Which Social Work Degree is Right for Me?
Choosing the right type of social work program for your needs is the first step to beginning a career in social work. The right degree for you will depend upon the social work career you are looking for and state you intend to practice in.
Most people working towards a social work career plan to become licensed social workers. This role generally requires a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Some MSW programs generally take two years full-time to complete. Advanced standing or part-time programs are available at many schools and offer additional flexibility for students. These enrollment options can take anywhere from one to four years to complete.
Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Programs
A BSW degree is a common first step towards a career in social work. Most MSW programs do not require a BSW, however a bachelors in social work may allow students to enter advanced standing MSW programs that may cut the time to getting your master’s degree in social work in half!
Bachelors of social work programs provide students with a foundation in social work topics. The curriculum includes classes that cover human behavior, social welfare policy, research methods, and social work practice methods. BSW programs may also include a practicum experience, providing real-world social work experience under the supervision of a social worker. Bachelor’s degrees are typically four-year undergraduate programs.
Graduates with a BSW degree may obtain entry-level positions in social work. In most states, a BSW is not sufficient to become a licensed social worker. Therefore, most graduates with a BSW will continue on to a MSW degree program. Be sure to confirm with your social work program of choice before you make a decision on pursuing a bachelor of social work.
Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs
An MSW degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited institution provides the education and experience needed to work as a social worker in a clinical setting. This organization ensures that programs provide an education that prepares students to become licensed social workers. During the MSW program, students will learn the skills needed to provide social work services.
The curriculum of these programs includes courses covering the practice, ethics, and theory of social work. In addition, MSW program completion generally requires around 1,000 hours of clinical work supervised by a licensed social worker. This provides essential hands-on experience to students.
Most MSW programs take two years to complete when taking a full-time course load. One year, advanced standing MSW programs are available at some universities for BSW applicants. Any MSW graduate that wishes to practice as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) will need to pursue licensure with their state.
Online Master’s in Social Work Programs
Online master of social work programs are available from many universities. These programs provide flexibility for students pursuing their MSW. Programs are often available in both live (synchronous) and self-directed (asynchronous) formats, allowing students who have full-time jobs or other commitments to complete their social work degrees online. Many schools of social work will also offer part-time and full-time options to accommodate their student’s diverse scheduling needs.
These online MSW programs cover the same materials as on-campus programs. Most classes available to on-campus students are also available to online students. In addition, online MSW programs have the same clinical internship requirements as on-campus programs. Some online MSW programs may help students find local organizations where they can complete these requirements.
Reputable online MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). An accredited online MSW program is a great option for anyone working towards a career in social work.
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Doctor of Social Work Programs
Students interested in an advanced degree in social work may pursue a doctorate rather than a master’s degree. A Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree is a more advanced degree for people looking to work in a clinical setting. Alternately, a Ph.D. in social work is generally focused on research and education.
A DSW program provides the highest level of education available for a clinical social worker. These programs include education on advanced clinical practice and/or research and theory.
A DSW program also includes two to four years of independent research on a thesis or dissertation within about four or more years to complete.
A doctorate in social work conveys a higher level of proficiency and experience in the field of social work. Though a DSW is not required to become an LCSW, it may provide access to more advanced jobs in the field of social work. This includes leadership and administration roles in social work organizations.