Social Work Degree Programs

As a practice and discipline, social work is dedicated to the improvement of individual quality of life and the betterment of communities through the advancement of social welfare and social justice. These common goals are achieved through different means, so with formal training and the right social work degree, graduates may pursue the specialty that is best suited to their personality and skill set. Many social workers engage in individual and/or group psychotherapy for the purpose of helping people change self-destructive behaviors and address unresolved conflicts in their relationships with family, friends, and others. As counselors, social workers may also educate citizens about resources in the community that will help them improve the circumstances of their lives. These resources may include different forms of public assistance, public programs, and community support groups. In addition to providing psychotherapy, social workers also administer governmental programs pertaining to public health and welfare.

Other social workers engage in community organizing or perform research into areas of public policy in order to effect change in society at the macro level. No matter what professional role social workers choose for themselves, their priority is always to improve social conditions within a community so as to better equip it's citizens with the tools they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, both emotionally and physically, while encouraging them to meet their own social and personal needs.

Social work is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon aspects of psychology, sociology, and medicine. Most social workers also have knowledge and interest in the fields of politics, philosophy, and economics. The degree to which these various disciplines

What conditions does a social worker treat?

As psychotherapists, counselors, and educators, social workers are equipped to treat individuals suffering from a wide variety of psychological disturbances and psychiatric conditions and to provide assistance and support to those struggling with disability or disease. Some social work jobs involve applied therapy for mentally ill individuals suffering from conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They may counsel couples and families who are experiencing personal conflict. Social workers specializing in the field of addiction help individuals suffering from the consequences of alcohol and substance abuse. In school settings, social workers may work with children with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders in an effort to boost students' academic progress and enhance their overall educational experience.

In the course of providing individual and group counseling, social workers engage in client intake and assessment, develop treatment plans, and identify helpful community resources and social services. The focus is on helping patients identify and understand their own problems and develop strategies for marshaling available personal and social resources to solve those problems.

Where do social workers work?

Social workers work in a number of settings. Social workers who spend most of their time providing direct psychotherapy and individual counseling often work in private practice, either as solo practitioners or as part of a group medical or counseling office. Other employers of social workers include hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities, social service organizations, government agencies, and public and private schools. Social workers who concentrate on public policy research may work for universities, medical research facilities, public health organizations, and governmental or non-governmental think tanks.

Request Information from Social Worker Colleges

The Social Worker degree program you need in order to get your career started is listed below among many schools, colleges, and universities. This page was designed to provide you a resource to find what you need quickly and efficiently. Request information from several of the Social worker programs, schools, colleges, and universities below in order to find the right program for you.

Masters Degree in Human Services

By pursuing a master’s degree in human services, you will have the opportunity to expand your foundation of knowledge, enhance your career prospects, and focus on a specialized area of human services.  The aspiring professionals considering this degree option are often interested in pursuing management positions in social services, public health and other government organizations. Whatever your drive is for considering the Master of Arts in Human Services, you can be confident that it will give you ample opportunity to develop yourself professionally.

A 2004 study done by the National Institute for Mental Health found that about 57.7 million Americans were afflicted by a mental health condition. The study also identified the fact that about 45% of patients diagnosed with a mental condition subsequently met the criteria for an additional two mental disorders, deeming a large number of mental health cases severe or possibly even life-threatening.

The Master of Arts in Human Services is designed to help professionals meet the challenge of improving the lives of patients living with these types of debilitating mental conditions.

Bachelor Degree in Human Services

The Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree is designed to prepare students for entry-level work in the human services sector. Completion of this degree program may prepare you to work in social work agencies, addiction treatment facilities, welfare agencies, mental health clinics, or community health centers. Regardless of the direction you decide to take your career, with this degree you will be well prepared to help those suffering from emotional, mental, and social issues.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 26.2% of American adults are diagnosed with a mental disorder every year. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability and affects roughly 14.8 million adults nationwide. In 2006, about 33,300 deaths were caused by suicide, and about 90% of all suicidal patients were reported to have had diagnosable mental disorders. Approximately 7.7 million Americans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, while nearly 15 million suffer from moderate-to-severe social phobia.   

