Through a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program, students may learn how to provide social services to families, individuals and communities with a focus on serving oppressed or underserved populations. Earning a BSW degree may open up career opportunities, including entry-level positions in areas such as child welfare, public health, and substance abuse.
Whether you want to enter the human services field immediately after graduation or expand your education and engage in clinical social work through a Master of Social Work (MSW) program, a BSW is a first step to acquiring the skills and knowledge in the social work field.
Should I Pursue A BSW?
A career in social work can be fulfilling and rewarding. If you are searching for a career where your best skills are used to help improve the mental, behavioral, and physical lives of others – a career in social work could be best for you. Earning your BSW could be the first step to take towards starting your career in social work.
As a social worker, you will help individuals, groups, families and communities overcome issues such as mental health concerns, environmental disparities, and family conflicts. If you enjoy working with people and want to help to improve your community, a BSW opens the way for social work licensure and enables you to start working in the field as a professional.
What to Consider in BSW Programs
Pursuing a BSW is a substantial investment that entails years of education and training and calls for hard work and financial commitment. That’s why it is essential that your BSW program is top-notch – to make the investment worth it. Here are some essential factors to keep in mind when looking for a Bachelor of Social Work program:
Online vs. On-Campus — One of the most significant factors to consider is the method in which the degree program is delivered. Some BSW programs can be completed online. Others are offered on-campus, providing students with hands-on learning opportunities. If you are a working professional, the flexibility in scheduling that comes with an online program could be just what you need. On the other hand, you may find that an on-campus degree program is the best way to remain engaged.
Accreditation — Ensuring that the school you are interested in holds proper accreditation guarantees that the education you will be receiving meets national mandates. At school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the credits you earn are able to be transferred to other colleges and applied towards prerequisites for advanced degrees.
Social Work Specialties and Licensure — If you plan to enter the social work field, there are many different specialties to choose from. Ensure that the program you are interested in offers the specialization that you want. Many social work positions also require a license to begin working. When pursuing a degree, check that the curriculum will set you up to meet your state’s licensure requirements.
These are just a few areas to be aware of when deciding on a BSW program. Other factors to consider the school’s reputation, financial aid opportunities and if the cost of the program falls within your budget, and further degree opportunities.
Benefits of Earning a BSW Degree
Obtaining a BSW at a CSWE-accredited school may help open up the door for further opportunities, such as an advanced standing MSW. With the work and experience gained during a BSW program, students may enter the job field and gain positions in schools, government agencies, communities and non-profits. In many states, a BSW also leads to entry-level social work licensure and can help you advance in your workplace as well as boost your earning potential. In 2018, the top 10 percent of social workers earned more than $81,400, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Your BSW education may also give you the basic education and skills you need to pursue a graduate degree, whether that be an MSW program or Doctorate in Social Work (DSW). Either way, your bachelors in social work ultimately sets you up to enter a growing field. While employment for all occupations is expected to grow 5% from 2018 to 2028, employment of social workers is expected to grow by 11% during the same time period.
What Can I Expect from A BSW Program
BSW programs vary from school to school, but generally there are some components of the program that may share similarities or overlap. This includes admissions requirements and foundational courses.
Program Admissions for BSW Degrees
Applicants must typically have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, as well as a GPA that meets the school’s standards. Admission requirements may also demand suitable SAT or ACT scores, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and a completed application.
Typical BSW Curriculum
A typical BSW curriculum generally consists of 120 credits to be taken over the course of four years. Aside from general education requirements, students will be engaged in classes that teach them about human behavior, social welfare policy, cultural diversity, psychology & sociology, and methods for working with different groups and individuals.
Some common BSW classes are:
Introduction to Social Work — This is where you learn about the profession, common problems in society and the role that social service agencies play.
Social work with individuals — This builds upon the introduction course and drills down to how social service agencies and social workers serve people in need.
Social work with families and groups — Similar to social work with individuals, the courses that cover families explore the complicated structure and challenges that today’s families face and the role social work plays to help.
Social Welfare Policy and Practices — This course provides the structure for investigating social work policy and practices. This class may also review the policy development and history of social welfare policy in the U.S., and the effects of the policy on social contracts and constructs.
