Social Work Degree

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What is Social Work?

Social work is an area of study and practice that allows individuals to assist members of social groups suffering from a variety of issues ranging from the economic to the abusive. Social workers take upon patients and clients who have difficulty adjusting to daily life or suffer from dangerous and abusive environments and work with them to develop a plan toward remedying their situations. Social workers will work with patients, employers, physicians, parole officers, and any other individuals who provide support or interest the life of the patient, utilizing them to ensure that the patients needs are met and that assistance is available. Social work has various specialization dealing with a broad range of issues, with the purpose of providing guidance and methodology as assistance.

How to Become a Social Worker?

To begin your career as a social worker, you will need to complete the following steps.  To ensure compliance with your future employer and state of residence, make sure to communicate with your guidance counselor and admissions counselor at every step of the process.  The steps necessary for you to begin work as a social worker include:

  1. Preparation: Gaining admissions to a state-approved, accredited college or university is the first step in the process. This step involves you performing a self-assessment of your strengths and accomplishments coupled with earning acceptance from a higher education institution.  Finding the right program for you may be a daunting process, which is why our highly-acclaimed resource manual is a go-to source for many college applicants.  Read our Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process in order to move to the next phase of your journey.
  2. Academics: After you have winnowed down your list of colleges, received information packets from them, and applied for admissions, you will need to select the right program for you. Whether you select a BSW, MSW or PhD program in Social Work you are on your way to a future in social work.  During your graduate or undergraduate work, you may elect to volunteer or intern with an agency to gain real-world experience in social work, build your professional network, and to enhance your resume.
  3. Licensure: After earning your BSW or MSW degree from an accredited college or university, you work under the supervision of a licensed social worker or social work agency before being eligible to apply for licensure in your state of residence. Depending on where you live, you may be required to take one or more state licensing exams through the ASWB or equivalent agency.

Top Social Work Degree

If you are considering social work as a career, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher prior to entering the field in most cases.  Whether you select an online degree program on classroom-based degree with a CSWE accredited school, you will need to earn one of the following degrees.

Online Bachelor Degree in Social Work (BSW)

An online Bachelor Degree in Social Work is also known as a BSW degree.  A BSW is the most common entry-point for social workers across the country and a requirement for many states prior to providing direct-services to others.  The bachelor’s degree in social work is a four-year program with a number of general education courses like English, math, and philosophy plus core social work curriculum.  Examples of core curriculum courses in a BSW program may include the following:

  • Human Rights
  • Social Work Integrative Thinking
  • Social Justice
  • Human Behavior
  • Social Work Practice: Policies and Professionalism
  • Social Work: Individuals, Groups, Families, Organizations, Communities
  • Field Practicum

Online Master Degree in Social Work (MSW)

A Master’s Degree in Social Work or MSW is a 1-2 year program for students meeting the prerequisites of the program often found in the BSW program.  For students without a BSW, many colleges and universities accept the bulk of credits from an accredited program for graduates with a degree in sociology, economics, psychology, and political science.  Concentrations in the MSW track include the option to specialize in leadership, clinical, research, or substance abuse counseling.

Clinical: This MSW concentration is designed for students that desire to be customer-facing and provide social work services and treatments directly to patients, groups, or families.  As a professional working face-to-face with others, this area of concentration teaches students about reciprocal relationships, empathy, social justice, well-being, human rights, and self-help skills.  MSW graduates concentrating in the clinical track can engage in careers in assisted living as a care manager, private practice therapist, or legal services staff social worker.

Leadership: The leadership concentration within the MSW program help prepare students for management and leadership careers in local agencies, community organizations, national departments, or international organizations.  This discipline within the master’s degree track has an overt emphasis on communication, organization development, policy development, managing others, and clinical management.  Graduates can step into careers in a hospital as a health care integrator, recruiter in a staffing organization, or program manager at an intervention organization.

Research: A research concentration emphasizes systems evaluation and accountability are becoming highly popular degree holders.  With analytic and research skills, degree holders are equipped to move into careers in education, the political arena, public policy, state government, or continue into a PhD program.

Substance Abuse Counseling: With overlap in programs, many schools have integrated courses in substance abuse counseling into a traditional MSW program to add flexibility and versatility.  Make sure to check with your state of residence to ensure these programs meet the necessary qualifications to practice in the state.

Two additional MSW degree programs that have gained popularity of late is the Accelerated MSW Degree for BSW degree holders and the Dual MSW & Public Health Degree program.

