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Transtheoretical models

Steps for Becoming a Social Worker

The guide below will outline the general steps to become a social worker. The first step in becoming a social worker is obtaining the necessary education. There are a number of educational paths to consider on the road to become a social worker.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.

The first step for many people interested in becoming a social worker is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited college or university. Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs prepare students for entry-level, professional, generalist social work practice and for graduate social work education. Students learn to practice as professional social workers with individuals, families, groups and communities. Students learn a great deal about the profession while earning their BSWs since bachelor’s of social work programs combine classroom learning with field education. Students gain work experience while applying their classroom training to real-world work settings. Once you receive your BSW, you will be eligible to begin working as a social worker.

2. Earn a master’s degree in social work.

Whether you received your bachelor’s degree in social work or in any other field, you may apply to a CSWE-accredited graduate program to earn your Master of Social Work (MSW) on campus or online. If you receive a BSW prior to applying to graduate school, you may be eligible for advanced standing allowing you to receive an MSW in one year rather than the traditional two-year program. While all accredited social work graduate programs follow similar curricula combining classroom learning with field education, some schools of social work have strong clinical programs while others focus on systemic issues such as poverty reduction and social justice. Choosing a clinical focus or a macro concentration may determine electives and field education placements but all graduates receive the same degree.

A few points to keep in mind when deciding which degree path is best for you:

  • If you are considering working toward your first bachelor’s degree, a BSW may be a good choice. A BSW gives you a solid foundation to begin work as an entry-level social worker. If you decide to continue your education with a master’s degree, you may apply for advanced standing. This way, you may receive both your BSW and MSW in only five years.
  • If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, there is no need to seek out a BSW. You may find a position you enjoy in the social services field with a bachelor’s degree from another discipline. If you would like to become a social worker, you should apply to a CSWE-accredited MSW program.
  • If you are interested in moving to a supervisory role and advancing in your career in social work, you should consider obtaining an MSW. Increasingly, employers are seeking master’s level social workers for any position above entry-level. Even those searching for entry level positions are likely to find that an MSW opens more doors than a BSW.
  • If you are interested in clinical social work, you must obtain an MSW and then become licensed in your state.