Earn an Associate Degree in Social Work

An associate degree in social work (ASW) provides the training you need to either enter the workforce or continue your college education. This two-year social work degree consists of foundational courses preparing graduates for entry-level social work practice alongside general education requirements that may transfer to a four-year institution.

Before choosing an ASW program, look for an accredited college or university. Accreditation, which verifies that your school meets nationally established standards, determines your eligibility for financial aid and your ability to transfer credits to a bachelor's program.

Associate degree-holders beginning their careers as social work assistants, community health aids, and caseworkers can find ample job opportunities. Social work assistants, who currently earn a median annual income of $35,060, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are projected to see a 17% increase in employment between 2018 and 2028.

The majority of social work careers require at least a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) or a related field. Earning an ASW gives you an introduction to the field, a step-up into a four-year degree, and the academic skills necessary for success in a bachelor's program.

Admission Requirements for an ASW Program

A high school diploma or equivalent serves as the minimum requirement for entrance into an ASW program. Schools typically ask for official transcripts sent directly from your high school and any college or university you have previously attended.

The majority of community colleges feature open admissions, accepting all students who hold a high school or GED diploma, regardless of grades or standardized test scores. However, some schools may require a minimum GPA, placement tests, a personal statement, and/or letters of recommendation.

Core Concepts and Coursework for ASW Programs

ASW programs introduce students to basic social work principles in preparation for social work jobs. Students typically take courses in core areas, such as social work as a profession, health and human services organizations, and ethics and public health issues. A major part of the ASW curriculum comprises general education coursework in the liberal arts and sciences.

ASW students who plan to complete a BSW can earn approximately 60 credits that can transfer to a four-year program, fulfilling most prerequisite requirements for the bachelor's degree. Most community colleges and a growing number of other schools that offer ASW degrees have developed articulation agreements in partnership with four-year schools, making it easier to transfer credits into a bachelor's program.

Online Associate in Social Work Programs

Earning a social work associate degree online works well for students who must balance their work and family responsibilities with their educational goals. The online ASW adheres to the same curriculum, offering courses taught by the same faculty.

An online degree provides greater flexibility than an on-campus program. Many online degrees deliver coursework asynchronously, allowing students to progress at their own pace from any location, day or night.

Online learners not only save students money on transportation and living expenses, but their tuition often includes free access to electronic texts and study materials. Distance learners enrolled in accelerated online programs may also save money by completing their ASW in less than two years.

Associate of Arts vs. Associate of Science in Social Work

While some schools offer an associate of science (AS) in social work, the most commonly available degree is the associate of arts (AA) in social work. Both the AS and AA offer coursework comparable to the first two years of a bachelor's program. All or most credits earned in either program are eligible to transfer to four-year schools.

Both options consist of similar courses but differ in focus. The AS places more emphasis on science and math, while the AA requires students to complete a majority of their hours in the liberal arts and sciences. Whatever option you choose, an AA or AS can provide you with training for entry-level employment or the educational foundation for a bachelor's degree.

Social Work Licensure Requirements for an ASW

Social work licensure, granted by state regulatory boards, ensures that social workers possess the necessary credentials and skills to provide competent and ethical services. Licensure in most states requires a BSW or an MSW and a passing score on the bachelor's or master's exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards.

Only a handful of states, including Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and South Dakota, allow ASW graduates to acquire a licensed social work associate (LSWA) credential. Associate license-holders may not provide direct client services or work in clinical settings without supervision, but they may perform many other essential roles, such as case management, assessments, referrals, and advocacy on behalf of clients.

What Can You Do With an Associate in Social Work?

The growing need for healthcare and mental health services has driven the demand for ASW graduates working in supportive roles under the supervision of licensed social workers. The BLS projects an increase of nearly 500,000 social and human service assistant positions through 2028. Depending on the type of employer, social work assistant salary levels range between $31,000 and $41,000.

As the population grows older and the number of people dealing with chronic illness and disabilities increases, the projected growth for home health aides and personal care aides is projected to expand by an unprecedented 34% from 2019-29. While job opportunities for these aids continue to expand, the mean annual salary of $25,280 ranks lower than other social work positions.

Although entry-level employment prospects remain strong, the ASW degree primarily serves as a stepping stone to further education. Licensed social workers who have earned a BSW or MSW gain access to much higher salaries and a greater number of career options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much does a social worker make with an associate degree?

    Compensation varies by type of employment and geographical location. The top 10% of earners working as social work assistants receive an annual salary of $52,420, according to the BLS. These assistants receive the highest wages, over $20 per hour, in Washington, D.C. and California. Community health workers in the top 90th percentile earn a yearly salary of $68,360. These workers find the best paying jobs in Washington, D.C. and New Mexico.

  • How long does it take to complete an ASW program?

    Many prospective social workers begin their education by earning an ASW at a community college. The associate degree typically requires 60 credits taken over two years of full-time study, although many students may choose to take longer to finish. The ASW provides about half of the credits needed to complete a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.

  • Is an ASW degree a good degree?

    The ASW provides a great option for high school graduates or nontraditional learners interested in social work but unsure about making a commitment to a four-year bachelor's program. The ASW allows students to explore career options and provides training that leads directly to employment while earning credits that transfer easily into a bachelor's program later on.

  • Can you become a social worker with an associate degree?

    ASW graduates enter beginning level positions, such as social and human service assistants and community health workers. These kinds of jobs introduce associate degree-holders to the social work profession while offering work experience. While a few states authorize social work licenses for ASW graduates, most students planning to become licensed social workers view the associate degree as a pathway to a bachelor's degree or MSW.

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