Picture yourself, a college student, staring at a blank major declaration form. It seems as though every moment in your life has built up to this one decision, but you still don't know what to do. Before you sign your name, consider these three great reasons to earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and become a social worker:
Unfortunately, this secure job market isn't accompanied by excellent pay. Social workers earn a median income of $51,760 per year, though social workers who continually advance their education can earn more. The average annual income for people holding BSWs is even more discouraging at $40,629 per year, according to Payscale. Even so, if you want to spend your life helping others, a BSW is a great way to start. And you'll be earning more than your buddies who got bachelor's degrees in teaching (average salary: just over $40,000). So you've got that going for you.
In this guide to a bachelor's degree in social work we will cover:
The only real prerequisite for earning a BSW (sometimes called a BASW) at a four-year institution is getting into the college conferring the degree. Applying for a Master's of Social Work (MSW) program is a different matter, but most universities, and many smaller colleges, offer the BSW to undergraduate social work majors.
Some schools do ask for more. The University of California - Berkeley, for example, requires social work students to submit a "four-year program plan" to graduate. Some schools—such as Florida State University—limit enrollment in their social work programs and impose additional admissions requirements.
Always check your prospective school's requirements before attending. Some set the bar a little higher, some a lot. Some don't even have a bar.
If you are a high school student who already knows you want to go into social work, you can build up your resume by performing volunteer work or community service. Come to think of it, everybody should do that. But especially you. You should do that.
The most important thing to research is your preferred institution's accreditation status. Only consider programs accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE), because most states require CSWE accreditation to earn your BSW-level license. Additionally, most worthwhile social work graduate programs will only recognize your BSW if it comes from a CSWE-accredited institution.
Some students decide to transfer into a BSW program after earning a two-year associate's degree in social work (ASW). Some four-year schools, such as University of Vermont, offer a "2+2 pathway" program. This allows students who earn an associate degree at a local community college to gain direct admission to the BSW program. Once admitted, they can complete the bachelor's degree in two years.
Not all schools require the ASW to enter the BSW program; some will accept associate degrees in other disciplines. Binghamton University, for example, requires only "an associate degree in a liberal arts or human service field." These include associate's degrees in:
The best way to determine whether your associate's degree qualifies you for admission to a bachelor's program is to do one or both of the following:
This should be a place you visit often for answers to all your questions about admissions, coursework, prerequisites, online course options, deadlines and all your specifics.
Sometimes making a call and talking to an admissions counselor is the easiest way to get your questions answered. Write up a list of everything you are unsure about and ask away!
Do not just "ask a friend who usually knows about these things." That is definitely the least-best option.
Full-time BSW students typically complete the degree in four years. Part-time students take longer. Online programs are the same, although online students tend to be part-timers (online study is the option preferred by those who continue to work full-time while studying). Accordingly, most online students take more than four years to graduate.
There is no single mandatory curriculum for undergraduate social work programs. On the contrary, schools differentiate themselves through the variations in their programs. Want to learn to be a clinical social worker? Some schools specialize in that practice, and that will be reflected in their course offerings. Or perhaps you hope to become a social work administrator? Again, some schools will offer more courses in relevant subjects.
Even so, everyone earning a BSW needs to learn the core values and practices of social work. Also, every CSWE-accredited program needs to meet CSWE standards, and that means teaching particular subjects. Most undergraduate social work programs include courses with titles similar to the following:
One graduation requirement for every accredited school is at least 400 hours of "supervised field experience," according to the CSWE. This is often referred to as a practicum. For most people, it represents their first professional hands-on experience with social work.
Fieldwork practicums usually come towards the end of your time in a program. They provide an excellent opportunity to:
The cost of tuition for a BSW varies widely, especially between public and private colleges, even when you factor in financial aid. Tuition at CUNY Hunter College, a public university, is $6,930 per year for in-state students. Adelphi University, a nearby private institution, has an estimated tuition of $40,860, about five times the cost of Hunter. Columbia University’s annual tuition is $50,800. And that's before books. Or fees. Or food and a place to sleep. (Fortunately, most schools offer financial aid to those in need, and the more expensive the school, the more generous the aid package usually is. Don't despair.)
The only exams you need to complete to earn a BSW are the ones dictated by your major requirement. Now, putting your degree to use might be a different story.
Requirements vary, but holding a BSW allows you to take the most basic licensing exam in most states. This exam is usually required for entry-level careers in social work. You will no longer just be a person with a degree that reads "Bachelor of Social Work." You will be a person with a degree that reads "Bachelor of Social Work" and a license that says "Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW)."
According to the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), "Non-social work degrees are accepted in some instances for Bachelors licenses."
You will most likely apply for licensure through your state's board of social work. It will review your application, conduct a background check, and approve you to take the proper BSW examination.
Some states require applicants to earn a master's degree before applying for licensure. These states require a graduate degree for licensure:
You will be able to practice social work in these states with only a BSW, but you will not be able to hold any position that requires a license. What that means, exactly, depends on the state. In California, for example, you can hold almost any nonclinical social work job.
