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How to Become a Social Worker with Online Degree Programs

Group of Latinx Social Workers

A social worker interacts with a wide range of communities and invokes constructive change in people’s lives. They challenge societal vices such as poverty, discrimination, mental health stigma, lack of healthcare facilities, homelessness, and other areas of need. It is a rewarding and financially promising career choice. This guide will help you navigate the process of how to become a social worker.

What is Social Work?

Social work promotes societal change through the empowerment and development of individuals and communities. It is a practice-based profession that thoroughly comprehends human development and the various forms of institutions and interactions, including behavioral, economic, cultural, and social.

Social work hallmark programs include Medicaid, worker’s compensation, mental healthcare, civil rights, unemployment insurance, and several others. It has been in the US for the past 100 years and boasts notable pioneers, including Harry Hopkins, Whitney M. Young, Dorothy Height, Jane Addams, Frances Perkins, and Jeanette Rankin.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers are professionals that try to improve the overall standing of individuals or communities in society and ensure the provision of basic human rights to all.

They typically interact with a wide variety of individuals, populations, and communities, with a particular focus on the less privileged, vulnerable, or maltreated. Social workers undertake an education and training process that enables them to address social injustices and barriers no matter the circumstances and prioritize their client’s overall wellbeing.

Social workers face needs in our communities such as unemployment, discrimination, violence, poverty, and abuse and deal with them head-on. They may also be required to participate in legislative processes to form social policies, but that depends significantly on their job title, area of employment, and specialty. These professionals also make use of academic research to promote social values and principles.

A social work career brings you personal contentment and feelings of accomplishment. You may choose to focus on prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of emotional or mental health issues. Other options for your career path are research and development focusing on community welfare programs.

Related Resource: Top 12 Jobs that Help People

Where Do Social Workers Work?

Social workers have diverse employment settings. Often they work in senior homes, public social agencies, military barracks, corporations, prisons, mental health clinics, hospitals, and many more institutions.

Licensed social workers also have the option of setting up a private practice away from public organizations. Independent social workers usually specialize in personality disorders, mental illnesses, relationship complications, or issues such as stress that can be treated in individuals. They may set up a private office to see clients.

Should You Opt for A Career in Social Work?

Considering your interests, life objectives, and skills is a prerequisite of choosing any profession. You should opt for a career in social work if it is at par with these three essential elements.

A job in social work is worth the hype, both morally and financially. But it is also emotionally taxing, as dealing with the deep-rooted social vices and other people’s sufferings may take a toll on you.

Social workers continue to be in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts the employment of social workers to increase by 13%. However, it is essential to have exceptional interpersonal skills, critical thinking, communication skills, problem-solving ability, advocacy, patience, and empathy to excel in this profession.

How to Become a Social Worker — Mandated Qualifications and Requirements

This career is one of the most dynamic and rewarding choices out there. Social workers believe in the power of humans to empower others. You can become an advocate to promote change amongst vulnerable or oppressed populations. The question of how to become a social worker follows six fundamental steps:

  1. Get a bachelor's degree in social work or any related field
  2. Obtain a master's degree in social work (MSW)
  3. Complete the required fieldwork hours
  4. Apply for state licensure
  5. Choose a specialization
  6. Improve your practice via continuing education and advanced learning

Steps To Become A Social Worker — What You Need To Know!

Let us dig deeper into the steps required to become a social worker and learn all you need to know!

Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work or any Related Field

If you are yet to enroll or declare a major in an undergraduate program and have decided to be a social worker, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is the right choice for you.

Your undergraduate degree provides you the added benefit of enrolling in advanced standing programs for a master’s degree. Such programs are more advanced than traditional standing programs and take less time.

Enrollment in a BSW-specific program provides you with a golden opportunity to learn more about social work, practice and policy, environments, and human behavior.

All these courses will aid you in a practical career in social work and prepare your path for a master’s degree in social work.

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If you already have a bachelor’s degree other than a BSW, you can still pursue a Master in Social Work (MSW). For example, students with a bachelor’s degree in related fields such as Psychology, Human Development, Political Science, Women and Gender Studies, Sociology, Peace and Social Justice, or Early Childhood Development can pursue their MSW.

Students can even get social work job opportunities with any bachelor’s degree without the need for a master’s degree. However, for a more financially stable career with a wide range of choices and work flexibility, you will want to obtain a master’s degree.

Related Resource: APA Accredited Online Psychology Programs: A Complete Guide

Obtain a Master in Social Work

As mentioned before, getting a master’s degree in social work is necessary to obtain licensure as a social worker. An MSW contributes to professional growth and provides various internship opportunities and field experience. Many MSW programs are available through both online and on-campus platforms.

Choose an Accredited Institution

Whether studying for a bachelor or master in social work, you will want to enroll in a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Accredited programs work on a standardized set of rules and regulations. Employers prefer to hire graduates from accredited programs to ensure the highest level of education in their staff.

Accredited programs also provide students with a core set of practical social work competencies.

