Types of Social Work Degrees

Social work is an extremely valuable field. Individuals who work in social work can engage in many different career pathways, working as counselors, government agents, non-profit experts, and more. Social workers are typically highly regarded, and this field requires individuals who are good listeners. Social workers should be empathetic and passionate about helping others. 

Like many other professions that require an intensive educational background, there are many types of social work degrees. The degree you get can significantly impact the field you enter, the money you make, and the types of jobs available.


BSW in social work is a bachelor’s degree. It is the first level of post-secondary education that an individual can get, and it is achievable upon graduation from college. It allows an individual to take “entry-level” positions within the social work field. It is also considered a prerequisite for many more advanced social work degrees. 

Master’s of Social Work (MSW)

An MSW in Social Work is a Master’s in Social Work. It is an advanced degree that allows individuals to engage in additional social work. It is often a requirement for additional social work education or for an individual to be qualified for additional roles within the social work industry. 

Social workers that would like to study and gain field experience at the same time might be interested in attending an online msw degree program.


An LCSW, or Licensed Clinical Social Worker designation, is not an educational requirement. Instead, it is a certification earned from a governing body. A master’s degree is required for an individual to become an LCSW. Becoming an LCSW also requires passing a written test and completing a required amount of supervised clinical practice. With an LCSW, an individual can practice various mental healthcare treatments.


A DSW is Doctor of Social Work. As the name implies, it is one of the highest degrees an individual can get in social work. It is usually obtained by individuals who have already earned their LCSW or MSW and are looking to expand into additional areas, like management or executive roles. 

Social workers looking to earn a doctorate of social work have the option to study on-campus or online. Individuals should look to attend one of the CSWE accredited DSW programs to ensure their education and curriculum are as high-quality as possible.


A PhD in Social Work is another way students can earn a doctorate in this field. Individuals who earn their PhD in social work are typically interested in working within the field to conduct research or teach others. This degree is usually required to do either of these things. 

Master of Counseling 

Counseling is a very popular option for many interested in the social work field. For these individuals, a Master of Counseling may be appropriate. However, this is a Master-level degree that requires an individual to already have a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Social Work is not required to earn a Master of Counseling, but there will be some education requirements that must be fulfilled to enter this program. As such, an interested individual must have already taken at least some classes that can serve as a foundation for this master’s degree.

MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy)

An MFT is a social work licensing credential. By earning this credential, an individual will be able to advertise themselves as a Marriage and Family Therapist and thus be able to practice this specific type of therapy. To earn an MFT, an individual must have earned a Master’s-level degree. 

What Degree is Needed for Social Work?

Like most fields, the answer varies. Individuals who want to get a degree at any level in social work can use the degree for a variety of purposes, including case management, government social work, therapy, professor, or more. Fundamentally, the answer to this question depends on the role you’d like to fill. As you would imagine, positions with higher responsibilities tend to require higher-level degrees. Like most fields, a higher degree can also increase your potential income. 

What Can You Do with a Degree in Social Work? 

As noted above, different degrees allow you to fulfill various roles. Indeed, there are many career paths for social workers, such as:


A Bachelor’s in Social Work will not enable someone to engage in more advanced fields, such as therapy or direct case management. However, it will be an excellent foundation for future educational endeavors. Furthermore, with such a degree, an individual enters or starts to enter many fields, including:

  • Teaching
  • Counseling
  • Probation officer
  • Mental health assistant
  • Non-profit work
  • Community organizer or worker


A Master’s in Social Work allows someone to further their education, ultimately becoming an LCSW or earning a doctorate. Someone can also start a career in many other fields, including:

  • Casework for the government or a non-profit agency
  • Mental health social workers or social workers in several specialty areas, such as the military
  • School counselor


An LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. In addition to all of the careers already noticed, someone who is an LCSW can manage social worker programs or manage other social workers. They can also enter research or provide mental health counseling in several specialties.


