Joining local and national social work organizations

April 27, 2021

Ana McGinley

Human connection is at the heart of social work

A core social work value is the importance of human relationships. Both rapport and trust are essential elements needed for clients to open up to their social worker, or for community leaders to effectively collaborate to create macro-level change. Textbooks and classroom instruction can only go so far in teaching students how to build these relationships. Social work senior year internships are a great real way to get this experience, but as a college freshman, sophomore, and junior, what are your other options?  

A great opportunity to achieve this level of connection while getting your degree is by joining a social work organization on campus, and eventually at the professional level. There are many organization options throughout the United States and around the world. Get to know your peers and future colleagues!  

Social work organizations that may be available on your college campus

Social work student council 
Social work club 
Student union 

1. What is a social work student council?

Essentially, a social work student council consists of 3 main components: leadership, advocacy, and community. The mission is to serve as the bridge that connects social work administration and students. This means that the social work faculty gains insight into the needs of the students and vice versa. Each campus social work program can develop and shape its own social work student council to best fit the needs of the students. From the council, students can receive information needed to develop their professional identities in the social work field. 

Benefits of social work student council membership:  

  • Students can receive social work program updates and learn about opportunities that are available to them 
  • Students are informed about relevant social work events taking place on campus and in the community 
  • Students can meet and connect with other social work students 
  • The council provides a safe place for social work students to vent and voice academic concerns 
  • Students have the ability to develop leadership skills if they are interested in officer positions 
  • Social work student council officers can develop close relationships with the council advisor, who may be the program director.  This may result in recommendation letters, networking opportunities, etc. 

Social work student council meetings can cover a range of topics, including: 

  • Master’s of social work program information, application tips, and preparation 
  • How to create a compelling social work resume 
  • Time management, stress management, and mindfulness skills 
  • A social work student campus newsletter 
  • An internship panel compiled of social work senior students with the purpose of providing their underclassmen with information on securing an internship, various internship opportunities in the local community, program requirements, and expectations 
  • Guest speakers representing different social work paths  
  • Tips and assistance in registering for social work courses 
  • Class and professor recommendations, and more. 

A typical social work student council meeting may have the following format: introductions, program updates, activities relevant to members, the theme of the week, questions, and open discussion. Meetings take place on an agreed-upon schedule, typically monthly during the semester. 

New officers can be elected every semester or year. In collaboration with the advisor, the council can determine the qualifications required of new members and the election process. Officers can have specific titles such as president, vice president, and secretary, or it can be a more equal approach where everyone is simply considered an officer and the work is divided evenly.  

For more information about the social work student council contact your campus social work department. 

2. A social work club

A social work club is similar to the social work student council, except that it is generally recognized by the university student activity association, which works with and promotes university clubs. The social work student council is only recognized by the university social work department. Another major difference is that while the club leaders must be social work majors, membership is open to all undergraduate or graduate students from any academic discipline at the institution.  

The social work club’s purpose is to advise students about events, employment, graduate school programs, and scholarship opportunities, and hence maintain student interest in the field. The club is also focused more on events compared to the council. Club events usually involve the whole campus and collaborate with other clubs. Some examples of social work club events include raising awareness about homelessness by having a sleepover in tents in a campus green space or participating in a 5K run to raise awareness of domestic violence.  

These events are usually funded by club membership fees,  for example, $5 per semester, monies that can also go towards outreach, t-shirts, and field trips. Just like the council leaders, club leaders get the benefit of developing close relationships with their faculty advisors.  

For more information, contact your social work program or student activity association. 

3. Get involved in graduate school with the student union

Graduate school is very different from undergraduate school in many ways such as class rigor, internship experience, and juggling course loads and jobs to fund the degree. Amidst all the responsibilities, there is a place to come together with your social work peers. All social work graduate students usually have automatic membership in their student union. This is a student-run organization that links faculty and students together.  

