Earning a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is an essential qualification to become a social worker. While a BSW can help some professionals launch their careers, for others it represents the first step to earning a master of social work (MSW) and obtaining clinical licensure.
Like any bachelor's degree, earning a BSW typically takes four years for full-time students. The curriculum usually includes a blend of general education courses, as well as theory and practicum courses within the major.
Upon completion, graduates are prepared to enter a growing job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of careers in social work are expected to increase by 13% between 2019 and 2029. Social workers also earn a median salary of $50,470 per year, BLS figures show.
Our guide below highlights several key features to earning a bachelor's degree in social work, including admission requirements, core coursework, and possible career paths.
Admission Requirements for an BSW Program
Most BSW programs require applicants to hold either a high school or GED diploma. You may be asked to submit your transcripts, as some colleges require students to meet minimum GPA requirements. Candidates should also submit standardized test scores from either the ACT or SAT.
Prospective students can also expect to complete an application form and an admissions essay. Look out for any additional requirements, too, such as reference letters or portfolios.
Core Concepts and Coursework for BSW Programs
BSW curricula feature both theoretical and practical courses. Theoretical coursework includes topics in human growth and development, social welfare policies and practice, and organizational theory. Other courses include diversity in social work practice, or human behavior and the social environment. For the most part, BSW students do not choose specializations. If they continue their studies in a master's degree, they can specialize in topics like child welfare or adult mental health.
Bachelor of social work programs also include courses that focus on practical experience. Students learn skills and strategies to apply once they actually enter the field, and further hone these skills through practicum courses or internships. These experiences require learners to spend several hours a week carrying out supervised fieldwork in settings like schools or social work agencies.
Additionally, bachelor's degree programs may include a research methods course. This class requires learners to complete a research project or undergraduate thesis to qualify for graduation.
Online Bachelor in Social Work Programs
Online programs can offer useful opportunities for people who want to enroll in college, but might find themselves constrained with time. Distance learning programs allow students to learn within their own home, so they don't need to spend time and money traveling to campus. They can log-on to classes, watch lectures, and participate in class discussions at their own convenience.
Many nontraditional students, full-time workers, and parents with families prefer online programs because of its flexibility. Distance learners can work around their other responsibilities without causing major interruptions to their days. Online programs may also offer more affordable rates.
Social Work Licensure Requirements for an BSW
Most social workers must obtain licensure in order to legally work. States set licensure and certification requirements for active social workers, and each state determines its own standards.
That said, many of those requirements are similar. Most importantly, social worker licensure candidates need to earn a BSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Aspiring social workers must also participate in a certain number of supervised hours, which they usually can accomplish through their BSW programs. In addition, candidates must pass the Association of Social Work Boards bachelor's exam. To keep their licensure active, social workers must then complete a required number of continuing education credits.
To work in clinical practice, social workers must possess state licensure as well as an MSW. You can find more information about master of social work degrees with this guide.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor in Social Work?
While a BSW prepares students to work as social workers, graduates can specialize in different areas such as child and family social worker, school social worker, public welfare social worker, and more.
Social workers earn median annual salaries above $50,000, according to the BLS. Put simply, these professionals help people solve problems. This means that they take on many different roles and responsibilities. They connect clients with resources, respond to crisis situations, report child abuse and neglect, and take care of their clients' case files. They may also work with individuals in the criminal justice system or those dealing with addiction and substance abuse.
A BSW can also serve as the first step to earning an MSW and becoming a clinical social worker. Alternatively, some social workers continue their education at the doctoral level. A doctorate prepares individuals to work as researchers or faculty members at universities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you become a social worker with a bachelor's in sociology?
It's possible, yes. Often employers prefer job applicants who hold a social work degree. However, employers may consider those with a degree in a comparable area, such as sociology or psychology. Sociology majors may be able to boost their employment prospects by participating in an internship or supervised fieldwork.
How long does it take to complete a BSW program?
Full-time students can complete a bachelor's degree in social work in four years. However, many students follow unique timelines. Students who begin a BSW with an associate degree can graduate in two years. Learners in accelerated programs can graduate a semester or year early. Part-time degree seekers may take longer to complete their degrees as well.
Is a bachelor's in social work worth it?
If you want to become a social worker, a bachelor of social work is certainly worth it. If you want to go into another profession within the field of social work — such as research or academia — a BSW degree is an essential stepping stone toward graduate school. However, if you aim to work in a field completely unrelated to social work, then a BSW may not be worth it.
Can you get a bachelor's degree in social work online?
Yes. Several schools offer online BSW degrees. Online programs may be a great option for students who live in rural areas or need schedule flexibility. These programs allow distance learners to log-on at their own convenience, although some do include synchronous requirements. Students also do not need to travel to campus regularly, though they do need to complete their supervised fieldwork or internships on location.