Individuals with a Doctorate of Social Work may provide therapy, manage social workers, manage agencies, or work in consulting. 


A PhD is typically associated with research or education. Therefore, the two most likely career paths for someone with a PhD are to become a professor or a researcher. Individuals with this type of doctorate may also work for businesses or non-profit agencies.

Master of Counseling 

The most likely career path for someone with a Master of Counseling is to enter the counseling field. They may work with a specific subset of individuals, including students, the elderly, or military families. Depending on their interests, they may also practice a specific behavior or earn additional certifications in certain problem areas, like addiction counseling.

MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy)

Someone with an MFT may provide marriage and family therapy in various settings. These individuals often work with a specific set of clients, like helping parent-child relationships or working with couples to rebuild a marriage or restore trust issues. Someone with an MFT may also work for a non-profit or a consulting firm. In addition, they may sometimes conduct research. 

Social Work Degree Salary

Different degrees hold different salaries and job outlooks.

  • BSW: According to PayScale, an individual with a BSW earns, on average, roughly $49,000 per year. However, it is difficult to say what the job growth for this degree is because the degree is so broad. It allows individuals to work in many different fields, thus giving them plenty of career options. 
  • MSW: According to Payscale, an individual with an MSW will average $50,380 annually. Like a BSW, it is difficult to measure job growth, as an MSW comes with many career options, including being able to practice therapy and case management. 
  • LCSW: According to Salary.com, the average salary for an LCSW is $74,800 per yearThe Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average growth for social workers is 9%, which is faster than the average job growth rate in America.
  • DSW & Ph.D.: According to Payscale, the average salary for someone with a Doctorate of Social Work is $76,000 annually.
  • Master of Counseling: As of 2018, the average salary for someone with a Master of Counseling was roughly $58,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects major growth in this field, with an anticipated growth rate of 22% over the next decade.
  • MFT: According to Payscale, Statistics, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists earn a median salary of $59,076 per year (as of 2021). With an anticipated growth rate of 14% over the next decade, this field is growing at a rate far exceeding the national average for job growth.

Social Work Degree Benefits

One of the biggest benefits of going into social work is not the salary: It’s the personal satisfaction and reward of helping people. Becoming a social worker can allow you to help people’s lives in almost countless ways, including:

  • As a social worker, you can help people at some of the lowest moments of their life. You can connect them with governmental resources, help them plot a way out of an abusive relationship, and help people restore hope to their lives.
  • Therapists report a high degree of satisfaction with their jobs, as the help provided by therapists can save relationships, allow people to overcome mental illnesses, and assist individuals in finding a way out of addiction.
  • Individuals with a DSW or Ph.D. can conduct vital, breakthrough research that can be used to implement new therapeutic methods, strategies for reducing a slew of emotional problems, and more. Some also become professors and can continue both research and teaching students. 
  • Most social work positions are all about working with people. Unless you choose to do so, you’ll be able to work with other individuals and spend your time helping people, which has been identified as extremely rewarding by practitioners. 
  • Social workers need social workers in many settings, including governments, non-profits, schools, and nursing homes. As such, you’ll be able to work with your target demographic and spend your time assisting individuals in need. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Social Work Degree

As you can see, individuals interested in pursuing a degree in social work have various options. First, however, anyone interested in the social work field has to ask themselves a key question: How far into the field do they want to go? And what do they want to do with a degree in social work?

