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Getting a Degree in Social Work

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Become a Social Worker with a Degree in Social Work

Getting a degree in Social Work can be a great way to work with people and your local community. It will be a job in which you can help improve the quality of life for people and work towards system-wide changes.

Social workers can work with individuals, couples, families, and small groups. They help with different problems such as unemployment, poverty, abuse, trauma, adoption, addiction, and more. They work for non-profits, hospitals, schools, and government agencies.

There are different types of social work, direct practice, where you can work directly with people and communities, children, and families. You can also go into clinical social work, where you could diagnose and treat mental illness, substance abuse, and addiction.

You can also focus on macro social work where you don’t work directly with people but instead, with governments, and other private and public institutions to change policies and start new programs.

What Do You Need to Become A Social Worker?

There are a few different paths you can take to become a social worker. This depends on what you want to do and how long you want to go to school.

You can get your bachelor’s in social work, BSW, by going to school for 4 years.  Or you can go on to get your master’s in social work, MSW, which takes between 1-2 additional years depending on your previous degree. You can also go on to get your doctorate in social work, DSW, or your Ph.D., which takes around four years.

In addition to a degree, you will also need to have an internship and hours in the field. You will take what you learned in the classroom, and use it in real-life situations. For example, to earn your BSW, you would need 400 hours of supervised fieldwork.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

In order to become a social worker, you at least need to have a bachelor’s degree. This will take you about four years, and will prepare you for entry-level, professional, and general social work. You will also gain work experience while applying classroom training to real-world settings.

When going for your bachelor’s degree in social work, you will have classes such as Introduction to Social Work, Human Behavior, Social Work Practice in Research, and Issues in Social work.

It is possible to get your bachelor’s degree online, or in person. If you go with an online program, you will still need to get your field hours in. For online programs, the University of Utah, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Wayne State University all have top-rated programs. The University of California Berkeley, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and New York University all have top-rated in-person programs.

Jobs with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work:

  • Community Outreach Workers, who work to engage and educate the community, have an average salary of $43,288, according to Glassdoor, as of June 2019
  • Probation Officers, who work with and monitor offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes, have an average salary of $36,495, according to Glassdoor, as of April 2020.
  • Eligibility Workers, who help people secure the social services they need, have an average salary of $48,732, according to Glassdoor as of March 2020.

Master’s Degree in Social Work

When it comes to getting your master’s in social work, or MSW, you do not have to have a BSW in order to go for your MSW. You will need to have a bachelor’s degree. If you do have your BSW, you can find programs to get your master’s in a year, vs the standard two.

While you can find a job with your bachelor’s of social work, having a master’s in social work will help you find a job a little easier. Many jobs require you to have an MSW. With an MSW you can work in medical, mental health, and in education. Some of the classes you might take would be on death and dying, couple and family therapy, substance abuse, or other specific topics.

You can also find an online, or in-person master’s in social work program. The University of Southern California, Columbia University in the City of New York, and the University of South Florida all have top-rated online programs. The University of California-Los Angelos, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore all have top-rated in-person programs.

Jobs with a Master’s Degree in Social Work

  • Child Welfare Social Workers, who make sure children’s needs are taken care of, have an average salary of $54,392 according to Salary.com, as of March 2020.
  • Substance Abuse Counselors, who specialize in treating patients with a dependence on drugs or alcohol, have an average salary of $53,910, according to Salary.com, as of March 2020.
  • School Social Workers, who help students in a school setting with mental health concerns, behavioral support, and work with teachers, parents, and administrators, have an average salary of $49,450, according to Glassdoor as of April 2020.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

If you want to go on to teach at a college or a university, you would need a doctorate in social work, DSW, or a PH.D. This will take you at least an additional four years. For a doctorate,  you would be taking courses focused more on clinical practice, clinical research, and advanced practice leadership. With a Ph.D., you would focus more on advanced research methods, theory, behavioral science, and policy and teaching.

In order to go for your doctorate degree or Ph.D., you will need to have an MSW or master’s degree in a related field. You can go in-person or online for your degree. The University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, and the University of St. Thomas all have top-rated online programs. The University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University in St. Louis all have top-rated in-person programs.

Jobs with a Doctorate or Ph.D. in Social Work

  • College Professors, who teach at the college level, have an average salary of $68,949, according to Glassdoor, as of December 2019.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers, who work with clients to help them deal with issues involving mental and emotional health, have an average salary of $48,732, according to Glassdoor, as of April 2020.
  • Mental Health Clinicians, who work with people or groups to help promote, mental, and emotional health, have an average salary of $48,297, according to Glassdoor as of April 2020.

Social Work Licenses

In order to practice as a social worker, you will most likely need to get your social work license. In order to get your license, you would need to take certain courses, and have a certain amount of work experience as well as take a written exam. The requirements depend on your state. You may need to keep up your license with continuing education classes over the years.

If you are a military spouse, you can receive up to $1,000 in reimbursement per move for spouses who move within the US or OCONUS to stateside due to a PCS. It is important to know that policies and reimbursement procedures can differ by branch.

Military Social Work

Since service members, veterans, and families have special needs that could require a social worker, there is a field of social work specializing in the military. These social workers work with members of the armed forces, and their families to help address and support them. If you go to get your degree in military social work, you would be trained to specifically work with military members and families. With this type of degree, you would be able to find a job on a military base, with a private practice, a veteran’s service organization, or a government-funded military agency. From USAJobs, the average salary can be from $50,000-$75,000.

Related Majors

Scholarships For Social Work

There are many scholarships for those going into social work or similar fields. Here are a couple of them:

Carl A. Scott Book Scholarship

This scholarship is established by the Council on Social Work Education’s Board of Directors in recognition of Carl A. Scott’s contributions to CSWE and the social work profession.

This scholarship is for two book scholarships, $500 each, for students who have demonstrated a commitment to work for equality and social justice in social work.

Verne LaMarr Lyons Scholarship

This scholarship is awarded to master’s degree candidates in social work who demonstrate an interest in or who have experience with a health or mental health practice and have a commitment to working in African American communities.

$4,000 will go to the winner’s school, and $1,500 will be earmarked for each recipient for conference attendance and leadership development.

Students must be an NASW member and have applied or have been accepted into an accredited MSW program.





About the author

Julie Provost is a freelance writer, and blogger. She lives in Tennessee with her National Guard husband and three boys.