Social work is a very in-demand profession with a lot of room for advancement. Over the coming decade, there is going to be a steep rise in the need for social workers throughout the country. If you enjoy working with people and want a job that allows you to help others lead a better life, now is a great time to train to be a social worker. There are numerous online programs available for aspiring social workers. In this article, we look at how social work students can be successful in their online learning.
Create a great study space
It is important to have a place to study that is designed to help you relax and concentrate. It could be as simple as setting up a space in a corner of a room that no one else frequents at times. If you have a family, then a room with a door may be preferable so that you can have some privacy to study without distraction. A door makes it less likely that you will be disturbed by minor things or distracted by the everyday comings and goings.
Some people find that switching study spaces occasionally throughout longer study sessions can be helpful. Mixing up where you study from day to day might mean going to the library or a coffee shop, depending on the atmosphere you are most comfortable with at the time.
Consider a virtual study group
Just because you are earning your degree online doesn’t mean that you cannot have a great study group! Thanks to conferencing software such as Zoom and Google Meet, it is easy to create a virtual study group regardless of where everyone is located.
Studying in a group can be a pleasant change from individual study sessions, especially for important tests. Study groups are also great for those who find it hard concentrating on their own at times or want to discuss concepts with a lot of different people.
Even if some of your peers are close to your location, virtual groups can work a lot better for people who are juggling busy schedules or can only study at odd hours.
Set a consistent schedule
Online degree programs are designed to allow for ultimate flexibility so that working individuals can pursue their career goals. At the same time, setting a consistent schedule can help you meet your instruction and studying goals. For example, you might decide that a few hours after dinner is the best time slot for you and your family. Perhaps you learn better in the morning hours? If you have a time of the day when you feel that you learn the best and have some free time, then that is going to be best.
Of course, there are times when unforeseen things may come up and you need to change your schedule, and that is perfectly fine. Online degree programs mean that you don’t have to worry if you have to adjust your schedule when needed. Just try to stick to a regular schedule whenever you can.
Actively engage in discussions
Online forums and live discussion times should be utilized whenever you can. Discussing materials helps with your critical thinking skills and allows you and your fellow students to go into topics in greater depth. Having many different opinions from people of varying backgrounds will help you to be a better social worker because you will have experienced insights into situations from many perspectives.
Engaging in forum discussions allows you to practice your written communication skills. This is important in the workplace. Many communications are done via email, text message or formal letter, so you need a lot of practice explaining things in a clear and concise way.
Being organized is not only important for school but also for your future job as a social worker. Improving your organizational skills now will make it a lot easier for you to be a good social worker later on.
Keeping a planner of all your obligations and prioritizing them will allow you to have a good balance between your work, online classes, family and social life. Online planners and reminders are helpful and easy to use, because you can access them from whatever device you happen to be using at the time and everything updates and syncs automatically.
If you are having trouble staying organized, it is important to take the time to make immediate changes before it starts to affect everything you are trying to do.
Use the resources you have available
There are so many online students who do not understand just how many fantastic resources they have to help them study, stay focused and be supported throughout their degree program.
As a student at any university, you are entitled to access the electronic resources of its library. These resources are invaluable when conducting research because you can access them anywhere. Electronic resources offer easy-to-use searches, and you can bookmark or save information as you find what you need for projects.
Writing centers are an often-overlooked resource that colleges have available. This allows you to have someone who is experienced at writing and editing look over the papers or any written language you use in a presentation or project. A second opinion enables you to improve your work, and over time you will get better and better at producing quality work the first time you put pen to paper!
Take advantage of mentoring and virtual office hours
Your professors are there to help you succeed. Even though you are completing your degree online, your professors will be available to you at times to discuss any topics you need clarified or to give you advice on anything related to your educational experience and beyond. Meeting with them via video conferencing is an option, of course. Phone conversations are another option.
Career-related questions and support are part of their job. If you are not sure where you want to go with your career, they can provide some things to consider when you’re making that decision. You can also learn from their own experiences in the social work profession.
Network when possible
Networking with other social work students and practicing social workers is a great idea. You can do this online via platforms such as LinkedIn or via discussion forums and chat areas for your degree program. Conferences and online seminars are a good method of supplementing your educational experience and making the most of your time.
Finding nonprofits and agencies you can volunteer with can provide you with valuable social work experience that you can add to your resume. This is a great opportunity to get involved with causes that you are passionate about. Volunteering at many different places throughout your degree program can help you make the decision about what type of social worker you want to be.
As all social workers must complete a field placement, volunteering allows you to explore the types of environments and groups that might be open to you when completing your placement.
