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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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The Social Work Profession: Careers, Specialties, and Fields of Practice


An attraction and a challenge of the profession of social work is the variety of jobs and roles available. Social work education builds upon a core of knowledge, skills and values derived from the social work generalist practice model, which are articulated in our mission statement and program objectives, and correspond to the requirements of the profession as articulated by the National Association of Social Workers and the Council on Social Work Education. In addition to their generalist or advanced generalist preparation, there are many topics within the BSSW and MSW programs that students may want to study more deeply in order to practice most effectively. Specific social work coursework will help prepare students for a particular practice setting, for field education and eventual employment. Additional preparation may be desirable for competitive employment or certification in a student’s field of choice. This section of our web page addresses Minnesota State Mankato social work courses, relevant courses from other departments at the university, and other opportunities available for more complete preparation to practice in a variety of specific settings or to go on for graduate education.


The variety of jobs open to social workers, and the variety of settings in which our alumnae are working, make it difficult to organize a simple list of career possibilities, field placement options, or volunteer opportunities. This addresses six different client systems, a category called “other”, and considerations for graduate study in social work. Note that in each case the student is building upon the generalist knowledge, skills, and values of Minnesota State Mankato’s accredited baccalaureate (BSSW) or masters social work (MSW) program.

Students and prospective students should also visit websites such as those of the National Association of Social Workers and the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook to additional career related information.

Elective courses offered by the Department of Social Work are listed below within the context of specific practice areas. Additionally, courses from other departments that may be useful for student’s preparing to practice in specific settings or with particular populations are also listed. Many of the courses listed in each section are at the 300-400 level and may have prerequisites. Additionally, courses that focus on the student’s knowledge and appreciation for diverse populations are highly recommended. With the increasing diversification of Minnesota and the country as a whole, social workers WILL work with diverse populations during their careers. See the current on-line Undergraduate Bulletin for details regarding specific departments, courses, and scheduling.

Students in the Social Work major should also seek volunteer or paid learning experiences to test their interest in social work and human services and to develop knowledge, skills and values for practice. Recommended types of volunteer opportunities are listed along with recommended courses in each interest area. Additionally, volunteer experiences with people who are low income and have economic challenges and other populations-at-risk are listed at the end of the brochure. Consult with your advisor, with campus offices such as the Student Leadership Development, Service Learning, and Career Planning offices, and use public directories and internet searches to find specific opportunities.

Due to ongoing catalog changes students should always check with the current bulletin/cataglog and with specific academic departments to determine availability of courses. Some courses are offered one time per year while others are offered more or less frequently. Efforts are made to update the information here, but it may, in some cases contain outdated course numbers. Note also that many 400 level courses are dual-listed at the 500 level and may be taken for graduate credit.

The Child & Family Welfare System

Child welfare professionals work in a variety of settings (including private, non-profit agencies) but primarily for county social services. They work as child protection specialists, including intake, case management, and ongoing services; as alternative service workers providing case management and resource and referral services; as foster care workers doing recruitment, licensing, placement and services; as adoption workers doing recruitment, placement and services; and in related areas such as daycare licensing; and as liaisons to other agencies such as schools.

The Department of Social Work has a Title IV-E Child Welfare Stipend Program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Through this program, there is the opportunity for stipends to support students who are interested in public child welfare as a career. Significant commitment during the educational program and post-graduation is required to participate in this opportunity and admission is competitive. Please see additional information under "Child Welfare" on our website.

Social Work Electives

SOWK 415 Child & Family Welfare Services focuses on social services designed to facilitate child development and family functioning. Students hoping to do a senior practicum in child welfare should complete this course prior to beginning the practicum.

SOWK 427 Social Work and Domestic Violence - focuses on the rationale for and the application of a variety of intervention strategies for the prevention of and response to domestic violence. The course reviews theories, myths and statistics about DV including impacts across cultures, on people with disabilities, and on children and the elderly.

