An easy answer to the question of how to become a social worker would be to simply apply for a position and hope the right job gets offered; of course, the actual process is a bit more involved. In order to be proficient in this field, there is a wealth of knowledge to be acquired and a set of skills to be developed.
Social work is a career that allows an individual to channel a desire to improve the lives of others through research, teaching, and practice, but it isn’t always easy. In fact, most social workers will agree that the position they hold requires long hours of unpaid overtime, a consistent dedication to resolving tough situations, and dealing with people who don’t always appreciate the help being offered. Fortunately, these challenges are often met and exceeding with the amazing, and often life-changing benefits associated with this career path.
As with any profession worth pursuing, becoming a social worker is a process of learning and awareness. It is an occupation with definite steps along the way in order to earn the job title, and ultimately turn it into a successful career path. If you’re interested in learning how to become a social worker, you can start by reading the information below, then dive deeper into the site for further information, resources, and insights for each step of the process.
Step 1 – Get Educated in Social Work
General curiosity ordinarily grows from early life experiences. Some young people will do volunteer work in social agencies and that is a great way of deciding whether or not this is a good career to follow. Others may decide on this field because a social worker made a positive impression in their lives. Either way, once the interest is generated, the individual has to acquire a social worker’s skill set which is initially gained through college course work.
According to the Council on Social Work Education, there are no fewer than four hundred and sixty eight bachelor programs in the United States. These programs have a core discipline of social work courses and electives that will serve to reinforce knowledge acquired in the mandatory requirements. It is in the halls of academia where general interest shifts to focus more on the type of social work a person will pursue as a career.
Here, students are exposed to the various specialties in social work. Some schools will emphasize areas such as clinical social work (University of Texas), human services management (Ohio State University), or even offer a variety of online programs (Our Lady Lake University online). A student may decide during undergraduate studies to take a close look at mental health or perhaps student social work, depending on his or her growing interest. That interest influences where any field work will be done.
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Step 2 – Gain Experience as a Social Worker
Social work is not data entry. It can’t be done in private with no one around. Working with the disabled or socially vulnerable people is important to better understand the social work environment. Academic programs will insist on field work as a prerequisite for a diploma, and this field work ordinarily takes place in local social welfare facilities that have a relationship with the school’s social work department. While it may include long hours of being on the job, the amount of time spent in field work should never be viewed as excessive.
Indeed, the importance of experience cannot be overstated. A social worker is a hands on professional and must be able to interact well with clients at risk. The field work required of him or her develops the interpersonal skills needed to succeed. The client contact also helps a person decide if a career in social work is for them.
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Step 3 – Choose an Area of Social Work
In learning how to become a social worker, it is important to understand that there are many branches to social work resulting in a variety of different occupations. A student majoring in social work will spend the first year or two of academic study getting the prerequisite courses out of the way. The last two years are more specialized and a choice is ordinarily made as to what type of social work will be professionally pursued. Field and volunteer work in social welfare settings help mold the decision.
The field is a very broad one with distinct activities. Family social workers deal with chaos arising in homes. School social workers will be asked to work with issues that inhibit learning including substance abuse, truancy, and teenage pregnancy among others. The clinical and hospital social worker helps with the healing process of those with long term illness and mental health social workers provide care to those with inner disorders that restrict a client’s ability to live independently. An up and coming field is geriatric social work, which is concerned with problems confronting the well-being of the elderly. The interest mentioned earlier that is generated by both academic study and field work plays a dominant role in the final selection.
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Step 4 – Advance Your Career in Social Work
A college degree in social work can be what gets the initial job, but that alone doesn’t guarantee career mobility. Those investigating a career in social work must understand that in order to advance professionally in this occupation, continued study and pursuit of a graduate degree are extremely important. The Master of Social Work (MSW) is more specialized than the undergraduate degree and needs to be pursued in the area of social work where a person has chosen to make a career.
Once established, a social worker might think of opening a private practice or perhaps being a counselor or clinician may be the career ultimately desired. Becoming a licensed social worker will advance either objective. The requirements for such professional certification will vary from state to state, but a person can expect to have at the very least an MSW and work several thousand supervised hours, followed by a credentialing examination. There may also be a time requirement of two or more years of experience.
It should be obvious that practical experience is essential at every step of the way for becoming a social worker. While academic research is done in social work, this is a highly proactive career and strong communication and interpersonal skills must be developed in order to succeed.
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Step 5 – Reep the Rewards of the Profession
Anyone thinking of becoming a social worker ought to consider what is received in return for labor and time expended. The salary of a social worker will pay the bills but the paycheck is not the same as that of a doctor or a computer analyst. The hours can be irregular and long, which inevitably cuts into ones time at home. In other words, this is certainly not a get rich quick line of work.
The reality is modest financial compensation, but there are other rewards that border on incredible. A social worker deals daily with society’s most vulnerable. In earlier times these people were warehoused or hidden from the sight of polite society. Social work has given such people the opportunity to function in the mainstream. Like Anne Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker” a social worker can change harsh reality and help a disadvantaged person lead a productive life.
Professionals in the field readily admit to a sizable level of job satisfaction. They know their intervention changes lives for the better. They make a positive difference and it shows in the clients who are served. Few professions can make that claim.
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About Becoming A Social Worker 101
The path leading to a vocation in social work is not a difficult one, but it is a road to be traveled on advisedly. The more one knows about the profession — the education, the type of clients, and the normal expectations — the better that person will be able to prepare for the work ahead. This website is intended to guide an aspiring social worker from ‘soup to nuts’, for those who wish to be of service to the less fortunate. Please browse the various pages of the site to learn as much as possible about the challenges and the amazing rewards of being a part of this growing profession.
Learn more about Becoming A Social Worker 101.