Why Earn a Bachelor’s in Social Work?

Written by Maura Deering
Last Updated: May 2017

While many roles in social work require a candidate to possess a master of social work (MSW), individuals can start their careers with a bachelor’s-level education in some professional settings. With a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree, students become equipped with the skills to thrive in entry-level positions or continue to graduate study.

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What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s in Social Work?

Social workers help vulnerable and at-risk clients facing such challenges as poverty, addiction, abuse, unemployment, and homelessness. They often specialize and obtain certification in a particular patient population area, including gerontology, healthcare, military and veterans, substance abuse, and school social work.

Social work generally falls into three classifications. Micro sees professionals working with individuals and families, mezzo-level workers assist clients in schools and communities, and macro-level professionals work to shape policy and improve social conditions.

Positions within these categories include managing community programs, advocating for clients in the criminal justice system, or assisting clients with mental illnesses. Daily duties vary by specialty and patient population but usually involve identifying those who need help, referring clients to other assistance programs and resources, and responding to crises. Most state licensing boards require each candidate to possess a BSW to obtain a non-clinical license and an MSW to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

What to Expect From a BSW Program

A BSW prepares students for non-clinical positions as case managers, community outreach workers, mental health assistants, and residential counselors, along with pursuing graduate school.

Common admission requirements include a high school diploma or GED certificate, ACT or SAT scores, academic transcripts, a personal essay, and recommendations. Some schools or programs may impose minimum GPA requirements and test scores. BSW programs usually span four years of full-time study and 120 credits, including required internships or practicums. Students explore social work practices and research, social welfare policy, assessment and treatment of chemical dependency, and human behavior and the lifespan.

Online Bachelor of Social Work Programs

Online BSW programs allow for full- or part-time attendance. Distance learning offers flexibility, and online students often pay in-state tuition rates. They also avoid the expenses of housing, meal plans, commuting, and parking. However, online programs may impose additional technology fees, and on-site internships require commuting.

Accredited online BSW programs follow the same curricula as on-campus programs. Synchronous courses mimic the classroom experience with students attending by computer. Asynchronous delivery allows students to access courses 24/7. Candidates should pursue courses that align with their learning styles and career goals.

Preparation for a Master’s in Social Work

An MSW degree, whether on-campus or through distance learning, allows students to become LCSWs and offers more career opportunities with higher pay. Individuals with an MSW can work as a clinical social worker, family practitioner, school social worker, or social work supervisor.

MSW programs consist of 30-48 credits for students with BSWs and about 60 credits for those without BSWs. Admission usually requires transcripts showing a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, a resume, references, and a personal statement. Some programs require GRE scores and work experience.

Supervised fieldwork hours often correspond to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and state licensing requirements. Most programs require 900 hours before graduation. Specific licensure requirements vary by state licensure board.

Careers and Salaries for Social Workers

Social workers can pursue many different career options, including those listed below. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects social work employment to grow by 11% from 2018-28, which exceeds the projected job growth average for all occupations. BSW degree-holders earn a median salary of $58,193.

Social and Human Service Assistant

These entry-level assistants work with underserved populations of all ages. They assist licensed social workers in helping clients locate and obtain community services and benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

Median Salary: $33,750

Health Educator

Health Educators collect and analyze data to develop and implement programs that improve individual and community health. They also teach clients how to manage health conditions and train other healthcare workers in health education.

Median Salary: $46,080

Social Science Research Assistant

Working with social scientists in higher education, government, science, and medicine, these assistants conduct surveys and laboratory research that informs published papers and other projects involving data management, lab analysis, and quality control.

Mean Salary: $50,420

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

These social workers advise families struggling with social and psychological issues. They also manage adoptions and foster care placements. School social work involves helping students with truancy, disruptive behavior, and teenage pregnancy.

Mean Salary: $49,760

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Through group and individual therapy, interventions, and case management, these professionals help clients with mental health, emotional, and substance abuse issues, including drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. In addition to crisis counseling, they teach prevention strategies.

Mean Salary: $49,630

Frequently Asked Questions

Why earn a bachelor’s in social work?

A BSW provides a direct path to entry-level administrative and client service jobs, including assistantships and caseworker positions. It also introduces students to the profession, provides opportunities for fieldwork, and prepares graduates for the BSW-level exam. Finally, a BSW builds the foundation for future study, such as a graduate program leading to an MSW.

Can I get a BSW online?

Yes. Many colleges and universities offer online BSWs. Students should ensure that their programs hold approval from accreditation agencies, which indicates instruction equal to that of accredited on-campus programs. The CSWE’s website features a list of accredited BSW programs for distance learners.

What’s the difference between a BA and a BS in social work?

As the standard professional undergraduate degree for social workers, a BS provides preparation for bachelor’s level licensing and practice. A BA in social work takes a broader and more integrated liberal arts approach and prepares students to become ethical and critical thinkers and practice generalist social work. Both degrees prepare students for entry-level work in the field.

Can you be a social worker with a bachelor’s degree?

Yes. Bachelor’s degree-holders can obtain entry-level positions as social workers. They cannot perform psychotherapy or become LCSWs, but they can find employment as caseworkers, health educators, social and human services assistants, and research assistants.