Monday, July 8, 2013

Want To Be a Professional Social Worker? Make Sure Your Graduate Program Is CSWE-Accredited

I was just reading a discussion on a social media site that concerned me a great deal. The gist of the discussion was as follows:  "I just received my master's degree in human services, and I was turned down by the state social work licensing board. They said I have to have a master's degree that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education! But I have a master's degree, and I would make a great social worker."

Yes, original poster (OP), you do have a master's degree. And it may very well be that you received training in topics similar to those taught in an accredited social work program, and that you would be an excellent social worker. But your master's is not in social work, and it is not accredited by the social work education accrediting body, and therefore, you do not qualify to be licensed as a social worker.

There are several reasons this can happen. Among them:

  1. Potential social work students do not have the information they need. They simply do not know to look for a program that is CSWE-accredited, or to find out from their state social work licensing boards what is required to be licensed and/or to practice social work in the state. Therefore, they may think that a program that "sounds like" social work IS social work. They only find out later (as in the above example) that this is not the case.
  2. Schools are misleading potential students. There are schools that advertise on the Internet (and otherwise) that they offer "social work" programs. On further inspection, they in fact are not offering social work programs. These programs may have names like human services, social services, or something else related to the work social workers do. The education one receives in these programs may be good (or not), but the fact remains that they are not social work programs and will not provide one with the qualifications to be licensed in social work or to practice social work in states with practice protection.
The fact is that, as a future social worker, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you know what you need to know to become a professional social worker.

In EVERY state in the U.S., you MUST have a Council on Social Work Education accredited degree to become licensed as a social worker. (There are exceptions for people with foreign social work degrees that have been evaluated and determined to be equivalent to a CSWE-accredited degree.)  

So, if you are looking at MSW programs right now, make sure the program you are considering is a CSWE-accredited program. If it is not, move on to another program, or go into it with the awareness that you will be receiving something other than a social work degree. (Some programs are "in candidacy" to become accredited. If this is the case, ask when they expect to be accredited, and ask yourself if you are willing to take the chance that they will indeed be accredited before you get your degree.)

I cannot stress this enough. Ask questions! If you see an ad on this or any other site (or on a billboard, in a newspaper, magazine, or anywhere else) claiming to offer a social work degree program, check it out thoroughly and ask whether it is accredited by CSWE and whether it will give you the credentials needed to be licensed in your state (or the state where you wish to practice social work, if that is your goal). Some schools will say they are accredited--make sure they are accredited by CSWE.

If you are currently in a master's program and you don't know if it is accredited by CSWE, and your goal is to practice professional social work, ask!

This previous post explains these issues further.

It is distressing to know that some students, for whatever reason, don't know that this is an issue until they are already in a program, or worse, have already completed a degree. It is more troublesome when some schools purposely deceive students into thinking that they are receiving social work degrees when they are not.

In the example above, upon further inspection, the OP's school stated right up front on its website that the program was not for people who wanted to become licensed, and this was not billed as a social work degree. And the OP admitted that s/he had not done the necessary research.

Before you go back to school, don't forget to do your homework!

For more information, see:

Council on Social Work Education:
Association of Social Work Boards:

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