Social work is a dynamic and interdisciplinary field that requires practical training and academic study. It encompasses the study of psychology, social science, biological science, statistics, and social policy. Completing a major in social work will prepare you for entry-level, professional work in social work. Upon completion of a social work degree, students may elect to take the state licensing examination. Although programs differ in specialization and may offer dual degrees with public health, religion, sociology, and other related disciplines, coursework for social work can be categorized into three broad sections.
First, all social work majors must complete an internship, sometimes called a “practicum” course. This places social work students with an organization that works with a community or issue that the student may wish to pursue after graduation. Many schools require that social work majors to commit at least 600 hours throughout the year to the practicum course. Response papers or journals may be required to supplement this experience.
Second, social work majors must often complete a series of general studies courses. These may include: biological science, physical science, English, history, mathematics (such as statistics), and general humanities courses. The breadth of general studies courses depends on the college. Some colleges have more interdisciplinary options for their general studies requirements while others specify particular courses.
Third, coursework pertaining directly to social work focuses on social policy, behavioral science, and human rights policy. Social policy courses afford the student a broad overview of how the education, healthcare, prison, and foster care systems affect an individual’s access to services and quality of life. Social policy coursework involves statistical analysis and history. Social work majors often take biostatistics in the same semester as social policy-related work. Behavioral science provides crucial knowledge on the development and needs of children, adults, senior citizens, and special populations. Social workers advocate for individuals who are vulnerable so understanding the needs of individuals at particular stages of life is of paramount importance. Developmental psychology courses may be taken in conjunction with this work. Human rights policy coursework and research is often taken in the latter part of the major and represents the culmination of study on key issues in social work. Beginning with the individual and ending with an analysis of global implications of social challenges, human rights policy allows social workers to gain a broad, international view of the ways in which poverty, health access, education access, imprisonment, and other pressing issues of our time affect the world.
Social work as a discipline comprises two main streams: direct service-related work and counseling work to support those with emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental challenges. Direct service social workers interface with government officials and organizations to facilitate access to services and advocate for those in vulnerable situations. Such social workers are primarily advocates. Social work with a counseling focus involves providing therapy to help an individual on an interpersonal level or in a structured group setting.
Social work is a rewarding and challenging field. Completing coursework that addresses the practical and theoretical aspects of social will best prepare social work majors for a career in this incredibly dynamic field.