that they can continue to do their work well.

Strong Communication

Because a major part of social work is all about talking and counseling, social workers need to have strong communication skills. Some very important communication skills include active listening, critical thinking, the ability to be transparent and communicate clearly, and the discretion to handle sensitive and confidential information.

Social Worker Salaries and Job Outlook

Social worker salaries vary depending on many different factors. The kind of institution, the state, and the social worker’s licensures, degrees, and qualifications will all affect a social worker’s salary.

Overall, it is not a high-paying profession, which is why it demands people who are passionate about helping others. Clinical social workers and social workers that hold MSW degrees may be able to access higher salaries than those who only have bachelor’s degrees and basic state licensures.

According to the BLS (Bureau for Labor Statistics), a social worker’s median salary in 2018 was just over $49,470 per year.

Social workers, like teachers and nurses, will always be in high demand. Any complex, homogeneous society needs social workers to counsel and advocate for those who need additional resources and aid. The BLS also predicts that between 2018 and 2028, social worker job openings will increase by 11 percent, faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Social Worker?

The minimum requirement to become a social worker is a license in social work, which students usually pursue as part of a bachelor’s degree program in social work, human services, or a related field. A full-time bachelor’s degree program takes four years to complete, though part-time programs may take quite a bit longer.

Consider that bachelor’s programs will include field experiences or practicums within the degree requirements, preparing you to take the necessary exams to get your state-required license in social work. If you are interested in moving your way up and also getting your MSW, most programs take three to four semesters of full-time study to complete.

Remember that if you want to become a clinical social worker, continuing education requirements include an MSW and sometimes even a doctorate in social work.

How to Become a Social Worker: A Step by Step Guide

Now that you know more about the field of social work, the profession, and the job outlook, consider the different steps you’ll need to take to become a social worker.

Step 1: Enroll in a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Program

The first step to becoming a social worker is getting a foundational degree in social work. This degree will give you the knowledge and skills you need to get started in the field. You can even get your degree online. Most degrees have built-in fieldwork experiences to make sure you have the hours that you need to be eligible to get your license and become a licensed social worker.

Step 2: Pass Your Social Work Boards and Get Your License

If you complete your bachelor’s degree program in social work, but you do not take the social work boards and get your license, you will not be qualified to practice as a licensed social worker. At the end of any bachelor’s degree program in social work, you should set yourself up to take your exams and earn your license.

Step 3: Get Your Social Work MSW

If you want to work in clinical settings and become a clinical social worker, an MSW, or a master of social work, is essential. These intensive master’s degree programs will prepare you to advance in the field and gain expertise. You may also pursue your social work board examinations after an MSW if you do not have a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.

Should You Become a Social Worker in 2020?

Social work is a rewarding field that allows professionals to give back to others and contribute to social justice causes. It’s a tough time for everyone right now but vulnerable populations like those that often work with social workers, are being disproportionately affected. The world needs social workers now more than ever.

If you think you have strong communication skills, endless empathy, and the ability to set personal boundaries, this might be the time to pursue a career in social work.

By Considering what a social worker does, researching job prospects in the field, and reading up on how to become a social worker, you are well on your way to taking the first step in your career.


Can I be a social worker without a degree?
No, you need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a license in social work to work as a social worker.
How do I get started as a social worker?
To get started as a social worker, you need to get a bachelor’s degree, take your social work board exams, and earn your state license to practice social work.
What is the major for a social worker?
Some colleges and universities offer an undergraduate major in social work. You can also major in related fields like human services and criminal justice or related disciplines like sociology and psychology.
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