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.

How Many Social Work Degrees Are There?

The field of social work offers a range of degree options designed to prepare individuals for various roles within this dynamic and essential profession. While it is challenging to specify an exact number due to the diversity of programs and specializations available, the primary degrees generally recognized are:

  • Associate Degree in Social Work (ASW): Often serves as an introductory pathway into the field, focusing on basic social work concepts and practices.
  • Bachelor of Social Work (BSW): Prepares graduates for generalist entry-level work in social work and is the minimum requirement for most professional roles in the field.
  • Master of Social Work (MSW): Provides advanced professional training necessary for clinical practice and leadership roles in social services.
  • Doctoral Degrees: Includes both the Doctor of Social Work (DSW) for advanced clinical practice and leadership, and the Ph.D. in Social Work, which focuses on research and academia.

These degrees encompass a wide range of educational experiences and career opportunities, each catering to different professional goals and areas of interest within social work. The following section will explore social work degrees in greater detail, providing a clearer picture of what prospective students can expect as they embark on their educational journey in this impactful field.

Social Work Degrees, Designations, and Related Fields


An Associate Degree in Social Work (ASW) provides an entry-level foundation in social work principles and practices. This degree typically takes two years to complete and is offered at community colleges and technical schools. It prepares students for support roles in social services and can be a stepping stone to a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Graduates with an ASW are prepared to assist in areas such as case management, community outreach, and administrative support within various social service agencies.


The curriculum for an Associate Degree in Social Work focuses on introducing students to the field of social work, covering basic concepts, skills, and knowledge areas:

  • Introduction to Social Work: Provides an overview of the social work profession, including history, core values, and practice areas.
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Examines how environmental forces and human development affect individual and community well-being.
  • Social Welfare Policy: Introduces students to public policy affecting social services, including the history of social welfare, current policies, and advocacy.
  • Case Management: Teaches the fundamentals of case management, focusing on assessment, planning, and coordinating care for clients.
  • Psychology and Sociology Courses: Basic courses in psychology and sociology help students understand the complex factors that influence behavior and social structures.
  • Fieldwork or Practicum: Although more limited than in BSW programs, some ASW programs include fieldwork components that allow students to gain practical experience in social service settings.

This curriculum is designed to provide a foundational education in social work that prepares graduates for immediate employment in supportive roles or for further study in the field.


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. 


The curriculum of a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program is designed to equip students with foundational knowledge and skills necessary for entry-level positions in social work. The BSW curriculum generally includes:

  • Core Courses: These courses lay the groundwork for social work practice and typically include topics such as Introduction to Social Work, Social Welfare Policy, Human Behavior in the Social Environment, and Social Work Ethics.
  • Skills Development: Courses focus on developing specific skills such as interviewing, assessment, intervention strategies, and case management, essential for effective practice in diverse social work settings.
  • Field Practicum: A critical component of the BSW curriculum, the field practicum offers students hands-on experience in social work settings under professional supervision. This experience is crucial for applying theoretical knowledge in real-world environments.
  • Service Learning: Many programs incorporate service learning opportunities that allow students to engage with the community and understand the practical implications of social work theory.
  • Diversity and Cultural Competence: Courses that foster an understanding of diverse populations, emphasizing cultural competence and sensitivity in social work practice.

The BSW curriculum is structured to provide a broad-based education in social work, preparing students for professional practice and laying the foundation for advanced studies in the field.

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.


The curriculum of an MSW program is designed to provide students with a deep understanding of social work theory and practice, preparing them for advanced roles in the field. Key components of the MSW curriculum typically include:

  • Core Courses: These form the foundation of social work practice and might cover topics such as human behavior and the social environment, social work practice with individuals and groups, policy practice, and research methods.
  • Advanced Practice Concentrations: Many MSW programs offer concentrations or specializations such as clinical social work, school social work, healthcare social work, or community and social systems. These tracks allow students to focus on areas of particular interest or career relevance.
  • Field Education: Integral to the MSW curriculum, field education provides hands-on learning experiences in supervised social work settings. This component is critical for integrating classroom knowledge with practical application, and typically requires a significant number of field hours.
  • Electives: To tailor their education to specific interests or emerging areas within social work, students can choose from electives that might include courses on topics like substance abuse, mental health, child welfare, trauma, and more.
  • Capstone Projects or Thesis: Some programs may require students to complete a capstone project or thesis that demonstrates their ability to apply advanced research and analytical skills to a problem in the field of social work.