As a graduate of a bachelor’s in human services program, you may find yourself helping patients to cope with issues like post traumatic stress, social phobia, depression, and suicidal ideation; and your dedication to these types of patients could drastically improve their quality of life.

Social Work Degrees

What kind of degree is required to work in the social work field?

Students interested in social work can pursue the bachelor's degree in social work (BSW), the master's degree in social work (MSW) or the doctorate in social work (DSW or PhD. in social work). The BSW is an undergraduate degree that takes an average of four years to complete. The college student who earns the BSW pursues a major in social work while also completing other course requirements for earning a bachelor's degree. With a BSW, an individual can gain an entry-level position in the field of social work.

However, a bachelor's degree in social work can be insufficient for certification or licensure in some states. Those who wish to pursue certification or licensure in states requiring advanced degrees should pursue the Master's Degree in Social Work, also known as the MSW. Those who plan to use their social work degree to go into private practice as psychotherapists should also considering earning their master's degree.

What are the options for advanced degrees in social work?

A master's degree through an accredited school of social work is adequate to qualify a social worker for most of the available job opportunities in the social work field. However, those who successfully complete their master's degrees have the option of continuing on to earn a doctorate. There are two types of doctorates in social work, the DSW or doctorate of social work, which is considered a "professional" degree, and the PhD. in social work, which is considered a research degree. Social workers who wish

What are the options for a joint degree in social work?

Students can often earn joint degrees in social work and medicine, social work and public health, social work and law, or social work and public policy. For instance, a student pursuing a joint degree in social work and law may take three to four years to earn both degrees as opposed to the two that it generally takes to graduate with only a social work degree. However, joint degrees can make social workers more marketable with certain employers. For instance, a candidate with degrees in both social work and law might have an edge when applying for a job with the criminal justice system, and a candidate with degrees in both social work and public health may have an advantage when applying for medical social worker positions.

How long does it take to earn a degree in social work?

Bachelor's degree social work programstypically take about four years to complete if a student attends school full-time. The master's degree in social work is generally a two-year program. However, some accelerated programs, which require students to take heavier course loads and to take classes during summers, are also in existence. In addition, many master's degree programs in social work grant advanced standing to students who already have a bachelor's degree in social work, reducing the time it takes to complete the MSW by up to a year. A DSW or PhD. in social work can take anywhere between two and four years to complete, depending on the complexity of the student's chosen dissertation project.

What can an individual do with a social work degree?

With the most basic social work degree, the bachelor's degree, an individual can qualify for entry level positions as a case consultant or intake specialist who conducts initial interviews of clients seeking therapy or services from a social services agency. A bachelor's degree in social work is generally sufficient for an individual to obtain a position as a child protective services worker, who investigates allegations of child abuse and monitors homes in which past abuse has occurred. A bachelor's degree in social work also qualifies graduates to work as court-appointed special advocates who represent the interests of abused children, foster children, or juvenile delinquents who find themselves embroiled in the legal system. Other sub-fields of social work that welcome the bachelor's degree in social work as a credential are gerontological social work, which entails the provision of services to senior citizens, and criminal justice social work, which involves working with incarcerated inmates or with parolees after their release from prison.

Generally the Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) is required for those social workers that wish to enter private practice as clinical social workers. Other fields within the social work profession that require the master's degree include medical social work, psychiatric social work, and school social work. Social workers who go on to earn the DSW or PhD in social work generally find work as professors, community advocates, policy or legislative advisors, and research academicians.

What kinds of institutions offer social work degrees?

The bachelor's degree in social work is offered by a number of undergraduate colleges and universities throughout the country. Graduate degrees in social work are offered by schools of social work, which are generally part of larger universities that offer a wide variety of advanced and professional degrees. Some universities offer students the opportunity to complete part or all of their coursework online, and some primarily online institutions now offer social work degrees.

