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How to Prepare for a Career in Social Work

There are an incredible variety of jobs that a social worker can fill.  Social work is widely considered to be one of the most diverse career paths that a person can take.  Social workers offer do counseling or advocacy work - the goal of their job is always to help people improve their lives.

If this sounds like an exciting career, then check out our career guide below with five major points to help you prepare for a career in social work (adapted from the article How To Become A Social Worker).

1. Preparation for a future career as a social worker begins before formal studies. Individuals who are open minded, sympathetic, understanding, and insightful fair well as social workers. Individuals who possess resourcefulness combined with strong leadership and communications skills make great social workers. Students who seek future employment as social workers must prepare while in high school by taking courses in English, psychology, physical education, and business. Volunteering for or finding summer employment with governmental agencies, mental health facilities, or trained social workers may increase students' future acceptance into traditional or online college programs.

2. Undergraduate studies within a two or four year program through a traditional or online college offer individuals the training needed to further educational and professional goals. Students enrolled in a two year pre-social work program or other mental health related major, learn the basic skills needed to preform entry level jobs or advance degree studies. Courses within a two year degree program include: introduction to psychology, biology, introduction to philosophy, English, social issues, social policy, economics, anthropology, human behavior, human development, and child development. Students who complete an associates degree program can advance to a bachelor degree program to further specialize training to become social workers. Bachelor degree programs consist of courses in: counseling, abnormal psychology, gerontology, human growth and development, human services policy, principles of social service, planning and evaluation, ethics, and social services law and administration. Most graduates of a bachelor degree program must complete a clinical experience and certification processes before gaining employment as mental health workers, entry level social workers, or residential counselors.

3. A masters degree with a 1200 hour internship under the supervision of a qualified social worker allows individuals to expand educational and job related experience. Courses in clinical sociology, case management, community organization, community development case studies, substance abuse, counseling, social welfare concepts, and family and child services provide skills needed for a clinical experience. Internships within various governmental agencies or mental health facilities allow individuals "hands on" training. Completion of a masters thesis in addition to course work and internship requirements allow candidates the opportunities for future licensing, certification, educational, and/or professional endeavors.

4. A doctoral degree program allow individuals to become experts in the field of social work. Doctoral programs consist of intensive coursework, extensive clinical experience, completion of publishable dissertation, and certification or licensing as determined by state or facility regulations. Courses in statistics, advanced research methods, social welfare policy, case work planning, social counseling and intervention strategies, administrative procedures and regulations, child welfare and family services, probation, disability counseling, and individual and group therapy provides an educational basis for future dissertation, clinical experience, and eventual professional success as instructors or researchers within the field of social work.

5. Certification or licensing is administered by the National Association of Social Workers. Certification and licensing requirements vary per state and facility regulations. Certification and licensing is determined by educational specialization, clinical experience, and field of study through the Council on Social Work Education's Commission on Accreditation. Further certification is offered through the Council on Social Work Education and various state agencies.

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