How to Become a Case Manager: 4-Step Guide

Want to know how to become a case manager? Discover the four steps you must take, including earning a bachelor's degree and getting certified.
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and senior editor for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evalua...
Updated on March 1, 2024
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Social work case managers connect people with necessary support services in sectors like healthcare, mental health, and criminal justice. These professionals help clients navigate complex systems and improve their overall well-being.

While case manager roles and requirements may differ depending on your area of specialization, entering this field typically requires a bachelor's degree, relevant experience, and certification.

In this article, we'll go over how to become a case manager step by step. We'll also look at case manager qualifications and the various types of case manager positions you can pursue.

What Is a Case Manager?

Case managers help people navigate and/or access healthcare, mental health support, criminal justice, child welfare, and other social service systems. These professionals typically collaborate with clients' family members, healthcare providers, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), and other community organizations.

On a given day, case managers may:

  • Screen new clients to assess their strengths, needs, and preferences
  • Create plans to improve clients' quality of life
  • Help prevent or manage crises in clients' lives
  • Refer clients to services
  • Monitor clients' progress

Featured Online Social Work Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How to Become a Case Manager: 4 Steps

Below, we go over the basic case manager qualifications you'll need to start your journey in social work case management.

  • Step 1: Get Experience in Case Management Settings

    Before enrolling in a degree program, it's a good idea to volunteer or assist real case managers. This way you can learn more about what to expect from the role.

    Look to supportive housing organizations if you want to work as a housing case manager. If you want to work with children and families, become a youth mentor. You can also volunteer with the American Red Cross as a caseworker.

  • Step 2: Earn a Relevant Bachelor's Degree

    Although you don't need a specific bachelor's degree to become a case manager, employers typically hire candidates with degrees related to social services and mental health.

    Examples of common case manager degrees include:

    • Bachelor's in human services
    • Bachelor's in psychology
    • Bachelor of social work (BSW)
    • Bachelor's in sociology
    • Bachelor's in criminal justice

    Make sure the school you attend holds institutional accreditation from a recognized agency. In addition, BSW programs should hold accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.

  • Step 3: Consider Getting a Master's Degree

    You may need a master of social work (MSW) for some case manager jobs. These professionals may also offer clinical services, like talk therapy, as long as a licensed clinician supervises them.

    MSW grads can work as case managers to rack up the supervised hours they need to become LCSWs.

  • Step 4: Advance Your Career With Certification

    The National Association of Social Workers and the Commission for Case Manager Certification jointly offer the following two certification pathways for social work case managers:

    Certified Social Work Case Manager Requirements

    • Check
      Hold a BSW
    • Check
      Have at least three years of supervised experience
    • Check
      Have a state BSW-level social work license, pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam, or have four years of supervised experience plus 20 continuing education units

    Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager Requirements

    • Check
      Hold an MSW
    • Check
      Have at least two years of supervised experience
    • Check
      Have a state MSW-level social work license or pass the ASWB exam

Types of Case Manager Jobs

Child and Family Case Manager

These professionals may work in foster care or government departments of family services. They visit people in their homes, connect families to resources like childcare and nutrition programs, and counsel people dealing with family separation.

Child and family case managers typically must have a bachelor of social work (BSW) or a bachelor's in human services.

Healthcare Social Work Case Manager

In hospitals, case managers help patients navigate complicated healthcare systems. They collaborate with patients, nurses, doctors, and community organizations. Typically, they help clients awaiting treatment, recovering, or transitioning through different care settings.

These professionals must have extensive knowledge of healthcare benefits and programs. They may become certified to demonstrate their expertise to employers.

Mental Health Case Manager

Mental health case managers work with clients who may need treatment for mood or personality disorders or other mental health conditions. They help clients connect to psychiatric service providers and monitor their progress.

These professionals may have a bachelor's in counseling, psychology, or social work. Some have a master's degree and license in social work or counseling.

Substance Use Case Manager

These case managers help people dealing with substance use. They may help recovering clients find housing, transportation, and/or employment. Some substance use case manager jobs require candidates to be licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselors.

Correctional Case Manager

Some case managers help people in or recently released from correctional systems, like prison and juvenile detention. These professionals help clients reintegrate into communities and ensure they find the support they need, whether that's housing, healthcare, or counseling.

Correctional case managers typically have a degree in human services, psychology, or criminal justice.

Geriatric Case Manager

Geriatric case managers help older people through late-life transitions. They may:

  • Assess clients' social, financial, and physical needs as they age
  • Educate families on assisted living and home health options
  • Collaborate with doctors and nurses to make sure families have the resources they need

The National Association of Social Workers offers the Social Worker in Gerontology credential. This credential is available to BSW grads who have experience working with older adults and completed gerontology-specific coursework.

Featured Online MSW Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Case Manager Salary

Case managers may make less than other social workers with master's degrees.

According to Payscale, social work case managers earned an average hourly rate of $20.41 in February 2024. That's lower than the median for social worker pay rates, which was $26.61 per hour in May 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here's how case manager salaries stack up across years of experience:

Case Manager Hourly Pay by Experience Level
Years of Experience Avg. Pay per Hour
1-4 $19.86
5-9 $21.31
10-19 $22.31
20+ $22.60
Source: Payscale, February 2024

Resources for Case Managers

ACMA focuses on healthcare case management. The group offers professional development resources, creates networking opportunities, and advocates for healthcare case managers. CMSA is an international organization supporting case managers' education and networking. This organization supports social work case managers in community-based organizations, providing conferences and free webinars.

Frequently Asked Questions About Case Manager Qualifications

Is case management a stressful job?

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Case management can be stressful due to high caseloads, demanding documentation requirements, limited appreciation, and below-average pay. The role is known for high burnout rates, making it crucial for case managers to practice self-care and manage stress.

What is the difference between a social worker and a case manager?

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Social workers and case managers differ primarily in their client contact levels and responsibilities. Social workers provide therapy, advocate for social justice, and coordinate treatments. This role often requires a master's degree and a license.

Conversely, case managers focus on developing service plans and coordinating client care without providing therapy. Their educational backgrounds can vary and may not always require certification or licensure.

What is the best certification for case management?

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The Certified Case Manager (CCM) certification is widely regarded as the gold standard in the field of case management.

Far and away, it's the most recognized and prestigious certification available to case managers, with over 50,000 CCMs certified by the Commission for Case Manager Certification, an organization accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

How hard is it to get case manager certification?

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To get case manager certification, you must meet certain qualifications, like having a relevant degree or licensure and specific case management experience. Typical requirements include having an active license in a health or human services field and having supervised field experience from an accredited institution.

You also need to have worked in case management with direct client contact for a certain period.

Is becoming a Certified Case Manager (CCM) worth it?

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Earning a Certified Case Manager (CCM) credential can enhance your career by reflecting workforce readiness and excellence in the field. The CCM is recognized across the healthcare industry, often leading to higher salaries -- most CCMs earn over $80,000 annually.

The credential is backed by major professional organizations and is the only case manager credential that is accredited across various healthcare disciplines.

CCM certification can also open up more job opportunities, increase professional standing, and support personal development. Many employers are willing to pay for part or all of the certification process. According to the Commission for Case Manager Certification, a majority of CCMs believe the certification has positively impacted their careers. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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