Online Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Earning a PhD in Social Work prepares students to be a thought leader in education, research organizations, and corporations of all types.  An integrated curriculum allows students to focus on policy and/or practice while learning to become subject matter experts in degree concentrations like mental health, gerontology, and family services.

Educational Requirements for Social Workers

An individual seeking a social work degree will have to complete a minimum of four years of post secondary education, receive a bachelor's and pass all state certification requirements and exams. The requirements will vary from state to state, and it is best to check your state's licensing agency for more information. More advanced degrees will offer more job opportunities and higher financial rewards. It is important to note that one does not need a social work bachelor's degree to pursue a social work master's degree as a bachelors degree of any type will suffice.

Potential classes include:

  • Social Work Practice
  • Issues in Social Welfare
  • Diversity and the Struggle for Human Rights
  • Social Welfare Policy
  • Human Behavior Theory

A degree in social work encompasses a broad range of social services, from mental health therapy to addiction prevention and treatment. Due to the variety of fields and jobs that fall within the realm of social work individuals will most likely choose to specialize. Specialization often comes through study at the graduate level, through social workers may begin work with a bachelors degree. Certain social work jobs will already specialize in a particular area, such as child welfare agencies or shelters for abused women. The role of the social worker is to provide a safe environment and examination of the clients or patients background and circumstances in order to provide assistance. Cases are treated independently and require attention and follow through in order to successfully aid needful individuals.

Here are some areas of social work:

  • Disaster Relief
  • Military and Veterans' Service
  • Community and Rural Health
  • Child Abuse and Neglect
  • Adoption and foster care
  • Homeless Family Assistance
  • Domestic Violence
  • Housing Assistance
  • Employment Services

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Employment and Licensure in Social Work

Social workers typically work in the healthcare industry, government agencies, and schools. Depending on the field of specialization, social work can be very rewarding or highly stressful. There is a lateral movement in regards to focus, allowing social workers with a certain amount of experience to change their position and area of assistance. It is important to note that individuals with a specialization are not guaranteed positions related to their expertise, with entry level positions in social work often related to substance abuse, child abuse, violence and other areas that suffer a high burnout rate. Additionally, some states may require licensure or certification to work as a social worker and it is best to research an individual's state to ensure all requirements are met.

A recent trend has shown that individuals that have had initial success with a different career are returning to school to pursue a degree and career in social work. Such individuals are typically burned out by their previous career and feel that assisting others may prove to be a more rewarding career. As noted above, any bachelor's degree qualifies an individual for social work master's programs. These programs can be night, weekend online or full time, and offer varying lengths of study in order to match the schedule and needs of the individual.

Top Job Responsibilities of a Social Worker

In a recent survey performed by the U.S. Department of Labor of social workers, practitioners from around the country provided insight into their careers.  One of the take-aways from this survey was the breadth of job responsibilities in the social work field.  Job duties can vary greatly from one another depending on your degree attained and organization structure.  That being said, the top 5 job responsibilities of a social worker include the following:

  1. Manage case history records & properly document reports
  2. Be an effective liaisons between students, homes, schools, family services, courts and agencies to help children and patients
  3. Counsel others regarding varying issues related to substance abuse, mental health, social adjustment, poverty, medical care, unemployment, physical abuse, rehabilitation, parenting, and child care
  4. Interview clients to accurately assessing their situations, needs, capabilities, and problems to establish solutions
  5. Provide comfort and counsel parents with child rearing problems

States with the Highest Employment of Social Workers

  • California           30,310
  • New York           22,630
  • Pennsylvania    18,580
  • Texas                  16,640
  • Michigan            13,490

Top Employers in Social Work

  1. Individual & Family Services          72,470
  2. State Government                             62,690
  3. Local Government                            52,220
  4. Elementary & Secondary Schools  38,780
  5. Outpatient Care Centers                  10,050

Job Growth, Salary, and Related Fields

There is expected to be an estimated job growth in the field of social work of 12% which is nearly twice the national average as social issues continue to arise from a all parts of life. As a result, individuals will be able to find work with comparative ease, particularly in the areas of social work that have higher than normal turnover.  The median annual income of social workers  is $46,890 and wage income tends to grow with more advanced degrees and experience.  The BLS estimates some 74,800 jobs will be created within social work in the coming decade.   If you are considering a career in Social Work, you may also want to consider a degree in sociology, psychology or criminology.

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