The MSW curriculum is structured to ensure that graduates are not only knowledgeable but also adaptable and equipped with the practical skills needed to meet the diverse needs of the communities they will serve.


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.


The curriculum of a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program is designed to deepen clinical practice skills, enhance leadership abilities, and expand knowledge in research and policy to prepare graduates for high-level practice and academic roles. The DSW curriculum often includes:

  • Advanced Clinical Practice: Courses focus on advanced theories and methods in clinical social work practice, allowing students to specialize in areas such as psychotherapy, family therapy, or trauma-informed care.
  • Leadership and Management: These courses prepare students for leadership roles by covering topics like organizational behavior, program evaluation, and strategic management in social services.
  • Policy Analysis and Advocacy: Students learn to analyze, develop, and advocate for policies that improve social outcomes at local, national, and international levels.
  • Research Methods: Advanced research courses are designed to enhance students’ abilities to conduct rigorous research relevant to practice and policy, including both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.
  • Innovation and Program Development: Courses in this area focus on developing new social programs and interventions that address emerging social issues and needs.
  • Dissertation or Capstone Project: A significant component of the DSW program is the completion of a dissertation or capstone project, which requires students to conduct original research or a major applied project that contributes to the field of social work practice or knowledge.

The DSW curriculum is structured to ensure that graduates are equipped to assume roles as expert practitioners, educators, and policy makers who lead and innovate within the field of social work.


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. 


The curriculum for a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work is designed to prepare students for careers in research, academia, and high-level policy analysis. The focus is on developing advanced research skills and comprehensive knowledge in social work theory and practice. Key components of the PhD curriculum typically include:

  • Theoretical Foundations: Courses cover a wide range of theories from social sciences that underpin social work practice and research, providing students with a deep understanding of the theoretical frameworks that guide the profession.
  • Advanced Research Methods: This core area focuses on quantitative and qualitative research methodologies and data analysis techniques essential for conducting high-level social work research.
  • Statistics and Data Analysis: Courses in statistics are crucial for designing research studies and analyzing complex data sets, skills necessary for academic and research-oriented careers.
  • Policy Analysis and Development: Students engage in an in-depth study of social policy processes, including how to influence policy through research and advocacy.
  • Teaching in Social Work: Many programs include a focus on pedagogy, preparing students to teach at the collegiate level by providing skills in curriculum development, instructional design, and student assessment.
  • Dissertation: The culmination of the PhD program is the dissertation, an original research project that contributes new knowledge to the field of social work. Students must propose, conduct, and defend their dissertation research under the guidance of faculty advisors.

The PhD in Social Work curriculum is structured to cultivate scholars who contribute to the knowledge base of the profession through research, teach the next generation of social workers, and influence policy and practice on a broad scale.


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.

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:


An Associate of Social Work (ASW) degree provides foundational knowledge in social work, preparing graduates for entry-level support roles in various social service settings. This degree typically takes two years to complete and is an excellent option for individuals looking to begin their careers in social work or who plan to pursue further education in the field. Here are some of the key career paths available to ASW graduates:

  • Social Services Assistant: ASW graduates often work as assistants in social service agencies, helping to manage client cases, providing administrative support, and assisting with the implementation of service plans.
  • Community Outreach Worker: These professionals work within communities to connect individuals and families with resources, organize community programs, and assist with public health and welfare campaigns.
  • Residential Counselor: Working in group homes or residential care facilities, ASW holders support clients with daily activities, facilitate group sessions, and contribute to treatment planning.
  • Case Management Aide: ASW graduates can assist case managers in agencies that serve specific populations such as the elderly, children, or those with disabilities. Their role includes gathering client information, helping in creating care plans, and monitoring client progress.
  • Human Services Specialist: These specialists are involved in the delivery and administration of social services to the public. They handle client inquiries, support eligibility assessments, and help with program administration.
  • Advocacy Assistant: Supporting roles in advocacy organizations can be a fit for ASW graduates, where they help organize advocacy efforts, manage communications, and assist with event planning.

