Social work is a growing field with a wide range of career options that tends to attract people who want to help others and their communities. These jobs can be found in hospitals, communities, schools, insurance companies, government agencies, not-for-profits, and private practice. So, what does it take to get started as a social worker?
According to the National Association of Social Workers, social work is a profession with a mission to “enhance human well-being and help meet basic and complex needs of all people, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.”
Taia Younis, SUNY Online Success Coordinator and social work graduate, offers her advice about the journey to becoming a social worker. In addition to earning her MSW, Taia worked as an admissions coach at SUNY, where she talked to many students who were interested in a degree in social work.
We asked Taia to answer the top questions students have about social work:
- What is social work?
- How do you get a degree in social work?
- What jobs can you get as a social worker?
- How do you become a social worker in New York State?
- Are there continuing education opportunities for social workers?
- What is social work?
Social workers provide this help, supporting people in different situations to overcome their challenges.
What options do you have in education for social work?
You can earn a degree in social work online or in a classroom. Both BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) and MSW (Master of Social Work) degrees will have a field placement component, including in-person clinical requirements, designed to provide practical experience and expand confidence working in community settings. Online programs will work with students to address this requirement.
Social workers draw from a range of academic fields. You don’t need a BSW to earn an MSW. You can earn a four-year degree in a related field before applying to an MSW program, such as:
- Bachelor’s in psychology
- Bachelor’s in health and human services
- Bachelor’s in education
- Bachelor’s in sociology
- Bachelor’s in community and human services
- Bachelor’s in human development
An MSW is required to sit for the LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) exam, and an LMSW is required to sit for the LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) exam.
SUNY colleges offer more than 600 degrees in humanities and social sciences that can provide a foundation for an MSW and a career in social work.
Associate degrees and certificates
You can start with an undergraduate certificate or an associate degree before starting a bachelor’s degree program. SUNY community colleges offer face-to-face and online programs in human services, psychology, and human development.
- Bachelor’s degrees for future social workers include:
- Social Work BSW from SUNY Plattsburgh (CSWE-accredited) — includes 450 field practicum hours
- Bachelor of Science in Social Welfare from University at Albany, with option for advanced placement into MSW program
- BSW from SUNY Fredonia (CSWE-accredited) — includes 340 field practicum hours
- BSW from SUNY Brockport (CSWE-accredited) — includes field instruction and seminar
- BA/MSW Joint Degree from the University at Buffalo
Students who have a BSW, BS, or a BA can apply to a master’s degree program to pursue an MSW. The University at Albany, Binghamton University, the College at Brockport, the University at Buffalo, and Stony Brook University all have MSW degree programs. The University at Buffalo offers a Master of Social Work online program, but it still requires 900 field placement hours.
What is the difference between a BS, BA, BSW, MSW, LMSW, and LCSW?
These terms can be confusing, so it might be helpful to think in terms of building blocks. BS, BA, BSW and MSW are all degrees granted by a college. The LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) and LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) are licenses granted by an authorized state agency.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how long it takes to earn an MSW based on the bachelor’s degree you have:
- Students with a traditional bachelor’s degree, either a BS or BA, can finish an MSW in two years if studying full-time.
- Students with a BSW can finish an MSW in year if they are offered “advanced standing” admission and have the required field practicum hours.
One note: while a bachelor’s degree in a related field can provide a good foundation for a Master of Social Work degree, there is a notable difference between BS/BA degrees and a BSW: the internship requirement, which is also called “clinicals” or “field practicum.”
Because traditional bachelor’s degrees don’t have a field practicum requirement, students must satisfy the field practicum requirements in the master’s degree program. An MSW requires two years, or 12 credits, of clinicals.
Students who complete a BSW program accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) can typically apply to an “advanced standing” MSW program because they completed one year, or 6 credits, of clinical observation, which shortens the time to complete an MSW. In short, a BSW-to-MSW takes less time to complete.
Students who are enrolled in a BSW program have an internship or clinical requirement of 6 credits in their senior year of their bachelor’s degree program. Note that 6 credit hours is different from supervised hours. The BSW at SUNY Plattsburgh requires 6 credit hours of field practicum, which totals 450 supervised hours of field experience to be eligible for graduation.
How do you become a social worker in New York State?
Once you earn an MSW, your next step may be to become a licensed social worker in New York. To achieve this designation, you will take the licensing examination for the LMSW.
Once you have achieved the LMSW designation, you may choose to pursue the LCSW, the next level of licensure in New York State. According to the NYS Office of Professions, to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in New York State you must:
- be of good moral character;
- be at least 21 years of age;
- have an education that includes a master’s degree in social work (MSW) with at least 12 semester hours of clinical coursework acceptable to the Department;
- have at least three years of post-MSW supervised experience in diagnosis, psychotherapy, and assessment-based treatment planning acceptable to the Department;
- complete coursework or training in the identification and reporting of child abuse offered by a New York State approved provider; and
- successful completion of the “Clinical” examination administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
Visit the Office of the Professions to learn more and download a checklist of requirements and documents.
What jobs can you get with a degree in social work?
Many students become social workers to work with specific populations in agency, educational, or clinical settings and may eventually choose to have their own counseling practice once credentialed to do so (usually LCSW- level).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work employment is expected to grow 12% through 2030, which is faster than average. BLS projects about 78,300 openings for social workers each year, on average, over the next decade.
Social work graduates pursue jobs as:
- Health educators
- Mental health counselors
- Marriage and family therapists
- Outreach coordinators
- Care coordinators
- Rehabilitation counselors
- School and career counselors
- Social and community service managers
- Social and human service assistants
- Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors
From student to professional via the classroom
In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, SUNY colleges and universities offer microcredentials for social workers, assistants in the field, and students interested in pursuing social work or enhancing their skill set post-degree.
- Microcredentials in the field of social work and counseling include:
- Grant Writing and Fundraising—University at Buffalo
- Interprofessional Collaborative Practice—University at Buffalo
- Applied Social Research—University at Buffalo
- Child Advocacy Studies—University at Buffalo
- Excellence in Aging—University at Buffalo
- Social Work Practice in Serious Illness Care—University at Buffalo
- Veteran and Military Family Focus—University at Buffalo
- Developmental Science: Child Emphasis—Farmingdale State College
- Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant—Tompkins Cortland Community College
Taia’s biggest piece of advice to future social workers is this: work backwards. “First, determine what you want to do and if licensing is your end goal. If you want to become an LCSW, get to know the requirements for licensing, and then start building your educational path.”