If you’re researching a career in social work, you’ve probably heard the acronyms BSW and MSW. The major difference between the two is fairly simple: A BSW stands for a Bachelor of Social Work, and it is an undergraduate degree. The MSW stands for Master of Social Work; this is a graduate degree.
Both social work degrees allow an individual to become a practitioner in the field of social work. However, the BSW is the less advanced and credentialed of the two degrees.
Social Work is a regulated industry. For this reason, a sizeable number of professionals in the field of social work take appropriate state licensure exams to become licensed social workers (LCSW). Requirements for licensure vary state-by-state. For example, while all states allow MSWs can apply for licensure, not all BSWs are eligible; many states require social workers to earn an MSW first. In states that allow for a licensed BSW, degree holders are still limited in the duties they can fulfill. The majority of healthcare agencies and other organizations seek the MSW for employment. Moreover, anyone wanting to go into private practice must first obtain the MSW, then pursue additional hours of supervised training in the field before being allowed to hang a shingle on the door.
There are a couple of significant practical considerations:
- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification
Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:
- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. ( )
A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. ( )
- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees
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Another point of difference between the BSW and the MSW is salary. According to the National Association of Social Workers, MSWs typically earn higher wages than BSW degree holders. For this reason, the BSW is best for entry-level positions in social work.
For the purposes of career advancement and salary opportunities, many individuals prefer to earn an MSW degree. That said, BSWs who choose to continue their educations and go on to complete the MSW are advantaged in some ways. First off, BSW holders can move through the MSW more quickly by applying for advanced standing. Unlike traditional MSWs, advanced standing programs can be completed in as little as one year. These programs allow BSWs to receive credit for prior coursework and fieldwork. Therefore, they can move quickly towards meeting the requirements for graduation. Additionally, many MSW programs favor admitting a BSW over a candidate who has no prior social work education. BSWs demonstrate a readiness and preparedness for graduate social work study that other BA or BS applicants can’t.