From helping clients adjust to major life changes to connecting them with government agencies that provide benefits to developing crisis intervention plans, social workers are trained to provide solutions in a wide range of situations. Before obtaining an advanced degree in this field, many professionals earn a Bachelor of Social Work degree (BSW).
BSW programs can be taken online or in person. The decision to get your BSW online or in person is up to your schedule, personal obligations, and your desired program’s requirements. We have compiled a list of all accredited online BSW programs, allowing you to compare and pick the BSW program that is right for you.
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A BSW is not always required for admission into a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program. But those with a BSW looking to continue their studies and expand their professional opportunities may find that their primary degree gives them an edge, as a number of MSW courses build on the foundational social work knowledge they acquired as a BSW major.
A Bachelor of Social Work is an undergraduate degree that equips students with the knowledge, skills and expertise to start their professional career as a social worker. While earning a bachelor’s in sociology or psychology may open the door to entry-level positions in the social work field, BSW degree students benefit from a rigorous curriculum that covers areas such as human behavior and teaches them how to employ social work research methods in everyday life.
Every BSW program is different. When doing your research to find the best BSW program for you, there are a few factors you may wish to keep in mind such as social work degree accreditation, general BSW program requirements, curriculum, scholarships and more.
On-Campus vs. Online Social Work Degrees
If you choose to earn your social work degree on campus, you will be in a traditional classroom setting on designated days of the week. However, when you earn your social work degree online, you enjoy location flexibility. As a distance learner, you avoid daily commutes to and from campus and can complete coursework at your own pace.
Many social work positions involve direct client services. Both on-campus and online BSW programs reflect that, with fieldwork requirements. Supervised fieldwork is an essential component of social work education. Be mindful of this when selecting your BSW program and be sure you can balance personal obligations with fieldwork requirements even if you are an online student.
Every social work program will differ in terms of requirements, however, some general admission requirements may include:
A high school diploma or GED
SAT or ACT scores (acceptable scores for the program will vary)
GPA (standard GPA for the program will vary)
Some programs may also require letter(s) of recommendation, high school transcripts, or a personal essay. When researching for your desired BSW program, either on-campus or online, familiarize yourself with the admission requirements so you know what to expect when you decide to apply.
Internships, Practicums and Fieldwork
All accredited social work programs require fieldwork, which may be in the form of an internship or practicums. CSWE-accredited BSW programs usually require a minimum of 400 hours of fieldwork. But note that the number of hours required for internships or practicums vary from program to program—some may stick with the minimum and others will require more. Fieldwork hours may also vary depending on your state.
Fieldwork is important when working toward your BSW because it provides real, hands-on experience. This will prepare you for entry-level social work jobs and give you a feel for what to expect as a social worker.
Though supervised internships and practicums are temporary, you can still have an impact on the people you are working with and the communities you are serving.
Whether you decide to get your BSW online or on-campus, you’ll still have access to general scholarships and specific social work scholarships. Funding for scholarships may come from your program’s college or university as well as from state or federal government.
The number of scholarships, their eligibility requirements and amount of money offered varies. However, as you do your research, you’ll be able to discover scholarships available exclusively to social work students.
BSW Coursework and Specializations
BSW coursework and program curricula are all different depending on the program you choose. In general, you can expect to fulfill coursework on topics such as social work research methods, policy and advocacy, the history of social work, and more.
While working toward your BSW online or on-campus, you’ll have the opportunity to determine what area of specialization within social work interests you most. There are different types of social work. Depending on your desired specialization, the coursework will differ to meet those needs.
Some of the many BSW specializations you can explore are:
Core Concepts You Will Encounter During Your BSW Studies
A lot of the core concepts you can expect to encounter during your BSW studies may stem from subjects like psychology, sociology and research and public policy. Often, those subjects serve as foundations to help you understand general social work theories and the other specializations in the field. The profession of social work requires ample research to prepare you to serve individuals and communities to the best of your ability.
Why You Might Consider a BSW and a Career in Social Work
Through coursework, field placement and more, your BSW degree can prepare you to work in a variety of settings. Whether you find yourself meeting with clients in their homes or attending court hearings, your daily efforts can have a positive and wide-reaching impact, and this is what drives many professionals in the field. If you’re an active listener, possess strong organizational skills, and empathy comes naturally to you, you may want to consider a career in social work.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s in Social Work?
Traditional or online BSW programs may lead to different types of opportunities in social work. While all social workers aim to improve the quality of life for their clients, how they work to achieve this goal may look different. One social worker might be employed by a community organization that works with policymakers to develop or improve programs, services, policies and social conditions, while another might carry out their daily tasks in a group home.
Other social work positions include:
Mental health assistant
Pursuing Licensing With a BSW
Social work state licensing is important in social work, as it ensures social workers are meeting professional standards. The education requirements for social work licensure vary depending on the level of licensure you’d like. Some states provide licensure to BSW holders.
Every state has different licensing rules and requirements, so you will need to spend time learning about them. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) is a good starting point to review your state’s licensing and testing requirements.
