Do you want to empower individuals, groups, and families to improve their quality of life? Do you want to help shape public policies and advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged, underprivileged, and impoverished? Do you want to have a positive impact on your community and make the world a better place?
If you have the desire to help others, you already possess one of the major qualifications needed to be a social worker. But outside of being compassionate, empathetic, and socially aware, what does it take to become a professional social worker?
Social Worker Education Requirements
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common minimum requirement however, a degree in a related field such as psychology, sociology, and public health administration may also qualify you for some entry-level jobs in the field. Outside of entry-level positions, an advanced degree is the universal standard for advanced social work practice. Many states also require social workers to complete a graduate degree program to become licensed.
Although there are many related graduate degree programs that can benefit would-be social workers, a master’s degree in social work (MSW) best prepares graduates for leadership and direct practice positions in professional social work settings. When looking at an MSW program make sure it is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. CSWE-accredited online MSW programs meet extensive curriculum requirements and standards. These standards are in place to ensure that graduates have the skills and competencies necessary to be effective social work practitioners.
Social Worker Licensing, Certification, and Registration
All states have licensing, certification, and/or registration requirements for social work practice. These requirements — education, supervised hours or full-time employment experience, examinations, and so on — vary by state, so check with the Board of Social Work Examiners where you live, or plan to work in the future. States may also issue different licenses and specialty recognitions. For example, the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners issues three social work licenses:
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Qualified licensees may also receive recognition for independent practice (Independent Practice Recognition, or IPR) of non-clinical social work or as an “Advanced Practitioner” of non-clinical social work services. These recognitions serve as professional distinctions and endorsements that can help social workers advance their careers.
From Entry-Level to Advanced Practice
After entering the field, there are three primary means for social workers to move forward in their career to advanced practice: education, credentialing, and experience.
Advanced Degree in Social Work
A MSW is extremely beneficial for social workers who wish to advance their careers and broaden their practice options. The value employers place on practitioners with this degree is reflected in the salary of MSW vs. BSW social workers.
According to salary recommendations by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), social workers with an MSW degree should expect to earn between $10,000 and $15,000 more each year compared to social workers who do not. For example, the NASW recommends a mid-range salary of $61,875 for MSW graduates with 5-9 years of experience. The recommended salary for social workers with a bachelor’s degree and the same amount of experience is $45,994.
Professional Social Work Credentials
Professional credentials show that you have met the highest national standards of experience, advanced skill, ongoing professional development, and leadership. Credentialed social workers are highly sought after for having in-depth knowledge, proven work experience, and advanced social work competencies and skills.
In terms of career advancement, the NASW adds that “some employers seek out highly credentialed professionals to fill key leadership positions within their organizations/agencies and/or factor voluntary credentials in their salary scales.”
Professional credentials in social work include:
- Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (CHP-SW)
- Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (ACHP-SW)*
- Social Worker in Gerontology (SW-G)
- Advanced Social Worker in Gerontology (ASW-G)*
- Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW)
- Certified Advanced Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-ACYFSW)*
- Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC)*
- Certified Social Work Case Manager (C-SWCM)
- Certified Advanced Social Worker Case Manager (C-ASWCM)*
- Certified School Social Work Specialist (C-SSWS)*
*Required Degree = Master of Social Work (MSW)
Earn Your MSW Online
Whether you have a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field, Our Lady of the Lake University’s CSWE-accredited MSW program will give you the knowledge and skills to become an effective social work practitioner. Our Lady of the Lake University offers an MSW Concentration track for those with a Bachelor of Social Work and an MSW Foundation track for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field. Request more information online or call 855-275-1082 to learn more about these programs.