Social Work Degree Programs – Information and Resources
Overview of Social Work Degree Programs
Social work is a field dedicated to the improvement of people’s quality of life through research, teaching and intervention. The most common profession in this field is that of a licensed clinical social worker. However, if you are interested in social work, you can also pursue the related careers of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling, general social work, marriage and family therapy or social work teaching and research. All of these career paths differ according to salary, job outlook and other characteristics, which are detailed below.
Salaries for Social Workers
The salary you can expect to earn with a career in social work depends primarily on the path you choose, as well as your location, education and work experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average salaries for various careers in social work are as follows.
Work Environment for Social Workers
Work environments for professionals in the field of social work vary based on the position chosen. The BLS reports that substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors, marriage counselors, family therapists and social workers spend most of their time working in an office. Most working hours are spent in a seated position talking to patients. Social work professors and researchers, however, may work in an academic or laboratory setting, thus, spending more time on their feet.
Counselors and social workers generally work full time, and they may work nights, weekends and holidays depending on the nature of the position. Social work professors and researchers, however, generally set their own schedules and are not required to work nights or weekends. Professors and researchers may also choose to work part-time or split their time between teaching and research.
Social Workers Job Outlook
The demand for all positions in the field of social work is increasing at a faster-than-average rate. The BLS reports that the average expected increase in job openings for all professions is 11 percent from 2012 to 2022. However, the rates of expected increase for job openings in specific social work professions are as follows:
Social Work Degrees by Level
Certificates/On-the-Job Training – Substance Abuse Counselor/Behavioral Disorder Counselor
As a substance abuse counselor, you can expect to work with patients who are suffering from addictions to drugs and/or alcohol in order to help them cope with their addictions, overcome these issues and improve their overall lives. As a behavioral disorder counselor, you can expect to work with individuals who are facing various behavior problems, such as anorexia or bulimia.
Some employers may require substance abuse counselors or behavioral disorder counselors to have only a high school diploma or equivalent degree. In such cases, on-the-job training is usually required before you can work independently. Other employers may require higher counseling, social work or psychology degrees, such a certificate or even a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In addition, in order to open your own practice, you must be licensed by the state, which usually requires at least a master’s degree.
On-the-job training programs for substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors will typically cover the following topics:
•Recognizing addiction and behavioral problems
•Mechanisms for overcoming addiction
•Coping mechanisms for behavioral disorders
•Counseling skills and techniques
•Responding to crisis situations
While substance abuse programs will focus more on dealing with patients addicted to drugs, behavioral disorder programs will focus more on treating patients with behavioral problems.
Bachelor’s Degree – Social Worker
Social workers are professionals who help people deal with everyday stresses and problems. To become a social worker, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. When pursuing a bachelor’s degree in this field, you can choose between a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and a Bachelor of Science in Social Work. While both degrees lead to the same career, a Bachelor of Science program will involve more science and math courses, while a Bachelor of Arts program will involve more liberal arts courses. You can complete either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science with four years of full-time study.
Courses often included in a Bachelor of Social Work program are:
•Intro to Sociology
•Intro to Social Work
Social work programs may also require you to complete specific general education courses or electives in order to graduate.
Master’s Degree – Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Licensed clinical social workers are professionals who diagnose and treat emotional, behavioral and mental disorders. To become a licensed clinical social worker, you must have at least a master’s degree in social work. Most master’s degree programs require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you can complete a master’s degree program with two years of full-time study.
Master of Social Work programs usually include the following courses:
•Social Work with Families/Groups
•Individual Social Work
•Diversity and Oppression
•Health and Aging
To complete your program, you may also be required to take a certain number of electives. Before you can practice as a clinical social worker, you must obtain a state license. State requirements vary, but you must typically complete an approved master’s degree program, log a minimum amount of supervised clinical experience and pass an exam.
Master’s Degree – Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists help couples and families cope with and resolve relationship and communication issues. To become a marriage and family therapist, you typically need at least a master’s degree in counseling, social work or psychology. A bachelor’s degree is generally required for entry into a master’s program.
The curriculum you can expect to complete during your program depends on the focus of your degree. However, most of these programs will cover:
•Diversity and Social Justice
•Diagnosis in Counseling
Most states also require marriage and family therapists to hold a valid license. To qualify for a license, you must typically complete a state-approved program, log a specific number of supervised hours of clinical experience and pass a test.
Doctoral Degree – Professor of Social Work/ Researcher
A professor of social work is a professional who teaches college courses related to various topics in the field of social work. Researchers are social work professionals who conduct experiments and projects related to issues in social work. To enter either of these careers, you must typically earn a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D.
Most social work Ph.D. programs require applicants to have at least a master’s degree. If you have a master’s degree, you can expect to complete your Ph.D. with two years of full-time study. Curricula vary, but most programs will cover the following topics:
•Social Policy Analysis
•Advanced Social Work
•Foundations of Social Welfare
Most programs require students to engage in research projects, in addition to classroom-based coursework. You may also need to complete a minimum number of electives in order to graduate, depending on your program’s requirements.
Choosing a Social Work Degree Program
Selecting the right degree program is essential to the success of your career in social work. As you compare various programs, remember to consider the characteristics below.
If your career of choice requires you to apply for licensure, it is important to choose a degree program that is approved by your state. For example, if you are studying to be a licensed clinical social worker, make sure to choose a program your state’s licensing agency recognizes.
Professional organizations grant accreditation to programs that meet specific standards for effectiveness and/or quality. Accredited programs often offer a better education than those that are not accredited. However, remember to make sure that a given program is also approved, as accredited programs may not be approved by your state and vice versa.
Graduation rates are a good indicator of a program’s level of difficulty, as well as the support provided to students. Try to choose a program with a high graduation rate, if possible.
Examination Pass Rate
Many careers in the field of social work require you to pass a licensure exam. If this is the case for you, make sure the program you choose prepares students adequately for this exam by analyzing the pass rate among previous graduates of the program.
Some programs are more impressive to employers than others. To evaluate each program’s reputation among employers, as well as its effectiveness at preparing students for their careers, analyze the employment rate among graduates.
If you have other obligations, such as a family, scheduling flexibility is important. While some programs may offer part-time options, night or weekend courses and online study, others may not. If flexibility is a concern for you, make sure the program you choose will accommodate your scheduling needs.
Programs with lower faculty-to-student ratios typically offer more individualized attention to students. If you feel you would benefit from more one-on-one instruction, try to choose a program with a low faculty-to-student ratio.
Tuition and Fees
Before you apply to any program, request a list of all required fees and make sure you will be able to afford the expense. If you are unable to afford tuition and fees on your own, consider applying for financial aid, such as scholarships, grants or student loans. Many programs also offer payment plans for students who can’t pay all of their expenses upfront.
All programs have prerequisites you must meet in order to enroll. Make sure that you can meet all prerequisites before you submit an application. Likewise, most careers have requirements, in addition to a degree. Make sure you can satisfy these requirements before you spend time and money attending school.