Based on their interests, students can serve on different committees within the organization. Along with planning group activities, the student union holds the school accountable to its mission. On behalf of the student body, the union speaks out and petitions issues of racial injustice, program inequities, and internship and class concerns. They may draft a list of demands and periodically meet with the dean of the social work department. The student union consists of individuals capable of taking on essential advocacy work to meet the needs of students, enduring setbacks, and sometimes getting “no” as answers. 

For more information about the student union at your institution, contact the student services office. 

Professional social work organizations to check out at the national level

Phi Alpha Honor Society 
National Association of Social Workers 
National Association of Black Social Workers
Council on Social Work Education  

1. Phi Alpha Honor Society

Phi Alpha Honor Society for social work is another organization that connects students of social work. Phi Alpha places high value on educational excellence and a specific grade point average is needed to be a member. Each social work program on campus can connect with the national organization to create its own campus chapter. At the induction, you get a certificate, lapel pin, and graduation stole. 

Benefits of membership include: 

  • acknowledgment and awarding of academic excellence 
  • this honor society is recognized internationally making it social work’s largest honor society 
  • lifetime memberships 
  • conference opportunities and presentations 
  • leadership opportunities 
  • community service and humanitarian efforts 
  • alumni and mentorship connections 
  • grants, awards, scholarships, and more. 

Learn more by contacting the society.  

2. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

The NASW is an organization that supports professionals and is great for new graduates. Undergraduate and graduate students get a discounted membership rate that is locked in for the years following. You will be a part of both the national chapter and your local state chapter.  

The NASW provides information on career advancement, job opportunities, mentors, and collective advocacy to promote the recognition of the social work profession in the U.S. Benefits include client liability insurance resources, licensing guidance, continuing education opportunities to fulfill yearly license requirements, and career and knowledge advancement opportunities. For more information, check out the NASW website.  

3. The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW)

The NABSW is an organization that brings together people of African ancestry. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life for this population and instill within them tools to flourish. Through empowerment, advocacy, research, and service, the NABSW wants to rid people of “racial domination, economic exploitation, and cultural oppression.” The NABSW collaborates with other groups in the U.S. and internationally to carry out its work.  

Benefits of NABSW membership  include:  

  • networking and meeting participation 
  • conference discounts 
  • career resources 
  • continuing education opportunities and credits 
  • student scholarships and member awards

For more information about the discounted student membership, check out the NABSW website.

4. Council for Social Work Education

The CSWE is the national association representing social work education in the U.S. The CSWE is tasked with enhancing the quality of the profession and is responsible for program accreditation. Members range from students,  educators, professional social workers, and agencies. The CSWE has a vision to “ensure a well-educated social work profession equipped to promote health, well-being, and justice for all people in a diverse society,” and a mission to “advance excellence and innovation in social work education and research by providing leadership, ensuring quality in teaching and learning, and strengthening the capacity of our member institutions.”  

The CSWE hosts conferences that include continuing education opportunities and career connections through networking. It also holds a very distinguished annual program meeting that brings together educators, students, deans, and directors from around the world. All students join as associate members before advancing to become full individual members. 

Individual member benefits: 

  • career advancement 
  • community voice 
  • subscription to A Journal of Social Work Education 
  • CSWE’s monthly newsletter  
  • annual program meeting attendance at a discounted rate 
  • 10% discount on CSWE publications 
  • presentation opportunities 
  • opportunity to serve as a volunteer on commissions, councils, committees, and task-forces 

For membership dues, inquiries, and additional CSWE information visit the website. 

The take-home message about social work organizations

Overall, social work organizations at the campus level and beyond have multiple benefits for your study and your career. You will have someone that understands what you are going through academically as you embark on your social work journey. It is a great way to get acclimated to the field, network, make life-long connections both professionally and personally, and learn about the interests of other people in the field.  

Keep in mind that not all campuses offer these organizations. If not, this can be your opportunity to create these programs, as there is a high chance that other social work students are looking for the same sense of community. It starts with you! 

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