Other Electives

Supportive course offerings in other departments are those that focus on the following essential knowledge components:

  • Theories of normal and abnormal child development; and, methods of parenting and factors which affect parents' abilities to rear children;
  • Cultural, ethnic, regional, and economic factors that affect family life and child rearing; family dynamics; changes in family roles and parenting styles as children move from infancy to independence;
  • The indicators of and interrelationships among physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect; the impact of socio-economic stress on family functioning;
  • Legal procedures and evidence issues; and other systems that play a supportive role in child welfare (financial programs, daycare, parent training, law enforcement, public health, family and juvenile court, etc.).

The following are suggestions and do not represent an exhaustive list of relevant courses. Students should consider taking one or more of the following:

  • HLTH 311 Family Life & Sex Education
  • SOC 208 Courtship, Marriage and the Family
  • SOC 408 Family Life Dynamics
  • SOC 470 Sociology of Parent-Child Interaction
  • FCS 401 Family Life Development
  • FCS 400 Culturally Diverse Family Systems
  • LAWE 332 Police Juvenile Justice Procedures
  • CORR 106 Introduction to Criminal Justice Systems
  • PSYC 433 Child Psychology
  • PSYC 436 Adolescent Psychology
  • SPED 408 Individuals with Diverse & Exceptional Needs
  • GSW 220 Global Perspectives on Women and Change
  • ETHN 480 Social Justice in Ethnicity and Gender
  • HLTH 225 Introduction to Alcohol and Drug Studies
  • CORR 452 Victimology
  • ENG 271/271 (W) Technical Communication
  • CMST 102 - Public Speaking

Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Child Welfare

  • Big Brother/Big Sister Programs
  • YWCA/YMCA Programs
  • HeadStart
  • day care centers, early childhood family education programs
  • Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, CampFire Programs
  • guardian ad litem programs
  • parent aide programs
  • group homes
  • camps
  • battered women's shelters
  • state, county, or private child welfare programs

Law Enforcement, Corrections, & Justice Systems

Social work has a long history of involvement in both the youth and adult correctional and judicial systems and a developing role in law enforcement. Social workers have roles from direct service such as probation and parole workers, staffing group homes and other treatment programs, through administration of various correctional settings. Social workers also are developing roles as victim advocates, community service workers, and liaisons within the law enforcement system. As a service provider, workers may use skills in assessment, case management, family intervention, group facilitation, and program development. Social Work majors interested in working in these fields should strongly consider a double major or a minor in corrections (no minor is available in law enforcement). Students completing the double major should expect to do separate senior field work for each department. This extra experience could be a major asset for career preparation. These fields can be explored through the Department of Sociology and Corrections and the Department of Political Science/Law Enforcement, respectively.

Other Electives

There are many possible electives in these departments that will help the student to understand the goals, objectives, and processes in the field of criminal justice, policing, and corrections. Social workers interested in these fields, but not intending to take a major or minor, should take at least one or more of the following courses:

  • CORR 106 Introduction to Criminal Justice Systems
  • CORR 255 Juvenile Delinquency
  • CORR 300 Foundations and Orientation to Corrections
  • CORR 447 Community Corrections
  • LAWE 131 Introduction to Law Enforcement
  • LAWE 232 Victims/Survivors: Police Response
  • LAWE 335 Police and Community Relations

Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Corrections

  • community corrections
  • jail volunteer programs
  • domestic violence shelters & advocacy services
  • sexual assault services
  • victim assistance programs
  • group homes, alternative high schools, & day treatment programs

The Health Care Systems

Social work in the health care services system includes hospitals, clinics, home health care, public health, hospice, mental health centers, chemical dependency treatment programs, nursing homes, and rehabilitation settings with children, adolescents, and adults. Within each of the service systems, medical social work tasks may include admitting clients to units of a hospital or care center, assessment of the person and their support systems, supportive services to the client and family, advocacy on behalf of the client, acting as liaison with the family for information sharing, and discharge planning including making referrals for continued care and services. Services to the elderly will be covered in the next section of this booklet.

Hospital social workers offer similar services to a diverse population in terms of age, medical conditions, level of need, and with limited time for interventions. Hospital social work offers fewer job opportunities primarily because most non-rural hospitals recruit social workers at the MSW level (although field placements are often available). Hospice opportunities may also exist within a hospital setting.

