Pin Me

Qualifications Needed for a Career in Social Work

written by: Matt Schmidt•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 3/1/2011

Social work provides a broad range of opportunities. The work can be intricate dealing with the personal matters of people. This article explains the educational requirements necessary to work in the field.

  • slide 1 of 7

    The field of social work deals with improving the lives of individuals afflicted with problems like substance abuse, mental health and poverty. istockphoto, Alina555 14062529 Social workers help individuals and their families cope with these afflictions. Careers in social work prepare those who want to improve the lives of others and their communities. Job duties vary based on the education and experience of workers.

  • slide 2 of 7

    Bachelors Degree in Social Work

    This is a four-year degree that is considered the basic level of education needed to work in the field. This degree allows the recipient to work as a generalist in a variety of direct service positions providing service coordination. Recipients of this degree work for government social welfare programs, child and family service programs, and hospitals. They identify the problems affecting clients and their families and coordinate services in the community to deal with those problems.

  • slide 3 of 7

    Masters Degree--aka the MSW

    The Masters in social work is a 60-credit-hour degree program with an internship component in a human services agency. This is recognized as the standard degree in the field. Many education programs have concentrations in either direct service or administrative tracks. With the Masters degree, the recipient can be involved in more specialized work than at the Bachelors level. Workers can provide counseling services in schools, substance abuse centers and psychiatric clinics. Whereas the bachelors degree is involved in service coordination, the Masters Degree allows more specialization and one-on-one work. With this degree, workers can also be in supervisory and administrative positions in government and non-profit human services agencies

  • slide 4 of 7

    Licensed Cerified Social Worker

    Licensed, certified social workers provide clinical psychotherapy services. The individual with this designation can diagnose an individual through assessment-based treatment. Individuals need to pass an examination administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) to receive these credentials. There are experience requirements as well that vary by state. In New York State, for example, the social worker must complte 2,000 client contact hours over a continuous period of at least 36 months (three years) and not to exceed 6 calendar years of supervised experience in diagnosis, psychotherapy and assessment-based treatment planning after earning the Master of Social Work degree. California requires 104 weeks of supervision and 3,200 hours of work experience after receiving the MSW.

  • slide 5 of 7

    Doctorate in Social Work

    Individuals who hold a Masters in social work credential can go on to earn a doctoral degree in social work. At this level, practitioners are in leadership roles, working to advance the field. They typically work in research, policy for private and government agencies, and teaching in university social work programs. Programs may require completion of a Masters degree in social work. Some schools allow those close to completing their Masters to enroll in a dual MSW/doctorate program. The doctorate can take two to four years to complete.

  • slide 6 of 7

    Ultimately: Handling the Complex

    Careers in social work require a high level of education. This training provides social workers the ability to handle the complex and sensitive circumstances of the work they are involved in. The job can be stressful but rewarding. If thinking about a challenging career that can help people in your community, consider social work.

  • slide 7 of 7


    Council on Social Work Education

    New York State Office of the Professions

    California Board of Behavioral Services

    Association of Social Work Boards

    Image credit