Social Work

What is the Difference Between a BSW and a MSW

What is the Difference Between a BSW and a MSW
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Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert June 14, 2018

If you’re researching a career in social work, you’ve probably heard the acronyms BSW and MSW. Interested in learning more about how each will benefit your social work career?

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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.

Licensing with a BSW or MSW

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.


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BSW vs. MSW salary

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.

Why earn a BSW?

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.

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About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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