So you’re about to graduate college, and you’re considering social work. Congrats! It’s a noble and necessary calling. But you need a plan.

Depending on the kind of work you want to do, you might need a master’s degree or even a doctorate. There are plenty of success stories among the people who pursue such a career with or without graduate degrees. But whether or not you need a graduate degree and when to pursue one will depend to an extent on the sort of social work that you want to do. You’re not a social work expert (yet), so let’s get a little insight that can help you on your way.

Clinical vs. non-clinical

First and foremost, it’s important to understand the difference between clinical and non-clinical social work. Clinical social workers are licensed to deal with behavioral and mental health issues, and deal with some of the same problems as psychologists (there are still important differences, of course, including the way in which social worker take a societal perspective in working with their clients). Clinical social workers may work in private practices or with mental health professionals of other types as part of a larger group. Non-clinical social work is more likely to involve administrative and coordination tasks. Such social workers usually work as part of larger organizations, often on-site at institutions that need their help.

Of the two disciplines, clinical social work generally requires more education, training, and certification. If you’re interested in that sort of work, you’re going to need to be looking at doctorate and master’s degree programs. Fortunately, you have a lot of options for doing that–provided, of course, you earn admission! You could choose to head to graduate school full-time after you graduate, or you could wait. You could also choose to attend school part-time to earn an online social work degree.

Talk to professionals in the field

Which is right for you? Again, that depends on your career path–as well as your personal preferences. One classic piece of advice that applies to all future professionals will be of particular help to you here: speak to people who already have the jobs you might want. A little bit of networking can go a long way in any line of work. You’ll gain insights about how they got to where you want to be, and you  can use that information to inform your decisions. Remember as well that there is always more than one path to success, and that you should try to chart a path that gives you the best chance to succeed given your own skills and preferences. Good luck!


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