Become a Social Worker: Starting Out

If you are interested in becoming a social worker, the first step, from a licensing standpoint, is to get a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited social work degree. But in reality, the first step is to make yourself competitive for admission. You typically need several references who can address your aptitude. Ideally, they will be people who have known you for at least six months to a year.

social work student starting out

Volunteer work is often enough to show that you have the commitment and aptitude for social work. There are many places you can turn to find positions. Many states have an official online resource for volunteers. The United Way is another potential contact. Some people join Americorps for service opportunities – you often get a small living stipend in addition to funds to use toward your future college education.

If you are a student, you might look up the publication “For The Common Good: Internships with Social and Community Service Agencies” by CEI Internships – agency internship opportunities are listed by state. It is sometimes possible to get a regular paid position in human or social services. You might, for example, be hired as a residential counselor. You won’t be doing therapy, but you can help people with day-to-day concerns.

Click Here to find details specific to your state.

Entering the Social Work Field at the Baccalaureate or Master’s Level

You can pursue a social work degree at either the bachelor’s or master’s level. In many states, baccalaureate social workers are licensed professionals. Master’s level social workers are eligible for licensing in all states. They have an expanded scope of practice.

The most important thing, when it comes to choosing a program, is accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

A baccalaureate in social work is not a prerequisite for entering a master’s program – a liberal arts degree will be fine. If you don’t have the undergraduate degree in social work, you will miss out on the opportunity to skip some generalist courses at the master’s level. However, when your master’s degree is conferred, you’ll be eligible for the same level of licensing. Learn more about the paths to become a social worker if you don't have a CSWE accredited undergraduate degree by reading through this informative article : "Options for Students Without CSWE Accredited Bachelor’s Degrees"

Click Here to find Human Services and Social Work Undergraduate and Master's degrees.


The most important thing, when it comes to choosing a social work program, is accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This is a licensing requirement in most states. CSWE is a program level accreditation, separate from and in addition to the institution’s accreditation; it means that your education will give you the kind of professional preparation that is the industry standard for social work.

Choosing a Master’s Program

You will have multiple options at the master’s level. What do you envision yourself doing? Working in a public school? Administering programs or shaping policy? Being part of the treatment team for people who have mental conditions, illnesses, or disabilities? Is private practice among your goals? Check out "Making the Choice to Pursue a Master's of Social Work".

If you are interested in clinical social work, you should enroll in a program that has a clinical concentration. Some states make the highest level of licensing dependent on having clinical coursework and fieldwork. At the least, your concentration may play a role in determining your fieldwork placement and your post-graduation opportunities. This is not to say that you won’t have the opportunity to switch tracks later. However, the path may well be longer.

The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a CSWE-accredited online Master's in Social Work. This program is top-ranked by US News and World Report. The GRE is not required to apply to the [email protected] program. A Bachelor's degree is required Learn more about this program.

The Simmons College School of Social Work ([email protected]) is the nation’s oldest school of social work and is offering an innovative Online Master of Social Work program. You can complete this CSWE-accredited Master's in Social Work program in as little as 15 months. There is no GRE required for acceptance to this program. Request information.

[email protected] is the online Master of Social Work program from the top-20–ranked University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW). The program is for students who earned a bachelor’s degree in a field other than social work. GRE scores are not required. Request information.

Capella University is now offering an online Master of Social Work that is in CSWE candidacy status. The MSW program helps prepare students to enter the general or clinical practice role (in most states). Capella also offers an online Doctor of Social Work. Click Here to contact Capella University about their Master of Social Work program or Doctor of Social Work program.

Additional Licensing Requirements

In most cases, you will work under supervision for two or three years after graduation. All states require post-master’s practice for independent clinical licensing. Many require it for higher level nonclinical licensing – even for macro work like administration.

Eventually, you will take one or more licensing exams. In many states, you’ll take the ASWB master’s exam upon graduation (or even before). After you complete your other requirements, you may take the clinical or advanced generalist exam.

It is important to familiarize yourself with state regulations before you begin supervised practice. The single most important contact is your own state board. Find Social Work licensure requirements in your state here. The National Association of Social Workers, while not a regulating body, is another potential resource.

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