How Long Does it Take to Become a Social Worker?

One of the first things you might ask yourself if you’re interested in learning the steps to becoming a social worker is, “How long does it take to become a social worker?”

Like any career path, a specific track of education is needed to be a social worker, and this might ultimately influence your decision. We have the answers to some of your most important questions about a degree needed to be a social worker so that you can go into the decision prepared. 

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work?

Whether you want to learn how to become a caseworker or to obtain a clinical social worker degree, you’ll need to follow similar first steps to gain the necessary qualifications. 

The minimum degree needed to become a social worker is a bachelor’s degree, which generally takes four years to complete. Upon completion, you can choose to continue your education with a Master of Social Work, which is usually a two-year program. A master’s degree in social work is the minimum educational requirement for employment in supervisory, clinical, and specialty practice. As part of this master’s degree program, students are often given the option to obtain a social work license for their state. 

If you choose to obtain licensure after you complete college, the process could take several additional months and may require supplementary coursework. Most states require licensure renewal every other year, along with several hours of continuing education.

Accelerated Programs

Learning how to be a social worker in less time can be beneficial for people who have the bandwidth to take on accelerated studies and get a jump-start on their career. If you’re interested in learning how to become a social worker as quickly as possible, you can research accelerated programs in your state.

Some colleges have accelerated Master of Social Work degree programs that you can complete in 12-18 months rather than the typical two years. These programs generally require excellent academic standing with a bachelor’s degree and some relevant work or volunteer experience. 

Degree and Career Outcomes

With a bachelor’s degree in social work, you can have an entry-level career in the field. Social workers with a bachelor’s degree might be eligible for opportunities as a:

  • Case manager
  • Probation officer
  • Rehabilitation caseworker
  • Human services manager
  • Community outreach specialist
  • Adoption counselor
  • Hospice caseworker

If you’re interested in learning how to become a licensed clinical social worker or some other similarly technical role in the field, you’ll very likely need a master’s degree. A Master of Social Work allows social workers to become more involved with health and family-focused issues. Such roles include:

  • Licensed clinical social worker
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Mental health counselor
  • School counselor
  • Children and family case managers

Given the greater level of specificity it affords, obtaining a Master of Social Work can be beneficial for graduates who have a well-defined area or demographic they’re particularly interested in targeting.

How many years of college to become a social worker depends on your chosen path. Many people can begin working in the field after they obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree or an equivalent accelerated program. Others might choose to continue with a master’s degree to obtain licensure, which usually adds two years of schooling but which also provides enhanced career opportunities.