How to Get Started, Gain Experience, and Earn a License in Your State
Social worker certification programs awarding a degree prepare students to work as licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs). A degree provides the training these workers need to analyze clients' issues, research appropriate resources, and respond to crisis situations. LCSWs also maintain records and create community programs.
Professionals need more than a social worker degree and a license to succeed. The best social workers need strong communication, emotional, and interpersonal skills. They also need strong organization and problem-solving skills.
This page introduces social worker certification programs and explains how to enter the social work field.
How to Become a Licensed Social Worker
LCSWs and other licensed social workers need a master's degree to practice. However, some entry-level positions require only a bachelor's degree. Acceptable majors include social work, psychology, and public policy.
A master's provides the in-depth education and hands-on training that states and employers require. Master's degree-seekers select a specialization, such as families or school social work.
Licensed social workers' job responsibilities vary by specialization and employer. Most LCSWs work directly with clients. They suggest solutions and may refer clients to other professionals.
Social Worker Specializations
Students pursuing a social worker license may specialize in one or more areas. Completing a specialization involves taking specific upper-division classes and completing hands-on experiences. These experiences help degree-seekers meet the supervised work requirement states use for licensure.
See below for some common specializations. Some programs call them concentrations or tracks. Options vary by school. Students should check with their prospective schools for information on social worker certifications.
Children, youth, and families' unique needs require social workers with a specialized education. This concentration features classes in social work practice with adolescents. Coursework involves research and critical analysis for social work with children. Degree-seekers build their skills during field experiences at schools and welfare agencies.
Children, Youth, and Families
Direct practice social workers screen new clients and pair them with appropriate services. They work as care coordinators or case managers. Clinical social workers may open private practices or work at addiction recovery centers. Degree-seekers interested in either career take classes in essential skills for social work practice. They also study human behavior and the social environment.
Aspiring school social workers take classes in school social work practice and policy. They also study ethical issues in contemporary social work and content area literacy. The curriculum often includes hundreds of hours of field experiences. School social workers usually work at K-12 schools. They work with students and help teachers create positive learning environments.
School Social Work
Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients overcome addiction. They connect clients with psychologists, psychiatrists, or other medical professionals. These professionals may work at hospitals and treatment facilities. Social worker degrees with this concentration offer classes in grief, substance abuse, and sexual abuse.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
What Are the Education Requirements for a Licensed Social Worker?
LCSWs need a college education to practice. Classes and supervised field experiences train learners for careers. Read on to learn about social work certification programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Please note that classes, internships, and graduate outcomes vary by program.
Bachelor's in social work degrees introduce students to the profession and qualify them for graduate education. Students often take classes in community mental health, psychology of culture, and action research. The latter class involves developing an independent research project. Many bachelor's programs require enrollees to maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.
Graduates may work as eligibility workers, human services specialists, or case management aides.
LCSWs and other licensed social workers hold a master's degree or higher. Learners without a bachelor's in social work enter a general program. Those with a bachelor's in social work receive advanced standing. These degree-seekers graduate sooner than their peers. Students in the generalist program take classes that cover topics like human behavior and privilege and oppression.
Degree-seekers complete the core curriculum before starting practicums and internships. Practicums may involve hundreds of supervised work hours at multiple job sites.
Experienced social workers with a master's may pursue a doctorate. This degree qualifies them for tenure-track positions at colleges or universities. A doctorate typically takes 28-36 months and may require a capstone or doctoral thesis. Classes cover challenges facing social workers, innovative design, and executive leadership.
Graduates who do not enter academia may work as top executives at social services agencies. This position helps them make a lasting, positive impact on the social work field.
How Much Does a Social Worker Degree Cost?
Social worker certification programs' costs vary by degree type and school. Students attending in-state, public schools pay an annual average of $9,350 in tuition and fees, according to EducationData.org. Out-of-state learners at the same institution pay $27,020.
Online degree-seekers should budget for extra expenses. For example, they may need to buy a new laptop or commute to in-person internships. Learners can potentially lower their expenses by applying for scholarships and grants.
How Much Do Social Work Majors Make?
Social workers earn a median $51,760 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This figure exceeds the national median salary by about $10,000. Many factors impact salary, including social workers' specialization and employer. Local government agencies and ambulatory healthcare services pay the highest salaries for social workers.
Healthcare and mental health and healthcare social workers earn more than their peers specializing in children and families. However, child and family social workers can raise their salary potential by relocating. Workers in the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Connecticut make a median annual salary of $68,230-$71,840.
Master's in social work programs help professionals qualify for a license. A license can lead to new career opportunities. Many of these jobs pay more than entry-level positions requiring only a bachelor's.
Certifications and Licensure for Social Workers
Social workers with a master's can start their career by earning the LCSW. Professionals in this role use their education and experience to pursue a professional certification. A certification demonstrates an advanced skill set.
Read on to learn how recent graduates can become LCSWs. The following section also lists two popular certifications from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
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