The doctorate in social work (DSW) or PhD in social work can be completed entirely online. However, the bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) and, especially, the master's degree in social work (MSW) include an intensive clinical component that requires the student to obtain extensive hands-on work experience under supervision of qualified professionals. This aspect of the social work degree program cannot be satisfied through online learning even though coursework is usually allowed to be completed online.

Social Worker Career

What are some typical career paths for social workers?

The variety of social work jobs available for talented individuals hoping to build a career in the social work field is breathtaking. Social work offers a specialization that will suit the interests and abilities of every social worker. Some social workers choose to spend most of their time engaging in clinical psychotherapy with individuals. Others prefer to work with groups in contexts that involve community organizing, education, or the provision of social services. The employers of social workers are as varied as the opportunities available.

What services do child, family, and school social workers provide?

Individuals who enjoy working with children may choose to pursue social work programsthat offer courses in the specific needs of children and families to become school social workers. Child, family, and school social workers provide clinical counseling and other social services to children and their families in order to prevent or address family dysfunctions while fostering the emotional health of the children and encouraging their academic success as students. Social workers specializing in this area may work for social service organizations or adoption agencies. They may help single parents obtain necessary services for their families and facilitate adoption and foster home placement. Other social workers are employed by schools, both public and private, where they counsel students with personal and behavioral problems ranging from teenage pregnancy, to poor academic performance, to substance abuse.

What services do medical and public health social workers provide?

A social work specialty that is closely allied with medicine and healthcare is medical and public health social work. Medical and public health social workers provide counseling, education, and other services to those suffering from or vulnerable to illness and disability. They may also provide services and support to the families of patients and other caregivers. Within the field of medical

What services do mental health and substance abuse social workers provide?

Through a specialized mental health school of social work, graduates with a desire to engage in psychotherapy often pursue training in the field of mental health and substance abuse. Mental health and substance abuse social workers treat and counsel individuals suffering from a wide range of emotional problems and psychiatric disorders, including addiction. Social workers in this particular specialty spend most of their time on the job providing direct psychotherapy services to patients in either a one-on-one or group setting.

Case management, client education, and crisis intervention are other key components of the work performed by social workers that concentrate in this area. Psychiatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, and residential facilities for the mentally ill and disabled may employ mental health social workers. In addition, many social workers in this particular specialty are in private practice. Social workers who specialize in substance abuse and addiction issues frequently work for hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and social service agencies.

What other social work jobs are available?

As educators, social workers may teach social work courses at the university and graduate school level both in social work school and in general liberal arts or social science programs. They may also engage in public education on important social, cultural, and health issues. For instance, a social worker employed by a non-profit organization that is devoted to reducing the incidence of AIDS in the general population could help the organization conduct educational outreach workshops for individuals who are members of populations that are particularly susceptible to the transmission of HIV.

There are also a number of social work jobs available in administrative capacities. Social workers who go into the field of administration may serve as deans or academic officials at colleges and other schools. They may work in hospitals or clinics. They may oversee the operation of governmental or non-profit organizations devoted to providing social services and public assistance to specific groups and individuals. Not all social workers work directly with people. While many social workers are in the field working to help their clients who are struggling with personal and social problems, others are at work in a research capacity, trying to devise new and better solutions to those problems. For instance, some social workers may specialize in working with the homeless. They may refer the homeless to shelters and transitional housing and they may identify resources and assistance programs that will help a homeless individual adjust to a new apartment and job. However, social workers that function as researchers and policymakers work on developing programs that social workers in the field will later implement. They may propose model legislation or devise strategies for social service agencies and non-profit organizations.

What kind of environment do social workers work in?

Many social workers, particularly those who work as psychotherapists, substance abuse counselors, medical social workers, and school social workers, spend most of their workday in an office. Social workers who work as psychotherapists in private practice may see and counsel several clients each day in their offices. Other social workers, such as child and family social workers that work for child protective agencies, may travel to their clients' homes. Social workers who are employed full-time generally work a standard forty-hour workweek. However, many social workers that provide psychotherapy will stay at the office well into the evenings or on weekends to accommodate clients who work the day shift and can only come to appointments during non-work hours. In addition, because social workers often deal with troubled individuals, particularly those suffering from mental illness and addiction, they must often address emergencies that occur outside regular work hours.

