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What Are the Pathways to Becoming a Social Worker?
If you want a meaningful career centered on helping others, you could become a social worker. Social workers focus on people and their environments, and they work to make changes that improve lives. Most people have heard of social workers who work with families and children facing issues like abuse and neglect. Social workers also work in a variety of other areas, including addiction, trauma, and healthcare. Social workers may also work with specific populations like the military and military family members. Let’s explore the career path for social work.
Step 1: Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)
To begin a career in social work, you’ll need a BSW. A Bachelor of Social Work prepares graduates with a broad range of intervention and prevention methods to use when working with individuals, families, groups, or communities. With a BSW, you will be academically prepared to work as a youth services specialist, a case worker, a family resource coordinator, a mental health social worker, or similar roles.
Step 2: Licensure
Some roles may require you to be licensed as a social worker, which most often requires a master’s degree. Licensure occurs at the state level, and different states offer different licenses. For instance, California only recognizes the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) license, while Oklahoma has five options: Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA), Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW), Licensed Social Worker (LSW), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and Licensed Social Worker-Administration (LSW-ADM). Each state sets requirements for licensure, so you’ll want to:
- Decide what state you want to work in.
- Determine what licenses are available in that state.
- Select the type of work you want to do.
- Find out whether licensure is needed for that work.
- Investigate the requirements for the license you want.
If you want to pursue licensure, your university may offer a licensure preparation module in conjunction with its social work degree program.
Step 3: Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)
While a BSW prepares graduates for generalist work, a Master of Social Work program prepares you to work in a specific field. With an MSW, you could pursue work as a healthcare social worker, mental health and substance abuse social worker, child and family social worker, or school social worker.
In most states, licensure requires an MSW degree, so earning your master’s can help you meet certain licensure requirements. Again, check with the licensing body in the state where you wish to practice in order to determine licensure requirements.
Tip: If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a subject other than social work and you want to make a career change to social work, look for an accredited university that will allow you to enter the MSW program with a degree from a different field. There’s no need to earn a second bachelor’s degree!
Step 4: Doctorate in Social Work
The highest degrees in the field of social work are the Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and the PhD in Social Work. In PhD programs, students focus on developing their research skills, while in DSW programs, students focus on how research can be applied. A PhD in Social Work can prepare you for a career in academia, where you could do full-time research and teach at a college or university. A Doctor of Social Work degree can prepare you for a leadership or management role such as program director or program evaluator.
Are you ready for a fulfilling career helping others? Education is the first step. Look for an accredited university with social work degree programs accredited by a respected organization. Walden University is an accredited university whose online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). CSWE accreditation ensures that these programs prepare you to apply ethical principles and critical thinking to social work practice. Earning a degree from one of Walden’s CSWE-accredited programs also academically prepares you to sit for social work licensure exams.
Be prepared for a career you’ll love. Choose Walden for your online social work degree program.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Master of Social Work (MSW), Doctor of Social Work, and PhD in Social Work degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
Walden University’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is responsible for developing standards that define competent preparation for professional social workers and ensuring that social work programs meet these standards.
Note on licensure: The minimum academic credential required to obtain licensure to practice as a social worker in most states is a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Walden University’s MSW program is accredited by CSWE.
State licensing boards are responsible for regulating the practice of social work, and each state has its own academic, licensure, and certification requirements.
Walden recommends that students consult the appropriate social work licensing board in the state in which they plan to practice to determine the specific academic requirements for licensure. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to the state-by-state requirements for licensure. However, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all licensing requirements for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of its coursework or programs will permit an individual to achieve state licensure, authorization, endorsement, or other state credential as a social worker.
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