The field of Social Work is a dynamic field that requires the appropriate schooling and training to be able to assist clients and help people improve their lives. Dealing with disabilities, substance abuse, inadequate housing, disease, unemployment, domestic conflicts, as well as child and spousal abuse, Social Workers help people solve and cope with problems. While many work in areas of direct service, some Social Workers are involved in research, advocating for services, planning and policy development.
Social Worker Schools By State
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 54 percent of jobs are located in healthcare and social assistance industries, while 31 percent work for the government. Most Social Workers specialize in working with a specific population. Areas of expertise include Child Family and School Social Workers, Medical and Public Health Social Workers, as well as Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers. Education and training are required to become a social worker. The minimum education requirement is a bachelor’s degree, although some jobs may require more advanced education.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Steps to Becoming a Social Worker
Before beginning a college career, it is always important to test the waters and make sure that the field is of genuine interest. Working as a paid or volunteer aide is recommended to gain a better understanding of the field of Social Work. Courses of study should focus on psychology, biology, sociology, economics, political science and social work. Due to the diverse populations that Social Workers assist, learning a second language is always a good idea.
Most importantly, obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a Social Worker. Employers will require a bachelor’s degree in Social Work as the minimum for most entry-level positions however; a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, sociology may also be acceptable.
Entry into a master’s program does not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. A master’s degree is required to obtain a job in health or school settings. Master’s degree programs prepare students for a career in their chosen concentration in the field of Social Work.
Every state has licensing, certification and registration requirements for Social Workers. Before a Social Worker can begin to practice or use professional titles, they must adhere to their state’s specific guidelines for licensure. Research and understanding of each state’s regulations is recommended.
Areas of Study and Training
A bachelor’s degree in Social Work will prepare students for work in direct service fields. Areas of direct service include case workers, group home workers, mental health assistants and residential counselors. Areas of study focus primarily on social work, ethics, at-risk populations, cultural diversity, social and economic justice, human behavior, social environments, social welfare, policies, practice and research methods. Before completion, accredited programs will require 400 hours of supervised field experience.
Training during field experience is centered on making sure that prospective Social Workers are emotionally mature, objective and sensitive to the problems of others. Training and field experience will also help prospective Social Workers develop the skills to handle various responsibilities, work independently and establish and maintain positive relationships with clients and co-workers.
Students obtaining a master’s degree in Social Work will focus primarily on their chosen area of concentration. Students will need to complete 900 hours of supervised field training or an internship prior to graduation. Training for a master’s degree in Social Work, students will develop skills such as clinical assessment. Students will learn how to handle large caseloads and prepare for supervisory roles. More specifically, students will learn to assess and meet the needs of clients. Due to the specialized nature of obtaining a masters degree, there are more training hours required.
Before becoming a licensed Social Worker, most states require 3000 hours clinical experience. This experience is essential to fully understanding the nature and realities of Social Work. Licensure and certification is required by all states, although regulations for each state may vary.
Time to Completion
How long it takes to become a Social Worker will largely depend on the level of education and type of employment desired. A standard bachelor’s degree will take approximately four years if students carry a full course-load. Although a bachelor’s degree is adequate to obtain an entry-level position, many students choose to go on and pursue a master’s degree in social work to gain more specialized employment. Master’s programs typically last two years, although part-time students can expect four years.
Once schooling is complete, prospective social workers will need to obtain a license or certification from the state in which they choose to work. Most states require supervised clinical experience with a minimum of two years. Advancement in the field of Social Work may require further schooling. If students wish to go on to teach at a college or university, a doctorate in Social Work is required.
Attending an accredited college or institution is always recommended. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of June 2009, there are 468 accredited bachelor’s programs, 196 master’s programs and 74 doctoral programs. It is important to verify that the chosen school has its accreditation before applying. Students who obtain a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from an accredited institution often have advanced standing in master’s degree programs.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/