Related Resource: CSWE Accredited Online MSW Programs: A Comprehensive Review

Online MSW Programs

Online MSW programs naturally bestow more flexibility and ease to students by eliminating the need to commute to universities to take classes at a set physical locale. Therefore, students who face location barriers or have transportation difficulties can benefit from an online program.

Keep in mind; an online MSW program requires the same amount of time, attention, and hard work as other programs. But you will save on commute times and possibly rent and moving expenses with the luxury of being able to study at home.

Hybrid and On-Campus Programs

On-campus MSW programs typically include the same coursework as an online MSW program. Such programs may also have some hybrid options. On-campus MSW programs typically offer on-campus social work internships to students at the end of the course year.

Traditional Standing Programs

If you have a bachelor’s degree that is not in social work, a traditional standing MSW program is for you. You can earn your MSW in as little as two years.

Advanced Standing Programs

Students with a Bachelor in Social Work can apply to advanced standing programs. These programs take less time than traditional standing programs as students already have a foundation of the principles of social work through their undergraduate degree. The advanced standing programs provide higher-level coursework, which solidifies the social work foundations within students.

Completion of Required Fieldwork Hours

Fieldwork hours are also known as practicum or internships. They entail the practical application of academic learning under the supervision of experts. In your fieldwork, you will undergo extensive application of your education and gain practical knowledge from experienced social workers.

Such training significantly contributes to your professional standing. It is pivotal to have a basic understanding of the working of field placements so that you can arrange an interview with your prospective field mentor and ensure a constructive placement site.

Placement sites during internships play a vital role in determining your professional direction. If your placement site is not at par with your educational objectives, it is essential to advocate for yourself to attain an experience that proves fruitful in your career.

Traditional MSW programs typically require 16-20 placement hours for two days a week in the first year, which may increase to three days a week during the second year.

Placement hours in an advanced standing program vary depending upon the type of program but may range anywhere between 450 – 900 hours of fieldwork.

Apply for State Social Work Licensure

Obtaining licensure within your state of residence is a significant benchmark for advancing your career and gaining expertise. Although all social work roles do not necessitate a state license, most positions involving individual interaction with the people of a community have such requirements.

Passing the licensure examinations and serving direct service hours under the supervision of a licensed social worker are two of the most significant steps in obtaining certification.

Many worksites support the licensure application process of applicants, either by extending monetary support or providing the required practice experience and clinical supervision. Therefore, finding such a place of employment can serve to ease the licensure application process.

Licensure requirements and regulations are not the same in all states. There may be multiple licensure levels through some state’s licensing boards and only one level in others. Check with your state licensing board for exact licensing requirements.

Generally, you will apply for one of two kinds of licensed social worker certification: Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) for those with a graduate degree.

Choosing a Social Work Specialization

Social work encompasses diverse specializations and responsibilities regulated by various specialty areas. Options include:

  • International social workers
  • Child, family, and school social workers
  • Administration and management social workers
  • Developmental disabilities social workers
  • Justice and corrections social workers
  • Healthcare social workers
  • Military social workers
  • School social workers
  • Aging and management social workers
  • Advocacy and community organization social workers
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers
  • Clinical social workers
  • Medical and public health social workers
  • Mental health social workers
  • Community social workers

Improve Your Practice via Continuing Education and Advanced Learning

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) states that social workers should commit 48 hours to continued education before each licensure renewal period. Social workers can choose any continuing education from a large number of options, including:

  • Individual personal activities, such as reading professional books or journals, preparing for consultation, researching, watching tutorials, training assignments or teaching, studying independently, presenting publications or research findings, or writing books or papers.
  • Formally organized learning events offered by accredited social work education programs such as practice-oriented seminars, distance education, staff development, courses, workshops, and other related pieces of training.
  • Organized learning experiences and professional meetings such as symposiums, panel discussions, and conferences.

Best Accredited Masters in Social Work (MSW) Programs You Can Choose Right Now!

Here are some of the best accredited MSW programs for you:

The University of Denver, Colorado

The University of Denver offers an online Master of Social Work program from their Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). A U.S. News & World Report ranks among the top 20 graduate social work schools in the United States.

The institute offers CSWE Accredited, 81-credit full-time standard MSW; and 54-credit full-time advanced standing MSW programs. The standard admission requirements for both these programs include an accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Admission start dates come up in winter, fall, summer, and spring.

View More about University of Denver

Fordham University, Bronx, New York

Fordham University has an MSW program delivered by their Graduate School of Social Service. The institute provides a 60 credits master of social work in traditional standing that you can complete in 16-months if undertaken full time. A part-time schedule takes from 24 to 32 months. The program boasts an interactive online community with an engaging learning environment.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and a GPA of 2.6 or above. It also offers a 33-credits advanced MSW program, completed in as few as eight months full-time and about 16 months part-time.

Admission requirements for this program include a CSWE accredited BSW degree or one year of coursework through any other CSWE-accredited MSW program. Admission start dates come up in fall, spring, and summer.

View More about Fordham University

Simmons University, Boston, Massachusetts

Simmons University is the nation’s oldest school of social work with a 91% success rate in board passing for 2018 graduates. It offers a traditional MSW with 65 credits completable in 16 accelerated months, 24 full-time months, or 32 part-time months. It also provides an advanced standing MSW with 37 credits, achievable in 16 months if undertaken full time.

