In today’s modern job market, getting a degree in social work is an excellent choice for anyone looking for a career in human services. With social workers in high demand and the labor market for them continuing to grow over the next 10 years, social workers will find many opportunities throughout the country.
Social work degrees are also broad, giving the holders opportunities to work in a number of different capacities. Some social workers work directly with clients as a case manager, while others perform outreach or social justice and policy work. Depending on the degree and license you get, many social workers can work as therapists in agencies or private practice.
Once you’ve decided to become a social worker, the most important thing is to get your license! Your specific path to licensure will depend on what state you live in and type of practice you do, but these general steps will apply to every social worker.
1. Obtain an accredited social work degree
You’ll first need to get a social work degree accredited by the CSWE (Council on Social Work Education). The two accredited degrees you can get are the BSW (Bachelor of Social Work), which requires a high school diploma or GED as a prerequisite, or the MSW (Master of Social Work), which requires a Bachelor's Degree as a prerequisite. In most states, you’ll need an MSW to provide therapy, and in some you’ll need a BSW to do case management.
To find out if a program you’re interested in is accredited by the CSWE, you can check online at https://www.cswe.org/Accreditation/Directory-of-Accredited-Programs.aspx.
2. Register for your license
Once you have your degree, it’s time to register with the board. As part of the licensing process, you’ll be communicating regularly with your state’s regulatory board for social workers. Generally, this begins with you first register for your license. In most states, you’ll start out with a provisional license, which the board will award you while you complete the necessary post-graduation work for exams. The provisional license will come with some restrictions, such as requiring you to work under a licensed social worker.
To get your initial license, write to the board with all necessary documentation, such as your diploma, to prove you’re eligible to receive the distinction. Once you receive the initial license, you’ll continue to respond with the social work board about matters such as renewing your license and maintaining ethical, safe practices. For more information about interactions with the board, Read what the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) says about becoming licensed at https://www.aswb.org/licensees/.
3. Complete any supervision hours and CEUs
Some states require pre-licensed candidates to complete working hours in the field and continuing education units (CEUs) before getting their license. Check with the board to determine how many hours you need and in what capacity. Generally, you can obtain these hours in a paid work or volunteer capacity under supervision from a licensed social worker or clinician with a similar license. Your supervisor might need to meet additional requirements, such as taking a course on supervising social work license candidates, to qualify to supervise you.
The board can also tell you what CEU classes you need to take to apply for licensure. Before signing up for any in person or online CEU classes, check to make sure they meet the requirements. A reputable provider such as AATBS will always be able to help ensure you take the right course.
4. Take the required exam(s)
Depending on your state, you’ll usually need to take one or two exams to get your license. In some states you can take the exam(s) right after you show the board you’ve graduated, while in others you’ll need to show the board you’ve completed your supervision hours and CEUs first. Once you’re cleared to take the exam, you’ll sign up with the test providers in your state. Don’t forget to study to up your odds of passing!
5. Submit everything to the board
After you’ve passed your exams and finished any hours and CEUs, you can get your license by submitting all required materials to the social work board. The board will mail you your social work license. Congratulations! Just make sure to keep your license current and maintain good standing in your state.
As mentioned earlier, the specific licenses available and licensure path varies for social workers in different states. You can check out your state’s requirements at www.mswguide.org/licensure/.