While an ASW does not qualify someone for licensed clinical roles, it does provide a solid stepping stone towards a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, which can open further opportunities in the field. The ASW degree equips individuals with practical skills and theoretical understanding necessary for entry-level positions and further studies.


A Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW) equips individuals with a strong foundation in social work principles, ethics, and practice, preparing them for a broad range of entry-level positions in the social work field. While a BSW may not qualify someone for advanced roles that require a Master’s degree, such as licensed clinical social worker or private therapist, it does open many doors in various service areas. Graduates with a BSW can pursue careers in:

  • Teaching: Assist in educational settings, support special education programs, or provide community education on social issues.
  • Counseling: Serve as a counselor in group homes, substance abuse recovery programs, and other settings that do not require an advanced degree.
  • Probation Officer: Work with juvenile and adult offenders in the criminal justice system, providing supervision, guidance, and connecting them with community resources.
  • Mental Health Assistant: Support roles in mental health facilities, helping with patient care and program administration.
  • Non-profit Work: Engage in various capacities within non-profits, including program coordination, client advocacy, and policy development.
  • Community Organizer or Worker: Mobilize community members and resources to address local issues, lead community improvement initiatives, and support civic engagement.

Furthermore, a BSW provides a solid educational base for graduate studies in social work and related fields, expanding potential career opportunities into more specialized and higher-paying roles. The degree ensures that graduates understand the complexities of human behavior, social systems, and how to help people navigate challenges to improve their lives.


A Master’s in Social Work (MSW) significantly expands the range of career opportunities available to social workers, particularly in advanced clinical settings and leadership roles. This degree prepares graduates for specialized practice and management positions that require a deeper understanding of social work theory and methods. Here are some of the key areas where MSW graduates can make an impact:

  • Clinical Social Work: MSW graduates are qualified to conduct psychotherapy and counseling, providing direct mental health services to individuals, families, and groups. This includes diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders under various state licensure titles such as Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Someone who is an LCSW can manage social worker programs or manage other types of social workers. They can also enter research or provide mental health counseling in several specialties.
  • Healthcare Social Work: Work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings to help patients navigate the complexities of healthcare systems, cope with chronic or terminal illnesses, and coordinate care plans.
  • School Social Work: Serve in educational environments, addressing the psychological and social health needs of students. This includes developing intervention strategies to enhance student performance and improve behavioral and academic outcomes.
  • Child and Family Social Work: Specialize in services that protect children and help families in need of assistance. This may involve working with child welfare systems, conducting home visits, and advocating for child safety and family stability.
  • Policy Advocacy: Utilize an understanding of social policies to influence legislative and policy decisions at local, state, or national levels. This can include working for advocacy groups, government agencies, or non-profit organizations focused on social justice and policy reform.
  • Administration and Management: Lead social service programs or agencies. Responsibilities often include program development, staff management, budgeting, and evaluation.
  • Community Organization: Develop and implement community programs designed to address social issues, promote community health, and increase access to social services.

An MSW also opens doors to academic roles, such as teaching at the university level or engaging in research aimed at developing and evaluating methods and strategies to improve social services. The degree not only increases the scope of practice but also the potential for higher salaries and leadership positions within the field.

Read More:


A Doctor of Social Work (DSW) is designed for experienced social workers who are looking to further their expertise in advanced practice and leadership roles. This terminal professional degree equips graduates with the skills necessary for high-level clinical practice, administration, and academia. Here are some of the key career paths available to DSW graduates:

