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Social Work Degree

At its broadest, social work is an academic discipline and profession centered around helping people and communities. Social workers often see people who are at the lowest points in their lives or struggling with long-term challenges, including emotion or physical abuse, death, illness, and more. On top of earning at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, each state has its own licensure process to become an official social worker. Ideal candidates for this field are compassionate and stable, mature and able to handle stress well.

There are several different avenues to focus on within the social work field. Child, family, and school social work is the archetypal social worker that’s often depicted on television, but there are also social workers that focus on medical, mental health, and substance abuse, as well as military and community social workers. The field also encompasses administrations, researchers, planner and policymakers.

Baccalaureate

A Bachelor’s in Social Work, or BSW, is a 4-year program that provides the knowledge and skills needed to enter the world of social work. Coursework typically includes an introduction to the field, human behavior, cultural diversity, case management, welfare policy, research methods, and an opportunity for real-life experience. Many programs will require field work to graduate. To practice, most states require that graduates pass the Social Work Boards’ (ASWB) Bachelor’s Exam. To renew that license every year, taking Continuing Education (CE) courses is required. The entry-level salary is around $42,000 in this field.  

Career opportunities for those who graduate with a BSW include: Case Manager, Health Educator, Recreational Therapist, Social/Community Service Manager, Adoption Agency Administrator, Group Home Worker, Habilitation Specialist, Mental Health Assistant, Juvenile Court Liaison, Residential Counselor.

Graduate Education

For certain areas of the social work field, a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) is required, notably, anything involving clinical study. Masters programs typically take 1-2 years, with the first year tackling the general topics of the social work. The second year drills down on the focus for the graduate program, which vary based on institution. Common subject areas include Children, Youth, and Families, Mental Health, and Aging Societies. Master’s curriculums tend to include courses on research, as well as clinical and macro practice. Graduates will also need to check their state requirements for licensure and pass the Association of Social Work Boards’ exam. To become a Clinical Social Worker, 2-3 years of field work under a licensed professional is required before licensure.

Careers for MSW graduates include: Clinical Group Worker, Social Work Supervisor, Medical Social Worker, Clinical Social Worker, Substance Abuse Social Worker, Marriage and Family Therapist. The average salary for an individual with an MSW is around $56,000.

Doctoral programs for social work are designed to guide candidates through the toughest cases, and often focus on research and analysis in clinical settings. There are two types of degrees, a Doctor in Social Work and a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work. The first, the DSW, indicates the intention to practice, while a PhD often leads to a position in academia or research. The focus narrows extremely during a doctoral degree, so a focus or specialization is required. Doctoral degree holders often go on to executive positions or to teach collegiate courses.

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