Social work is a challenging, yet very rewarding profession that helps people and families navigate difficult times in their lives. The main goal of a social worker is to improve the outcomes for people in difficult situations by acting as a community resource, advocate, and safeguard from further harm. They provide assistance for the betterment of others, especially those who are vulnerable as a result of discrimination, inequality, illness, or other social issues. Their clients come from a variety of backgrounds and may be children, adults, seniors, or entire groups or communities.
Social workers are highly valued in many industries including mental health, healthcare, community and public health agencies, and government. Social workers deliver more than 60% of the mental health treatment provided in the United States in a variety of ways and settings:
Social work is a large discipline with many niches. Some areas social work students may concentrate on include:
A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW) provides students with the foundation and general knowledge needed to succeed as a social worker in an entry-level position.
Those that hold a BSW or BASW can also become licensed baccalaureate social workers (LBSW) by passing the Association of Social Work Boards’ bachelor exam (ASWB) which allows you to perform general services in the field typically under the supervision of another licensed social worker.
Majoring in psychology exposes you to both the common core classes in the field as well as specialty courses that go more in-depth into a particular area.
You can expect to take general psychology, anthropology, and human biology courses during your program. Courses specific to social work is also required and may include:
On average, an online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work usually takes about four years to complete. However, this timeline is dependent on whether you study full-time or part-time, as well as previous education completed.
Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology typically require about 120-semester credits depending on your area of concentration and program modality.
Accelerated programs are also available and allow you to complete the program in as little as one year. However, these programs are fast-paced and rigorous.
The minimum admission requirements to get into a Bachelor of Social Work program typically include:
Tuition costs for a bachelor’s degree program depending on if the school is private or public and instate vs. out-of-state residence status. Depending on this criteria, one can expect to pay in the range of $10,000-$35,000 to complete an undergraduate social work program.
The social work field is growing and the need for social workers’ services and expertise is in high demand, especially for those that have had negative consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pros of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social work include:
The cons of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social work include:
Earning a Master’s Degree in Social Work is also one of the requirements for obtaining licensure as a clinical social worker.
The knowledge and training gained from a Master’s Degree in Social Work can be applied to careers in mental health, criminal justice, public policy, and beyond. The effects of social work can be seen at a one-on-one level through clinical practice or can have an even larger impact when applied to corporate social responsibility, administration, teaching, or research.
Holding a master’s degree in social work adds significant value when looking for a job and often results in higher compensation. According to the National Association of Social Worker’s National Social Work Workforce Study, those holding an MSW earn average salaries that are $13,000 higher than those with a bachelor’s degree. And by moving beyond hands-on social work into positions in private practice, corporations, administration, or academia, MSW grads have the potential to earn more than $85,820.
Choosing a career in social work and earning a master’s degree in the field is a reflection of an individual’s values and desire to help others. Though social work is not as financially rewarding as other professions and often exposes those in the field to society’s harshest realities, it also provides the opportunity to make real change in the lives of individuals and communities.
Admission into a Master’s in Social Work Degree program has similar requirements to those of other advanced degree programs. Though every program has its own specific criteria for admissions, applicants will need to have the following:
But most social work programs distinguish themselves by also requiring that applicants demonstrate their readiness and sincere interest in a career as an advocate either through related work experience, volunteer work, or a combination of the two. You’ll need more than just high scores on standardized tests. MSW programs are looking for students to have a real commitment to serving others.
Every Master’s in Social Work program will have its own curriculum and course load based on the administration’s priorities and the faculty’s areas of interest and expertise. Here are some courses that every MSW student can expect to take:
Institutions of higher learning each have their own priorities and criteria for their student body, and general admission requirements can be further refined by the faculty of the program. Here are the most common admissions requirements:
A Master’s Degree in Social Work program costs between $30,000 and $40,000 per year, on average, for on-campus experiences and between $8,000 and $23,000 for online, though it is possible to find some that cost less and many that cost far more.
The cost of a Master’s in Social Work Degree is influenced by many different factors:
Though programs offered wholly online tend to be less expensive because there are no costs for room and board, that is not always the case. Online programs carry their own technology and bandwidth costs, and programs that do not incorporate these costs in their overall tuition may recoup them as separate technology fees.
A PhD in Social Work is a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work. It is one of the two highest degrees that someone can earn in the field, the other being a DSW (Doctor of Social Work). PhD programs in social work focus heavily on research methods and pedagogy. DSW programs emphasize advanced training for practicing social workers.
A PhD in Social Work is a mark of distinction as an expert in the discipline. Graduates of social work PhD programs often use their knowledge and training to conduct groundbreaking research on critical issues facing society. Their discoveries shape policy and assist countless people. As respected leaders, they hold top positions at various social services organizations. As professors, they mold new generations of social workers.