Mental health social work positions at the BSSW level may have job titles of 'mental health technician,' 'mental health practitioner', or 'case manager' and usually provide services to persons with severe and persistent mental disorders. BSSW graduates are not prepared academically to perform psychotherapy and students interested in being in a direct practice counseling or therapy role should plan to pursue graduate education (MSW or a PhD in psychology) in clinical practice.

Chemical dependency social work opportunities exist in group homes, out-patient clinics, and treatment centers for youth and adults, with families and individuals. Clients with issues of chemical dependency are present in most settings in which social workers practice. In the state of Minnesota, people with BSSW or MSW degrees may be able to work in substance abuse treatment and alcohol and drug counseling settings with additional alcohol and drug counseling coursework without directly obtaining a LADC (licensed alcohol and drug counseling). This is is licensced through the MN Board of Behavioral Health and Therapy (URL

Social Work Department Electives

SOWK 425 Social Work in Health Care Settings - focuses on service delivery issues and skills for working in hospitals, nursing homes, and community programs. This course includes a focus on physical and mental health settings. Students hoping to do a senior practicum in a health-related setting should complete this course prior to beginning the practicum.

SOWK 419 Social Work and Aging - focuses on issues, resources, and processes in working with the elderly and their families in the social service system. Students hoping to do a senior practicum in an agency that provides services to this population should complete this course prior to beginning the practicum.

SOWK 422 Social Work and Chemical Dependency - addresses chemical dependency and addiction from a strengths-based, harm-reduction perspective. Included are investigations into theories associated with addiction, political issues regarding CD, and service delivery challenges.

Other Electives and Volunteer Learning Opportunities (by service area)


While many courses would be of some value to the social worker, at a minimum the students should consider one or more of the following:

  • HLTH 240 Drug Education
  • HLTH 321 Medical Terminology
  • HLTH 315 Holistic Health and Wellness
  • HLTH 361 Health Communication & Advocacy
  • HLTH 441 Death Education
  • HLTH 465 Health Care Delivery in the United States
  • PHIL 222 Medical Ethics
  • SOC Medical Sociology
Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Health Care Systems
  • hospitals
  • long term care centers, hospice, nursing homes
  • AIDS programs
  • women's, infants, children nutrition program (WIC)
  • early and periodic diagnostic, screening, treatment program (EPDST)
  • reproductive health agencies
  • American Cancer Society
  • American Red Cross
  • American Heart Association

Mental Health:

Students interested in working with people who mental illnesses, may want to consider a minor in psychology, to take as many of the courses in that program as possible. While many courses would be of some value to the social worker, at a minimum the students should consider one or more of the following:

  • SPED 407 Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports
  • SPED 448W Behavioral Management & Learning Enviroments for Diverse Learners
  • PSYC 240 Personal Adjustment
  • PSYC 455 Abnormal Psychology
  • REHB 110 Sensitivity to Disability
  • HLTH 469 Chemical Dependency: Dual Diagnosis
Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Mental Health
  • crisis lines
  • drop-in centers
  • mental health club houses
  • halfway houses
  • regional treatment centers volunteer programs
  • advocacy organizations (Alliance for the Mentally Ill)

Chemical Dependency/Substance Abuse:

Students interested in chemical dependency/substance abuse may want to consider a minor in Alcohol and Drug Studies offered in Health Sciences, or may want to take as many of the courses in that program as possible. Students should consider preparing to be certified as a chemical dependency counselor. Rule 25 certification (that allows one to conduct chemical dependency evaluations and make recommendations) is supported by some of the courses.

While many courses would be of some value to the social worker, at a minimum the students should consider one or more of the following:

  • CSP 470 Group Procedures
  • CSP 473 Counseling the Chemically Dependent Family
  • HLTH 225 Introduction to Alcohol and Drug Studies
  • HLTH 240 Drug Education
  • HLTH 456 Assessment & Diagnosis of Substance Use Disorders
  • HLTH 469 Co-Occurring Disorders
  • PSYC 420 Drugs and Behavior
  • SOC 465 Law and Chemical Dependency
Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Chemical Dependency
  • drug awareness/education/prevention programs
  • detoxification centers
  • substance abuse treatment centers
  • halfway houses

Systems Supporting the Elderly

Social work with the elderly offers opportunities in county social work, senior centers, retirement centers, senior housing, area agencies on aging, and community action programs that address the needs of an aging population. Mental health, substance misuse, and rehabilitation may also be services required by this population. Within each of the service systems, tasks may include assessing needs of the client to maintain independence, supportive services both in homes, centers, and facilties, advocacy for individual needs, advocacy for changes in policy, case management for services to clients at home and in facilities, discharge planning to home or other levels of care, admitting clients to facilities, administration of agencies or programs within agencies, grant writing to increase the level of services to clients, program coordination within agencies. The changing United States population demographics has created an increasing need for social workers with expertise in gerontology.

