Over the past year or so, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of disruption to people’s lives. It’s also given many of us the opportunity to reassess our current situation, whether that’s in terms of how we spend our free time or in terms of the career we’ve chosen to work in. One noticeable trend is that people are becoming more interested in training for a job role that can help others. Naturally this often manifests itself as a desire to work in medicine, but being a doctor or a nurse is far from the only way that you can help those who are in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic or other difficult situations. One such option that you might want to consider is becoming a social worker.

The fact that there is now the option to take an online social work degree has made this career much easier to retrain in, but how do you know if it’s the right choice for you? This article will discuss the job of a social worker in more detail and the sort of characteristics you will need to succeed in the role, as well as what studying for an online social work degree is like. Hopefully, this will enable you to make an informed decision on whether or not to enroll on the program, and start a rewarding and life-changing career helping others!

What does a social worker do?

The role of a social worker is an extremely varied one, so answering this question isn’t as easy as you might think. Broadly speaking, social workers work with the most vulnerable in our society to help them cope with and overcome the wide range of challenges and difficulties they face. There are many different areas you could specialize in to do this, from children and families in poverty to those with mental health conditions or substance abuse problems, and people escaping violence at home. You could work on a personal basis with individual people or families, or with communities more widely. The latter tends to involve a higher level of political advocacy, and the development of welfare services and programs.

As you might expect, the type of workplaces you can be employed in as a social worker are equally varied. They include hospitals, prisons, schools, specialist centers, governmental agencies, and much more. Social workers help people from all different age groups, backgrounds and walks of life with problems as diverse as terminal illness, addiction, discrimination, foster care, and abuse. What each case has in common is that social workers fight for those in their care, working hard to improve their wellbeing and make their voices heard. This is why it’s such a challenging and rewarding career – and one that is extremely important.

What makes a good social worker?

So now that we know what a social worker does, it’s time to look at what it takes to do the job well. Of course, the first thing that you’ll need is a passion for social justice and helping other people. This is what the position is all about, and what draws most people to the work in the first place. It will also help you to cope with the more tricky aspects of the job, as you’ll always remember why you’re doing it!

In addition, the following characteristics and skills will be key:

  • Empathy – it’s important that you’re able to relate to a wide range of people and put yourself in their position, in order to truly understand what they’re going through and how best to help them
  • Communication – you’ll need to be able to connect with people from a wide range of backgrounds, who have varying levels of communication skills. You’ll sometimes have to explain complicated topics in a way that is easy to understand, as well as actively listen to people in order to learn everything you can about their situation
  • Patience – sometimes you might find that people are reluctant to work with you, or struggle to open up and be honest with you. Observation skills are also important here, so you can pick up on what people are saying with their body language too
  • Emotional resilience – there’s no denying that social work can be a challenging job. You’ll sometimes be exposed to upsetting and troubling situations, or experience cases where you are unable to achieve everything you hoped. Being able to cope with this stress is vital, as well as setting boundaries so that you don’t allow it to impinge on your home life or your own mental health. Be sure to always make time for self-care
  • Problem-solving – each case you work on will be different, and you’ll need to be able to think quickly and creatively to come up with solutions to match. This also involves being adaptable and flexible as situations change, adjusting your course of action where appropriate
  • Organization – as a social worker you’ll have lots of different cases to work on, each with its own paperwork and deadlines. Good time management and organizational skills will enable you to fulfill all your responsibilities successfully and on time
  • Professionalism – social workers are a key member of the community, so it’s vital to conduct yourself as such. You should always hold yourself to the high ethical standards of the role, even in challenging situations (for example, with privacy and confidentiality)
  • Reliability – when you are engaged in social work, you have lots of people relying on you, many of whom are vulnerable. Your clients must be able to trust and depend on you no matter what happens. Honesty is key, and will help people feel more comfortable opening up to you
  • Drive – social work isn’t easy, so you’ll need to be persistent in order to secure the best outcomes for those you are advocating for. Take heart in your accomplishments, but always strive for the next goal. It’s important not to give up when the situation gets tough or complicated

What does studying for an online social work degree involve?

