Do I Need a Master’s Degree to Be a Social Worker?

Social Work is a noble profession that offers a wealth of opportunities to affect positive changes on many levels. Social workers also enjoy an exceptional abundance and variety of occupational options. The best news of all for many would-be social workers is that the ultra-flexible character of their coveted career extends to educational entry requirements. Contrary to popular misconception, not every social work position requires a master's degree.

Educational Requirements

A bachelor's degree in social work ("BSW") is the minimum requirement for all social worker positions. Common components of BSW curricula include coursework on subjects like cultural diversity, human behavior, ethics, social work practice, and social work values, among others. An internship of at least 400 hours is also a sine qua non of BSW program completion.

A BSW is typically required for entry-level clerical, counseling, caseworker, and group home social worker positions. Applicants with a bachelor's in social work or a related major such as sociology or psychology also qualify for employment in small municipal social service departments and agencies.

A master's degree in social work is the minimum educational requirement for employment in supervisory, clinical, and specialty practice. Depending on whether attendance is full-time or part-time, it takes two to four years of graduate-level studies to earn a master's degree in social work ("MSW"). Most MSW programs offer several concentrations and include classroom instruction on such subjects as clinical assessment, supervisory skills development, and caseload overflow management. At least 900 clock hours of clinical internship participation in a social work setting is also a sine qua non of MSW degree completion.

Online Social Work Programs For You

Resource: Top 25 Most Affordable Master's in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs

Upon graduation, new MSWs are eligible for membership in the National Association of Social Workers ("NASW"), Academy of Certified Social Workers, and International Federation of Social Workers ("IFSW"). Besides being the biggest professional social work association in the world, NASW offers many highly prestigious voluntary professional designations. Two most of the most coveted are A Clinical Social Work Diplomat and Qualified Clinical Social Worker.

To find a wealth of valuable information and helpful guidance for any aspect of the social work profession, visit the official IFSW and NASA websites at and

Advanced Degree

Earning a Doctorate in Social Work ("DSW") entails two to four years of intensive graduate study with heavy emphases on quantitative/qualitative analyses, research techniques, and research methodologies. As in all doctoral degrees, DSW program completion requires the preparation and defense of an in-depth dissertation or thesis. Dissertation research can take up to a year or more to complete.

A DSW degree qualifies new graduates for high-level positions such as departmental or agency head, public policy adviser, public policy advocate, social work college professor, and social work department manager or administrator.

Professional licensure

Although specific criteria vary from one state to another, all states require social worker licensure. Fulfilling this universal licensing prerequisite requires passage of a comprehensive examination. Most states also require additional training and separate licensure for social work sub-specialties like child welfare and marital counseling.

A minimum number of annual continuing education credits is a standard requirement to maintain state licensure. Continuing educational subjects include new developments, emergent trends, and recent changes in related fields like law, technology, medicine, and professional ethics.

In the final analysis, all forms of social work on every level strive toward a common overriding objective of macro improvement on a micro scale. As such, social work professionals are truly an elite group of public servants well deserving of widespread recognition by a well served society.

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