Map Your Social Work Path: High School To BSW To MSW

shutterstock_116061451Even though you’re still in high school, you may already have a clear vision for your life and are ready to take steps in that direction. You know that you want a meaningful career in social work and you’re ready to embark on that adventure. The good news is that it’s not necessary to wait until you get to college to start working toward your career goals. There are several steps that you can start taking now.

High School

While in high school, it’s important to establish a solid academic background by taking classes that will help build critical thinking skills. English classes, as well as those in math, the natural sciences and the social sciences will help you achieve this goal.

Also, learning foreign languages, especially Spanish, can help open the door to more career opportunities when you complete your degree.

In addition, look around your high school, church, neighborhood and city for opportunities to volunteer so you can develop your helping and service skills, which are a crucial component of social work. However, don’t just limit your opportunities to volunteerism. If you are a working student, consider choosing jobs such as babysitting or retail work to develop your people skills as you learn how to interact with people of all ages.

College five professional foundation areas: 

  • Human behavior and the social environment
  • Social welfare policy and services
  • Research
  • Social work practice and techniques
  • Field placement

Students interested in social work also take courses in psychology, political science, sociology, anthropology and statistics.

Fieldwork or the field practicum may consist of volunteer hours during your sophomore year and a certain amount of internship hours during your junior and senior years. This fieldwork is completed under supervision and may be performed in a variety of settings.

There is an advanced standing option available for students who graduate with a BSW from a school that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This means that if you decide to pursue an MSW, it will only take you one year to complete the program, compared to the two years that it would take someone who graduated with a degree in another major. However, advanced standing status is dependent on certain stipulations (in addition to accreditation by CSWE):

  • You must maintain at least a 3.2 GPA in your undergraduate social work classes (although some schools require a 3.5 GPA in addition to an overall 3.0 GPA).
  • You must begin the MSW program within five years of earning your BSW.
  • Some schools also require two letters of recommendation from a BSW professor or placement supervisor.

During the college years, students may also benefit from continuing their foreign language studies, since this provides a competitive advantage. Speaking Spanish or another language can open doors to working in multicultural environments or even lead to employment opportunities in foreign countries.

It is also a good idea to continue taking advantage of volunteer opportunities while in college, since this helps to develop people skills and can also provide leadership and problem-solving opportunities.

Graduate School

Upon completion of your BSW, you may wonder about the return on investment for pursuing a master’s degree in social work (MSW). One major advantage it provides is the opportunity to become licensed. An MSW is required to take the test to become a certified master social worker./p>

Pursuing an MSW also provides more fieldwork, which in turn, provides opportunities to gain more experience. And this experience can make you more attractive to employers, since they not only want applicants with an educational background in social work, but also candidates who have real world work experience under their belt. And this experience helps you to further hone the skills that you’ve developed and also gain new and in-depth knowledge in various aspects of social work.

An MSW also provides you with more career options. Some of the professions for MSW graduates include social worker, mental health specialist, case manager and parent educator. Other career choices include early childhood specialist, foster care supervisor and family support specialist. And even when you apply for jobs that only require a BSW, employers typically will prefer — and pay more for — candidates with an MSW.

If you are an aspiring social worker, it’s never too early to get started planning your future career. By creating a plan in high school, you’ll set yourself up for greater success and more career opportunities down the road.