Associate Degree in Social Work (ASW)

If you’re brand new to social work, earning an Associate of Social Work (ASW) degree may help you build foundational knowledge in the field. With an ASW under your belt, you may qualify for certain jobs in the field or choose to pursue additional degrees in social work. This page will help you learn if an ASW is right for you. 

What Is an ASW? 

An ASW is a two-year degree social work program offered through traditional colleges, universities, and community colleges. While it is primarily designed to help students gain relevant knowledge and skills related to the field, for some, earning an ASW is the starting point in an educational journey that may end with a graduate degree or higher.  

ASW degrees may help prepare future social workers for careers as a paraprofessional in social work agencies or prepare for a bachelor of social work (BSW) program. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) does not accredit associate level programs, but rather focuses on programs that help prepare students for professional social work practice, like BSW programs or master of social work degrees. 

Should I Pursue an Associate Degree?

Earning an ASW has its benefits. An associate degree in social work may be right for you if you’re interested in gaining some experience before pursuing a bachelor or simply wish to jump straight into the workforce.

It is also important to note that an associate degree program may be less expensive than four-year bachelor’s programs or graduate-level degree programs. That’s because ASW programs generally require fewer credit hours to graduate—making it a viable option if you have concerns about funding your tuition. 

Keep in mind that an ASW won’t automatically result in license as a clinical social worker. Further education is required if you aspire to work in the clinical sphere of social work. Two common licensure types are Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which require a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in social work (MSW), respectively. It’s important to note that the LBSW licensure is used as a bachelor level licensure for social workers in some states, not all. Be sure to check with your state’s social work licensing board.

Can I get my associate degree online?

Yes, you can get an associate degree online. Online courses and degree programs have emerged in recent years as a way to earn a high-quality education with added flexibility. 

While full ASW online programs are less common than bachelor’s or master’s programs, you will still have options—even if it’s simply taking some of your coursework online. This can be a way for you to build a foundation in social work with added convenience. 

Online degree programs in social work, including online MSW programs, often cover the same subject material as traditional on-campus degree programs. Some online programs even combine synchronous and asynchronous elements to empower students to learn on their own time and fully master the material. This means you may tune into a live video lecture one day and watch brief videos and complete interactive homework online the next. 

Education Requirements   

Requirements for students in an Associate of Social Work program may vary, but some of the most common include:

  • An English or writing course 
  • A life sciences course 
  • A mathematics course

As with a bachelor’s program, ASW students have the opportunity to choose an elective general education requirement. Elective options may allow for a history, art, or culture course. 

Some of the credits you earn may carry over should you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree, therefore cutting some of the time and costs associated with earning another degree.

Curriculum 

An ASW curriculum is designed to fulfill general education requirements, as well as give you a foundation to grow your social work knowledge. Associates degrees are typically 60 credits worth of coursework. Over the course of an ASW program, you’ll likely study introductions to social sciences, historical impacts of social work, intervention strategies, counseling skills, ethics, and more about the profession in general.

ASW coursework may include:

  • Introduction to Social Work
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Social Problems
  • Social Welfare
  • Family Intervention Strategies
  • Group Intervention Techniques
  • Criminology
  • Ethics for Social Services
  • Statistics in Psychology

What Can I Do with an Associate Degree in Social Work?

An associate degree in social work may prepare you to step foot into an evolving and in-demand field. Social work is one of the country’s fast-growing industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2019 to 2029. Keep in mind that social work salaries vary by education level, licensure types, industry, and location.    

Social work roles can be found in a variety of settings such as clinics, nursing homes, government agencies, and schools. Depending on where you end up, your work may bear some similarities to that of a human services professional.

There are jobs with a minimum requirement of an associate degree, such as a health aide or a social work aide or social service assistant.

While these jobs may provide you with career fulfilment or self-gratification, they may also serve as stepping stones to advanced roles in social work or positions with clinical responsibilities, as long as you have the appropriate additional credentials. 

Either way, opportunity is expanding. According to the BLS, healthcare social work careers that involve working with elderly populations, are growing in demand as the population continues to age. Additionally, the BLS projects that community and social service careers that involve helping people through drug-related offenses, will grow as treatment options shift from jail to rehabilitation centers. 

An associate degree can serve as the foundation for a bachelor’s, master’s, or even doctorate degree in social work. As you conduct your research on ASW programs, be sure to research job outlook for ASW roles too.

Can I Become a Social Worker?

Yes, it’s possible for you to become a social worker someday. Perhaps you are drawn to the profession because of your empathy and dedication to helping others. While having a passion for social work is a starting point, gaining relevant knowledge and skills can put you on the path to achieving your career goals—whether that’s working with schoolchildren to improve their overall quality of life or supporting military veterans and their spouses. 

An ASW provides you with foundational social work knowledge, But that knowledge is usually limited in comparison to that acquired from a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Most state recognized and licensed social work positions require a bachelor’s or master’s in social work. This varies depending on the state in which you intend to practice, the role and the employer. 

Learn more about how to become a social worker.  

How Much Does a Social Worker with an Associate Degree Make?

Pay for ASW careers depend on a variety of factors. Similar to licensing requirements, the state in which you live, can affect your income. 

The median pay for some of the community and social service careers that you can get with an ASW, is listed below. All pay information was pulled from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook and is the most recent available. 

However, a career as a licensed clinical social worker may earn you a higher salary based on the additional training, experience, and expertise required for the role. The median annual salary for social workers in 2020 was $51,760, according to the BLS. And the highest 10 percent earned more than $82,820. While thinking about what type of degree program you want to pursue, give some thought to how important a social worker salary is to you and program cost.

Paying for an Associate in Social Work Program

Cost may be a factor in your educational search. As we’ve mentioned, an associate degree may be a more affordable option that helps you find a job in the social work field, human services, psychology, or other social sciences.

You have options to help you further your career through higher education. One way you can finance your education is through a social work scholarship or general scholarship. Keep in mind that many scholarships are competitive and selective, so you may want to look into other options as well. You can also receive government aid like federal student loans or FAFSA funding for an associate degree. 

Information on this page was last retrieved in April 2021.