How do social workers take care of their own emotional needs?

Those interested in knowing how to become a social worker should be well aware that it is a challenging field. Social work jobs can be rewarding but also very stressful. Social workers see the worst aspects of human behavior, including domestic and child abuse, mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. They often work with populations of clients that have experienced trauma such as foster children and crime victims.

Sometimes a social worker's desire to help others exceeds his or her ability to do so. Consistent exposure to emotionally disturbing social problems can become draining for even the most objective and knowledgeable of social workers. Thus, the phenomenon known as "burn out" is an occupational hazard in the social work field. Social workers should keep this in mind and do what they can to form a secure and supportive professional and personal network before any problems start. Talking to other social workers that have had similar experiences, joining support groups for mental health professionals, and pursuing continuing education classes on dealing with work-related stressors can all help a social worker avoid job-related burnout.

Is private practice an option for social workers?

Private practice is an attractive option for many social workers, particularly those who work as therapists, as is the case with mental health social workers. Those aspiring social workers that would like to go into private practice should keep in mind that they are likely to attract more clients and achieve professional success if they have a master's degree and a considerable amount of work experience before starting off on the own. In fact, some states require social workers that serve as therapists to have a master's degree.

Social workers who open their own offices often start out by working in a private group practice where they can observe first-hand what is necessary to run a therapy-related business. They also gain valuable experience in their chosen field while in proximity to other social workers that can answer questions and provide support. Most important, they develop a roster of patients and other personal contacts that they can draw upon when they leave the group practice to start a private practice on their own.

Social Work Program

What classes will I take if I enter a social work program?

Master's degree programs in social work are designed to help aspiring social workers acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to work effectively in their profession. Social work programs at the master's level include both in-class coursework and clinical fieldwork. Coursework includes classes in social welfare policy, human behavior, ethnocultural issues, community organization, theory of psychotherapy, as well as conflict management, and ethics.

Through the clinical component of the social work degree program, students master the skills required to assess client needs, draw up psychotherapeutic treatment plans, identify pertinent social and community resources, intervene in crisis situations,

How should I prepare myself to succeed in a social work program?

Aspiring social work students should recognize the great commitment necessary to complete a social work degree and pursue a career in this rewarding and challenging profession. In choosing particular social work schools to apply to, students should do as much research as possible on each program by reading the program's promotional literature to determine its philosophy and theoretical bend. Incoming students will also find that visiting the campus to observe classes and talk to current students will offer them a unique insight.

Before filing an application with the admissions office, applicants should make sure their admissions packets are complete and that they have included a personal essay that highlights their achievements in the best light to make a strong case for why they would make a positive contribution to the social work program.

Admissions to social work programs can be competitive, and applicants should strive to get top grades and test scores. In addition, volunteer work or previous work experience in a social work setting or related field will go a long way toward keeping an application out of the slush pile when being reviewed by a prestigious social work school. Although volunteer or work experience cannot completely erase the effects of a low GPA or GRE score, it can mean the difference between being accepted and being waitlisted or rejected for those with borderline credentials. Because of the competition to get into social work school, applicants should apply to as many schools as they can afford to in light of the application fees.

Taking a broad sampling of social science courses as an undergraduate is great preparation for entering a social work program, as is getting hands-on experience as a volunteer or intern in a social work setting. You must keep in mind that the goal of social work school is largely to develop skills of critical thinking, observation, and empathic listening. The fieldwork or internship component of your program will be vital to developing the necessary skills. You can best ensure your success in this aspect of your social work program by choosing a placement that interests you and caters to your personal strengths. Fieldwork placement may include internships at college or university counseling centers, local hospitals or psychiatric facilities, rehabilitation centers, social service and child protection agencies, as well as government agencies, including the Veterans' Administration.

Social Worker Salary

What is a social worker?

