Bachelor of Social Work Degrees: Everything You Need to Know About BSWs

Earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is a great way to get your start in the human services field. With a BSW, you’ll be able to work in many entry-level positions across various social work specialties.

Having your BSW is also a strong foundation for earning your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree later. You might even be able to fast-track your MSW degree if you’ve already earned a BSW.

What Is a BSW Degree?

A BSW is a 4-year degree that allows you to work as a direct service social worker. The degree program will prepare you to work with people who need guidance through serious issues and give you an understanding of the larger social context that can contribute to those problems.

There are 3 types of social work practice:

  • Micro-level practice, which involves working with individual clients to help them navigate situations
  • Mezzo-level practice, where you work in a group setting such a mental health center or group home, rather than 1-on-1 with clients
  • Macro-level practice, which involves leading large-scale social change through administrative work and policy changes

A Bachelor of Social Work will prepare you to work on the micro level. With experience, you might be able to find work on the mezzo level as well.

Is a BSW the same as a BA or BS in social work?

Depending on the school, you might see social work programs referred to as Bachelor of Social Work, Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW), or Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW). You might find a BSW more commonly at schools that have full departments dedicated to social work, while other schools may fit their social work programs into the arts or science departments depending on how they best align.

Differences among these programs might simply come down to any general education requirements dictated by the school. While those may vary, any of these degrees will prepare you to work at the same level, as long as the program you choose is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Careers with a Bachelor’s in Social Work

A BSW is the minimum requirement for many jobs in social work, though some jobs might have additional requirements. This can include state certification. Not all states certify social workers at the bachelor’s level, but many do.

Jobs at the BSW level can be found in human services, nonprofit agencies, correctional facilities, healthcare facilities, schools, and community centers. Some common careers at the BSW level are discussed in more detail below.


Case management aide

A case management aide is often the first point of contact for a client seeking services from a social agency. As a case management aide, you’ll perform tasks such as:

  • Interviewing clients
  • Inputting data
  • Keeping files up to date
  • Creating a welcoming atmosphere
  • Filing paperwork for clients
  • Connecting clients with other community resources
  • Scheduling meetings and appointments

Case management aide salary

According to data from Payscale, Case management aides earn a median annual salary of $37,654.

Other requirements

Other requirements can vary depending on your region and the employer. However, since you’ll be talking to a large volume of clients, speaking a second language, such as Spanish, can be an asset.


Substance abuse counselor

Substance abuse counselors work hands-on with people who are struggling with addiction. As a substance abuse counselor, you’ll provide support and guide clients through treatment plans.

Substance abuse counselor salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselors to be $43,300 per year.

Other requirements

Some states require substance abuse counselors to be licensed in addition to their degree. Licensing generally involves passing an exam. You can check the requirements for your state using the interactive map maintained by the Addiction Technology Transfer Network.


Community service manager

A community service manager works in a human services organization to ensure clients are getting the help they need. A community service manager job could be a good fit if you see yourself in a leadership role.

Community service manager salary

According to the BLS, community service managers earn a median annual salary of $64,100.

Other requirements

Working as a community service manager often requires some prior experience in the field. You might be able to use the field work requirement of your BSW program to meet this requirement.


Correctional treatment specialist

Correctional treatment specialists work with incarcerated or recently-paroled people to assist them in their rehabilitation. This can include vocational counseling, substance abuse counseling, housing assistance, and other aid aiming to prevent repeat offenses.

Correctional treatment specialist salary

Per the BLS, the median annual salary for correctional treatment specialists is $51,410.

Other requirements

You’ll need to complete an on-the-job training program to work as a correctional treatment specialist. This can include passing exams to maintain employment.

Academic Requirements Before Starting a BSW

The academic requirements for starting a BSW program will depend on the school you choose. You’ll need to meet the school’s general requirements and any additional requirements specific to the program. This can look different at each school, but might include community service hours, psychology or sociology classes, essays, and letters of recommendation. You might also need to complete a criminal background check or health screen before admission to ensure you’re able to do fieldwork.

Is there a GPA requirement?

The required GPA will depend on your school, but most require at least a 2.5 for admission.

Can I get into social work programs with a GED?

Yes. Most colleges and universities accept GED testing in lieu of a high school diploma. However, keep in mind that this is not a guarantee of admission. It can be helpful to demonstrate work experience you already have to be competitive with diploma applicants.

If you’re denied admission or you can’t find a local BSW program that accepts GED holder, you can start your career at a community college. All community colleges in the United States accept GEDs. You can talk with advisors to figure out which track will be most the helpful toward earning your BSW. You might be able to major in:

  • Human services
  • Social services
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Liberal arts

You can then transfer to a 4-year school and complete your BSW.  Going this route can be both cost-effective and time-saving for many students.

Do you need to take the SAT or ACT?

Taking the SAT or ACT will depend entirely on your school and the route you choose to take. While many schools in the U.S. do require SAT or ACT scores for admission, there are other schools where the scores are optional. You’ll need to check the requirements of your desired program to know what they require.