Social Work Department Electives

SOWK 419 - Social Work and Aging - focuses on issues, resources, and processes in working with the elderly, families, and communities in the social service system. Students hoping to do a senior practicum in an agency that provides services to this population should complete this course prior to beginning the practicum.

SOWK 425 - Social Work in Health Care Settings - focus on service delivery issues and skills for working in hospitals, nursing homes, and community programs. This course includes a focus on physical and mental health settings.

Other Electives

Students interested in working with the elderly population may want to consider a minor in Gerontology, or to take as many of the courses from that program as possible. Also, the university offers courses which can be used to meet the educational requirements for State of Minnesota licensure as a Nursing Home Administrator; students interested in this package of gerontology and business coursework, including a practicum in long term care administration, must consult with the director of the Aging Studies Program. Visit the Gerontology website for more information regarding both of these opportunities.

While all of these courses would be of some value to the social worker, at a minimum students should consider one or more of the following:

  • GERO 200 - Aging: Interdisciplinary Perspectives
  • HLTH 321 - Medical Terminology
  • HLTH 315 - Holistic Health and Wellness
  • HLTH 441 - Death Education
  • HLTH 455 - Health and Aging
  • HLTH 465 - Health Care Delivery in the United States
  • PHIL 222 - Medical Ethics
  • POL 464 - Aging: Policy Issues
  • PSYC 466 - Psychology of Aging
  • SOC 404 - Sociology of Aging
  • SOC 405 - Sociology of Death

Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Services to the Elderly

  • area agencies on ageing
  • senior centers
  • adult day care
  • long term care centers
  • hospitals
  • assisted living programs
  • ombudsman programs
  • home meals on programs
  • senior advocacy organizations
  • friendly visitor programs
  • guardianship/conservator programs
  • congregate meal programs

Systems Serving Persons with Disabilities

Social workers assume a variety of roles with clients who have disabilities. Opportunities exist in community and institutional settings as case managers of services to clients, as advocates for individuals and clients as a group, as residential care staff providing support services and guidance, as group home managers administering budgets and directing personnel, as independent living coordinators who help clients develop skills for living on their own, as program developers who work in the community to create new opportunities for clients, and as community support workers who work with clients in work, home, and recreational settings. The previous section on health care describes some closely related opportunities and courses. Students particularly interested in clinically intensive community services for persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, or other disabilities should consider a graduate degree in social work or rehabilitation counseling following their BSW.

A useful certification available to social work majors for working in the mental retardation field is the "QMRP" (Qualified Mental Retardation Professional). In order to qualify, a student must have a degree in the human services and one year of experience working directly with persons with developmental disabilities.

Social Work Department Electives

SOWK-432 - Social Work and Disabilities - focuses on service delivery issues and skills using strength-based, family systems, and empowerment approaches for working with individuals with developmental and other disabilities and their families. Students hoping to do a Senior Practicum in a disability services setting should complete this course prior to the start of the Practicum.

SOWK 485 - Victimization of People with Disabilities -- offered periodically as a summer, one-credit elective. Dr. Fitzsimons also offers a one-credit version of her "Shadow Victims" course that students can take throughout the year; see her for more details.

SOWK 425 - Social Work in Health Care Settings -- focuses on service delivery issues and skills for working in hospitals, nursing homes, and community programs. This course includes a focus on physical and mental health settings. Students hoping to do a senior practicum in a health-related setting should consider taking this course prior to beginning the practicum.

