Social work is among the most altruistic of professions. If you feel a calling to help others through challenges that include mental illness, abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty homelessness and trauma and other crises, then you might make an excellent social worker. As a high school student, some ways to prepare to earn your college degree in social work include studying math, science and the social sciences, volunteering and identifying your career goals so that you can determine a plan for your education
Take Math and Science Courses
At first glance, the field of social work may seem to have little in common with mathematics and the life and natural sciences. You may not see much use for abstract mathematical theory or much overlap between the concepts you study in laboratory science courses and the real-life challenges of hands-on work with clients. However, taking classes in algebra, statistics, biology, anatomy and physiology is essential for high school students hoping to study social work, according to The Houston Chronicle.
What makes these subjects so crucial? Skills like listening, interpersonal communication and problem-solving are more closely related to the job duties of social workers than technical skills, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, students must still be able to analyze qualitative and quantitative data. Because many social workers help clients whose struggles have a health or medical component – including those with disabilities, a history of substance abuse or mental illnesses – social workers should have a working knowledge of science as it relates to these problems.
Taking high school courses in statistics is particularly beneficial for aspiring social workers. Understanding statistical analysis methods helps social workers understand how well programs and treatment plans work, the Council on Social Work Education reported.
Study the Social Sciences
It’s probably no surprise to high school students interested in social work that it helps to take as many classes in the social sciences as possible before earning your diploma. In particular, high school courses often offer students their first exposure to the foundations of psychology and sociology. Through these courses, students learn the elementary concepts of individuals’ thought processes and behavior and of group behavior. It’s also helpful to take classes in government processes.
Another essential area of study for social workers is communication. While most high schools require students to take at least basic English and literature courses, taking classes beyond what is required can be very helpful. A course in public speaking or debate can help you learn how to effectively interact and communicate with others – including those with perspectives that differ from yours. Learning how to write well, through a journalism or writing course, can help you when it becomes time to write reports. The Council on Social Work Education suggests that aspiring social workers look for classes in contemporary literature, because these courses help students learn about today’s issues as opposed to historical issues that are often covered in classes that focus on literature from long ago.
While social workers should strive to take a college preparatory curriculum in all of their studies, it’s subjects in social sciences and communication that may be most beneficial to take at the advanced levels, including advanced placement (AP) courses.
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Volunteer in Your Community
You don’t enter the field of social work without having a strong desire to help others. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you become a licensed social worker to start making a difference. Volunteering is an important way for high school students to prepare for life as a social work major.
Any community service experience can be valuable in helping you develop interpersonal and communication skills, grow as a person and bolster your candidacy for admission into your first-choice college. Volunteering in certain environments can be especially helpful as you work toward a career in social work. Serving in community organizations like hospitals, schools and charitable associations can help you develop hands-on experience working with community members and make connections with established social workers. You can also become trained as a peer counselor and develop your listening and problem-solving skills while helping your fellow students.
You don’t have to volunteer alone. Many high schools have their own chapters of community service-based clubs, like Key Club International, or offer partnerships with organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters.