Bachelor of Social Work
A bachelor’s of social work degree provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare for a professional career as a social worker. Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Bachelor of Art in Social Work (BASW) programs generally offer students a broad foundation for generalist social work practice. Students enrolled in a four-year undergraduate program are trained to provide services to individuals, groups, families, and communities, with a focus on working with underserved or oppressed populations. A bachelor’s degree in social work prepares students for an entry-level position upon graduation and offers them their first opportunity to become licensed.
According to data published by the US Department of Labor, there are currently 649,300 social work positions in the US, with a projected growth of 12% through 2024, nearly double that of the national average for all other occupations.1 The median annual wage for social workers is $45,900.1
While the specific admission requirements for those looking to obtain a bachelor’s in social work will vary, applicants must typically have a high school diploma or GED equivalent, a GPA that meets the particular standards determined by the school, and, depending on the institution, acceptable SAT or ACT scores. Admission requirements may also include a completed application, a copy of high school transcripts, a personal essay, and letter(s) of recommendation.
Core Concepts and Coursework
Students enrolled in a bachelor’s of social work degree program can expect to learn about human behavior and the lifespan, social welfare policy, research methods, practices for working with individuals and families, and group practice methods. They may also be required to complete a practicum experience, a form of community service that allows students to gain real-life experience in the social work field under the direct supervision of a social worker in a community organization. This direct service may be accompanied by a seminar for student discussion and theory application.
Examples of bachelor of social work degree courses include:
- Introduction to Social Work
- Human Behavior and the Lifespan
- Cultural Diversity and Justice
- Social Work Case Management Practice
- Social Welfare Policy I
- Social Welfare Policy II
- Social Work Research Methods
- Research Methods II
- Social Work Practicum & Seminar I
- Social Work Practicum & Seminar II
Traditional Bachelor of Social Work Programs
The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work offers two different majors for students looking to obtain a bachelor’s in social work: a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Social Welfare. Both majors provide students with the opportunity to continue study towards a higher degree or to begin their career in the human service arena upon graduation. Some required courses for these majors include Introduction to Social Policy, Human Behavior and the Environment, Social Work with Ethnic and Racial Groups, and Methods of Social Work Research. BSW majors will receive a liberal arts education that will assist them in becoming competent with core social work practices and philosophies. The 16-hour-per-week field placement internship takes place over the course of the senior year and provides a solid foundation for students to begin their careers as generalist social workers.
Founded in 1934, the University of Washington’s School of Social Work offers a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited undergraduate Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare (BASW) degree. This program is designed to prepare students for generalist practice in the field of social work. Students enrolled at UW can apply to major in social welfare during the spring semester of their sophomore year. UW requires students to complete 180 course credits to graduate with the BASW, 67 of which are social welfare course credits. UW students are required to complete courses such as Human Behavior and the Social Environment (I & II), Community Service Learning, Cultural Diversity and Justice, and Introduction to Social Welfare Research, and must complete a 12-credit practicum. Students dedicate 16 hours per week to their practicum experience, which is completed in three quarter-length segments.
Syracuse University is a private research university which offers students the opportunity to complete a bachelor of science in social work degree through its Falk College School of Social Work. The school of social work has developed a curriculum that focuses on the following areas of study: social welfare policy and services; human behavior in the social environment; research; social work practice; and field practicum. These foundation areas build upon the liberal arts education, which focuses on the humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, and the natural sciences. Syracuse requires students to complete a rigorous field study program in addition to educational courses. Utilizing the school’s longstanding connections with local community organizations, students have the opportunity to work in a number of settings including schools, correctional facilities, government organizations, and mental health clinics and hospitals. Individuals who complete a BSW degree may be eligible for advanced standing for Syracuse’s master of social work (MSW) program, which allows for MSW completion in just 10 months.
Online Bachelor of Social Work Programs
Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit, Michigan, has a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship.The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, offered through the School of Social Work, prepares students for entry-level jobs in the social work profession. Wayne State University offers an accredited online BA degree in social work, BSW Where Online Works! (WOW!). Students who are interested in applying to the online program must have earned a minimum 2.50 grade point average (GPA), have completed (or be in progress of completing) a minimum of 60 college-level credits, and have access to a functional computer system and related software. Courses include Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Research Methods, Social Work Practice, and Field Education. Two-thirds of the curriculum is comprised of professional courses, while the remaining are co-requisite courses and electives. Wayne State offers flexible program offerings, including part-time and full-time study with day, evening, and Saturday courses.
Humboldt State University’s Department of Social Work offers a fully accredited Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree program for students looking to become generalist social workers. The Distributed Learning (DL) Program at Humboldt State offers students seeking a more flexible option the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s in social work and master’s in social work degrees online. Students can choose to complete the Bachelor of Social Work degree in either two or three years. While most of the course content is available for DL students online, all students are required to attend an on-campus “January Intensive” weekend each year and must attend live online course meetings each Thursday from 6-9pm. BSW students are offered courses such as Beginning Social Work Experience, Human Behavior and the Social Environment (I & II), Social Policy, Social Work Research, and Field Experience and Seminar.
Briar Cliff University’s Social Work Program has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since 1974 and offers a comprehensive online option for those looking to complete their bachelor’s degree in social work. The online BSW degree at Briar Cliff prepares students for foundational social work practice and can be completed in two years once general education requirements are met. The program is year-round (fall, spring, and summer) and students must complete a total of 124 credit hours in order to graduate, 47 of which are related specifically to the social work program. Students interested in attending Briar Cliff will complete courses including History and General Method of Social Work, Social Issues and Policy, Community Organization, Social Science Research Methods, Field Work, and Seminar. Online students will receive weekly one-on-one mentorship meetings and will work with the Field Director and a local practicum supervisor to ensure completion of a 450-hour field internship.
Social Work Licensure
There are several different levels of social work licensure that are available for social work degree holders. While the requirements vary by state, BSW graduates are often able to become licensed (LBSW, CSW, or LSW depending on the state) by completing an CSWE accredited program and passing the Association of Social Work Boards’ (ASWB) Bachelor’s Exam. No prior work experience in the field is usually required to attain this level of licensure. Once BSWs are licensed, they will need to work to receive Continuing Education (CE) courses in order to be able to renew the license every two years. Those who are interested in clinical social work practice will typically need to earn a master’s degree in social work (MSW) to become licensed. For more information on licensing in your state, visit our social work licensing guide.
Jobs with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work
A bachelor’s in social work degree may be a good launching point for a wide range of careers in the field. Some examples include:
- Case Manager
- Mental Health Assistant
- Habilitation Specialist
- Group Home Worker
- Residential Counselor
- Adoption Agency Administrator
- Behavioral Management Aide
- Community Outreach Worker
- Juvenile Court Liaison
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What are the benefits of obtaining a four-year college degree in social work?
Answer: Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social work can help open the door for new opportunities. Practicum placements offered as part of four-year social work degree programs can help you to secure professional work experience in your choice career field and can give you a jump start on pursuing a graduate degree. By completing a bachelor’s degree, you can increase your earning potential, broaden your job opportunities, and enhance your skill set. In many states, a bachelor’s degree in social work also leads to entry-level licensure.
Question: Is it important to attend a CSWE-accredited college or university?
Answer: Yes. Most states mandate attendance at a CSWE-accredited school as part of the educational requirement for licensing. Schools that are CSWE accredited are required to provide you with a curriculum that meets certain core social work competencies, which will set you apart as you search for a social work position or work to pursue an advanced degree.
Question: What’s the quickest way to become a social worker?
Answer: Completing your BSW is the easiest way to start your professional social work career. Even if you opt not to take the ASWB’s Bachelor’s Exam, you will typically be qualified for an entry-level role as a case manager or outreach worker, for example, and can begin gaining professional experience in the field immediately after graduating with your BSW. Once you have this valuable experience, you can determine whether you want to move from a BSW to an MSW.
Question: What are the benefits of getting my MSW right after I finish my BSW?
Answer: If you have a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited school you may be able to apply to earn your MSW through Advanced Standing. If you are eligible and accepted, Advanced Standing placement allows you to complete your master’s degree in social work in a shorter time period than those whose undergraduate major was not social work. Oftentimes, BSW graduates can complete their MSW in one year or less.
Question: What are the pros and cons of a BSW online versus a traditional BSW program?
Answer: Whether you pursue your BSW degree online or on-campus is really up to you. Consider your personal preferences and time constraints when making the decision. Do you prefer the flexibility offered by an online degree program? Or are you more comfortable with a traditional classroom setting for learning? Regardless of whether you decide to go online or traditional in choosing a degree program, pay close attention to a program’s accreditation. Making sure that the social work program of your choice is accredited by the CSWE will help ensure that you qualify for licensure after graduation.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm