How to Become a Social Worker

As a social worker, you have the opportunity to help people address everyday challenges. Clinical social workers further diagnose and treat those with behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. In addition to these responsibilities, a social worker takes on the task of advocating for their clients. 

How do you become a social worker?

The process varies from state to state, but the profession usually requires a master’s degree in social work and a social work license. In addition, some roles may require two years of supervised experience after you earn your degree. 

If you’re considering a career in social work, it’s important to keep in mind the education requirements, licensure requirements, and job outlook. This guide takes a deeper look at each of these factors.

Social Worker Education

The first step in your social worker education is to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field. A bachelor’s in social work (BSW) may prepare you for a direct-service role such as mental health assistant or caseworker. Undergraduate degrees in related fields such as psychology, social science, and public policy and social services may also qualify you for entry-level administrative jobs related to social work. 

For many social work roles — including clinical positions — you are required to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) from an accredited institution. These programs usually include field experiences or internships, which are intended to give students real-world opportunities to implement what they’ve learned. 

Earning a BSW is not mandatory to enroll in an MSW program. It is recommended, however, that aspiring social workers take undergraduate courses in fields such as psychology, sociology, political science, and economics. At some institutions, students who hold a BSW may be eligible for advanced standing MSW programs. These types of MSW programs allow you to earn your MSW degree in as little as one year, as opposed to the standard two years. 

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) 

Because clinical social workers treat and diagnose mental and behavioral conditions, this profession is regulated in a similar fashion as other medical professions. Licensure is required of all clinical social workers as well as nonclinical social workers in many jurisdictions. 

Licensure indicates that you have received state licensing board approval and have the competency to safely perform the duties of your role. The process for becoming a licensed social worker varies depending on where you live, and licensure is only good for the jurisdiction in which you are practicing. 

Licensed clinical social workers are referred to as LCSWs. To obtain this type of licensure, you’ll need to complete at least two years of supervised experience after earning your Master of Social Work degree. You will also be required to pass a clinical-level licensing exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Once you have your social work license, you are required to periodically renew it in order to continue practicing as an LCSW. Renewal requirements are set by your state licensing board and often include completing continuing education credits. Many social worker licenses expire every two years, but be sure to check with your local licensing board for specific renewal details. 

Becoming an LCSW is not an outcome of Baylor University’s MSW online program. However, MSW graduates may choose to pursue licensing after earning their degree. Be sure to check with your state, as educational and licensing requirements can vary. Common requirements have been outlined below.

Research Social Work State Requirements 

Becoming a social worker takes dedication and time. While there are many similarities in social worker requirements across different states — such as requiring a master’s in social work for clinical practice — there are also a few requirements that may vary based on where you live.   

Before you begin your social work journey, it is important to research the requirements in your state. The ASWB website features a laws and regulations database that allows you to look up social work licensure requirements for individual states. 

Some state or local laws may affect the licensing process. For example, California requires social workers to complete the California Law & Ethics Exam. In New York, clinical social workers must complete state-mandated training on identifying and reporting child abuse.

Social Work Career Outlook 

There are a variety of careers in social work that may be available to you after completing the necessary education and licensure requirements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual social worker salary was $51,760 as of May 2020. Social worker salary was highest for those who worked in local government, with the BLS estimating that social workers in this industry had a median annual salary of $57,630. 

Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS expects that employment of social workers will grow by 12 percent, which is considered faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers in particular is expected to grow slightly faster — roughly 15 percent from 2020 to 2030. For comparison, the average projected growth rate for all occupations is 8 percent. 

Citation for this content: Baylor University’s online master’s in social work program.