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Social Work Schools

By Heather Mullinix


Social workers help their clients overcome social, familial, and crisis situations by addressing all facets of their needs. These highly trained professionals work in many diverse settings, including healthcare, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, courts, and rehabilitation centers.

Social workers help people address housing or food insecurities, access educational benefits, and coordinate care among multiple providers. Social workers with proper training can also diagnose and offer treatment for mental and behavioral health. They often work with specific populations, such as children, veterans, or the elderly.

Online social work schools prepare graduates to enter the field, while many jobs may require a graduate degree or additional specialized training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a faster-than-average 11% increase in social work employment from 2018-28. Healthcare and substance abuse social workers remain in-demand specializations due to an aging population and increased emphasis on mental health treatment.

In This Article

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work

Do I need a license to be a social worker?

Licensing requirements vary by state, but most states require all social workers who provide client services to demonstrate their professional knowledge and ethics. Some states offer bachelor's degree-level licenses, while other states require master's degrees. A social worker who provides mental health and clinical services must hold the proper license and a minimum of a master's degree in social work.

How much does a social worker make?

Social workers earn a median salary of $49,470, according to BLS data. Multiple factors impact salary expectations, including experience, education, where you work, and the industry that employs you. Junior colleges offer the highest pay for child, family, and school social workers with a mean salary of $64,110. The family service industry, state governments, and local governments, however, employ the most social workers in this specialty.

Is a social work degree a good degree?

Earning an online bachelor of social work prepares graduates for many career options. Students gain a broad understanding of human behavior, research skills, and how policy decisions affect certain populations. This degree offers a foundation for continued study in counseling or other fields. Master's in social work schools welcome learners with diverse educational backgrounds.

What is accreditation, and why does it matter?

In addition to identifying a regionally accredited school, candidates should also seek out programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Many states require licensure applicants to attend CSWE-accredited programs. These schools also align their curriculum with the organization's testing programs. Accreditation requires a rigorous review of the curriculum, faculty expertise, and student outcomes. Schools must also undergo a continuous process of evaluation and improvement to renew their accreditation.

What job can I get with a social work degree?

Social work degree-holders find employment as caseworkers, health educators, research assistants, and healthcare administrators. Social workers find jobs in hospitals, school systems, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Clinical social workers require a minimum of a master's degree and must accrue supervised clinical practice hours. Caseworkers may require a state license.

Can I get a social work degree online?

Yes. Online schools for social work use technology and distance learning tools to provide engaging and rigorous academic programs. These distance classes may make up a portion of the program or serve as the primary instructional method for the school. The CSWE accredits several online social work programs.

Find a Social Work School Near Me

CSWE accredits over 500 bachelor of social work (BSW) programs across the country, along with more than 230 accredited master of social work (MSW) programs. Many of these schools offer traditional BSW and MSW programs, in addition to online or distance learning options. Click on your state in the list below to learn more about the social work programs available in your area.

Bachelor of Social Work Programs

A BSW degree often requires at least four years of enrollment to earn 120 academic credits. Students may choose a bachelor of science or arts, depending on their career goals. Both paths incorporate a general education curriculum, with courses in social science, statistics, human behavior, cultural diversity, and public policy. Many schools develop articulation agreements that allow individuals with associate degrees in social work to complete their bachelor's degrees.

Online courses often provide interactive discussions, collaborative projects, and research and reading. Some schools also work with enrollees to ensure hands-on learning opportunities through internships. Often arranged close to the student's home, experienced social workers oversee work and report back to faculty coordinators. Upon graduation, candidates can begin work as human services assistants, community outreach workers, or caseworkers. This degree also prepares graduates for advanced study in an accredited master's program.

Master of Social Work Programs

An MSW degree often requires a commitment of two or more years, with courses delving into social welfare planning, policy, or community social systems. Learners with an undergraduate degree in social work may qualify for advanced standing in a graduate program to accelerate their graduation. Many schools welcome applicants with bachelor's degrees in other subjects, though students may need prerequisite courses. Admissions requirements vary by school, and some programs may require GRE scores.

The best schools for social work allow enrollees to tailor their degrees to their interests with specializations or concentrations in areas of healthcare social work or clinical social work. Schools also ensure that students complete practical training to complement their discussion of social work concepts and theories.

Practicums play a key role in online schools for social work, too. Clinical programs that focus on counseling and mental health must include a field education component, often totaling 600 hours or more. Students should ensure their school holds CSWE accreditation, often a requirement of state licensing boards. Graduates often qualify for advanced licensing or mental health counselor positions.

Doctorate in Social Work and Ph.D. Programs

Individuals seeking a doctorate in social work can choose between the research and academic focus of a traditional Ph.D. or the practice-focused doctoral degree. Often, clinical providers pursue the doctorate option. Students should plan to complete their degree in 3-5 years.

Admission requirements include a master's degree, professional recommendations, and demonstrated clinical or research experience. The degree requires completing a dissertation. Online programs offer scheduling flexibility for enrollees engaged in professional work, though some schools require learners to visit campus for faculty consultation, research intensives, and other learning activities.

Online Social Work Programs

Online social work programs mirror their on-campus counterparts while providing learners with added flexibility. Students balancing work and family commitments with continuing education often benefit from this flexibility, along with learners who live a considerable distance from their schools.

Many institutions feature asynchronous classes that have established assignment deadlines but do not require students to log in at specific times. Some schools offer accelerated formats for online programs that allow degree-seekers to take one class for a shorter time, rather than juggling multiple courses over a 15-week semester. Interested candidates should still ensure that their chosen program holds CSWE accreditation, particularly if they seek licensure. Requirements vary by state.

Online programs require students to maintain time management skills and self-discipline, but learners still enjoy a great deal of interaction with faculty and staff through discussions, projects, and presentations. Many schools also offer a suite of support services, such as research assistance, academic tutoring, or online writing labs. Online social work schools also incorporate field experiences through community service organizations located close to the students' homes. Our ranked listing of online social work programs can help you find the best schools for social work.

Careers in Social Work

Social work careers offer the opportunity to work with specific populations and assist with certain crisis situations. Social workers help address complex issues, such as homelessness, addiction, or neglect at the individual, neighborhood, or community levels. Careers often depend on your level of education and experience. Some professions require specialized training in mental health counseling or social science research. Read on for some examples of common social work careers.

Clinical Social Worker

These social workers complete intensive programs in counseling and behavioral health and obtain state licensing to provide mental health diagnosis and treatment. They often work in addiction treatment facilities or behavioral health organizations.

Degree Needed: Master's degree

School Social Worker

These social workers help children overcome cognitive, emotional, or physical disabilities in educational settings. They may help address emergency needs for students experiencing homelessness or those at risk of abuse or neglect. In some states, a school social worker must earn a special endorsement from their state department of education.

Degree Needed: Master's degree

Community Health Workers and Administrators

These professionals help to connect clients with medical care and social support services, offering comprehensive and holistic solutions to complex issues. They may also build coalitions to address community-wide health issues through community education and outreach.

Degree Needed: Bachelor's degree

Research Social Worker

These social workers use data to determine the effectiveness of social work interventions to inform treatment decisions. Often, their work helps inform public policy and legislative decisions.

Degree Needed: Ph.D.