Other Electives

While many courses would be of some value to the social worker, at a minimum the students should consider one or more of the following:

  • CDIS 201 - Observation of Human Communication
  • CDIS 205 - Beginning Signing
  • CDIS 206 - Intermediate Sign Language
  • CDIS 207 - Advanced Sign Language
  • CDIS 240 - Introduction to Communication Disorders
  • RPLS 274 - Therapeutic Recreation Service
  • PSYC 207 - Introduction to Behavior Analysis
  • PSYC 455 - Abnormal Psychology
  • PSYC 476 - Applied Behavior Analysis
  • REHB 110W - Sensitivity to Disability

Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Persons with Developmental Disabilities

  • rehabilitation centers
  • semi-independent living programs
  • respite volunteer programs
  • residential living centers
  • advocacy organizations
  • Special Olympics
  • centers for independent living
  • special leisure programs
  • in-home support person

The School System

School social workers are employed by public school districts, parochial and private schools, and special education cooperatives throughout Minnesota. Most social workers are assigned to specific schools in their district or region and work in conjunction with other professionals such as school psychologists, special education staff, school counselors, and with external agencies such as county child protection and case management programs. Their tasks may include contacts with individual students and their and families for assessment, support and or resource referral, case management with children who have individualized educational plans (IEPs), advocacy on behalf of individual students or unmet student needs, educational and social development group work including life skills, assessment particularly in regards to students with special learning needs, teacher consultation and collaboration regarding student behavior and classroom management, mediation between students and development of those skills with students, and community involvement representing the school on projects and activities that benefit children and their families. In addition to the standard social work license, additional rules for school social workers are set by the Board of Teaching. Consult with your advisor about current licensing requirements and refer to the Minnesota School Social Workers Association website for rules regarding licensure.

Social Work Department Electives

SOWK 430 - School Social Work - focuses on service delivery issues, knowledge and skills for providing social services within the school setting.

SOWK 415 - Child and Family Welfare Services - focuses on social services that are designed to facilitate child development and family functioning. This elective is advised due to the frequent contact that school social workers have with public child welfare and child protection.

Other Electives

While many courses would be of some value to the social worker, at a minimum the students should consider one or more suggestions from The Child Welfare System of this booklet and consider one or more of the following:

  • EEC 410 - Philosophy and Practices in the Middle School
  • ESSP 330 - Introduction to Developmental Disabilities
  • FCS 301 - Lifespan Development
  • FCS 303 - Working with Families
  • HLTH 310 - Drug Education
  • KSP 106 - Education & Culture in the United States
  • KSP 220 - Human Relations in a Multicultural Society
  • KSP 310 - Development and Learning in the Inclusive Classroom
  • KSP 320 - Special Student in the General Classroom
  • KSP 410 - Philosophy and Practices in the Middle and High School
  • PSYC 433 - Child Psychology
  • PSYC 436 - Adolescent Psychology
  • PSYC 476 - Behavior Therapy

Volunteer Learning Opportunities - Schools

  • Head Start
  • Chapter I Programs in schools
  • alternative high schools
  • school district programs
  • Big Brother/Big Sister
  • classroom volunteer

Other Social Work Opportunities

This booklet describes most of the traditional opportunities for BSWs. However, students should be aware of a variety of other possibilities. For example, BSWs may be able to find opportunities in Employee Assistance Programs although most large corporate EAPs can afford to hire MSWs. Students interested in this area could be involved in resolving family issues, chemical dependency, employee relations, and performance issues. Students interested in pursuing these opportunities should prepare themselves with additional electives that focus on organizational dynamics and employee relations from departments such as sociology, psychology, and business.

Another opportunity can be found in community action programs (CAP) where social workers may serve as advocates, program coordinators, and case managers (e.g., financial assistance for heating or housing, Head Start social services, etc.), and may provide employment preparation or support services for low-income persons. Social workers in these roles must have knowledge of the needs and skills for working with various client groups such as persons with low-income, the elderly, pre-schoolers, and the homeless. A course in grant writing would also be an asset. For students who are interested in program development and/or management, information about the Certificate in Non-profit Leadership is located on the Non-profit Leadership website.

Some social work students express a career interest in being a counselor or therapist. Many BSW level social workers use behavior change strategies with clients and use their interpersonal skills to foster client growth. However, access to employment as a therapist requires licensure as a clinical social worker, a marriage and family therapist, or a clinical psychologist, each of which requires graduate education such as an MSW or a PhD in psychology.