Social workers help individuals and families identify problems and work toward solutions. They may also work with people who have substance abuse problems, social disorders, or other behavioral issues learn to cope or curb their habits through therapy. They may be employed in a variety of settings including schools, government agencies and private practices. Depending on their work scope, they may provide services similar to those offered by psychologists, mental health counselors or school guidance counselors.

What is social worker salary?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports the median income for social workers in 2012 exceeded the median income for all occupations during that year. The median pay was lower for certain specialties, including healthcare social workers; child, family, and school social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers.

Is it difficult to find a job as a social worker?

From 2012 through 2022 the career is expected to grow faster than average according to bls.gov. Increasing demand in the health care sector is expected to drive much of the growth in the field. There may be different demand depending on the specialty you decide to pursue.

Is there room for advancement as a social worker?

A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement for many social work positions. Earning an advanced degree, however, might qualify you for more employment opportunities. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) says a master's degree may allow an individual to work in supervisory, administrative and training capacities. A doctorate in social work can lead to jobs at universities as an educator or researcher.

In addition, the NASW offers a number of credentialing programs in areas such as leadership, case management and addictions. The NASW notes credentialed social workers may have access to new avenues of career achievement.

Do social workers need to be licensed or certified?

According to bls.gov, all states have licensure or certification requirements for social workers. Each state determines its own requirements but they typically involve obtaining a degree from a program accredited by the Council for Social Work Education and passing an exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards. States may also have continuing education requirements that must be met to maintain a license.

Social Work Schools

Are social work schools accredited?

In the United States, schools of social work are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. In June 2009, the CSWE had accredited 468 bachelor's programs in social work offered by colleges and universities throughout the country. In addition, the CSWE had accredited 196 schools of social work offering the master of social work (MSW) degree. Because the doctorate in social work (DSW) or PhD in social work is not considered a necessary professional credential or required for certification or licensure, there is no formal accreditation process for schools that offer these advanced degrees. However, according to the Group for Advancement of Doctoral Education, 74 institutes of higher learning throughout the nation offer a doctorate level degree in social work.

What are the requirements for admission to a social work school?

Schools of social work offer advanced degrees in social work. All social work schools offer the MSW or master's degree in social work. A school of social work may also offer doctorate-level social work degrees.

It is not necessary to major in social work or any other specific discipline as an undergraduate in order to gain admission to a master's degree program offered by a school of social work. However, those applicants who have pursued coursework that gives them a firm foundation in the behavioral and social sciences will be better prepared for the academic demands of an MSW

What are some specialties or sub-fields within the social work profession?

Most social workers have a particular specialty or focus. Specialties and sub-fields within the social work profession include the following:

  • Child and family social workers focus mainly on providing services and counseling to children and their families. They may work with abused children or with families dealing with a number of internal conflicts and social issues, including domestic violence and homelessness. This category of social worker includes child welfare caseworkers, as well as other social workers that work for child protective service agencies and family services organizations. Many of these social workers are employed by state or local governmental agencies.
  • School social workers work with students in elementary and secondary schools in order to help them reach their full academic and personal potential. In providing services to students, school social workers coordinate with parents, teachers and school administrators. School social workers may have to deal with children who have behavioral problems and developmental disciplines, as well as young people coping with serious issues such as alcoholism, unwanted pregnancy, and abuse at the hands of family members or intimate partner. Part of the school social worker's job may include educating teachers on how to deal with emotionally disturbed students in the classroom.
  • Medical and public health social workers counsel and provide services to individuals with illnesses and disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers. Some medical and public health social workers specialize in working with particular patient populations such as individuals with cancer or AIDS. The staff of most hospitals includes medical and public health social workers that counsel patients, help devise discharge plans, and arranged for services in the home during patient convalescence, including visiting nurse service.
  • Gerontological social workers specialize in providing services to senior citizens, as well as their families and caregivers. Through counseling, they may work to help older individuals deal with the psychological impact of aging and the related physical infirmities. They may also help coordinate services within the home that will help an elderly person maintain an independent lifestyle, including transportation, meal services, heating assistance, and long-term nursing care.
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers provide psychotherapy and other services to individuals suffering from mental illness or addiction. In addition to individual and group therapy, mental health and substance abuse social workers engage in public outreach to vulnerable populations. Social work jobs in the mental health field my involve working as staff at residential facilities for the mentally ill, and at rehabilitation facilities for those recovering from substance abuse and other addictions.

