How to Become a Social Worker

Help individuals, families, and children find their way through tough situations.

How to Become a Social Worker

Social workers need exceptional communication and interpersonal skills.

Imagine helping someone cope with the most challenging time of their life. When you learn how to become a social worker, you'll be there for people who are recovering from substance abuse, coping with terminal illness, suffering child and spousal abuse, and so much more. Social work careers take you into neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals to work with adults, teenagers, and children.

Social work is projected by the Bureau of Labor Standards (BLS) to grow by 12% to 17% over the next 10 years—much faster than the average job. Mental health and substance abuse social workers are the sector of social work, followed by hospital social workers and child, family, and school social workers.

What Is Social Work?

The basic job of a social worker is to help people find resources and cope with problems they can't handle alone. When you look at how to become a social worker, you'll see you have many choices for specialization depending on what type of social work interests you:

  • Family and Child Welfare Social Worker: You'll respond to cases of child neglect and abuse, help families find housing, and apply for welfare benefits. You may place children in foster homes and facilitate adoptions.
  • School Social Worker: You'll support teachers and parents to improve students' academic and social development. You'll help them resolve problems, including aggression, bullying, and truancy.
  • Medical Social Worker: When a patient needs to transition from the hospital back to their home or long-term care facilities, you'll work with them and their families to make the move as smooth as possible. You'll also learn about the emotional and mental health aspects of patients with chronic illnesses. You can specialize further in geriatrics, hospice, or palliative care.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: Your clients will include individuals with addictions and mental illnesses. You'll refer your clients to support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and coach them through their life challenges.
  • Clinical Social Worker: With a state license, you'll assess and treat mental illnesses, emotional challenges, or behavioral problems. You may counsel individuals and families and lead group therapy sessions.
  • Forensic Social Worker: Forensic social work will put you in the center of the criminal justice system, working with adult and juvenile offenders and law enforcement. Your focus is to help people return to society as productive citizens.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers manage multiple clients and find innovative solutions for their situations, necessitating that they be organized and a good problem-solver. They also need to have exceptional communication and interpersonal skills to handle emotionally difficult issues with sensitivity and patience.

On the job, you'll:

  • Assess your clients' needs and identify their strengths.
  • Help clients find support groups and networks.
  • Advocate on behalf of your clients for resources, including childcare, health care, and food stamps.
  • Respond to crisis situations and sometimes be on-call to handle child abuse cases and mental health emergencies.
  • Maintain case files and records of all the clients you work with.
  • Provide psychotherapy services if you are a licensed clinical social worker.

For more details about the job, take a look at this social worker job description on Monster.

How to Become a Social Worker

A qualified social worker earns a degree, gains real-world experience while in school, and passes a certification exam before they start their first job.

How to Earn a Social Work Degree

Most social workers graduate college with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree or a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. You can earn an online social work degree at the bachelor level, but you can't earn a master's in social work online. Social work internships or field experience are a large part of all degree programs and position you to enter the job market with relevant experience once you graduate.

Need help funding your education? There are lots of scholarships for social work majors that can help to cover your costs.

You can also enter the field without a social work degree if your degree is in a related field such as psychology or sociology. If you choose to pursue a Ph.D. in social work, you can be involved in research that affects the whole field of social work and society at large.

How to Obtain Social Work Certification and Licensure

To do clinical work you must be a state-licensed social worker. Some states require other types of social workers to be licensed as well. To qualify for a license, you need to earn a master's degree, have at least two years of supervised experience, and then pass an exam. The Association of Social Work Boards outlines the requirements for how to become a social worker in each state.

The National Association of Social Workers publishes a social work code of ethics that you must adhere to as a licensed social worker. If you don't follow this code of ethics, you could face adjudication and censure by the association, which could affect your job status.

How Much Do Social Workers Make?

The median social worker salary is $51,393 and can range from $34,095 to $67,726 depending on your location, experience, and industry. For example of salary ranges, the median social worker salary in the local government is $55,500 a year; medical social workers earn a median wage of $56,750, according to the BLS.

You can look up the average salary for social workers in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Social Work Jobs

Whether you're looking for an internship, a school social worker job, or a clinical social work position, you need to get your resume in top shape to showcase your education, experience, abilities, and attributes to potential employers. Monster can help you out. Check out an example of a social worker resume and social worker cover letter if you're feeling stuck.

Then, take a look at current social work jobs, and start applying! The BLS identifies the top five states and areas with the most social work jobs as:

States:

Areas:

Launch Your Career in Social Work

Now that you know how to become a social worker and have a winning resume, upload your resume to Monster for free. Step into a career that has an immediate impact on so many who need your help.