How Long Does It Take to Get a BSW?

Earning a BSW generally takes four years but this will depend on the program you choose. Some programs are part time and will take longer, while other programs may allow you to fast track the degree.

The Bachelor of Social Work Curriculum

Your BSW coursework will cover a range of topics. You’ll learn about the ways large social issues affect individual people, and about the factors that influence human development and behavior. You’ll also learn about social assistance programs and explore how they can improve lives and communities.

What core classes are involved?

Your individual program will vary. Common core social work classes cover:

  • Social welfare
  • Human behavior
  • Diversity and diverse populations
  • Social research
  • Community social structures
  • Social welfare programs in the U.S.
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Ethics

Number of course credits

A BSW program normally includes 120 credits.

Popular minors

Many students declare a minor that will be beneficial to their social work career. Some popular minors include:

  • Spanish: The United States has a large Spanish-speaking population that includes members of underserved communities. You’ll be better able to communicate with those clients if you can speak Spanish. Additionally, speaking a second language can make your resume stand out.
  • Sociology: The study of society and group behaviors can give you a knowledge base that enhances your social work practice.
  • Psychology: You can apply an in-depth understanding of human motivations to your work with a psychology minor.
  • Political science: Many social outreach programs are government backed and funded, and many social workers are employed in the public sector. When you have an understanding of how policies are made, it can help you navigate your career.

Is an Internship Required for a BSW?

Yes. All accredited BSW programs include at least 400 hours of supervised fieldwork. You’ll work throughout your community, and you’ll gain experience that will be vital to your career.

Popular concentrations

Many students choose to do fieldwork with organizations that work in areas they’re interested in. You’ll work in the field with professional social workers and observe the daily needs of the clients you’ll serve. You might be able to take seminars or classes in your program that are specific to your areas of interest. Not all placements will be available in all areas, but some popular concentrations include:

  • Aging services
  • Children and youth programs
  • Community organization and planning
  • Correctional and rehabilitation programs
  • School-based programs
  • Family services
  • Hospital or other healthcare-based programs
  • Legal services
  • Mental and behavioral health
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic or other violence prevention and counseling

Can I Get an Online Social Work Degree?

There are many programs that offer social work degrees online.

Keep in mind that you’ll still need to complete the 400 hours of required fieldwork. All programs must meet the same accreditation requirements.

Online

Online programs are available to students throughout the United States. Some programs allow you to complete your entire degree online, and others are only available online as degree completion programs.

A list of accredited online programs can be found on the CSWE website.

Classroom

In the U.S., there are over 500 classroom BSW programs accredited by CSWE. In addition to 4-year programs, there are options for part-time learners, distance education, and non-traditional students.

Hybrid

Hybrid programs are offered by both traditional universities and by online institutes that have physical campuses. Many of the classes you’ll need to complete your BSW are available online at these schools, but some will need to be taken on campus.

Accelerated

Accelerated programs allow you earn your degree faster. The rules for your program can vary, but many have options for:

  • Credit hours awarded for previous work experience
  • Credits award for any prior learning
  • The ability to take tests that prove mastery of subjects for credit
  • Semester intensives that earn credits faster

BSW-to-MSW Degree Programs

Having your BSW in social work will likely be an asset if you decide to pursue your MSW. It can even give you advanced standing, because your BSW coursework will cover some of the degree requirements.

Accelerated programs are available at some schools and may allow you to earn your MSW faster. For example, you might be able to complete the course and fieldwork for your BSW in 3 years and then go directly into an MSW program lasting 1 year.

How to Pick a BSW Degree Program

You’ll need to decide what program works best for your lifestyle and goals when you’re deciding where to earn your BSW. Some important questions to keep in mind include:

  • Is this program accredited?
  • Does this program allow me to fast-track to an MSW?
  • Is financial aid available for this program?
  • Is this program full or part time?
  • Is this program on campus or online?
  • What kind of jobs do graduates of this program find?
  • What’s the reputation of this program in my area?
  • Does this program have field placements in areas that I’m interested in?
  • What prerequisites does this program have?
  • Will this program help me meet the certification requirements for my state?

Financial Aid for Social Work Students

There are national and university-based organizations that offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants to social work students.

Loans are available from the government and from private lenders. You’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if you’re eligible to receive aid.

Does Social Work Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?

In many cases, yes. You can qualify for student loan forgiveness as a social worker depending on your location and employer. The federal government offers student loan forgiveness under its Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). You might be eligible for the PSLF if you have a direct federal loan and find full-time employment at a not-for-profit or government agency.

Some states also offer student loan forgiveness for social workers, especially if you work in a high-need area. For example, in New York, social workers can have up to $26,000 of student loan debt forgiven if they meet service and residency requirements.

What Professional Organizations Are There for Social Work?

There are several professional organizations for social workers. Some will only grant memberships to clinical social workers at the MSW level, but others have membership options for BSW social workers. Some prominent organizations include:

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