Want to Change the World? How to Prepare for a Career in Social Work

Written by T.E. Wing

Social workers go to bed every night knowing that they’ve changed the world for the better that day. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for a career in social work …

The world needs social workers. Not only do social workers increase the well-being of individuals and families, but they increase societal well-being, too.

And it’s important work, too. A social worker might help a newly single mom find work and child care or get a child struggling in school the occupational therapy she needs to focus and learn. The work isn’t always easy: Social workers, for instance, are often the first line of defense when child abuse or neglect is reported. For those with the right kind of skills and personality, though, it can be tremendously rewarding work.

a career in social work how to prepare for a career in social workNothing is better, after all, than going home at the end of the day and knowing you’ve made a difference in the world.

How to get a career in social work

If you want to become a social worker, you’re going to need a degree. You get one in social work, or in such related fields such as sociology, psychology and education. Experience doing field work is key, too. Classroom experience is important, sure. But in many ways, the real world experience you get from field world is just as important. And for sure, it’s intensively valuable.

Thinking of a more advanced degree? Social work positions in healthcare and social service generally reward those with a master’s degree with higher pay and other benefits. Not every field in social work will reward you with a lucrative salary for obtaining a master’s degree or even a doctorate, especially if you’re interested in going into academia. But there are many that do. That’s why it is generally worth the time and effort to go beyond the minimum requirements academically.

Doctoral programs

There are fields where a master’s degree is considered a terminal degree — that is, the highest degree possible in the field.

For instance, if you want to become a college professor, you generally will have the best chance of getting a tenure-track job if you have a PhD, or doctorate of philosophy. (And yes, that’s the name of the degree, even if the person is not studying philosophy.)

If your English professor goes by Dr. Smith, that means they have a doctorate. That’s not the same as being qualified to practice medicine, of course, although there are plenty of jokes about professors performing brain surgery!

And that brings us back to the topic of social work. A PhD in Social Work focuses more on research, but doctoral programs in social work are more likely to provide the critical hands-on experience you need to work with especially vulnerable populations. To oversimplify things, a PhD is focused on making a person book-smart, while a doctorate is often focused on more practical applications.

Someone looking for a Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) usually does so because they want to focus on social work administration, clinical work or both. If that’s you — and you really want that DSW — be prepared to write a dissertation or complete a residency.

Obviously, a social work doctorate is not for everyone, but it’s a great option for social workers who are committed to obtaining a higher level of knowledge about such issues like poverty and substance abuse.

You’ll find it well worth your while.

For aNewDomain, I’m T.E. Wing.

Cover image: MSWcareers.com. Inside image: HelpGuide.org