A bachelor’s degree in social work is a four-year degree and is what people most often mean when they talk about earning a college degree. To complete a social work bachelor’s degree, students must complete many core courses such as composition and rhetoric, college algebra, and a science course or two. Each college or university may have their own particular version of the core curriculum, but most are largely the same.
Requirements of a Bachelor’s Degree?
The degree itself usually includes around 120 semester credit hours. Generally, a full-time student will take about four classes per semester. Those who would like an even more accelerated schedule can consider taking classes over the summer term, though course offerings tend to be slim since most students are working or completing internships for their major, or they may be able to convince the school to allow them to take extra courses during the school year, as long as the scheduling works out.
Nevertheless, these days students tend to take longer to complete their bachelor’s degree. Government statistics for graduation rates assume that it may take up to six years to complete the on-campus or online social work degree. This may be due to an increased need for students to work during their college years. While this is becoming more and more acceptable, it’s still advised that students do what they can to complete their bachelor’s degree in four years. This helps students contain costs in the short-term while enabling them to get on with a career or graduate school in a timely fashion.
Where Do You Earn a Bachelor’s Degree?
Bachelor’s degrees are primarily offered through four-year colleges and universities. They are typically not offered through a community college, however, some community colleges may host four-year colleges from the public system. Thus, a student could conceivably earn their associate degree and bachelor’s degree on the same campus, though from two different schools.
Yet another option for a bachelor’s degree is an online degree program. Online bachelor’s degrees offer the same, and perhaps better, outcomes for students. One thing is for sure - an online bachelor's degree is a lot more flexible than a traditional campus degree. This is because students don't need to move away or even shift their schedule around to make it to class on time. Indeed, many online degree programs support asynchronous learning so that there is no need to log-on at any specific time of day. This sort of class structure is very convenient, but students must be prepared with excellent time-management skills.
Online Vs. Traditional Education in Social Work
Online degrees are still a growing, evolving approach to a bachelor's social work degree. This delivery method does differ significantly from a traditional classroom approach to the degree. One clear difference is the ability of an online student to continue working unhindered while they work towards their undergraduate degree. While traditional campus programs may offer night or weekend classes, an online program allows students to learn at any time and on any day. There is no need to rush across town through gnarly traffic for an online course.
Since the online format is often built around asynchronous courses, students have even more flexibility. Asynchronous classes are structured so that there is no required time to log-on to the course. There are deadlines, however, and students will still need to offer thoughtful, researched, responses to discussion questions. They will also need to submit papers and projects by a certain time. These deadlines are often set up to be easy for students, regardless of their time zone.
Some criticize online degree programs for not allowing the same sort of interaction available to campus students. However, that is not necessarily so. Since online students rely on email and other electronic media to communicate with their instructors, each interaction is one-on-one and avoids many distractions. Online students often find that this sort of communication allows them the same sort of personal attention afforded to students in elite colleges and universities. The discussion boards likewise allow even the most quiet and shy student to have an equal voice in whatever is being discussed. Thus, peer interactions can be enhanced in online courses.
What are the Admission Requirements for a Bachelor’s Degree?
The barriers to entry for a bachelor's degree depend on the program. There are some four-year colleges and universities that have an open admission policy. This is similar to a community college in that students only need to have a high school diploma, or the equivalent, and a willingness to learn.
However, most colleges and universities do require that students have a high school transcript that reflects a certain GPA or an online associate degree in social work transfer. They may also weigh other factors into their admissions process such as each student's extra-curricular activities, their essay responses, any required standardized test (SAT or ACT), and how well they performed in an admission interview.
Once admitted to a four-year college for a bachelor's degree, there may be still more hurdles before a student can enter their desired degree program. Some larger universities will have a secondary admission process for certain colleges or degree programs. This may involve certain prerequisites in the form of courses completed. Students may also need to show a certain GPA prior to admission.
Why Earn a Bachelor’s Degree?
There are many reasons to earn a bachelor's degree. The primary reason is that it's often considered a minimum requirement for certain jobs. It's also a requirement for most graduate degree programs, including a master of social work degree.
