Education systems rely on school social workers. From administrators and teachers to the students themselves—all groups depend on school social workers for help throughout the school year. A career in school social work may appeal to you if you enjoy interacting with kids and positively impacting the community.
Below, you’ll find general guidelines for how to become a school social worker. This includes details about the school social worker’s job description, salary estimates, job outlook, and more. The following steps will guide you through becoming a school social worker.
Steps for How to Become a School Social Worker
Step 1. Research
Consider your level of commitment to education before becoming a school social worker. There are both undergraduate and graduate programs in social work. When deciding which route to take, consider your career goals and how long you want to commit to spending in school. Research different schools and the programs they offer.
Besides looking at your specialties within this field, consider your career options. You may focus on social work programs for schoolchildren and military members. Regardless of which areas you focus on, ensure you’ll have the opportunities you want in the long term by researching job outlook in your desired area.
Step 2. Complete Undergraduate Education Requirements
You can find jobs in the social work field that are available to those with a bachelor’s degree. However, your career options could be more limited if you only have a bachelor’s degree. You may need a master’s degree in social work if you practice in a clinical capacity. So, it may be beneficial to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW).
Graduate programs will have different undergraduate education requirements. You may not be required to have an undergraduate degree to be eligible to enter a graduate program. Some advanced-standing MSW programs do require a bachelor’s degree. That undergraduate degree could be in business or in a field other than social work, though.
You can complete a graduate program in as little as two years. To be licensed and practice as a social worker, you’ll need to graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Step 3. Research Graduate Education Options
Once you have earned a bachelor’s degree in social work or another field, research your master’s degree options. You can choose from various programs based on your career goals and circumstances.
Both part-time and full-time programs are available for earning your degree. Consider your financial situation and your timeframe. Your decision may be affected by your location, work schedule, and other obligations.
Don’t limit your options to your geographical location. If you can’t move to another state because your job prevents you from attending a university that offers your desired program, you can enroll in an online program.
Step 4. Pursue Accredited MSW Graduate Education
After conducting your research on graduate options, it’s time to join an accredited MSW program. CSWE-accredited programs have been vetted to provide the essential skills social workers need for success. State licensing boards often require students to graduate from CSWE-accredited programs.
As you pursue advanced degree opportunities, you increase your career opportunities. MSWs can practice social work in various settings, including healthcare and nonprofits.
Step 5. Complete the ASWB Examination
The Social Work Licensing examination is required for licensure. You may need to complete the jurisprudence examinations as well. State social work licensing boards may need to approve your registration for the ASWB examination. Contact your state board to determine your region’s examination requirements.
There is an ASWB exam for a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, clinical degree, and advanced generalist degree in social work. Each exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions varying in difficulty and subject matter. Your scope of practice is determined by the type of license you pursue.
Step 6. Apply for Licensure
To begin your career as a licensed social worker, you must complete your state’s educational and examination requirements. Social workers must be licensed to ensure they are qualified and competent. Each state has different certification and licensing requirements.
Below, you’ll find additional information on licensing options, supervision requirements, and continuing education to maintain licensure. Depending on the state’s licensing standards, you’ll face different requirements for each of these. Consider your exam eligibility to determine the path to licensure. Your education and background will determine your eligibility for social work licensure level. Three common licenses include:
- LBSW Licensed Baccalaureate Social Workers must have a bachelor’s degree in social work.
- LCSW Licensed Clinical Social Workers must complete a master’s degree in social work with specific clinical training and coursework.
- LMSW Licensed Master Social Workers must earn a master’s degree in social work prior to licensure.
Step 7. Begin a Career as a Social Worker
Your license allows you to practice after you have received it from your state. Social workers have a wide range of career options and roles.
School social workers have the following career options:
- School social work. School social workers bridge students’ personal and academic lives. Families and schools rely on social workers as liaisons. As a school social worker, you may work closely with special needs students and other children in need. Additionally, the job description often includes participating in behavioral interventions.
- Substance abuse. As a substance abuse social worker, you may act as a liaison. You may work in a rehabilitation center, nonprofit organization, prison, or private practice.
- Medical social work. Medical social workers care for patients in various medical and healthcare settings. You may provide emotional and financial support to patients and their families. Settings include hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes.
- Mental health. These types of social workers help people with mental health issues. You may be required to have an MSW if you choose to take a position in the mental health field. Mental health social workers often provide individual and group therapy. Rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and mental health centers employ mental health social workers.