  • Advanced Clinical Practice: DSW graduates are prepared to take on roles as senior clinicians who design and implement therapy programs, especially in specialized areas such as trauma, family systems, and substance abuse. These roles often involve a significant amount of clinical supervision and consultation.
  • Executive Leadership: Many DSW holders assume top executive positions in social service agencies, healthcare organizations, and nonprofit sectors. These roles include responsibilities such as agency director, program director, and chief executive officer, where strategic planning and policy development are key.
  • Academia: With a DSW, professionals can pursue academic careers as university professors and senior researchers. These roles involve teaching advanced courses, mentoring students, and leading research projects that contribute to the field of social work.
  • Policy Analysis and Development: DSW graduates are well-equipped to influence social policy through roles in government agencies, think tanks, and international organizations. They utilize their deep understanding of social issues to craft policies that improve social welfare systems.
  • Consultancy and Private Practice: Some DSW graduates may opt to provide consultancy services to social service organizations or start their own private practice, focusing on clinical social work, counseling, or organizational development.
  • Program Evaluation and Research: DSW holders contribute to the field by leading program evaluation projects that assess the efficacy of social services and interventions. Their research helps guide best practices and policy adjustments to better meet the needs of communities.

The DSW prepares social workers not only to apply advanced clinical skills but also to lead and innovate in ways that profoundly impact communities and the broader field of social work.


A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social Work is designed for those interested in contributing to scholarly research, influencing social policy, and teaching at the collegiate level. This academic degree focuses primarily on research methodologies and theoretical foundations, preparing graduates for roles in academia, high-level policy analysis, and advanced research. Here are some of the key career paths available to PhD graduates:

  • Academic Careers: PhD holders are typically qualified to teach at universities and colleges. They lead courses in social work and related fields, mentor graduate students, and contribute to academic program development. Their role also involves publishing scholarly articles and books that advance the knowledge of social work practices and policies.
  • Research: Graduates often work in research institutions, think tanks, or as part of university research departments. They design and conduct studies that explore complex social issues, such as poverty, inequality, social justice, and human development, aiming to provide data that can improve social work practices and outcomes.
  • Policy Development and Analysis: PhD graduates use their expertise to analyze and develop policies at local, national, or international levels. They often work for government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or international organizations, using research to inform policy decisions and advocate for policy changes that support social welfare.
  • Leadership in Social Services: While their focus is more on research and policy, PhD holders can also lead social service agencies or programs, applying research-based knowledge to enhance service delivery and effectiveness.
  • Consultancy: Some PhD graduates work as consultants, offering their expertise to social service agencies, educational institutions, or government bodies. They help these organizations evaluate their programs, develop new initiatives, and integrate the latest research into their operations.
  • Public Speaking and Advocacy: With deep insights into social issues, PhD graduates are often called upon to speak at conferences, serve on expert panels, and contribute to public discussions on social welfare.

The PhD in Social Work prepares individuals to drive forward the understanding and implementation of effective social work practices through research, teaching, and policy-making, making substantial contributions to the field and society at large.

Which Social Work Degree Is Right for Me?

Choosing the right social work degree depends on your career goals, the time and financial resources you can commit to your education, and the specific roles you aspire to in the field of social work. Here’s a guide to help you determine which degree might be the best fit for you:

Associate Degree in Social Work (ASW)

  • Ideal For: Those looking for a quick entry into the field or those with limited resources who want to start working in supportive roles within social services.
  • Career Path: Entry-level positions such as social services assistant, community outreach worker, or residential counselor.
  • Advancement: An ASW can be a stepping stone to a BSW, especially if the credits are transferable.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

  • Ideal For: Individuals seeking a foundational education that prepares them for professional practice in social work and eligibility for licensure in some states.
  • Career Path: Entry to mid-level roles in social work, including case management and direct client services. It also allows for certification in fields like child welfare, school social work, and substance abuse counseling.
  • Advancement: Graduates can pursue an MSW, which is necessary for clinical practice and higher administrative roles.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

  • Ideal For: Those looking to engage in clinical practice, hold leadership roles, or specialize in a particular area of social work like mental health or family services.
  • Career Path: Clinical social worker, healthcare social worker, school social worker, or social work administrator.
  • Advancement: An MSW provides a direct path to clinical licensure (LCSW) and opens doors to doctoral studies if academic or extensive research roles are of interest.

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

  • Ideal For: Experienced social work professionals aiming for advanced clinical practice, leadership in social service agencies, or academic positions in higher education.
  • Career Path: Executive roles in social service agencies, director of clinical services, or faculty positions in universities.

