Social work represents a vast, challenging, and oftentimes rewarding field. Social workers help diverse populations -- including children, seniors, and patients with chronic illnesses -- in a variety of work settings such as schools, hospitals, and substance abuse clinics. Most social workers start out in the field after earning a bachelor's in social work. However, an increasing number of social work professionals hold bachelor's degrees in non-social work fields, such as psychology, business, or even science.
No matter what path they take, social workers have a passion for helping people live more fulfilling, productive lives. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 16% growth for the profession from 2016-2026, which is much faster than the 7% average projected growth for all occupations in the nation. The demand for social workers and the services they provide remains high, especially for marginalized groups affected by abuse, addiction, poverty, discrimination, disease, and mental illness.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Social Work?
Several schools for social work offer both on-campus and online programs. Recent high school graduates seeking to advance their education often pursue a traditional four-year bachelor's in social work on campus. Alternatively, mid-career professionals shifting to social work from another field often opt to enroll in online programs. Most schools use the same curriculum for online and onsite social work programs, and nothing differentiates a distance learners diploma from a diploma earned on campus.
Undergraduate social work programs typically include classes on human behavior, research methods, social welfare policies, and general social work practice. By their junior year, many students begin to focus their learning on subject areas directly related to their career goals.
In addition to coursework, a bachelor's in social work requires students to complete of a certain number of field hours, although these requirements vary between schools. Colleges may require students to complete up to 500 hours of fieldwork, which students can fulfill over the course of multiple semesters. If you already hold employment in a social work setting, your school may let you use your place of work as your fieldwork location. Brick-and-mortar colleges and universities usually help on-campus students find appropriate locations to fulfill their fieldwork requirements, although distance learners may need to do this on their own if they want to find a location close to their home.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Social Work?
A broad field, social work presents diverse career paths for professionals committed to helping others. Social workers often work with marginalized populations, including abandoned children, abused women, people with addictions, and individuals battling mental illness. Social workers can serve many roles, including counselor, confidante, and advocate, as they meet the demands of their jobs.
- Child, Family, and School Social Worker
A social worker specializing in this field coordinates various services to improve the social and academic performance of children along with the well-being of families. Some may also refer abandoned or abused children to foster homes and assist with adoptions. School social workers coordinate with teachers and principals to address various problems, such as poor academic performance, truancy, and increasing dropout rates.
Median Annual Salary: $48,430
Projected Growth Rate: 14%
- Social and Community Service Managers
Social services managers assume varying responsibilities that depend on the population they serve. Some of these include coordinating and supervising social service programs, meeting with community members and funding sponsors to give presentations, and writing proposals for social services grants.
Median Annual Salary: $51,410
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Social and Human Services Assistant
Social and human services assistants help identify the services and benefits that clients need and help them access these types of aid. These professionals may also develop treatment plans; look into obtaining Medicaid, food stamps, and other program benefits for their clients; and follow up on their clients to make sure they continue to receive sufficient help.
Median Annual Salary: $64,100
Projected Growth Rate: 18%
- Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist
Social workers who serve as probation officers and correctional treatment specialists provide social services that aid in the rehabilitation of law offenders. These professionals work with individuals who find themselves in custody, on probation, or out on parole, determining optimal rehabilitation and treatment plans. These workers may also coordinate services, such as job training and substance abuse counseling.
Median Annual Salary: $33,120
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Social workers who work with this population perform several duties, including assessing an individual's readiness for treatment, helping clients develop stress-coping skills and modify their behavior to meet treatment goals, and referring clients to related supportive services (e.g., job placement counseling and group support).
Median Annual Salary: $43,300
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Social Work Program
Due to the ever-escalating price tag associated with higher education, most prospective students consider a program's cost a primary factor when looking at colleges. Several variables can impact the price of your social worker degree, including your residency status. Enrolling in a public university in your home state often means paying lower tuition than studying at an out-of-state college or university. However, some states do hold reciprocity agreements with other states, allowing students to cross-enroll without paying out-of-state tuition. Students can also consider pursuing their degree in social work online as another way to save money. Many programs charge all distance learners the same tuition rate, regardless of their residency status. Distance learners can also save on costs associated with on-campus housing or transportation.
If you know the social work area you want to focus on, investigate a program's curriculum closely. Not all bachelor's in social work programs offer the same classes, especially beyond introductory coursework. You should also inquire about the type of fieldwork experience and specializations schools offer to see whether they support your intended career path. Most full-time learners earn a bachelor's degree in social work in four years, although some programs host accelerated degree tracks, which can expedite the graduation process.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Social Work Programs
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) holds recognition from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and serves as the programmatic accrediting body of social work programs in the U.S. Accreditation represents a voluntary self-review process that a school or program can undergo to demonstrate that it meets certain academic criteria set by an accrediting body.