Advanced Social Work Degrees
A BSW is often the first step in becoming a social worker, however, there are higher social work degree options available that may help you elevate your social work career. Some programs even combine on-campus and online instruction. If you are interested in becoming a clinical social worker for example, you must earn a master’s degree in social work (MSW) to provide clinical services.
Once you receive your BSW, which typically takes about four years, you can go on to obtain your MSW. An MSW can be completed in two years at an on-campus or online program.
Master’s Degree in Social Work
A master’s degree in social work is the degree you earn upon graduation from an accredited MSW program. While a BSW allows you to explore entry-level positions within social work, an MSW enables you to explore more advanced career options, and potentially higher pay.
A possible advantage to earning your BSW online or on-campus is that you have access to advanced-standing MSW programs. These are programs designed for students who have earned their BSW from an accredited social work program. They tend to take less time to complete than the traditional MSW program and build on your existing BSW education.
Jobs Available With an MSW
Earning your MSW may open up a greater range of social work careers to you. As with BSW programs, MSW students have the opportunity to specialize depending on their interests. Some MSW jobs include:
Clinical social worker
Hospice/palliative social worker
Pediatric social worker
Mental health counselor
Substance use and recovery treatment counselor
Doctorate in Social Work (DSW)
A doctorate in social work or DSW is another educational path within the field of social work. A DSW offers advanced training in a specific social work practice and prepares students for advanced positions in the field, mainly leadership and management roles.
Often, one of the main areas of focus when working toward a DSW is clinical social work. Requirements for DSW programs vary, however, prospective students must have their master’s degree. Whether or not your master’s degree has to be in social work depends on your desired program.
What Can You Do With a DSW?
If interested in obtaining a DSW, you can look forward to numerous career options such as:
Advanced practice clinical social worker
Social and community service manager
Human services administrator
Social work administrator
PhD in Social Work
A PhD in social work is another advanced educational option that prepares candidates for research positions in the social work field.
If you are interested in teaching or social work research, you may want to consider a PhD. While you may not have the same amount of freedom in different work environments as you would with other social work degrees, your work with a PhD can serve as a foundation for social workers all across the field.
Why Social Work Is Important
From identifying client needs to maintaining files and records to drafting evidence-based research, the social work practice is important as it is how everyday problems within society and communities, big or small, are addressed. As a social worker, you will support clients across the lifespan, from various ethnic backgrounds and, at times, with illnesses, disabilities or behavioral issues.
Clinical social work in particular aligns with and in some ways is very similar to mental health roles like psychologist, counselor and therapist.
While schooling plays a role in your preparedness for social work practice, qualities such as good communication, problem-solving and emotional balance can make a difference in your daily work.
National Social Work Organizations
National social work organizations are important as they give students and practitioners access to resources to enhance their professional development. There are many national social work organizations, from large to small. Some may focus on specific groups of people based on their race, ethnicity or even certain religious affiliations. Others focus on specialty.
Whatever work environment you find yourself in or population you work with, try to find an organization that supports your growth and allows you to network with like-minded individuals. Start your search for a social work organization by exploring our small selection below:
National Association of Social Workers
One of the more well-known national social work organizations is the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). This organization has over 120,000 members and has been around since 1955.
Its mission includes enhancing the personal development of members and implementing standards for members to follow in social work.
National Association of Black Social Workers
The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW), established in 1968, empowers and enhances the quality of life for people of African ancestry by providing resources, research and advocacy. They have more than 100 membership chapters and over 30 university and college chapters.
School Social Work Association of America
The School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA), established in 1994, connects and empowers social workers in schools. The Kentucky-based organization holds summer leadership and legislative meetings annually.
Clinical Social Work Association
The Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) is devoted to clinical social workers. The organization operates as a board to bring a sense of community to clinical social workers all over the nation, providing them with resources, tools and news.
International Association of Schools of Social Work
The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) brings social work educators together, fosters international exchange and promotes “the development of social work education throughout the world.” Creating standards to enhance the quality of social work education is one way the group fulfills its mission.
Is a BSW worth it?
Earning a BSW is the first step you can take to enter the social work field. If you are interested in working in the social work field in an entry-level role, a BSW might be a viable option for you. However, a BSW does not grant you access to all career or pay options in the field.
If you plan on continuing your studies in social work, a BSW is a stepping-stone to a master’s in social work (MSW).
Can you get an MSW without a BSW?
If you don’t have a BSW and are interested in getting your MSW, you may be curious if that is a possibility. In short, the answer is yes. You can obtain your MSW without a BSW as it is not generally an admission requirement. If you do not have your BSW, you may want to research to find a traditional-standing MSW program, instead of an advanced-standing MSW program for students who have earned their BSW.
Is a BSW a BA or a BS?
Whether your BSW is considered a BA or a BS depends on your desired program’s educational standards and requirements. BSW programs often provide this information on their websites.
What is the best online college for social work?
While there are many program rankings out there, the best online college for social work differs depending on the student’s individual needs. A program that works best for one individual may differ for another. This is why it is important to do your own research to find what program meets your needs.