Step 8. Complete Continuing Education (CE) Requirements
After initial licensure, your jurisdiction may require continuing education units to maintain your license as a social worker. Requirements vary by state. In some states, you must complete a minimum number of hours of continuing education to keep your license. In others, you must complete specific courses. It’s essential to research the continuing education requirements needed to maintain your license. You can find more information about CE requirements from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
What Does a School Social Worker Do?
School social workers provide social, emotional, and learning support to students in both the public and private education realms. They use their education and background to apply human behavior and development theories. School social workers provide skill-building resources and assistance to help students succeed inside and outside the classroom.
The school social worker job description includes helping students with:
- Social skills
- Learning styles and aids
- Mental health
- Behavioral issues
- Coping with crisis
- Developing improvement plans
- Reporting abuse
School social workers may also provide support to school staff after a natural disaster or other tragedy that hits close to home.
School Social Worker Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that social workers are in high demand and job openings are expected to continue to rise over the next decade as existing social workers retire. Governmental budget constraints may impact employment since many schools are taxpayer-funded.
School Social Worker Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average school social worker’s salary is $43,020 as of October 27, 2022. You can expect a salary range of between $38,619 to $48,222. Many factors can affect your salary range, including your education, certifications, skills, and tenure in your field.
School Social Worker Job Outlook
By 2028, employment should increase by 7%, higher than average. Over the next eight years, there will be an increase in job openings. According to the BLS, elementary and secondary schools should see the most upward growth.
School Social Worker Education Requirements
Below are more resources to help you navigate how to become a school social worker.
Your state licensure board may require your social work degree program to be accredited by a specific organization in addition to CSWE. Here are a few of the accreditation organizations that focus on assessing and accrediting universities and colleges:
- Distance Education & Training Council (DETC)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
- Council on Occupational Education (COE)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
A degree and licensure are usually required for school social worker jobs. You may also need to complete supervised work for some programs. On-the-job training may also be required. Internships, while not required, may be available to give you a glimpse into your future career options.
As mentioned above, school social worker licensing requirements vary by state. Check with your local licensing board to determine what you’ll need to become licensed in your state.
Would Continuing My Education Help?
Continuing your education may deem you eligible for higher salaries and more competitive jobs. Furthering your education allows you to learn new skills and develop a deeper understanding of the latest methods.
Pursuing a doctorate in social work is possible with a Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) or a Doctorate in Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work. To advance your career as a social worker, you can pursue a DSW after completing an MSW program. Researchers and academics typically seek a Ph.D.
How Long Do You Have to Go To School to Be a School Social Worker
Social workers train for at least four years before becoming licensed for LBSW in most states. Master’s degrees take one to two years additional. So, it takes between four to six years of schooling to become a school social worker.
School Social Worker Vs. School Counselor
Both school counselors and school social workers share the purpose of assessing the well-being of students during their formative years. Social workers differ slightly from counselors in the depth of their role in students’ lives.
School counselors assist students primarily with academic success and intervene when needed in situations involving personal or social challenges. In contrast, school social workers are trained to look beyond the confines of the classroom to identify broader issues such as family dysfunction, poverty, poor nutrition, homelessness, or neglect and abuse that may impact a student’s academic performance.
School social workers also help to secure additional social services for the school district through local, state, and federal agencies.
Resources for School Social Workers
Additional resources are available from national organizations. These groups help you stay informed about how to become a school social worker:
- American Council for School Social Work: ACSSW promotes the field of school social work.
- School Social Work Association of America: The SSWAA empowers and promotes school social workers.
- National Association of Social Workers: The NASW is the largest social work organization in the world, advocating for social policies and helping members to develop professionally.
- The Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics: This journal aims to keep social workers informed about ethical issues and moral dilemmas.
School Social Worker FAQ
Do you need a master’s degree to be a school social worker?
You may need a master’s degree in social work if you’re looking for a supervisory, clinical, and specialty practice job. You can earn a master’s degree in social work (MSW) after two to four years of graduate studies. Of course, that timeline depends on whether you’re enrolled full-time or part-time.
Is licensure required to become a school social worker?
Not all states require school social workers to be licensed. However, licensure may help you gain employment. Licensure requires completion of a relevant social work degree program. Check your state for specific requirements.
Where do school social workers work?
In a 2019 survey from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), elementary schools use school social workers 51% of the time. School social workers are also employed by colleges for student counseling and health centers.