As the sole accrediting body for social work programs in the country, CSWE accreditation is crucial. Social work licensing regulations in most states require applicants to hold a diploma from a CSWE-accredited program. Additionally, the majority of social work master's programs in the U.S. only accept students who earned their bachelor's in social work from an CSWE-accredited program. Accreditation can also play a major role after graduation; employers in the social work field tend to prefer graduates of CSWE-accredited programs.
Bachelor's in Social Work Program Admissions
Students applying to online programs must typically submit the same admissions materials and meet the same academic standards as their on-campus peers. The majority of U.S. colleges and universities use set application deadlines that fall sometime in January. Deadlines for early decision or early action typically fall in November. However, online programs may be more likely to use a rolling admissions process, where an admissions panel reviews and decides on each completed application as it is received. This means you can find out your acceptance status within a few weeks of submitting your application.
Most schools charge applicants an application fee. If you submit a large number of applications, these fees can stack up; therefore, only apply to schools offering the type of social work program that supports your educational and career goals.
- Minimum GPA: Many bachelor's in social work programs require applicants to hold a GPA of at least a 2.0 to gain admission. However, students may need a higher GPA to qualify for certain scholarships or honors program.
- Application: Many colleges and universities accept the Common Application, which makes it possible for students to fill out one set of forms and apply to several schools at the same time. A school that does not accept the Common Application should make its own downloadable application available on its website.
- Transcripts: Most colleges ask that you submit transcripts from any secondary (and/or postsecondary) school you attended. Many schools require a fee for this service, and it can take weeks to process your request. Make sure to plan ahead to avoid missing college application deadlines.
- Letters of Recommendation: Typically filled out by teachers, coaches, and employers, these documents attest to your academic aptitude and other good qualities. Try and contact your letter writers at least eight weeks before application deadlines, and follow up on your requests after about four weeks.
- Test Scores: Many U.S. schools require applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores. The average SAT score for an accepted undergraduate falls between 1050 and 1060, while the average ACT score is 21. Depending on the competitiveness of a school, these numbers can vary widely.
- Application Fee: The average college application fee was $43 in 2016, although some schools charge fees above $75. Fortunately, some schools waive this fee for applicants who demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Social Work Program?
Social work programs that offer concentrations help students focus their studies and hone the skills needed to practice in their preferred social work field. At the undergraduate level, social work programs typically define concentration areas based on the population that is served, such as children and family, people with terminal illness, veterans, or immigrants.
|Clinical Social Work||This emphasis prepares students for direct contact with clients in a counseling setting or for positions where individuals can conduct research in the field of mental health and substance abuse. Graduates in this field typically need to practice under supervision until they earn a master's in social work.||Clinical social worker and mental health counselor|
|Direct Practice||A direct practice social worker often serves as a client's first point of contact for accessing social services. This concentration helps students develop their communication and people skills, which they need to perform intake interviews and provide direct counseling services to clients.||Child and family social worker|
|Healthcare||This concentration prepares students to assist patients with physical and/or mental illness in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, private clinics, and hospices. Students also learn to work with families to develop responsive support systems to help care for affected loved ones.||Healthcare social worker and family advocate|
|Policy Practice||In this concentration, students learn about macrostructures in social work and how to effect change. They study topics such as policy development and analysis on the legislative level, program design and implementation, and the role and use of research methodologies and data in the policy-making process.||Social work policy and legislation reformer|
|School Social Work||A school social worker works directly with students to help improve academic performance and/or social skills. Aspiring school social workers learn how to communicate effectively with families, teachers, school personnel, and the community to create an educational environment that is conducive to learning.||School social worker and school counselor|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Social Work Program
Due to the broadness of the social work field, the courses available in undergraduate programs can vary widely. However, most schools offer similar foundational social work courses, which students complete before moving on to take more specialized classes.
- Social Work Practice
Students learn fundamental social work methods, such as cross-cultural interviewing with individuals, families, and groups across age levels; case-recording; communication patterns; and relationship building. This course proves useful to all aspiring social workers because it helps students gain practical knowledge related to current social work practices.
- Human Diversity
This course provides an overview of important issues, including economic justice, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, and age, that affect the lives of different populations served by social workers. Students develop an in-depth understanding of these issues and develop the sensitivity and skills needed to communicate and connect with diverse groups of people.
- Practice with Individuals and Families
Schools offer this course as a way to provide students with the basic knowledge, skills, and values needed to serve as a generalist social work practitioner. Students who plan to begin their social work career in direct practice benefit from this course and learn skills related to client assessment, planning and implementation, and program evaluation and follow-up.
