If you are interested in helping others maximize their quality of life and navigate social services and other available resources, you may want to consider becoming a social worker. Social workers are on the ground in neighborhoods, communities, and institutions to provide much needed support for individuals and families in need. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this career is expected to grow by 19 percent over the next 10 years. Read on for a complete guide to attaining the education and experience you need to become a licensed social worker.
Initially, you should do some research and identify the type of social work you’re interested in doing. Some possibilities include clinical social work, child and family social work, school social work, healthcare social work, and mental and substance abuse counseling. If possible, consider shadowing an established professional in your area of interest.
For most entry-level social work positions, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from an accredited college or university. To become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a master’s degree is required. A good resource for colleges and universities with accredited social work programs is available from the Council on Social Work Education.
LSCWs may also be required to be certified by the state, which typically requires 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after receiving a master’s degree. However, licensure requirements vary depending on the state where you’ll be practicing.
As a social worker, you can expect to make an average of approximately $44,000 per year. This amount varies based on your specialty and the region in which you practice. Social workers who practice in schools and other educational institutions tend to earn the highest salary (around $54,000 annually), followed by those in a governmental setting, medical setting, then religious or civic setting.
Because of increased need for social services as large swaths of Americans age, demand for social workers is expected to grow faster than that for most other occupations. In addition, as more Americans seek treatment for mental illness and addiction issues, need for social workers who specialize in that area will also be in high demand.
According to the National Association of Social Workers, other specialties that are trending over the next several years include work with adolescents, behavioral health, end of life care, diversity, peace and social justice work, and international careers.
If you enjoy working with people and are concerned with social justice and services, a career as a social worker may be ideal for you. Employers are looking for candidates with superb listening skills and a genuine interest in helping others; compassion for those who may be in difficult situations as well as interpersonal skills to deal with people from many walks of life; and excellent organizational, problem solving, and time management skills.
To learn more about this profession, you may want to consult the Occupational Outlook Handbook, available online from the federal government. In addition, the National Association of Social Workers has resources for professionals and students alike.