A few states offer social work positions to applicants with just a two-year associate degree. They are:
State regulations govern social work licensure renewal. Applicants should check the ASWB or their state social work board website.
Your state's local NASW chapter can be another helpful resource. It has information that simplifies the steps.
A bachelor's degree in social work prepares graduates for a wide range of employment opportunities, though they may not fall under the name "social worker."
Here's a sampling of typical job titles and career paths for BSWs:
If you want to specialize in a specific type of social work, such as adult gerontological or clinical social work, you will most likely need a master's degree.
It is also possible to earn a BSW and then use the skills you've learned to switch careers. Some fields where BSW training can be helpful are:
A BSW will lay the groundwork for a career in social work. To advance in most practices, however, you will likely need a graduate degree as well.
Many social workers are drawn to the field because of their own experience with adversity. They see social work as a way they can help others avoid the errors they made. People with a criminal history might have a more nuanced perspective on social work, but they still need to pass a background check to get licensed.
Some states are stricter than others. For instance, Ohio enters applicant’s information into an FBI database. The state does issue licenses to ex-offenders on a case-by-case basis and encourages those with a concern to contact their desired college and the state board before applying.
If you expect the BSW to be your final or terminal academic degree, we encourage you to pursue it at a state institution where you plan to practice. The sort of high-responsibility social work jobs that favor a prestigious bachelor's degree also require a graduate degree. State schools deliver excellent undergraduate social work instruction at a reasonable cost. As an LBSW, you will likely not be earning a high salary. You should consider starting to economize now.
We've listed eight excellent affordable BSW programs below:
"The Baccalaureate degree program in social work (BSW) has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since 1974. A major in social work prepares students for beginning generalist, strength-based social work practice, graduate level social work education, and social work licensure. "
"The BSW program offers students the opportunity to link theory and practice by participating in a robust curriculum and established field placements. Students will learn the core skills of assessment, engagement, intervention, advocacy, and documentation through a generalist practice lens."
"Rutgers offers the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree with a social work major through the School of Social Work and the Camden College of Arts and Sciences and the New Brunswick School of Arts and Sciences. This outstanding professional degree program prepares graduates for foundation-level social work practice."
"Our mission is to develop and disseminate knowledge through social work research, education, and training that promotes social and economic justice and strengthens individual, family, and community well-being in this diverse and increasingly global environment of New Jersey and beyond."
"The preparatory course work for this major includes a basis in the liberal arts requiring classes in human biology, economics, public health, psychology, sociology, statistics and Social Work."
"The baccalaureate social work program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and prepares graduates for employment at the beginning level of professional social work practice as well as for graduate-level professional education. The mission is to educate undergraduate students from a social science perspective in both problem-solving skills and social work values to prepare them for generalist practice with diverse populations in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, emphasizing social and economic justice for populations at risk."
"UCF prepares you for life beyond the classroom. Here, you'll experience a wide range of opportunity, like learning diverse skills from world-renowned faculty ot networking with top employers across Central Florida to gaining first-hand experience in internships nearby."
If you don't want, or are unable, to pursue a traditional on-campus program, consider a CSWE-accredited online program. Do your research before signing up. Some schools may require a certain number of campus visits per semester. Others require students to secure their own fieldwork assignment. Some are only open to in-state students.
"EKU’s 100% online social work degrees provide students with the strong foundation needed to become ethical, culturally inclusive leaders ready to build on human and social assets in a changing world."
"The online Bachelor of Arts in Social Work degree promotes: (r)esearch-informed practice, (i)mplementation of best practices in supporting individuals, groups, families and communities, (a)dvocacy for social justice and human rights."
"UC Online’s Bachelor of Social Work degree enables students to gain the knowledge and experience needed to launch careers as community social workers. Our online BSW degree program is ideal for students who have a 2-year associate degree in pre-social work or a similar major."
"The online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is designed for adult students looking to gain a foundational understanding of social justice issues and enter the social work practice."
"Social work is one of the fastest-growing professions of the twenty-first century, projected to continue employment demands over the next few decades. The online bachelor’s degree in social work prepares you to meet those workforce needs to help make a positive and meaningful difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations and communities across society."
"(T)he BSW program seeks to establish mutually respectful and supportive relationships with marginalized communities (e.g., people of color, indigenous and aboriginal communities, refugee and immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, people with mental illness, and rural communities) to assist in the development of community leaders and programs needed to achieve social justice and improve the human condition of all community members."
"Our graduates gain the knowledge, values, and skills to practice social work in a variety of settings with people young and old. From counseling to case management and advocacy to intervention, our graduates find fulfillment in applying their skills to improve the lives of the people they serve."
It's worth repeating that you do not need a BSW to earn an MSW. Having a BSW can accelerate your MSW study, however, allowing you to skip graduate-level courses that repeat BSW content. If you know that you want to build a career in social work, a BSW is a great way to kick it off. You'll immerse yourself in a subject you love, and you'll give yourself a leg up toward any graduate degree you subsequently pursue. If you're that sure, go for it. Then get on out there and save the world.
(This article was updated on October 1, 2021.)
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