Becoming a Social Worker

What training is needed to become a social worker?

Those interested in learning about how to become a social worker should keep in mind that educational requirements include a bachelor's degree in social work, which is required to get a foothold in the social work profession. However, in some states a master's degree in social work is necessary for certification as a licensed clinical social worker.

A bachelor's level social work degree is not required for admission to a social work master's program. Indeed, no particular undergraduate major is required, although students with a thorough background in the social sciences will find it easier to grasp the principles of social work at the graduate level. In addition, those thinking about attending graduate school in social work should keep in mind that many master's programs grant credit and advanced standing to students with bachelor's degrees in social work. Thus, choosing social work as an undergraduate major could reduce the time it would take to complete the master's degree.

Common undergraduate majors for students preparing to pursue an advanced degree in social work school include psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science. Coursework in programs leading to the master's degree in social work includes classes in human behavior and development, social welfare policy, social research methods, and ethics. Accredited bachelor's programs in social work require their students to complete at least 400 hours of supervised fieldwork. Accredited master's

What personal qualities should a social worker have?

Social work is an ideal professional field for individuals with a sincere desire to help others and effecting social justice and positive social change. Social workers should be good listeners who are sensitive to the needs and problems of others. Functioning professionally as a social worker requires patience and persistence. Although many clients come to social workers voluntarily to seek help on their own, social workers often work with individuals who have been mandated by hospitals, school officials, courts, or government agencies. Clients may resist the efforts a social worker makes to help them, and the social worker must be prepared and equipped to handle the resulting frustration. In addition, social workers need to be highly responsible individuals who can handle working under pressure. Because social work sometimes involves crisis intervention and other urgent responses to client problems, the work can be stressful. In addition, because social workers deal with highly sensitive information pertaining to their clients, they must have a firm grasp of the ethical issues implicated in social work practice and take matters of privacy and confidentiality very seriously. Above all, social workers should be caring and empathic people.

How does one become certified or licensed as a social worker?

Every state, and the District of Columbia, has a process in place for the registration, licensure, and certification of social workers. Each jurisdiction also has specific rules regarding the use of professional titles such as "clinical social worker" and "licensed clinical social worker." In addition to a degree from accredited school with a social work program, most states also require two years or 3000 hours worth of supervised clinical experience or the equivalent before granting a social work license. In some states, it is legal for individuals with training in social work, but without the full credentials necessary for licensure, to go into private practice as counselors and psychotherapists as long as they disclose this fact to clients. However, the specific procedures that govern the profession and dictate how one becomes a social worker varies from state to state.

What is necessary for certification as a social worker and advancement in the social work field?

A master's degree is almost always required for certification as a social worker and meaningful advancement in the field. Teaching and research positions, as well as high-level administrative positions in government agencies and large, prestigious institutions, may require a doctorate in social work. Salary increases, as well as movement up through the ranks in the social work field, are highly dependent on the amount of actual work experience an individual social worker has. Some social work programs will encourage becoming proficient in a second language, such as Spanish. While not necessary in most cases, this can have the benefit of increasing employment opportunities for social workers.

In addition to a degree from an accredited social work program, a certain amount of clinical experience in the social work field and supervised work experience is also necessary for certification and licensure. Some states also require candidates for certification or licensure to pass a certification examination.

Furthermore, most governmental organizations and other bodies that certify and license social workers require them to demonstrate an impeccable character and high moral standards. Social workers are generally required to undergo background checks before being certified and licensed and again when they apply for employment. If an individual knows of anything in his or her background that could raise red flags, it should be brought to the attention of licensing board officials or potential employers before a background check is conducted.

Disclaimer: Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.

Social Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012,

National Association of Social Workers, Social Work Fact Sheets and Social Work Credentials,

Social Worker Schools