The following factors can help answer this question:

  • What do you want to do? As noted above, various degrees are required to practice in specific sectors of the social work industry. For example, if you want to practice therapy, you’ll need to have at least a Master’s degree. If you’re going to teach at a college or conduct research, you’ll likely need a DSW or Ph.D. 
  • How important is money to you? No one has ever gone into the social work field with the hopes of becoming a millionaire, but there is no question that a higher degree will increase your salary. 
  • How much debt can you afford? Are there forgiveness options? Going to graduate school means paying more and taking on more debt. Can you afford to pay back that debt, and will whatever career you go into support you enough so that you can ultimately repay the debt? Furthermore, what about debt forgiveness options or programs? Some states and the federal government offer targeted loan forgiveness if you enter certain fields. Have you examined these potential options? 
  • How much flexibility do you need? Some schools allow you to complete your degree online, but completing fieldwork over the internet isn’t an option, and fieldwork is required for all graduate-level degrees. What flexibility do you need to complete that fieldwork, and is it even an option for you? 
  • How long do you want to be in school? If you want a bachelor’s degree, you must be in school for at least four years. However, graduate school can add even more years to your educational experience — potentially as many as eight if you are pursuing a Ph.D. or DSW. As such, you have to consider your patience and career pathways. Are you willing to be in school for that long?

Accreditation for Social Work Programs 

It is vitally important that you attend a social work program that has been accredited. Accreditation means that a third party has reviewed the program to ensure it adheres to various standards. In addition, this accreditation guarantees that you can expect a minimum level of academic standards as part of your degree.

The Council on Social Work Education manages accreditation for Social Work programs. The group is made up of a variety of social work practitioners and educators. To become accredited, interested schools have to complete a rigorous application process. They also must meet specific criteria for coursework, fieldwork, their professors’ education, experience level, continuing education, and more. 

You can visit this website to find a list of accredited social work programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

How Much Does a Social Work Degree Cost?

As always, the cost of a social work degree depends on various factors, including the level of the degree, the prestige of the school, and how quickly you get your degree.

Many major liberal arts schools — including state and public schools — offer a BSW. As such, your tuition can range wildly. For example, you may get a BSW for as little as $27,000. Alternatively, attending a more expensive private school can cost as much as $60,000.

Masters-level degrees, such as an MSW or Masters in Counseling, will also range wildly in cost. Ranges vary from nearly $10,000 to $70,000.

Doctorate-level programs, including a DSW or PhD, will cost between $28,000 – $40,000.

It is worth noting that there are many ways to potentially reduce the cost of getting a Social Work degree at any level. One such example is attending online school. Attending online school will enable you to save on tuition costs, as online schools typically have lower tuition than in-person schools. Online schools also often offer asynchronous learning, meaning that you can view lectures and take courses at a time and date. This will allow you to keep working while in school, thus ensuring that you have income while furthering your education. Finally, online schools allow you to save money on room, board, and tuition. 

Social Work Degree Scholarship Information 

As noted above, social work is a noble field, one replete with people who care deeply about others. This compassion requirement helps explain why such a wide array of scholarships are available to people who want to pursue this field. There are many potential scholarship resources for people interested in pursuing this degree. Examples include:

Each scholarship has different academic requirements. By visiting each website and clicking on the link, you’ll see each scholarship’s requirements.

You should also speak with your school about scholarships and financial aid. Your financial aid department or professors may have additional information on social-work-specific scholarships. 

Common Courses in a Social Work Degree Program 

Different social work programs — and different social work degrees — will have additional requirements and courses as part of their educational program. However, most social work programs will generally have somewhat similar courses. These include:

  • Introductory courses, including social work and psychology.
  • Public health.
  • Public speaking and communications.
  • Economics, including information on the American economy and politics.
  • Statistics, including social statistics and psychological statistics.
  • Service learning.
  • Human behavior.
  • Social research.

There are also usually varying degrees of fieldwork required for a degree in social work. 

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Social Work Degree?

Like most bachelor-level degrees, a bachelor’s degree will take roughly four years to complete. This assumes that you attend school full-time and take the normal level of coursework. Particularly motivated individuals may be able to get their degrees faster. Someone who attends school in a non-traditional program may take a longer period.

Individuals who want a master’s degree will usually need to take sixty credit hours. You can do this in two full-time years, but people who go part-time can get it in 3-4 years.

A doctorate in social work will usually take another 4-6 years. But, of course, like any other degree, this depends on how many hours an individual can stay in school.

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