In most states, you will likely need to become licensed at a certain degree level in order to practice in specific settings, especially those that call for work in clinical-facing jobs. At a minimum, most licensure boards will require that social workers have some form of education and training from a program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
It’s important to check with your particular state’s board to determine what educational level you need to qualify for the position you want. And remember, you can work on obtaining advanced degrees should your career goals change.
Aspiring social workers can earn an associates, bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree. Some states offer a clinical degree that indicates you have earned a master’s and completed the necessary post-degree supervised experience. Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) titles might indicate that you have earned an MSW but have not yet completed the mandatory supervised experience.
However, social work licenses and degrees are referred to under different acronyms that vary from state to state. A few of the most common degree and licensure titles include:
- Associates/Bachelors: ASW, BSW, LBSW, LSW, LICSW-A
- Masters: LMSW, LGSW, CMSW, CSW, LSW, APSW, ACSW
- Clinical: LCSW, LMSW, LICSW, LISW, LCSW-R
To earn your license and begin practicing, you must pass the Associate of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam that corresponds to the degree program you have completed, as well as meet any other state requirements.
- Learn more about the Bachelors Level Exam (BSW)
- Learn more about the Masters Level Exam (LMSW)
- Learn more about the Clinical Level Exam (LCSW)
Once licensure has been obtained, you will be required to periodically complete continuing education hours as required by your state. Let’s explore some social work degrees and what each program entails, along with a few potential career options.
Associate Degree in Social Work
The associate degree in social work (ASW) program involves a two-year course of study that introduces students to the core basics of social work. This will include the field’s history, what social workers do, and potential career paths.
Investing in an ASW can help you decide whether this field is a good fit for you and if you should pursue more training and/or educational degrees. This degree and what you learn from earning it will serve as the basis for obtaining a Bachelor of Social Work degree as a next step.
Some careers that can be pursued with an ASW include:
- Patient Advocate
- Intake Coordinator
- Rehabilitation Aide
- Counselor Assistant
- Case Manager
- Service Administrator
- Behavioral Technician
- Social Services Assistant
Bachelor of Social Work
A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is often a four-year program but may only require two years to complete for students with an ASW. BSW students should prepare to take general education courses and classes on topics such as sociology, psychology, cultural diversity, and human behavior.
If you plan to pursue additional education to enjoy greater career opportunities and growth in the field, earning a BSW offers a strong foundation for obtaining your MSW or DSW. Those with a BSW may be able to work in entry-level or undergraduate fields of social work licenses and practice.
Potential careers with a Bachelor of Social Work include:
- Residential Counselor
- Mental Health Assistant
- Case Manager
- Community Outreach Worker
- Human Services Specialist
Master of Social Work
A Master of Social Work degree can take an average of two or more years to complete, depending on how many credits you take each semester. Those who choose an accelerated path or attend an institution that offers an advanced standing MSW program might be able to complete the program in just one year’s time.
MSW programs focus on coursework that’s relevant to your career, but there are programs that offer concentrations of study for specific career interests. Many students look for programs with an emphasis on:
- Healthcare and Hospice
- Children and Families
- Community Social Work
- Policy Practice
- Leadership and Social Change
- Psychiatric Counseling
- Counseling for Substance Abuse Issues
- Global Social Work Practice
- Interpersonal Practice in Clinical Settings
- Management & Leadership
Licensed Clinical Social Work
Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) can work in many fields and environments. Obtaining a clinical license allows clinicians to practice at the highest level of independence. Clinical social workers assess, treat, and diagnose mental illness. Holding a license at the clinical level also allows practitioners to open their own private practice, as well as serve as clinical supervisors, where they may hire, train, evaluate, and mentor staff.
LCSWs work with all kinds of people, including children, adults, and the elderly. They also offer services for people from all financial, social, and ethnic backgrounds. Clinical social workers often focus on offering counseling services to those in need with the goal of boosting the behavioral health and overall emotional wellbeing of their clients.
LCSWs also serve as advocates for disadvantaged individuals and are willing to connect such clients to much-needed resources and services that may benefit them. Ultimately, there are many choices and paths those with a license in clinical social work can take.
Career Outlook for Social Workers
The career outlook for social workers is very promising, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As a whole, this organization has projected that social worker employment will grow by 13% over the next 10 years, which is faster than the average growth of other occupations.
Growth in social work will vary by specialty. Child, family, and school social worker employment is expected to grow by 12%, while healthcare social work jobs are projected to grow by 14%. The fastest growing careers are expected to fall within the scope of substance abuse and mental health social workers by 17% by 2029.
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