Social Work Degree Programs
Read about the differences between the MSW, BSW and DSW social work degrees.
Social workers provide aid, comfort and health assistance to individuals on all economic levels and spanning all age brackets—from child welfare work to disability services, refugee assistance and gerontology care.
Learning how to become a social worker includes earning your Bachelor's Degree in Social Work (BSW), Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) or Doctorate in Social Work (DSW or PhD). Below we've outlined these three types of social work degrees.
Bachelor's Social Work Degree (BSW)
This 4-year social work degree is commonly the base requirement for a job in social work. It prepares students for direct service positions on the individual or community level through a curriculum that may include the following:
- Basic individual and family support services
- National social welfare policy
- Casework planning
- Intervention strategies
Accredited BSW programs also require at least 400 hours of supervised field experience. For this reason, the BSW is also the minimum qualification for most state social work licensing and certification programs.
With a bachelor's social work degree, you are qualified to work in the following capacities:
- Case consultant, evaluating cases and meeting with individuals in need of services
- Child life specialist, advocating for children in the health care system and alleviating the stress of hospitalization for children and their families
- Child protective services worker, investigating claims of child abuse, neglect and juvenile delinquency
- Court-appointed special advocate, working on behalf of children brought before the court
- Gerontology social worker, offering emotional support and helping the elderly with housing, transportation and long-term care
- Criminal justice social worker, providing services to inmates and their families
Master's Social Work Degree (MSW)
Once you've earned a bachelor's degree, you have the option of continuing your education at any time through a two-year master's degree program in social work (MSW). An advanced social work degree has become a standard requirement for most specialized positions in social work, such as clinical, policy and administration work.
In addition to class work, a minimum of 900 supervised hours is required for this advanced social work degree, in the form of field instruction or an internship. Fluency in a second language is also extremely helpful.
Social workers with an MSW are eligible to:
- Join the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW)
- Become a Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW)
- Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
The NASW also offers voluntary credentials that many employers find attractive when hiring. Credentials are imperative for those who wish to work in private practice, because some health insurance providers require them for reimbursement purposes.
A master's social work degree prepares social workers for specialized work in their chosen field of concentration. An MSW is qualified in the following areas:
- Clinical social work, providing psychotherapy and counseling services in settings such as clinics, private practices and public agencies
- Employee assistance program social work, helping employees with problems that compromise their job, such as trouble with coworkers, substance abuse or marital problems
- Psychiatric social work, helping psychiatric patients adjust to daily life and re-enter the community also provides a link between medical professionals and the families of patients
- School social work, helping students resolve personal problems and those related to school
- AIDS and HIV services counselor, guiding patients through the testing process, as well as helping obtain further health care options and community support for patients who are HIV positive
Doctorate Social Work Degree (DSW or PhD)
Doctoral social work degree programs generally take between two and four years to complete, and focus heavily on research techniques, as well as qualitative and quantitative analysis methods. All doctoral social work degree programs culminate in the presentation of a well-researched student dissertation, which can take a year or more to finish.
Social workers holding their DSW or PhD are qualified for any of the following careers:
- Social work professors, who concentrate on preparing a new generation of social workers in our schools, while working on research and publication goals
- Heads of social work practices (agency based or self-employed), where they oversee and guide other social workers through their caseloads
- Policy advocates, lobbying for state and federal policies that affect the social work community
- Policy advisors, lending knowledge of the field to elected officials who want to improve various social work systems
Social Work Degree Quick Facts
BSW – The undergraduate BSW program is designed to give students a general education in social work. You will explore the largest social welfare specializations, such as child welfare services, disability counseling and probation work.
MSW – While BSW degrees are not a prerequisite for a master's degree, many accredited MSW programs offer enrolling students advanced standing if they already possess their BSW. It is typical for students with advanced standing status to finish their master's degrees in one year instead of two.
DSW – Name-calling aside, the DSW and PhD degrees are designed to prepare experienced social workers for advanced professional positions involving research and policy analysis at academic, private or government research centers. Social workers holding their doctoral degrees are primed for leadership roles within their field, as well as higher incomes.