Picking a major can be challenging. I remember when I was enrolling in college I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure how to get there. I considered choosing Psychology as my major but was then told about social work and what all I could do as a social worker. In the end, I received both my bachelors and master’s degrees in social work.
What Do Social Workers Do?
First things first, we need to talk about what types of jobs social workers can performs. One of the major reasons I chose social work is the wide variety of jobs that are available to us! We can work with all types of people. This was one of the more exciting things to me when I was deciding what I wanted to do. I loved the idea of having the flexibility of changing my career path and switching which “population” I was working with!
Like I said in the last paragraph, as a social worker you can work with just about anyone you want to- often called “populations” in just about any setting you want. Some common populations include children, adults, geriatric clients, family counseling, couples counseling, people experiencing homelessness, severe mental health disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders, child welfare, and working in schools, jails, or hospitals (OH MY!). This is definitely NOT a comprehensive list by any means but it’s just an example of the many types of people we work with.
What To Expect During Undergrad
One very important thing to note is that some schools have an Advanced Standing program. The program I graduated from had an Advanced Standing program which meant I only had to take three semesters (instead of four) to graduate with my Masters of Social Work (MSW) since I already had my Bachelors of Social Work (BSW). If you are considering pursuing an MSW check to see if your school offers this program and what the specifications are! Typically, you have to graduate with your bachelors in social work as well.
During your undergraduate program, you will begin to learn the basics of social work. You’ll learn listening skills (yes, listening IS a skill), basic theories of counseling, the foundation of social work, case management skills, and an introduction to research.
You’ll also have an internship that is based on case management. This internship is a great way to start practicing your skills that you learned in your classes. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try things during your internship- that’s what it’s for!
What To Expect During Graduate School
Social Work can be split into two tracks- clinical social workers (which is what I am) and social policy and administration (aka SPA) social workers who work on creating and understanding policies. As I mentioned about, check out to see if your school offers an Advanced Standing Program! This saved me time because it only took a year to get my master’s degree (fall, spring, and summer semesters) as opposed to two years (fall and spring semesters). Plus it saves so much money! Grad school is expensive!
If you choose the clinical track, you’ll be learning more in-depth theories and how to use them with your clients. You learn how to assess, diagnose, and treat clients. You’ll also be learning more about working with specific client populations. Make sure you pick electives that are geared towards the populations you’re interested in working with in the future! Sometimes these classes help you realize that you don’t want to work with a certain population or they enforce that you do!
You will also complete an internship for your program. This is clinically based and is a great opportunity to use the more advanced counseling techniques you learn in class!
If you choose the SPA track, you’ll take classes that focus on policies and program evaluations. You’ll also take financial courses and courses to help manage and develop policies for agencies.
You will also be expected to complete an internship using the new skills you gained from the courses you take during your master’s program. This internship will be focused on policy development and other administrative duties.
What are Internships?
You’re expected to complete an internship for both your BSW and MSW program. The BSW internship is generally geared towards case management while your MSW internship will be more clinically focused. Your school will usually team up with programs in the community where you will report to complete an internship. Use your internship to your advantage! This is the BEST time to learn and practice your skills.
Will your internship be scary at first? Probably. And guess what!? THAT’S OKAY! It’s normal! When I first started at my internship I was terrified. I was so worried that I wouldn’t know what to say or do when I was working with a client one-on-one. And don’t even get me started on running groups! I was petrified. But I did it and I survived and I thrived. In the end, I received up getting a job at the same place I had my final internship!
LEARN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!
I cannot stress this enough! Your internship is when you are finally getting the chance to actually help change people’s lives and that’s why we’re here, right!? We’re not here to do the paperwork (ugh) or to make next to no money. We’re here to help and this is your first chance to do just that! How EXCITING!
Ask your supervisors (both your faculty and site supervisors) questions. If you’re stuck, ask for help. If you’re unsure how you did in a certain scenario, ask for direction. That’s why they’re there. I promise they will not think you’re stupid for asking questions! It’s important for your learning!
Is A Degree in Social Work Right for You?
If what I talked about sounds exciting to you then the answer is probably YES! If you are willing to learn and engage with clients and the idea of helping others is something that brings you joy then social work might be the career path for you!
There are so many options within the field so you aren’t stuck in one place if you don’t want to be. You can get a job where you don’t sit at a desk all day or you can start your own private practice where that’s all you do- the choice is yours!
Any questions or comments please don’t hesitate to drop them below!