In addition to increased ability to help others, PhDs in social work can expect something else following graduation – good job prospects. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment in the community and social service occupations to grow a hearty 12% between 2020 to 2030.1
Many who pursue a PhD in Social Work do so in hopes of securing a faculty position at a university or junior college. They wish to continue conducting research in their area of interest within the field or teach up-and-coming social work students. Others may find employment at think tanks, non-profits, or governmental agencies.
Completing a PhD program in social work takes time, money, and effort. Only you can decide if such an endeavor is in your best interest.
Some of the pros of earning a PhD in Social Work include:
Some of the cons of earning a PhD in Social Work include:
Most students enter social work PhD programs already possessing an MSW and a history of social work employment. People with a background in a similar field, such as psychology, may also be eligible for consideration. Some institutions conduct dual-degree programs where participants earn both an MSW and a PhD upon completion of studies.
While specific courses vary by program, the following are some of the courses frequently encountered in social work PhD programs:
Coursework helps students prepare for two important components of a social work PhD program: the qualifying exam and the dissertation.
Passing an oral and/or written qualifying exam demonstrates a solid base of knowledge and readiness to engage in independent research. The dissertation focuses on a topic or research question of the student’s choice. In addition to writing the dissertation, the student must orally defend the ideas presented at a meeting with other scholars.
Programs generally require 36 credit hours. In terms of time, this translates to 3-5 years.
Students pursuing accelerated studies may be able to shave off time from this range. On the flipside, students enrolled in a dual MSW/PhD program take longer to finish because they need to fulfill more requirements.
A substantial determinant of program length is progress on one’s dissertation. Some students develop a clear idea early on of what they wish to focus on and make steady progress toward completion. Others require more time to figure out what they want to do and how to do it.
Each school has its own specific set of criteria for applicants to present in order to receive consideration for admission. Things often required include:
Many factors influence the cost of pursuing a PhD in Social Work. Choosing a public school in one’s state often proves more economical than tuition for private institutions. Programs partially or fully online can lower expenses by eliminating the cost of traveling to campus or residing in campus housing.
Any student looking for financial assistance should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It serves as the first step in determining eligibility for grants, loans, and school-specific monetary aid.
Many social work positions require a license and/or certification. People should look into the requirements for jobs of interest as well as for the geographical region in which they seek employment. A good place to start is the Association for Social Work Boards.
Opportunities exist to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies in social work online. Online BSW programs are becoming more abundant, and many schools allow students to complete the degree on a part-time or full-time basis. The availability of online master’s in social work programs has opened the doors to an MSW for students whose work, social, and family obligations have previously prevented them from pursuing their dreams. And lastly, the majority of doctoral programs lead to a DSW, but some result in a PhD. The biggest benefits of online learning include:
However, many students may choose to complete an in-person program for its networking and social aspects. Earning an online social work degree has a variety of potential benefits.
No two programs are alike. Some classes are offered synchronously (at the same time each week), and others are available 24/7 so that students can attend classes at their own convenience (asynchronously). There are also online degree programs that require in-person attendance for specific classes or for a specified week or weekend. Known as hybrids, these programs allow students to meet with their cohort to work on a team-based project and to meet their faculty face-to-face. Accelerated programs are available for students who have significant work experience or whose Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work has addressed the foundational curriculum.
Some schools also offer mobile apps for accessing classwork. Programs are available for both full- and part-time scheduling options, with part-time students taking fewer courses per term. These programs are structured so students can get the same support as students who attend in-person classes. Faculty and administration work with students to identify appropriate fieldwork opportunities.
On average, an online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work usually takes about four years to complete. However, this timeline is dependent on full-time or part-time study, as well as previous education completed. Online bachelor’s degree programs in psychology typically require about 120 credits depending on your area of concentration and program modality.
Finishing an online PhD in Social Work program generally takes about the same amount of time as on-campus studies, which is 3-5 years. Choosing an accelerated program can reduce some of that time. Schools offering online PhD in social work programs tend to have a hybrid setup. They require brief periods of time on campus, such as the first week of each semester. Also, remote PhD programs in social work tend to favor synchronous learning. Off-campus students use video technology to attend classes with their on-campus peers on specific days at set times.
The social work profession is on the rise with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 12% growth rate from 2020-2030, faster than average. To become a social worker, you should begin by completing a Bachelor of Social Work.
Depending on your interests and professional goals, a degree in social work opens the doors to many paths to career growth opportunities.