On top of this, a bachelor's degree prepares students for a future career on many levels. They learn how to think critically, communicate with others in a civil manner, and adapt to new information in an effective manner. For those who enter a career that matches their degree program, they will have a foundational understanding of that field. The practical applications may be new, but they will easily adapt.
As for a bachelor’s of social work, an undergraduate degree will be very helpful. This is because many state social work jobs gear their pay grades according to a person's degree. It is thus financially savvy to earn a full undergraduate degree in social work. Hiring managers will also be more interested in taking on a new hire who has a four-year degree, especially if that degree involved internships or other experiential learning.
Bachelor’s degree students will also find that they are able to apply for a master of social work. That degree can help them elevate their pay and perhaps even diversify their workload. Students who earn an MSW can not only seek promotions from their social services agency, but they can also work toward licensure as clinical workers. A licensed clinical social worker can open up a private counseling practice while also doing work for a non-profit or government agency, if they so choose.
Why a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work?
A degree in social work can be a very valuable thing, indeed. Students who are interested in helping others should consider a bachelor's degree in social work so that they can pursue the work that allows them to make a difference. A bachelor's degree in social work is an ideal way to start on this path. Though many agencies hire social workers with a high school or two-year associate degree, a bachelor's degree will be the most helpful. This is because a bachelor's degree holder will be more likely to land a higher position that pays more money.
A bachelor's social work degree will also be a terrific foundation for later advancement. Those who are interested in certifications or graduate degrees will find that more opportunities exist if they have a four-year degree under their belt.
With a bachelor's degree in social work, an entry-level worker will be able to more quickly become a supervisor. They will also have more opportunities; since they will have developed soft and hard skills from their undergraduate degree programs, their managers may soon offer them positions in administration. They can also pursue advanced degrees later on.
What’s Involved in a Social Work Bachelor’s Degree?
An online bachelor's degree in social work is about more than just the courses required for a specific degree. All students in an undergraduate social work program must complete the same core college curriculum. That includes courses such as the ubiquitous composition courses (often English 101 and 102), college algebra, elective courses, and more. This fundamental work is a foundation for later growth in one's major degree program.
In fact, some students may want to review their major program's typical prerequisites. For social work, a prerequisite might be something like an introductory sociology, psychology, or a mathematics course. Some social work programs may require a course in statistics. Individual programs will have their own set of standards, so students should discuss this sort of thing with their academic adviser.
- Political Institutions
- Intro to Psychology
- Human Development
- Foundations of Social Work
- Theories and Practices in Social Work
- Social Policy
- Introduction to Public Administration
- Field Practicum
- Decolonizing and Anti-Oppression Practice
- Advocacy for Social Change
- Social Work and Social Justice
- Generalist Practice
- Oppression and Privilege
What to Consider When Choosing a Bachelor’s Program for Social Work
Accreditation is one of the primary things that students should look for when choosing an online bachelor's social work degree. It's important because programs without valid accreditation send students into the world with degrees that are virtually useless. At the dawn of online degree programs, this was a major issue and, though in many ways this seems to have been resolved, it's still vital to investigate each program's accreditation..
As a baseline standard, any program a student considers should hold regional accreditation from a CHEA-approved agency. In fact, all public colleges or universities should hold regional accreditation. There are also programmatic accreditations available. Those accreditations are specific to the field of social work and thus indicate that the program has undergone granular scrutiny by experts in that specific field. For social work programs, accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education are highly valued.
Further Social Work Education
Online Master’s Degree in Social Work
A master’s degree in social work is commonly referred to as a Master of Social Work, or MSW. This degree can have an incredible impact on a career. Not only will social workers find that their graduate degrees enable them to rise through the ranks of their social services agencies, but they can open up whole new chapters in their careers. In particular, a MSW holder can become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who can perform one-on-one psychotherapy with clients. They can even open up independent counseling practices and self-determine the trajectory of their business.
Online MBA in Social Work
An MBA might seem like an odd choice for a social worker. However, it can add much to a social worker's career. With an MBA, a social worker will learn much about how to budget, manage workers, and even invest surplus funds. They can become expert administrators who can lead a non-profit organization or a government agency. One good choice for an MBA might be a concentration on public administration if you are working for a government agency, or you might consider programs that offer a concentration in non-profit management.
