Accredited Online Social Work Degree Guide for 2018

Social workers help people who are affected by social problems. What constitutes a social problem is difficult to define, because the term includes any issue that affects society at large. Dramatic examples of social problems include homicide, drug abuse, and domestic violence. Other social problems are poverty and mental illness. Social workers help individuals experiencing social problems to function in their communities despite dealing with these types of social problems.

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Associate Degree in Social Work

An Associate Degree in Social Work is best for students who are not yet sure they are interested in social work.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 2 years
  • Employment prospects: Most associate degree holders pursue jobs as administrative assistants or entry-level personnel in non-governmental organizations and other social work organizations.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

A Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work is a good choice for students who are interested in practical social work.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 4 years
  • Employment prospects: Graduates from bachelor’s degree programs find employment as counselors, social workers, and psychiatric aides.

Master’s Degree in Social Work

A Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) is ideal for students who have some social work experience and would like to become clinical social workers. You can expect to choose from four primary concentration categories: Child and Family Services, Healthcare Services, Mental Health Services and Management, Planning and Administrative Services.Dual-degree programs are plentiful for clinical social workers, and can be a valuable investment depending on how certain the student is about their choice of career. For example, a Master’s of Social Work (MSW)/Child Development  could be an excellent investment for a student who already knows they want to dedicate a career to understanding the diverse and complex needs of children.

  • Credit hours/length of study: additional 2-3 years post-baccalaureate
  • Employment prospects: Opportunities available include clinical social worker and school counselor.
  • Concentrations: 
    • Child and Family Services: Students who enjoy working directly with people in a client service role often choose to concentrate their studies in family services. Patience and understanding are critical in this area, as it can be very challenging to deal with people in crisis. The coursework and internships required of students in this concentration will prioritize the development of interpersonal skills and empathy, since social workers in family services provide care to a diverse clientele dealing with issues like physical abuse, drug usage and extreme poverty. Your professors will focus on helping you understand the broader picture of the way social issues such as race and class can impact how individuals, groups, and communities interact.
    • Healthcare: Clinical social workers who specialize in health services deploy a range of strategies to diagnose, prevent, and treat illnesses, injuries, disabilities and impairments. They also help their clients identify and obtain the healthcare services and benefits for which they qualify. In addition to classes focused on poverty and inequality, the history and success of social efforts across organizations and communities and social welfare research and evaluation; students in this concentration will take more advanced math and science courses.
    • Management Planning and Administration: Coursework for social work management varies, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests academic preparation in statistics, program management, business administration and policy analysis. It is common in many MSW programs for students to take courses at the university’s business school.
    • Mental Health: Not for the faint of heart, in this concentration you’ll work with clients who are struggling with traumas related to substance abuse or who have mental illnesses. Whether or not you possess a master’s degree in the field, clinical social workers that choose to work in mental health services are usually required to pursue some sort of licensure, depending on state regulations. Once they’ve obtained the qualifications to practice, social workers can apply all the theory and methods.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

A Doctoral Degree (PhD) in Social Work is a good choice for students who have decided they want to perform advanced social work research, rather than practice clinical social work.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 4-7 years
  • Employment prospects: university professor or researcher

Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits bachelor’s and master’s programs in the United States. Doctoral degree programs, however, are not accredited by the CSWE, as they focus more on research and policy than the practice of social work. Accreditation is particularly important for those who want to become licensed social workers or clinical social workers, as students applying for these licenses must have degrees from accredited schools.

Licensing and Professional Certification

Each state has it’s own licensing and certification process. Be sure to check into the requirements in the state where you intend to work before you commit to a degree program.


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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that employment opportunities are expected to grow at least 25 percent for social workers over the next decade, which is significantly faster than the expected average growth rate for all occupations in the United States. The BLS also reports that social workers earn an average annual salary of $42,480 which is higher than the average individual salary for all occupations.

  • Addictions Social Work Specialist
  • Child Welfare Specialist
  • Community Outreach Specialist
  • Corrections Social Work Specialist
  • Developmental Disabilities Social Work Specialist
  • Employment/Occupational Social Work Specialist
  • Gerontology Social Work Specialist
  • Healthcare Social Work Specialist
  • Mental Health/Clinical Social Work
  • School Social Work Specialists
  • Social Policy and Researcher
  • School Services Manager

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