You may be considering a career in social work because of your desire to help others and make the world a better place. Or perhaps you want to engage in advocacy and social activism. If so, a degree in social work may be right for you. But as you research graduate programs, you may want to learn more about the professional requirements for becoming a licensed social worker, and what’s involved in earning a degree.
Like medicine and law, the social work profession is regulated. Most employers require that Master of Social Work (MSW) graduates be licensed to practice. To be eligible for licensure, students need to meet the graduation requirements of an accredited graduate program.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the accrediting agency providing oversight of all social work programs. To ensure a national standard of knowledge and skills, it mandates a curriculum of 10 core competencies of social work practice and behaviors. Every accredited CSWE program includes this foundational course of study, which is covered both in the classroom and in the fieldwork experience.
Although publications like US News & World Report rank MSW programs (the MSW rankings rely on sparse criteria and are of limited use), it’s important to note this universality of study. This means that a high quality education can be found at any accredited school, regardless of its spot in the rankings.
These "competencies" designate areas of social work practice that define the profession, and delineate practice objectives. You will note that these competencies relate to topics such as ethics as well as mission. For example, the third competency is that social workers have a duty to advance human rights and socio-economic justice. If you are motivated to make a difference in the world, you have found the right profession.
In addition to ensuring standards of practice across all accredited CSWE schools, these core competencies help social workers better understand their role and have a greater impact. Finally, these standards legitimize social work as a data-driven and knowledge-based profession.
Though all accredited institutions follow the core competencies, each social work school has its own interpretation. You will need to do your homework and research the individual programs to which you are applying.
Many people enter the social work profession wanting to help others. But the notion of helping is vague and undefined. And there are many "helping"-related professions, such as nursing and teaching. What differentiates social workers from other helping professionals? What differentiates social worker from psychologists?
These social worker competencies draw a circle around the profession. These ten principles say, this is what social work entails.
This list is extremely important to social work study and practice. Having a mandated focus structures the idea of "help" for social workers. It allows social workers to go out in the community and have the significant, targeted impact they trained for.