Human Behavior in the Social Environment — Behavioral scientists have been studying humans for many generations, and this type of course presents the many theories that drive human behaviors. Some universities might call these classes “mental health” coursework.
Diversity, Oppression & Social Justice — Coursework specific to these areas help future social workers understand specific challenges people face based on their backgrounds. Some universities might offer even more specific courses on subtopics such as gender issues, poverty, and Hispanic and African-American studies.
Research Methods in Social Work — In these courses, instructors provide practical simulated or hands-on experience for future social workers. You might work in groups on case studies, or you might be required to take practical experience hours.
Crisis and Trauma — You might also be required to take core classes about these areas, or if you choose to specialize in Crisis and Trauma, this might be an elective choice. It depends on the university and their course requirements.
Students are also often required to complete some sort of real-life experience or practicum, such as community service in the social work field under the direct supervision of a qualified professional.At the end of the program, you may be eligible to take the ASWB Bachelors Exam, and gain licensure.
What Can I Do With a BSW Degree?
With a bachelor’s in social work, you are qualified to work in a variety of capacities. After the program, students will be equipped to work in direct service positions that focus on social welfare and policy, individual and family support services, intervention strategies and casework planning.
Graduates can also pursue an advanced social work degree, such as a two-year master of social work (MSW) degree, to prepare social workers for specialized work in their chosen focus. Besides social work, there are also many other related fields that you can continue your education in, such as psychology, child development, counseling, sociology or gerontology.
Careers With a BSW Degree
The scope of social work practice is broad which means you may find yourself participating in legislative processes pertaining to the populations that you serve or working within the health services sector. As varied as the social work field is, graduates often end up practicing in one or more of the following focus areas:
Child, Family & School Social Work – A graduate working in this area often specializes in situations related to child welfare, child protective services, family resolutions, domestic violence, and adoption or foster care. They are responsible for working directly with children and families in the home, community, and at school.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Work – Graduates working in this field tend to specialize in situations surrounding rehabilitation, therapy, counseling and intervention for the mentally ill or those dealing with substance abuse issues. They help individuals to find and retain jobs as well as transition back into their community.
Healthcare Social Work— A graduate working in the healthcare social work field often provides services in a variety of settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and government agencies that provide healthcare services. These services include counseling to patients and caregivers, coordination of at-home services, and psycho-social support to the terminally ill.
With the goal of improving the quality of life for individuals and groups, there are many ways a social worker can influence social justice and effect community or system-wide change. Specific job titles within these three categories, or elsewhere, include:
- Case Manager
- Community Outreach Worker
- Human Services Specialist
- Juvenile Court Liaison
- Mental Health Assistant
- Residential Counselor
- Family Service Worker
- Group Home Worker
- Adoption Agency Administrator
Salary for BSW Careers
Social workers may be able to pursue licensure at the bachelor education level. Some states offer licensure options for undergraduate trained social workers, however most states require a master’s degree in social work for licensure. The median annual salary for social workers in 2018 was $49,470, compared to $38,640 for all occupations, according to BLS data. How much a social worker earns can vary based on their employer, location and the industry in which they practice. For instance, social workers employed by the federal executive branch earned a mean salary of $77,610 in 2018, while those working in local government made $66,230.
BSW Program FAQ
Before you apply to a program, do your research to know what that program is offering and how it can get you closer to achieving professional goals you’ve set for yourself.
Is a BSW degree worth it?
Social workers pursue social justice in schools, neighborhoods, hospitals, families, and community organizations and work directly with individuals and groups to help address challenges. If that sounds like a cause you’d like to build your career on, then a BSW program may be a good fit for you.
Your BSW education may set you up for advancement opportunities in the workplace and provide you with the foundation to further your studies in the field. Depending on your career goals, any one of these benefits can make pursuing a BSW worth it.
Is a BSW the same as a BA or BS in social work?
Depending on the school, you may see social work programs referred to as Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW), or even Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW). These differences simply come down to the general education requirements and structure of the school.
Some schools integrate their social work programs into the art or science curriculums, whereas others create an entirely separate program. Though the titles may be different, any accredited school can prepare you to work at the same level.