Looking for a meaningful career that’s packed with action, satisfaction and countless ways to make a difference? Consider social work. Social workers help relieve people’s suffering, fight for social justice and improve lives and communities. You basically get paid to make the world a better place.

Let’s start with the basics – to be a social worker, you must have a degree in social work from an accredited college or university program. The undergraduate degree is the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Graduate degrees include the Master of Social Work (MSW) and the Doctorate in Social Work (DSW) or PhD. Even if you have a bachelor’s degree in another area, you can pursue your MSW.

Degree programs are part classroom study and part practical field experience. With a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, you’ll be qualified for entry-level positions like a mental health assistant, residential counselor or a program coordinator. You’ll need a master’s degree or MSW to become a licensed clinical social worker. This means you can provide one-on-one therapy. With your doctorate, you will gain advanced training in research, supervision and policy analysis. DSWs typically do research or teach at the university level. For information about accredited schools of social work, visit Social Work & You.

Financing Postsecondary Education
There are lots of options for financing your education. Start with the U.S. Department of Education, specifically the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Then make sure you obtain information from multiple private lending institutions. You should also look for scholarships and grants. And don’t forget, there are loan forgiveness programs at both the federal and state levels. In these programs, you agree to work in a high-need area of social work in exchange for loan repayment money in addition to your salary.

Many states require social workers to be licensed, which generally requires you to adhere to a code of ethics or professional conduct. Licensing helps states protect consumers from professional misconduct or malpractice. It also offers greater status and, in many cases, is the only way to get direct payment for your services. Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Visit the state regulatory board directly to learn more about each state’s requirements. Check out the Association of Social Work Boards for a list of social work state licensing agencies or a comparison of state regulations.

Credentials and Certifications
Social Workers can enhance their professional standing by earning NASW credentials and certifications. These programs require you to meet certain criteria and may include additional coursework or training.