Times Higher Education once asked an intriguing question to college students – when should they start thinking about their careers? It then proceeded to answer that question by stating that students must start planning when taking their college or university courses. While planning a career right before the start of one’s college life is vital, there’s more to career planning than just that. Now, what if someone wants to pursue a career as a social worker? What should they do? According to the National Association of Social Workers, the US has over 700,000 social workers. If you, as a college student, want to become a social worker yourself, you must ensure and maintain a few things, and in this article, we’ll share a few tips that will help you do just that.
1. Choose a Relevant Major and Coursework
Do you really need a master’s for social work? The answer is yes. You should consider getting a Master’s degree in social work if you want to pursue a professional career as a social worker. While a specific undergraduate major isn’t always required to enter a Master of Social Work (MSW) program, it can be advantageous to select a field of study that aligns with social work. Majors such as psychology, sociology, human services, or social work itself can provide a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that will benefit you in your future career. According to Florida State University, an MSW degree can also help you pursue a license in clinical social work. Additionally, taking courses related to social work, such as human behavior, social policy, and diversity, will help you develop a deeper understanding of the issues you’ll encounter in the field. All this will not be possible without an MSW degree.
2. Commit to Internships or Volunteer Work
Internships and volunteer work are always good ways to gain practical experience in any field of work. Social work is no exception to this. Do your best to seek out internship and volunteer opportunities at various advocacy groups, community organizations, and social service agencies. These experiences will not only allow you to apply the knowledge you’ve gained in the classroom but also provide valuable networking opportunities and help you develop essential skills such as empathy, active listening, and problem-solving.
3. Develop Effective Communication and Interpersonal Skills
As a social worker, effective communication and interpersonal skills are vital. You’ll be working closely with individuals from diverse backgrounds and facing various challenges. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop strong listening and communication skills. Practice active listening, empathy, and non-judgmental attitudes in your everyday interactions. Take courses or workshops that focus on communication techniques, conflict resolution, and cultural sensitivity. These skills will enable you to build trust and rapport with clients, collaborate with colleagues, and advocate for the needs of those you serve.
4. Seek Mentors and Join Professional Associations
Building a network of mentors and joining professional associations can be invaluable for your career development. Seek out experienced social workers who can guide and support you as you navigate your educational and professional journey. They can provide advice, share their experiences, and offer insights into the field. Besides, joining professional associations, such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), can connect you with a broader community of social workers and provide access to resources, conferences, and continuing education opportunities.
5. Prioritize Self-Care and Emotional Resilience
There’s no doubt that working for society can be emotionally challenging and demanding. That’s why it’s essential to prioritize self-care and develop emotional resilience to prevent burnout and maintain your well-being.In your busy internship or volunteering schedules, don’t forget to exercise, meditate, and engage in your other hobbies. Practicing self-care in such a manner is a must for any aspiring social worker. Always take breaks and set boundaries to ensure a healthy work-life balance. Seek support from supervisors, mentors, or peers when needed. Developing a strong support system and maintaining your own mental and emotional health will enable you to provide the best care and support to your clients.
According to Salary.com, the average salary of a social worker in the United States is around $70,572. Compared to many other job fields like banking, medicine, and engineering, this salary may seem small. However, no full-time social worker is in their line of work only for money. There’s more to this life that continuously works for the greater good of society. Life as a social worker can feel rewarding and fulfilling. It gives you the opportunity to make a positive impact on societies and the various individuals, families, and communities within them. If you’re a college student interested in pursuing a career in social work, these tips will help you achieve your dreams in the most efficient and planned way possible.