When you study for an online social work degree, you’ll complete a series of modules on a variety of relevant topics. Some of these will be mandatory, whereas for others you may have a choice between different optional modules. Generally each one will involve a mixture of lectures (either live or recorded), seminars, discussion forums, reading, written assignments, quizzes, and other types of group and individual coursework.

The exact topics that you have available to choose from will vary according to the institution that you study with, but you can expect to have a curriculum somewhat like the following:

  • Introduction to social work
  • Basic skills for social work practice
  • Social work research
  • Social welfare policies
  • Introduction to sociology
  • Introduction to psychology
  • Human behavior in the social environment
  • Diversity and multiculturalism
  • Child welfare services
  • Interviewing and assessment
  • Social justice
  • Victim advocacy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment in social work
  • Domestic violence
  • Social work theories
  • Policy reform
  • Social work in the military

In addition to the modules you take, you might also be required to complete a large project towards the end of the program. This will bring together lots of different aspects of the course and be an important part of your final grade.

Due to the fact that social work is a practical subject, most programs also involve a certain number of hours of fieldwork. This will be conducted at an approved institution, under the supervision and guidance of a qualified and experienced social worker. You will normally have the option to choose where you work, giving you the chance to tailor the placement to best suit your personal goals and interests.

Fieldwork is a fantastic chance to get some hands-on experience in the real world, learn from a professional mentor, and try out some different specialisms in order to help you work out exactly what sort of career in social work you wish to embark on. For an online social work degree you will still do the placement in person, but it can usually be arranged at a location that’s convenient for you rather than you having to go somewhere near the college campus.

How can I decide if social work is the right choice for me?

There is no easy answer to this question, and at the end of the day, only you can make the decision of whether an online social work degree is the best option for you. However, there are some steps you can take to help you figure it out before committing to the program.

Firstly, do lots of research. Read books about social work, find blogs and videos online, and try to get as much information about the job as possible. This should include both the good and bad parts, so that you have an accurate idea of what the career entails. A great way to do this is to speak to people who are currently employed as social workers. If you know a friend or family member in the role that’s great, but if not you could try reaching out to someone on social media and seeing if they’d be happy to talk to you.

It’s also worth remembering that the role of a social worker can vary quite a lot depending on where you work and the exact job you do. If possible, research several different avenues to help you work out exactly where your passions and interests lie. Just because one aspect doesn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean that another area won’t be perfect.

Finally, bear in mind that desk research can only tell you so much. One of the best ways to get a real glimpse at what social work is like – and whether it’s right for you – is to get some practical experience. See if you can volunteer with any social work programs in your community, whether it’s with children, the elderly, the homeless, or any other vulnerable groups. Trying something for yourself is usually the most accurate way to figure out if it’s a career you want to dedicate yourself to, so if there are any opportunities in your local area be sure to take the chance before signing up for your online social work degree.

How can I decide if an online degree is the right choice for me?

Once you’ve decided that social work is definitely the subject for you, the next thing to think about is whether you want to study online or not. An online social work degree has lots of advantages but isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone, so take some time to work out what would suit your individual circumstances.

One of the major advantages of studying online is the flexibility it offers. If you have existing family or work commitments, it’s much easier to schedule an online course around them compared to a class on campus. That makes it a good choice if you’re hoping to continue working while you study, or if you are unable to move across the country to attend college. It also broadens the number of institutions available for you to study with, as you’re no longer restricted to those you can feasibly commute to or are happy to move to.

On the other hand, if this is your first degree and you’re hoping to have the full, traditional college experience, then an online program might not be what you’re looking for. Those who want to attend sports games, join social groups, spend long nights studying in the library, or hit the bar with classmates after lectures will probably find online study lacking. Have a think about exactly what you want from your studies so that you can choose appropriately.

This is not to say that online study can’t be sociable. You’ll still be able to connect virtually with your cohort and take part in study groups and online discussions. Likewise your lecturers and other teaching staff will always be available via email, message or video chat to answer your questions or offer support. It all comes down to personal preference, so the choice of whether to do an online social work degree or on-campus one is entirely yours!