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I recently got an email from Stephanie, a graduating social work student:
I stumbled upon your Instagram today and was pleased to see that you are a social worker who currently resides in New York City; I graduate with my MSW in August and plan on moving to New York City from Florida, thereafter. Living and working in New York has always been a dream of mine. In preparation for graduation I’ve been doing some online job searching, but most positions that offer a viable wage require that you are licensed. My passion is working with children, families and women.
What advice would you give to a new social worker looking to move to New York City who isn’t licensed and wishes to work with children and families or women? Are there any specific agencies you would recommend applying to?
Stephanie’s question is interesting because it encompasses many factors, of which I’ve come up with several questions that I hope can guide Stephanie (and you) in thinking more about the next steps in living as a a social worker in New York City:
What is your ideal social work role?
This question can be answered based on where you are currently (education-wise) as a social worker. Do you plan to work as a micro level social worker, mezzo level social worker, or macro level social worker? Do you plan to work at one level for your entire social work career, or do you have expectations of moving up or blending different levels of social work? If you’re interested in working with women, youth, and families, what does that mean? Reproductive or maternal health? Crisis management and prevention? Substance use? Mental illness?
How are you looking for social work positions?
This question ties into the first question. Stephanie mentions women, children, and families as potential populations she wants to work with. In addition to identifying if you want to work at the micro, mezzo, or macro level, are you looking for counseling positions versus case management, teaching versus facilitating workshops, etc?. I was able to land a case management position within 3 months of graduating, working directly with adults impacted by HIV/AIDS and homelessness. As social workers, we’re conditioned to look for positions that explicitly have “social worker” in the title when there are plenty of organizations and agencies that recommend having the skills of a social worker but it may not be mentioned in the position requirements. I had lots of experience in conducting workshops around youth engagement, sexual/reproductive health and justice, and the like prior to grad school, but felt that I needed something that mentioned “social work” or “case management” in the title. If you find a position that interests you but doesn’t mention “social worker”, highlight in your cover letter and interview how being a social worker lends itself well to that position. The MSW degree is one of the most flexible degrees out there, and the skills we learn can translate to a variety of roles.
What setting do you want to work in?
Stephanie mentions that most social work positions she is coming across requires LMSW or LCSW licensure. That sounds like she may be looking for positions in a clinical setting. My first-year field placement was in a hospital clinic. My second-year placement was with a professor in my graduate program, and my postgraduate experience was at a nonprofit. Working at a nonprofit looks completely different from working in a hospital setting or a government agency, and each setting has its own set of requirements. While I can’t give specific recommendations on where to apply, I do recommend asking what the requirements are and the timeframe will you be given to fulfill those requirements. For example, if you want to provide therapy to youth, women, or families in a hospital or clinical setting, will you be required to have a LMSW or LCSW. This is most likely the case within an agency or nonprofit clinical setting. You can probably be hired without licensure, but expect to be required to take the exam and pass within the first 3-6 months of employment (though I wouldn’t be surprised if most settings require it as part of your 90-day probation period). While most people pass the LMSW exam on the first try, there are many that don’t and it can impact your employment status.
If licensure will be important to your role, what are your next steps in obtaining it?
Given your ideal role and setting, do you plan to take the LMSW or LCSW exam? If so, where? Here is a useful link that breaks down licensure by state, as well as the Association of Social Work Board’s Social Work Registry that can assist in transferring testing scores and licensure information. Should you want to be licensed as a LCSW in New York State, you will need the LMSW first as well as 3 years of supervision under a LCSW in a clinical setting in New York City, which may impact your job search. The New York City chapter of the National Association of Social Workers also has a useful link on licensure requirements.
When do you plan to move to New York City, and what is a viable wage for you?
The cost of living is significantly higher in New York City compared to most places. Do you plan to live alone or have a roommate(s)? Do you plan to live in Manhattan or in one of the other boroughs (which are becoming just as expensive as Manhattan)? Outside of rent, groceries and utilities, what other expenses do you expect to have? Are you planning to move right away, or will it take some time to prepare for your move? I also recommend finding time to visit before you move here, either while doing interviews or while visiting friends. This will help you to get familiar with the subway system and explore areas that you may be interested in living in.
What skills do you have that can translate to more income?
I’m a big believer in finding others means of supplementing your income, especially in NYC, so that you’re not solely dependent on your social work paycheck. Even if you have no desire to turn a hobby into a side hustle, you can find ways to save up or reduce your expenses while living in NYC. (Here are 66 ways from financial blogger Stefanie O’Connell).
Why is being a social worker in New York City important to you?
As someone who is originally from the south, life in New York City is unlike anywhere else, and you’ll feel like hitting the ground running as soon as you get here. The New York City we see on TV or when we visit is completely different from the day to day grind. That being said, I moved from Georgia to New York in August 2008, and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. There is something magical about living in New York City that is hard to put in words unless you’re here on a full-time basis.
There will be plenty of days where you’ll feel like moving back home. When those feelings occur, it’ll be important to go back to your WHY. Also, it’s ok to want to live in New York City for a certain period of time and not permanently, but I will say this: Once you’ve had the experience of living in New York City, you may become underwhelmed with other cities. But this is me being biased. One secret that I share with people desiring to move to New York City is to find aspects of the city that make you feel alive and remind you of why you decided to move. One of those things for me is “being a tourist in the city”. Generally speaking, most avoid touristy areas, but when I need a little inspiration, I like to go to places like Times Square and people-watch. Most people’s first memory of New York City is Times Square, and when you see people experiencing it for the first time, it inspires you. Or I will go to areas of the city where it’s easy to see views of the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge, or the Empire State building. With the hustle and bustle of New York City, it’s easy to forget where you are, but when you look up, you’ll really how luck you are to experience it.
I hope this helps as you continue on with your social work journey.