Doing social work is a dream job for many. However, some people aren’t able to achieve this goal in their young adulthood as they opt for STEM careers. As they age, the urge to give back to society increases, and becoming a social worker turns into a goal.
Becoming a social worker at 50 is possible as there’s no age requirement for this job. To become one and get employed with consistent growth, you’ll need a degree. It’s different from social activism as a social worker is a licensed professional trained to work with people and solve their issues.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can follow your dream of becoming a social worker. This career requires a lot of passion and determination, so make sure this is what you want. Let’s dive in and read about the road to becoming a social worker.
The Road to Becoming a Social Worker
Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree
The first thing you have to do to become a social worker is to get an undergraduate/bachelor’s degree. The university or college you apply to should be accredited from the CSWE or Council on Social Work Education. The degree is called Bachelor of Social Work or BSW.
In this program, students are prepared for professional social work practice. They can secure an entry-level job easily. The program also lets you pursue a graduate degree.
During this 4-year degree program, students learn about practicing social work professionally with various communities, as well as individuals, families, and groups. Students get in-depth knowledge about the profession and how to help people based on the situation and needs.
The degree program requires absolute focus and determination as it combines classroom studying with actual fieldwork. It’s one of the few professions where students get to earn experience working in the real world while continuing their education. Once you pass the degree, you can earn a social worker license and start practicing.
Opting for a Master’s Degree
You can choose to apply for a Master of Social Work or MSW if you’ve earned your Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, or you have an undergraduate degree in any other field. You should always pursue a Master’s degree program that’s accredited from CSWE.
MSW can be studied both on-campus and online. The program is traditionally 2-year long, but if you have a CSWE-accredited BSW degree, you might be accepted for advanced standing. This will let you earn your graduate degree in just one year.
All MSW programs follow a similar curriculum across all colleges that offer the degree. The program combines classroom education with field education, much like the bachelor’s degree. However, some schools teaching social work graduate programs focus more on clinical programs while others make system issues like social injustice, poverty, homelessness, etc. the focal point of their curriculum.
If you opt for a macro concentration or clinical focus program, your electives and field education may get a different placement, but the degree you’ll receive will be the same as other students.
If the college lets you pick extra courses or offers choices, make the most of this advantage and choose the courses you want to practice after graduating. Pick as many clinic courses as you can if that’s where you gravitate towards. Choose electives in management of non-profit organizations or social advocacy to build skills you can market to employers.
MSW is important if you’re more interested in a supervisory role.
Of course, you’ll need some experience, but a Master’s degree will get you the position much quicker than BSW. Having graduate-level education will advance your career vastly as employers expect it from all of their applicants above the entry-level. MSW opens way more doors than BSW. Clinical social work would require you to get a license, which we’ll get to later.
Additionally, after earning a graduate degree, you can select specialized courses that’ll earn you a certification based on the type of social work that interests you the most.
Capitalize on Field Work Opportunities
During your undergraduate and graduate programs, you will be doing plenty of fieldwork. You’ll also receive various internship opportunities, as well as summer jobs for clinical social work and advocacy. During these real-world experiences, you should capitalize on the opportunity at hand and learn more and more to secure employment in the future. Your field placement experience should hold the same value as your paid employment would.
Try doing different kinds of fieldwork and interact with different individuals and communities as a whole to keep yourself updated with the prevalent issues. Working across the social work spectrum can help you gain skills that prepare you for the job hunt. Job openings require an energetic and hardworking individual regardless of age, so you should build your character towards that.
Even if you don’t have an interest in the site you’re working at, do some networking. Build connections with your colleagues and supervisors, and ask them to alert you when jobs are available. Additionally, mentioning a supervisor, manager, or coworker who may be affiliated with the company you’re interviewing for in some way, can serve as a strong reference.
Licensing is important to ensure that the social work you’re doing is a professional practice and safety for the people involved. Social work licenses have different levels, and the requirements for these are defined by the board of the state they’re being issued in.
The difference in the requirement and name of the license can be significant. Commonly, the four levels of social education and training are differentiated on the basis of the level of license they can have issued.
In some states, you might need to obtain a license before your career takes off. Some states also need you to work and get a progressive license so you can get promoted and advance in your career. Ask your peers and seniors, and they’ll know the license requirement of your state.
These are the four levels of education that can get your license issued:
- Baccalaureate social work degree (BSW) holder.
- Master’s degree in social work (MSW) holder.
- Advanced Generalist (MSW+ minimum of 2 years non-clinical social work under supervision).
- Clinical (MSW+ minimum of 2 years of direct clinical social work under supervision)
Once you’re set, it’s time for job hunting. We have a couple of tips on finding a job and securing it below:
- Register with job search engines like Career Builder. Engines like Idealist.org are directed towards the social work profession. You can search according to your preferences. Open email alerts, so you get informed.
- Look for local job postings. Check job boards of potential employers in your area, including schools, government agencies, and hospitals.
- You should also consider supporting indie brands, non-profit organizations, organizations that advocate for mental health, among others. You can also practice privately.
- Consider continuing the learning process by attending workshops for nurses, counselors, and other professionals. Retake courses after a few years and keep yourself updated with the developments in society.
- If you do get a job interview opportunity, don’t mention your age a lot and keep your resume short and clear. People over 50 get hired for social work jobs easily.
Becoming a social worker at 50 can be a challenge, especially for those who have kids as pursuing a college degree can drain from finances. Luckily, social work degrees aren’t costly, and scholarships are also provided. The study and job demand physical strength as fieldwork can be tiring. But for those with a true passion for social work, nothing can be a better reward than succeeding in a profession that aims to help humanity.