What’s going on with Social Work?
It takes someone special to become a social worker—are you that person? Social workers help others to overcome obstacles and improve their lives. For people that are struggling with personal or family relationships or coping with difficult circumstances, social workers are a support system, providing guidance and resources. People interested in becoming social workers are usually those with a high emotional intelligence—they’re good at picking up on how others are feeling, listening, and communicating—and have a genuine interest in helping others.
The people that social workers help, and kinds of problems that social workers tackle, are vast. Social workers can help children address learning, behavioral, or social problems; they might work with families to improve relationships or cope with substance or physical abuse; they can aid the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled, or even those who have been sick for long periods of time. As you can imagine, social workers are needed in a number of places, from schools, to hospitals, to clinics, to private practices. Social workers are often helping a lot of people at once, and can work long hours as a result.
In 2008, the majority of social worker positions existed within social assistance and health care industries, as well as by government agencies. According the United States Bureau of Labor statistics, between 2008 and 2018, employment in the social work field is expected to grow by 25%—faster than the average for all other occupations. Due to the number of baby-boomers who are approaching retirement, the majority of the opportunity for work within this field will be working with the elderly. There will also be an increased need for social workers who can assist people who struggle with a dependency on drugs or alcohol, or students who have special needs, as a number of these individuals is expected to increase, as well. In 2010, the median annual pay for social workers was $42,480.
How do I Get Started?
Becoming a social worker requires at least a four year degree. Students expecting to work in this field should major in social work specifically, though related majors, such as psychology, or sociology, might provide an opportunity for an entry-level position in social work, as well. The curriculum for Social Work majors can differ across schools and programs, but these students might expect to take courses in psychology, law and government policy, child welfare, substance abuse, counseling for groups and individuals, psychopharmacology and social work research.
Many positions in this field, however, will require a master’s degree. Obtaining a master’s degree typically requires an additional two years of school, that often translates into increased work opportunities within the field. A master’s is social work won’t necessarily require an undergraduate degree in social work; however, it is not uncommon for the completion of certain coursework to be required. A master’s degree also commonly presents an opportunity to specialize in a particular area of social work, such as substance abuse, families and children, gerontology (the study of the elderly), or in mental health.
A license, certification, or registration of social workers is required in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. Though the requirements for these for any of these may vary from state to state, those intent on working in this field should expect to be required to have several years of work-related experience and on-the-job training. Think you have what it takes to be a social worker? Luckily, finding your path to this line of work can be a flexible—find the program that’s best for you. A number of colleges and universities offer flexible course schedules to meet the scheduling needs of students, ranging from the morning hours to the evening. Your pathway to MSW employment opportunities may not even require a brick and mortar campus experience; a number of colleges offer social work programs online and exceptionally flexible path for students with busy schedules.