Admission requirements for the traditional standing MSW include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university or college and an average of at least 3.0 GPA.

The requirements for the advanced standing MSW include a regionally accredited BSW degree, a B grade or better in each BSW course (or a 3.3 GPA for all social work coursework), and a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or better.

Start dates come up in January, March, May, September, and November.

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California

The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC) offers exceptional online MSW programs for students of all ages.

Their traditional MSW program requires 66 credits completed in 4 semesters full-time and six semesters part-time. For admission, you will need an accredited bachelor’s degree and a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better. There is no requirement for GRE scores.

USC also offers an advanced standing MSW program with 37 credits that can be completed in 3 semesters if undertaken full-time and five semesters part-time. The admission requirements are a completed and accredited BSW degree within five years of the date of application and a minimum undergraduate cumulative GPA of 3.0.

View More about University of Southern California

Syracuse University, New York

The Military Times declares Syracuse University (SU) the top “best private institution for veterans”. The school offers a traditional MSW with 60 credits that you can complete in 36 months. It also provides an MSW degree of advanced standing with 36 credits achievable in a minimum of 24 months.

Admission requirements for the traditional track include a minimum GPA of 3.0. In contrast, requirements for an advanced MSW are comprehensive. You must have a BSW from an accredited program, a minimum GPA of 3.0 in all social work coursework, and a minimum overall GPA of 3.0 (higher is preferred).

Both programs are CSWE accredited. Admission dates come up in January, May, and August.

View More about Syracuse University

Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio

Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) social work program is CSWE-accredited. The U.S News & World Report ranked this program 9th best for social work in 2020.

CWRU offers both a traditional track and advanced standing studies in online programs. The traditional MSW has 60 credits and takes two and a half years to complete, at a minimum. You can complete the advanced standing MSW in a year and a half.

For admission to the traditional track, you should have a minimum GPA of 2.7. For the advanced standing, your CSWE accredited BSW must be within the last seven years from the application date. GRE scores are not requested. Admission start dates come up in fall, spring, and summer. no application fee.

View More about Case Western Reserve University

Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Baylor University offers a 60 credits traditional track master of social work that is doable in as little as 16 accelerated months, 24 full-time months, or 36 part-time months. It also offers an MSW of advanced standing with 32 credits that you can complete in a minimum of 12 months full-time or 20 months part-time.

Admission requirements for these degrees include a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university for the traditional MSW. A BSW from a CSWE-accredited program attained within the past five years of the application date is needed for the advanced MSW. Admission dates come up in January, May, and August.

View More about Baylor University

How Much Does a Social Worker Earn?

Social workers benefit from the exceptional job growth and the solid salary potential, no matter the career path. In 2020, social workers earned a median annual salary of almost $52,000, according to the BLS.

In addition, the average field growth in this career is faster than most fields due to solid job demand. Experts predict 81,000 new social work jobs to be available between 2018 and 2028.

Salaries for social workers depend significantly on their career path, educational background, practical experience in the field, and geographical circumstances of the area they serve. Social workers with accredited master’s degrees earn the highest salaries. It is common for healthcare social workers to make a standard salary of nearly $57,000 per year. In contrast, child, family, and school social workers usually earn a median salary of approximately $47,000 per year.

As with any other profession, you can increase your salary by furthering your education. You can earn an advanced degree or pursue professional certification. If you study a specialty in demand, you gain expertise that you can use in your work.


Question: Does it Take Long to Become a Social Worker?
Answer: Without a college degree, becoming a licensed social worker may take five to six years. It typically takes four years to attain a bachelor of social work and an additional 12 to 24 months for a master’s degree.

Question: Can I Become a Social Worker Without a Degree or Qualifications?
Answer: You cannot become a practicing social worker without a license in the state you intend on practicing in. License requirements vary in different states, and the eligibility criteria and licensure standards are subject to change. Therefore, it is essential to consider the specific requirements of the specialty you wish to practice as well as the state you want to work in to make an informed choice.

Question: What Does a Social Services Worker Do?
Answer: Social workers have versatile jobs depending upon the social services career they choose. They usually address issues within communities and try to uplift the living standards of abused, poor, maltreated, or vulnerable individuals.

Question: Why Should I Become a Social Worker?
Answer: Becoming a social worker is a financially and morally rewarding career choice. It allows you to help distressed individuals or communities and promote justice, social change, and equality. It is also a field with excellent career growth.

Question: Is Social Work a Good Career?
Answer: Social work is a rewarding career path to bring about constructive change in people’s lives. Therefore, this field is also expected to see increased job availability and is one of the fastest-growing careers.

Final Thoughts — Get Started with an Online MSW Program Right Now!

An online master’s of social work degree can help you elevate your career to the next level and gain expertise in your particular field. The broad-ranged curriculum covered by an online MSW degree provides the most suitable platform for rising to new professional heights, all from the comfort of your home.

With the added benefit of part-time education, you can continue your daily obligations and enhance your skill set at the same time. If you are ready to make an impact in your community and to create a more just world, get started with an online MSW program right now.

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