Social Work Degrees

Updated July 12, 2023 · 5 Min Read

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What Do Social Workers Do?

A social worker walks alongside people at their most vulnerable moments, offering help, compassion, and strong counsel—all with the aim of improving quality of life. While becoming a social worker isn’t stress-free, it is quite gratifying. Once you’ve completed your education requirements, service hours, and certification procedures, you’ll be on your way to giving people the competent help they deserve.

Here at College Choice, we offer a few simple rankings to help you discern the best way forward for your college career in the field of social work. To begin, take a look at our basic social work degree rankings pages: the Best Bachelor’s in Social Work and the Best Master’s in Social Work. Or perhaps you’re looking to complete a degree so that you can change careers and need flexibility in order to complete the class hours—you should take a look at our Best Online Bachelor’s in Social Work or our Cheapest Online Bachelor’s in Social Work rankings. Or maybe you’ve completed your first social work degree and are anxious to move forward in your career or take on a more substantial job that demands more education—you should check out our Best Online MSW Programs and our Cheapest Online MSW rankings.

Becoming a social worker is no easy task, but College Choice is here to help you navigate the complexities of getting a social work degree. Whether you’re looking to graduate from one of the best MSW programs in the country or complete a top online bachelor’s in social work so you don’t have to uproot your life and career or drain your bank account, we’re here to help you find, get into, pay for, and thrive in college.

Should I Get a Social Work Degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers make an average of $45,900 annually and are part of a profession that is growing faster than average. Some social workers are interested in working in the field—they want to be counselors or policy makers, working directly with individuals who need help. Other social workers are interested in less direct forms of social work—they want to be educators or researchers. Both kinds of social workers are necessary for protecting the basic rights of individuals in communities all across the country. If you want to become a social worker, a bachelor’s degree is the place to begin.

No matter which kind of social worker you’d like to be, your journey into the field of social work will begin with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW or BSW) or—depending on the job you’re after—a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology. This four-year degree must be from a school approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and will give you a base on which to build your career. During your time in school, you will also receive hands-on experience through a practicum—real-world training under the guidance of professional social workers who are working in tandem with your professors.

Our rankings pages will make it easy for you to find the right school, so take a look at our Best Bachelor’s in Social Work, our Best Online Bachelor’s in Social Work, or our Cheapest Online Bachelor’s in Social Work rankings to get you started.

As you make a decision about your education, it may be helpful to examine the exact requirements of becoming a social worker in your state, as requirements for certifications vary between states. To check on the state-specific requirements for social workers where you plan to live and work, check out the Social Work License Map. Once you understand what your state will require, you’ll be on your way to making positive decisions about your education. No matter your interests in the field, College Choice is here to help you navigate the set career path for the best bachelor’s degree in social work.

Should I Get an MSW?

If you’re interested in advancing your career as a social worker, working in a managerial or supervisory roles, or becoming a clinical social worker, you will need to complete a Master of Arts in Social Work (MSW). If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree in social work, you can still work toward a master’s degree in the field.

While pursuing an MSW, you will engage scholarship and field experience related to social engagement and justice, systematic poverty and reduction, mental health and physical wellness, and marriage and family dynamics—knowledge bases that will be essential to your practice over the course of a career in social work. Most MSW degrees are two years, but if you have completed course work in social work through a BSW, you may be eligible for credit in you graduate program, which could shorten your master’s degree pursuit time to one year.

By completing a master’s degree in social work, you will gain mobility and legitimacy through academics and experience. Our Best Master’s in Social Work, our Best Online MSW Programs and our Cheapest Online MSW rankings are a fantastic place to begin your advancement process.

How Do I Become a Licensed Social Worker?

If you would like to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) then you will have to meet the guidelines set by the National Association of Social Workers, which mandates that all social workers are able to maintain respectful relationships with clients, establish treatment goals for individuals, advocate for services, collaborate with other professionals (like doctors, mental health professionals, and other service workers), identify and administer resources to clients, and accurately assess and treat the mental and emotional stability of clients within the scope of the social worker’s expertise.

LMSWs serve with clients under the supervision of LCSWs (they do not work with clients privately) and hold the highest non-clinical license that can be received in the field. On the other hand, LCSWs hold the highest attainable credential in the field of social work. Along with this certification, the social worker must hold an advanced degree—a master’s degree or Ph.D.—while working at private facilities, hospitals, treatment centers, for government agencies, or in private practice.

Depending on your degree level and the state board’s license requirements, you may have to complete an exam to practice social work, though this may not be the case if you do not want to advance past a master’s in social work. For sure, you will have to complete an exam and the proper field experience hours (approximately 3,000 hours) if you would like to become a clinical social worker. After you’ve completed this work, you must renew your license annually, and—depending on where you practice social work—complete designated continuing education courses for recertification.

If you wish to move to another state and practice social work, you will have to reapply for a license and complete state-specific requirements along with provide necessary information (transcripts, certification evidence, test scores, etc.) from your previous state.

How Do I Pay For My Social Work Degree?

Several scholarship opportunities are available for people interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work or an MSW degree. Because the field of social work is both necessary and popular, many organizations and foundations are active in giving money to help exemplary social workers of the next generation graduate debt free.

Aside from loans from the federal government, many social work scholarships are school and region specific (be sure to contact the financial aid office at your university or even the offices of state politicians for guidance on scholarships), there are several scholarships devoted to underrepresented groups in the field of social work. Organizations like the National Association of Black Social Workers, the Social Work Diversity Project, and the American Indian Education Program offer scholarships for social workers from underrepresented people groups who are engaged with communities that need competent health and human service professionals.

As well, many states have loan forgiveness programs for social workers who work in underserved places around the country. As years of service increase, the amount that one must pay back to the government for a school loan decreases, thus making college quite inexpensive.

If you want to be a social worker, you may not have to pay full price for your social work degree. Whether you’re looking for the best online master’s in social work, or you’re looking to head off to college at one of the top MSW programs, getting a social work degree paid for is an option worth exploring. Be sure to take a look at our helpful resources concerning scholarships, like Grants, Loans, and Scholarships: What’s the Difference? and 50 Top Scholarships for 2015-2016.

At College Choice, we’re working hard to make finding the right degree a simple process; we’re interested in helping you pay for school, make exciting career decisions, and complete your degree quickly so that you can get to doing the thing that matters most for social workers: helping people. Whether you’re looking for the best online bachelor’s degree in social work or a top MSW program, let our guides and rankings help you find, get into, pay for, and thrive in college. And don’t forget to share College Choice with your friends who are looking to go to school, too!

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