Opportunities also exist for students to practice social work in other countries through direct service, technical assistance, or research. BSW level social workers may be employable in government agencies, non-governmental organization (NGOs), refugee and immigration services, and in local communities around the globe. Considerable documentation or education and experience, and extensive planning, is necessary.

Finally, the BSW in social work is both a professional and a liberal arts degree. BSWs may find opportunities in a variety of other settings (e.g., personnel manager, legislative aide, public service, researcher, behavior analyst, volunteer coordinator, sales, etc.) where their social work background will be an asset.

Other Volunteer Learning Opportunities

  • homeless shelters
  • food programs
  • transitional housing programs
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • adult literacy programs
  • Salvation Army
  • Food shelves
  • migrant councils
  • refugee service organizations
  • AIDS Programs
  • advocacy organizations for the poor
  • service and advocacy groups for any population
  • Peace Corp
  • Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)

Further Study

Social workers will enhance both their employability and their service to some clients by gaining proficiency in another language. Spanish language study is particularly recommended. Sign language is especially useful for students who may work with people who have hearing disabilities. Certification as a professional interpreter or translator is not necessary for the utilization of these language skills in one's own practice. However, if one intends to interpret for agencies, the courts, or businesses, professional certification is not only recommended but may be required for employment. While the university does not offer professional certification programs for interpreters, basic sign language training is available in the Communication Disorders department. The U.S. Department of Labor has information posted on-line at the Interpreters and Translators page regarding training, certification, and employment, as does the American Translators Association.

Graduate Education Opportunities

The profession has two primary degree levels: the BSW or BSSW which is considered the beginning or entry level degree, and the MSW which is considered the advanced and often specialized degree. Persons with MSWs are expected to be able to practice much more independently and often move into supervision, administration, and clinical social work in many of the fields already described in this booklet. The typical MSW program is a two-year curriculum with foundation courses the first year and specialty courses the second year. Two practicum experiences are part of the MSW curriculum. Since the graduate of an accredited BSW program has had extensive foundation coursework and has had a senior practicum, many MSW programs will grant some form of "advanced placement" that gives credit for the work completed at the BSW level. Some programs will waive the entire first year thus enabling the completion of the MSW in one year rather than two. Students should explore this opportunity carefully as there is typically a time limited "window of opportunity" post-BSW to take advantage of "advanced standing."

Information about the MSW program at Minnesota State Mankato is available online at the Graduate Program page. This new program focuses on advanced generalist practice with an emphasis on practice in small and rural communities.

The social work faculty generally recommends that students gain some work experience at the BSW level before going on for the MSW. There are exceptions to this guideline, for example non-traditional students who have extensive work histories in the social services prior to completion of the BSW. The student considering an MSW should make sure that their undergraduate grades will be attractive to graduate schools:

  • cumulative grade point average of 3.0 is considered the minimum,
  • a curriculum and set of experiences that enables them to make reasonable career path decisions,
  • coursework that graduate schools expect (for example, a statistics course).

Choices of graduate schools are often based on factors such as the student's life situation (family constraints, financial issues), convenience (proximity, advanced placement), and the MSW curriculum options (the availability of a desired specialization). Students should discuss their interests with their faculty advisor. The Council on Social Work Education maintains a database on the Council on Social Work Education website that includes information on accredited programs across the country for further exploration.

Other options for graduate education are also available to the BSW. Alumnae of our program have received degrees or certifications in diverse fields such as counseling psychology, vocational rehabilitation, gerontology, nursing home administration, special education, business, law, etc. As the requirements for these programs differ, students should consult not only their faculty advisor but also faculty or practitioners in these other fields for advice on preparation, admissions, curriculum, and job opportunities.

Licensing Requirements

The State of Minnesota requires that all persons with a degree in social work (regardless of their job title), providing services in a social service setting or similar environment, be licensed. Exceptions to licensure are limited to those employed in city, county, or state agencies. More can be learned about the licensing process and regulations by visiting the Minnesota Board of Social Work website. Students typically begin the licensing process in their final semester and complete that shortly after graduation. The licensing process includes an application, passing a written licensure examination, and documenting a completed undergraduate social work degree.