Social work is a growth industry. As America’s baby boomer generation morphs into the retirement generation, social workers specializing in the field of gerontology will find a social work degree a valuable asset. Additionally, there is always a large client base of people seeking help with substance abuse or family issues. Social work is not for everyone as it requires compassion, empathy and patience. However, those who possess these traits will find social work to be a fulfilling profession.

Acquiring a social work diploma, while it takes a considerable amount of time, does not carry the rigors of some degree programs. Most colleges and universities offer social work degrees for full-time, part-time, and even online students. A bachelor’s degree is required, and a master’s degree (MSW) is increasingly preferred by state agencies and private employers. Although government-funded agencies in rural or isolated areas sometimes hire an individual with a bachelor’s degree, this is becoming the exception rather than the rule. To engage in any type of advanced clinical work, an individual needs an RSU.

As a general rule, the minimum criteria for receiving a social work diploma, and the designation of a Bachelor of Social Work, is the successful completion of 120 credit hours of coursework. Sixty credit hours must be earned through required core courses and fieldwork. The additional hours required will be in the form of electives. The most common options include education on family violence and child welfare, substance abuse, minority issues, statistics, criminology, and any number of psychology and public administration options.

Earning a social work diploma and a bachelor’s degree in social work requires a four-year program. Those who wish to earn an MSW can look forward to another two years of advanced study, consisting of an additional 60 credit hours. Those seeking an RSU will typically need to spend a good portion of their time working under the auspices of an accredited government agency, hospital, or private institution specializing in social work. Working in a clinical setting is crucial, and often the student seeking MSW must log 500-1,000 hours of hands-on experience before graduation.

All states in the United States require social workers to be licensed, and as usual, standards vary by location. There are many different forms of specialized accreditation, established in large part by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The most basic position and one of the most sought after is that of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

To receive a social work diploma and an LCSW, one must complete a master’s program. Typically, an LCSW has also completed approximately 3,000 hours of graduate and supervised field experience. This is usually completed in two years. It should be noted, however, that such postgraduate work is usually obtained in a paid position.

Although program, course, and licensing requirements vary in countries outside of the United States, the basic steps to earning a social work degree are similar. Generally speaking, one must complete undergraduate work, graduate study, and gain supervised experience. Government boards, such as the General Social Care Council (GSSC) in the UK, administer examinations and issue licences. However, virtually every country determines its own details and sets license fees for certification.