Human Services Guide

The Breakdown: How to Become a Social Worker

So, how does one go about joining the social services workforce? While different states and localities can sometimes have variation in what they are looking for in a worker, certain traits are always highly valued by prospective employers. Probably the most helpful item on your resume is a Bachelor’s degree in a Social Sciences discipline such as: Sociology, Social Work, Psychology, Counseling or Human Services before earning a Master of Social Work Degree (MSW). You don't necessarily need a background in Social Sciences, however a Bachelors degree is required to apply for an MSW. A Bachelors degree is required for most entry or mid-level positions. Many schools have excellent programs for these degrees to get you on the path to a career in social services. For a high level position as a social worker you will however be required to hold an MSW. MSW Degrees are available both through campus programs or online programs

Steps to Become a Social Worker

Earn a Degree in Social Work

Typically a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is the baseline degree to start your journey in a Social Work Career. For a more robust education a Master of Social Work (MSW) with CSWE accreditation which is the standard and usually mandatory. The MSW will open many doors to practice in a wider range of social work careers.

Get Your Social Work License

Social Work Licensure is required by each state that you practice in. It is always best to check with your states licensing board to see what is a mandatory requirement to start practicing Social Work. On the journey to licensure, there will be an exam, background check and education that is accredited by the CSWE. You can Check with the ASWB Licensing group to interact with your with your licensing board.

Become Employed as a Social Worker

Depending on what path you choose as a social worker you will have to narrow your search down on what type of career you want to pursue. This will also determine what education you will want to follow. At this stage you will choose to take a path of either working for local governments positions, healthcare services, residential services and the list can expand from there. It is recommended to check with the NASW Career Center to search national job listings for each phase of your career.


Featured CSWE Accredited Social Work Programs | Explore MSW Education Options

* University of Denver's top-20 school of Social Work - Master of Social Work. No GRE required.

* Fordham University - Master of Social Work Online. Traditional and advanced standing programs available.

* USC University of Southern California – School of Social Work - Top-Ranked Master of Social Work Online.

* Case Western Reserve University - Earn your master’s in social work online at CWRU in as little as two and a half years. Bachelor’s degree required.

* Baylor University - Master of Social Work online program. No GRE required.

* Simmons School of Social Work - Master of Social Work Online. Offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

* Northwestern University - Online Master's in Counseling. CACREP accredited.

* NYU Steinhardt - Online Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness. Complete in 21 months.

* Capella University - Online Master of Social Work

* Our Lady of the Lake University - Online Master of Social Work

Do you know your education options? Begin or continue a degree AS, BS, MSW, MS, PhD, Cert. Online and campus locations. Know all choices for the present or future.

In addition to a degree, it is also helpful to have experience working with disadvantaged members of the community. This can be gained through volunteering with a variety of community resources such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens, state agencies, human services non-profits and similar organizations. Actual experience in the field is valued almost as highly as a degree.

The key is being able to show experience working with individuals and groups with issues such as:

  • economically disadvantaged
  • seeking employment and job training
  • abuse and neglect
  • substance abuse
  • working with the aging and elderly
  • people with disabilities
  • prevention of drug abuse or illness
  • cultural competencies and diversity
  • working with those who have inadequate housing

Another highly valued skill set is to have strong bilingual and multilingual skills. The most valuable language to know in most of the US is Spanish. However, depending on your region of the country you may have immigrants who speak other languages such as:

  • Russian
  • French (many parts of the Caribbean and West Africa speak French)
  • Serbian
  • Croatian
  • Chinese
  • Vietnamese
  • Somali

These are just a few of the languages that are valuable to know in human services. It is best to find out what additional languages are spoken in your local community to determine which language you might study to bolster your resume.

Strong computer skills are a must in the Social Work field. From writing case work narratives on eligibility decisions, to database entry and issuance of electronic benefits almost all work is done on computer systems. Being able to show strong skills in typing and familiarity with MS Word, Excel and Internet search skills are a must.

If you really want to boost your career, you will want a Masters in Social Work. There are schools near you that offer programs for this vital degree. A Masters degree in Social Work will give you a huge edge finding employment in Human Services.