Wednesday, December 5, 2012

GUEST POST: So, You Want To Be a Social Worker?

by Lauren Dennelly, MSW, LSW

You’re a promising young 20-something, ready to forge ahead into grad school, or maybe you’re thinking about a second career. And you want to go to school for social work. Sure, you have your reasons--you have a passion for helping people, have some personal experiences that are guiding you toward the field, or you just think social work sounds interesting. Whatever your reasons, here’s a quick Top 5 guide to what you need to know before you dive in:

  1. Social work is HARD work. Self-care is your new best friend. Make sure you save time for it! This article on burnout and self-care from The New Social Worker can help.  Also check out for some helpful resources.
  2. You are NOT in this for the money. Salary varies based on what agency or specialty you choose, but overall, you will not be living the Donald Trump lifestyle. But you knew that already, right? Donald Trump is over rated anyway.
  3. Not all MSW programs are created equal. Take the time to do some research on the course catalogs of various programs--what specialty coursework do they offer? What kinds of internship opportunities are there? What is the program’s reputation in the social work world? It is important that you choose a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and you can find a complete listing of these programs on the CSWE web site.
  4. Choose your field experiences wisely. In this economy, when jobs are hard to come by for new graduates, your internship experiences are increasingly valuable. What have you always been interested in, and what kinds of jobs are out there in that specialty? Look at sites like,, and to see what kinds of positions agencies are posting.
  5.  NETWORK. This process begins while you are in your graduate program and never stops once you leave it. Talk to other people in the field. Is there someone you know (or someone you would like to know) that has your ideal job? Talk to that person and ask how he/she got the position. What experiences does he/she have? Becoming an NASW member can help link you to other professionals in the field. This organization has a whole section on its web site just for students! (

Of course, this list could go on. Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you are thinking of a career in social work is that you will meet some of the most interesting and amazing people, both as co-workers and in your work with clients. On my most trying days, refocusing on the work I do with clients helps to center and remind me of what’s truly important in life--the connections we have with one another.