Volunteering is one of the best ways to increase your cultural awareness. As more areas experience increasing diversity, there will be a need for social workers who can help people learn to work together and appreciate each other’s differences at the same time.
Study in small periods of time and then take a break
It is important to take breaks when you are studying. Trying to study for too long at once is not as effective as studying for, say, 45 minutes and then taking a 15-minute break. This gives your brain time to rest, recover and process the information you are studying.
Staying hydrated and eating a snack can help your brain perform better than if you try to cram too much information in without taking care of yourself.
Allow time for socializing and fun when studying
Earning an online degree takes time and dedication, but it is important to reward yourself with time to socialize or take part in a hobby you enjoy. Taking care of your mental health is important at all times. If you don’t take good care of yourself, then it is hard to offer others the required level of care and compassion.
Scheduling some downtime is a great way to make sure that you actually do it and that you don’t put it off to do more work.
Help your family and friends be on board with what you are doing
It is a good idea to let family and friends know what you are doing. This can prevent misunderstandings and hurt feelings when you cannot find the time to do something they would like you to do.
Friends and family may be willing to help you out sometimes when you’re busy – for instance, they could provide childcare for a few hours.
Supportive family and friends can help encourage you and provide support throughout your education and field placement.
Is social work right for you?
Social work can be a great career if you are a people person. While there are challenges – as there are with any job – it is a rewarding and satisfying profession that offers a lot of flexibility.
Social workers work in many different locations and facility types
Many people are only familiar with social workers who work with government departments, but these professionals can be found at facilities ranging from schools and universities to the judicial system, corrections, treatment centers, health clinics, and a range of nonprofit agencies working toward helping people in just about any social situation you can imagine.
If you want to travel, there are opportunities for social workers who wish to work internationally. Relocating to a different state or city can also help you land the exact position you want. Throughout the course of your career, you may want to experience doing different types of social work in various locations.
How do I become a social worker?
Most social work positions require a master’s degree. Different states have varying requirements for what is needed to gain a social work license after graduation. For example, if you are considering an MSW online program in California, you should look at programs such as the Master of Social Work from the University of Florida. This university offers an MSW program that can be completed in just two years with one field placement if you have a Bachelor’s in Social Work or a related field. If you don’t have a prior social work-related degree, don’t worry. Those with a bachelor’s degree in any other field can complete the program online in just three years with two field placements.
Those who are not in the advanced standing program do have to travel and spend two weekends in Tallahassee, Florida to complete their degree. Of course, both programs require field work, but this can be done within commuting distance of your home in most cases.
Remember that this program can be completed on a part-time basis, meaning that you can keep your current job or take on a social work-related internship!
Social workers need to be able to pass a background check
Due to the nature of the job, you must be able to pass a criminal background check to be a licensed social worker. Not all offenses automatically bar you from being a social worker, but it is important to check with your state to see what is acceptable and what is not before starting any degree program. The state of California also requires social workers to be fingerprinted.
Licensed clinical social worker
Becoming a licensed clinical social worker takes more time and has more requirements than a typical social worker license, but it unlocks a lot more opportunities. For example, a licensed clinical social worker can offer counseling services in a mental health facility or clinic. To be allowed to do this independently in California after graduation, you must complete at least 3,000 hours of clinical counseling over at least 104 weeks. These positions are paid, but you are working under a licensed counselor and are supervised to an extent.
Clinical social workers are different from psychiatrists because they do not hold a medical degree and typically only offer short to mid-length therapy and counseling. More serious or chronic mental health issues are assigned to a psychiatrist or psychologist who has more authority to use different types of treatments, including medications.
Clinical social workers are often called in when there are emergencies or crises in an area. They may also work at private clinics and practices.
The demand for mental health services will continue to rise
There is far more demand for counseling and mental health services than there are people to provide them. Disadvantaged individuals in need of mental health care often go without the support they require to recover or learn to cope with a chronic mental condition that is undiagnosed or at least left untreated.
The opioid epidemic in particular has led to a rise in the number of people who need counseling and support to kick their habit and make positive life changes.
Those experiencing homelessness require access to resources to help them get housing. In many cases, they need mental health support to help them deal with challenges and assistance while finding jobs. Counseling can increase the odds that those facing challenging times can make permanent changes.
Diversity is a positive thing, but with it can come misunderstandings and conflicts that can be avoided with the right dialogue and encouragement. Also, sometimes those from diverse backgrounds have a hard time trusting any help that might be available to them. Social workers can help build bridges and show how much we have in common with each other despite some differences.
The changing face of education
Online learning has changed the face of education. No longer are students limited to courses that are available within driving distance. In addition, more people can achieve their career goals or have the freedom to switch careers because they can earn a degree on a schedule that works around the other obligations in their lives.