While a BSW and BASW can provide a strong foundation and lead to entry-level positions, a master’s degree in social work allows you to immerse yourself in the field and move into more clinical and hands-on roles.
|Career||Salary||Projected Job Growth (2020-2030)||About the Position|
|Social Workers||$51,760||12%||Social workers help people cope with life’s challenges and advocate for vulnerable populations.|
|Probations Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialists||$55,690||4%||Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists assist law offenders with social services and rehabilitation back into community life.|
|Social and Community Service Managers||$69,600||15%||Social and community service managers coordinate programs to support well-being in the public.|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$47,660||23%||
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise and assist people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction as well as mental and behavioral disorders.
|Health Educators and Community Health Workers||$48,140||17%||These professionals promote wellness and serve as a liaison between individuals/groups and health care systems.|
|School and Career Counselors||$58,120||11%||These counselors help individuals with social and academic issues in order to succeed in school and forge an employment plan.|
The job outlook for social work is very positive with a projected growth rate of 12% over the next 10 years.
Salary can vary depending on the state you live in, industry, and level of education and licensure. The BLS reports that the average annual salary for a social worker is $51,760.
Entry-level positions open for someone with a bachelor of social work include:
The U.S. Department of Labor includes postsecondary social work teachers on its list of Bright Outlook Occupations because of the job’s rapid growth prospects (9%) over the next decade (2020-2030).9 Projections are not a guarantee, but the information is encouraging to PhDs looking to go in that direction.
While the mean annual wage for social work professors is $71,570, possibilities exist to earn substantially more. In California, for instance, the mean annual wage stands at $110,020. New York, the state with the highest concentration of postsecondary social work teachers, posts a mean annual wage of $91,680.7
Some PhDs find employment as social service consultants. They train social service staff members and help organizations implement improvements in procedures and policies. According to PayScale, this type of position brings in an average hourly rate of $32.50.8
Is a Social Work Degree Hard?
Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is challenging as it takes time, money, and hard work, but the inclusion of online classes in the university setting makes earning a bachelor’s degree easier and more manageable, especially for the working professional and those with family obligations.
What is the best degree for social work?
The best degree to work in social work is a highly personal decision and is dependent upon the individual’s career goals. A bachelor’s degree can be enough for entry-level positions. However, those who wish to work as Licensed Clinical Social Workers will need to earn a Master’s Degree in Social Work. A Master’s in Social Work will qualify you to perform more extensive duties and is a must for those interested in clinical social work. MSW grads are highly valued by employers, command higher salaries, and have the knowledge and training needed for more diverse career opportunities. Future social work instructors and social work executives generally hold a doctorate, which can be a PhD in Social Work or a DSW (Doctor of Social Work).
What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With a Social Work Degree?
There are a variety of different jobs you can pursue with a social work degree including case manager, substance abuse counselor, mental health social worker, healthcare social worker, clinical social worker, child protective services social worker.
What Skills Will I Learn From Social Work?
Along with the psychology courses you take during a social work program, you are typically required to complete a set number of hands-on hours in the field. Important skills that you learn include:
It is important to already have a set of soft skills that will help you succeed as a social worker including:
Is a Social Work Degree a BA or BS?
There are programs geared towards either a BS or a BA in social work. A BS is more clinical oriented, while a BA takes a more broadened and liberal arts approach.
Is a Bachelor’s in Social Work Worth it?
Yes. The job outlook for social workers is growing faster than in other occupations. It is also a career that is very rewarding.
What can I do with a Master’s in Social Work?
A Master’s Degree in Social Work is a requirement for becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. It also enhances career opportunities and compensation for positions in government, non-profit organizations, criminal justice, mental health, the school system, hospitals, and more.
Is a Master’s in Social Work worth it?
A master’s degree in social work is a requirement for higher-level positions in social work. It also commands compensation levels that average $15,000 more than holders of a bachelor’s degree.
What can I do with a PhD in Social Work?
People often pursue a PhD in Social Work to become a professor at a university, college, or junior college. Such a job involves teaching classes, managing internships and other hands-on student experiences, and conducting research. Other PhDs work for the government, military, non-profits, think tanks, schools, and other organizations as social workers, community managers, researchers, and policy shapers.
Is a PhD in Social Work worth it?
The answer depends on individual interests and career objectives. For someone hoping for a job in academia, a PhD is usually necessary. Individuals interested in positions such as social worker or community service manager oftentimes get hired with a lesser degree. A doctorate, though, can put someone in a better position for greater responsibility, leadership, decision-making, and pay.
How is a PhD in Social Work different than a Master’s in Social Work?
|School||Average Tuition||Student Teacher Ratio||Enrolled Students|
|University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA||23 : 1||48,149|
|Boston University Boston, MA||18 : 1||32,718|
|University of Nevada-Las Vegas Las Vegas, NV||30 : 1||31,142|
|Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO||20 : 1||32,428|
|University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO||23 : 1||31,089|
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