- Social Policy and Services Analysis
Students analyze existing social policies based on the principles of human rights and social and economic justice. They explore both the historical and current factors that influence and shape social service policies in their local communities and across the nation. Students who plan to concentrate their social work practice on the macro level may find this course especially useful and informative.
- Social Work Research Methods
In this course, students become familiar with quantitative and qualitative research methods; study the role of research in social work practice; and learn how to interpret research data and information. Students who plan to conduct social work research or those who aim to pursue a master's degree in social work may benefit the most from this course.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Social Work?
Like many bachelor's degrees, a social work degree consists of around 120 semester credits. Most students who pursue a bachelor's in social work on a full-time basis complete their program in about four years. Part-time enrollment can give learners more flexibility to juggle professional or family obligations, but this format delays graduation.
Additionally, transfer students who took classes through an unaccredited school/program may encounter difficulties when transferring their credits; this can extend the time to graduation significantly. Select programs may also offer accelerated tracks, helping learners graduate more quickly and save money on tuition. Finally, some colleges and universities also award credit for certain types of professional or life experiences, such as time spent in the military. These count towards a student's final tally of credits for graduation.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Social Work?
The total cost of a bachelor's degree depends largely on the type of institution you attend. According to College Board, during the 2017-2018 school year the average annual listed tuition for a four-year public institution was $9,970 for in-state residents and $25,620 for out-of-state students. For private, non-profit colleges and universities, the average tuition was significantly higher at $34,740 per year. A bachelor's in social work is a typical undergraduate program and tuition for most social work programs falls within this range. However, keep in mind that these amounts reflect only the tuition; students should also consider many other costs, such as those related to housing.
A school's location can also affect the overall cost of a social work degree. For example, moving to New York City to attend school almost certainly costs more than living in a suburban Wisconsin setting; the cost of living in a city like New York is very high. Additionally, social work programs require participants to complete a fieldwork experience, which can add transportation-related expenses to your budget.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Social Work Prepares For
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker
All states require social workers to earn this initial license. Applicants must hold a bachelor's in social work from a CSWE-accredited college or university and pass the bachelor's level examination administered by the Association of Social Work Boards.
- Certified Social Worker in Gerontology
Although this certification from the National Association of Social Workers does not take the place of licensure (none of the certifications on this list do), it indicates that a certified social worker can address challenges that affect older adults in both micro and macro social work settings.
- Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker
This certification demonstrates that a social worker is qualified to provide services to individuals under 18 years of age and their families. These workers advocate for their clients and research, evaluate, and coordinate programs and services that enhance the social and psychological functioning of children, youth, and families.
- Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker
Social workers who earn this certification possess the knowledge and skills needed to provide a continuum of services that address the needs of terminally or seriously ill patients and their families. This certification holds recognition from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization as the foremost national credential in hospice and palliative care at the bachelor's level.
- Military Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families Social Worker
This certification qualifies social workers to provide services to the aforementioned population on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. These workers identify and facilitate essential services and resources needed by their clients and advocate for legislative and regulatory policies that maintain the quality of care of all service members and their families.
Resources for Social Work Students
This online publication provides the international social worker community with news and updates about current social work issues, such as social justice, mental health, and policy changes.
This organization provides internship opportunities at non-profit organizations and international social agencies in several countries, including South Africa, Mexico, and Asia. Qualified students can use federal financial aid to help fund their internships.
This institute explores complex issues related to current social work practice and publishes in-depth reports on topics such as racial equality and veteran policy.
CWLA sponsors educational and training conferences for social workers who deal directly with children. Its website contains job postings, news, and the the latest research in the field of child welfare.
SAMSHA's website provides relevant information about social work practice and policy in the substance abuse and mental health arena. The association also offers funding opportunities in the form of grants.
Professional Organizations in Social Work
Like many professionals, social workers benefit from networking and attending regional and national conferences that allow for the exchange of information, provide job leads, and keep individuals abreast of current issues and trends in the social work field. Social work is a dynamic profession that continues to grow -- both nationally and internationally -- and joining a professional organization can help social workers remain informed and motivated as they carry out their duties.
Undergraduate and graduate students receive a 75% discount on membership and can access the association's student resource center to find information about grants, scholarships, and internship opportunities exclusive to NASW members.
Members enjoy discounted liability insurance, free legal advice, and a newsletter with the latest information about legislative policies and news related to current clinical practice.
Members receive discounted rates on the annual SSWR conference, which draws professionals from all over the country and features hundreds of presentations on social work research and education. The society also regularly features job postings on its website.
Members can receive $250,000 of professional liability insurance, access technical tools and newsletters, and receive discounts on professional periodicals. Student membership costs $35 annually, while regular members pay $120.
IFSW's website contains searchable reports, publications, and book reviews related to the international news and policies that impact social work practice on a global scale.