Online PhD in Social Work
A doctorate or PhD in social work is not terribly common. However, it can be a terrific choice for those social workers who desire to dig deep into research on the field. As for career opportunities, a doctorate in social work may be useful for those who want to rise in the administration of their agency or who desire a career in academia. While it is possible to teach at the college level with an MSW, a doctorate will enable professionals to seek a full professorship and to teach at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Social Work Certification
Social workers have many different choices when it comes to professional certifications. One of the first certifications a social worker earns is their first aid and CPR certification. On top of this, there are many certifications offered by independent organizations. There are also certifications that are regulated by state or federal government.
Perhaps one of the most well-known state-regulated certification is that of the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Many students pursue their MSW in order to earn a LCSW and practice as independent counselors. To earn this credential, students need to complete their MSW, including any relevant internships or other experiences. After that point, most states require a period of supervised counseling experience.
There are other sorts of certifications that social workers can pursue that help advance their careers in the direction they choose. There are certifications for healthcare social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, school social workers, and family social workers. There are even forensic social workers.
For those with a bachelor's degree in social work, there is the licensed baccalaureate of social work certification (LBSW). These social workers have passed an examination and satisfied their state's requirements for supervised practice, which may be as many as 4,000 hours, if not more. This credential will help professionals elevate their careers in that many employers require an LBSW on top of experience relevant to the job itself.
Potential Careers with a Social Work Bachelor’s Degree
Child Protective Services Social Worker:
These social workers interact with families and children who may be experiencing difficulties. They may perform educational sessions with mothers and fathers to help improve their parenting skills. They may also help to place children in safe homes until their parents are more capable.
Case Manager - Veterans:
These social workers interact with veterans who are in need of social services. They make referrals to counselors or programs that are designed to help veterans access medical or mental health care.
Medical Social Worker:
Licensed baccalaureate social workers can pursue this position, which helps clients access appropriate medical care. A great deal of cultural sensitivity, including foreign language skills, will predict great success in this field.
These social workers help to facilitate adoptions by working in conjunction with government agencies as well as private adoption service providers. Their first priority is the health and safety of the children in their care.
Forensic Social Worker:
Despite what might be implied, these social workers are not involved with solving crimes. Rather, they interact with the criminal justice system to help resolve issues related to child custody, child and spousal abuse, and juvenile justice.
This career path asks professionals to assess individuals who may have very complex cases. They are frequently involved in crisis intervention to assess mental health issues. This can be a very intense position and employers may prefer those with a master’s degree, though an LBSW credential is often sufficient.
Salary Expectations for Graduates
The salaries for social workers fall within a wide range. Those with only a high school diploma or an associate degree can claim the title, which means that the salary range can have a very low bottom. However, someone with a bachelor's degree in social work will start their career with higher earnings. That figure only rises once they earn credentials as a licensed baccalaureate social worker. In fact, the average salary for social workers is over $50,000, according to Payscale.com. Their research indicates that entry-level social workers earn around $44,000 and then reach their cap at $59,000. However, those who decide to move up into administration or who earn a MSW and become LCSWs may fall under separate employment categories, in which case their healthy salaries aren't counted along with those they may consider peers. In fact, a licensed clinical social worker may earn up to $100,000 or more per year, and social work supervisors have average earnings of around $62,000 and typically cap at $72,000.
The outlook for careers in social work is rather bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the general employment category ‘Social Workers’ is due to expand by 12% through 2030. The BLS notes that this is a faster rate than the average employment category, thus making a bachelor of social work degree a terrific choice for contemporary students. In particular, it appears that the most jobs are expected to be available for child, family, and school social workers, as well as healthcare social workers. The BLS further states that by 2026 the total number of social workers should increase by more than 790,000 nationwide.
Since the field is so diverse, full of both public and private agencies, the rate of pay and subsequent bonuses or raises is subject to variation. Pay rates also vary from state to state, with Connecticut boasting the highest median salary for its social workers, $67,000. It's worth noting that salary is also relative to one's local economy, so a social worker earning the median salary in Louisiana, $52,000, may actually enjoy a better standard of living since that state is typically more affordable.