PhD in Social Work

  • Ideal For: Those interested in academic careers, high-level research, and influencing social policy on a national or international level.
  • Career Path: University professor, lead researcher, policy advisor, or high-level consultancy roles in government and international NGOs.

Making the Decision

When choosing the right degree, consider where you see yourself in the future:

  • Practical Considerations: Think about the time commitment, the cost of education, and the return on investment in terms of career opportunities.
  • Long-Term Goals: Reflect on your professional aspirations, the kind of impact you want to have, and the population you wish to serve.
  • Personal Passion: Passion for a particular aspect of social work can also guide your decision. Whether it’s direct client interaction, community engagement, research, or policy development, choose a path that aligns with what drives you.

Can I Attend a Social Work Program While Working?

Balancing a job while pursuing a degree in social work is certainly possible, but it requires careful planning and consideration of various factors. Here are some key points to consider if you’re thinking about attending a social work program while maintaining employment:

Flexible Learning Options

Online Programs: Many institutions offer online social work programs, which are ideal for working professionals. These programs provide flexibility in terms of scheduling and location, allowing you to study from home or other remote locations.

Part-time Programs: If available, part-time social work programs can be an excellent choice for those who need to work while studying. These programs extend the duration of the degree but reduce the number of courses taken each semester, making it easier to manage alongside a job.

Evening and Weekend Classes: Some schools offer courses in the evenings or on weekends, specifically designed to accommodate students who work during regular business hours.

Employer Support

Tuition Assistance Programs: Check if your employer offers tuition reimbursement or educational benefits. Some organizations support their employees’ professional development and may partially or fully cover tuition for a social work program.

Flexible Scheduling: Discuss flexible work arrangements with your employer. You might be able to adjust your working hours or work remotely on certain days, aligning your job responsibilities with your class schedule.

Time Management Skills

Effective Planning: Balancing work and study demands strong time management and organizational skills. It’s important to plan your schedule meticulously, allotting specific times for classes, study, and work commitments.

Setting Priorities: You may need to prioritize your responsibilities and make some sacrifices, such as reducing social activities or leisure time to ensure you can meet both educational and professional obligations.

Support Systems

Academic Support: Utilize resources offered by your educational institution, such as academic advising, tutoring, and online forums, to help manage your coursework.

Professional and Personal Support: Lean on family, friends, and colleagues for support. They can offer encouragement and may help alleviate pressures from other areas of your life.

Assessing Personal Capacity

Realistic Self-Assessment: Evaluate your personal and professional life to decide if you can realistically manage work and studies. Consider your current workloads, personal commitments, and overall stress levels.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker After Earning a Degree

Becoming a licensed social worker is a critical step for those looking to advance in their career and practice independently or in specialized clinical settings. The process involves several key steps, which can vary by state but generally include the following:


Earn a Degree: Obtain a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or preferably a Master of Social Work (MSW) from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Most states require an MSW for clinical social work licensure.


Pass the Licensing Exam: After graduation, you must pass a licensing exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The level of the exam (Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, or Clinical) will depend on your degree and the type of license you are pursuing.


Complete Supervised Clinical Hours: For clinical licensure, most states require candidates to complete a certain number of supervised clinical hours post-graduation. The specific number of hours varies, but it typically ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 hours, completed over a period of two to three years.

Application Process

Submit an Application to the State Licensing Board: Apply for licensure through the board in the state where you intend to practice. This process includes submitting your transcripts, proof of degree completion, exam results, and documentation of your supervised clinical hours.

Background Check

Undergo a Criminal Background Check: Most states require a background check as part of the licensing process. This step ensures that candidates have no criminal history that would disqualify them from practicing as a social worker.

Continuing Education

Fulfill Continuing Education Requirements: Once licensed, social workers must complete continuing education (CE) credits to renew their license periodically. CE requirements vary by state but are essential for maintaining licensure and staying updated with the latest practices in social work.

Stay Informed

Keep Up with State Regulations: Licensing requirements can change, and it is important to stay informed about the regulations in the state where you practice. This includes being aware of any changes in the law, CE requirements, and other relevant professional standards.

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 year. The 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.

Read More: Guide to Social Worker Salaries

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.

Find affordable MSW degrees:

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.

Compare Social Work Degrees:

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