If you are thinking about becoming a social worker you may wonder if you need a degree for this career. The answer depends upon whether you want to be a licensed professional or just function on the capacity of a social worker. Of course, that decision impacts how you will prepare for your career and how much you can expect to earn.
Social Workers did not Always Have Degrees.
In fact, when the profession was first recognized in 1898, most practitioners were just people who wanted to help others. They sometimes worked as volunteers, especially in the foster care system. As society grew, however, and developed standards, it became necessary to license social workers and one of the criteria was education. The National Association of Social Workers, an organization tasked with certification and with accreditation of educational programs for social workers, lists standards for many specialized areas of social work such as child welfare, case management, family and even for those who work with caregivers of the elderly. Social work is a highly specialized career and you might be surprised to find out that social workers are even employed by corporations to work in human resources. Still, you can function as a social worker, for instance in a small nursing home or eldercare facility, but if you are considering becoming a social worker professionally, you must have at least an undergraduate degree.
What Kind of Education do Social Workers Need?
An article on the website "Learn-How-to-Become.org" says that you should choose a specialty before beginning your bachelor's degree. That depends upon which school you attend, as many schools don't allow specializations until the junior year. Becoming a social worker does not necessarily require a degree in social work; a degree in psychology, education, child development or another related field will get you an entry-level position. Most places that employ social workers require continuing education, and support certification in specialty areas.
If you want to advance in your career, however, you should consider an advanced degree. In addition, the master's degree and work experience are required for licensure in all states. At the master's level, specialization certainly is recommended. You might specialize in aging, in developmental delays, in education, in marriage and family, in substance abuse, child welfare or myriad other areas. Each of these specializations not only enhances your ability to work with these populations but increases your earnings potential. The median pay for a social worker was $44,200 in 2010, compared with nearly $60,000 for a supervisor with a master's degree. Your salary will also depend upon the area of the country where you practice (Connecticut pays the highest salaries) but in general, your pay will reflect your education level.
Today's society, with its emphasis on standardized levels of competency, demands educational preparation of its practitioners. While you can certainly work in a helping position doing the basic job of a social worker, you cannot be recognized in that profession without licensure and certifications. A generalist bachelor's degree will qualify most people for an entry-level position, but if you are interested in becoming a professional social worker and advancing in your career, you will need to earn a master's degree, get work experience, and pass a licensing exam.