2020 Best Online Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

By Taylor Nichols | Updated November 24, 2020
Quick Facts
Accreditation: CSWE
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, Certificate
Average Tuition: $26,901
Average Salary: $61,031

Social workers are needed in a variety of settings, including in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. They play an integral part in their communities to help identify and solve issues and improve the lives of those around them. Social workers meet with clients to identify needs, assess situations, and help individuals work through challenges in their lives. They often act as client advocates, helping to connect people with resources. Social workers may also respond to crises and work with family or friends to create targeted treatment plans. Social workers make an average of $50,000 a year and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts our need for social workers will grow by 13% over the next decade, making now a good time to pursue a career in social work. Read on for information about accreditation and licensure, along with answers to frequently asked questions about the field.

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2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Social Work Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Social Work Badge

This list highlights the 14 best value colleges offering online bachelor's degrees in social work. Graduates of the #1-ranked school, the University of Toledo, earn a median salary of $64,200 after earning their Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies - Social Work. In the #2 spot, Aurora University offers a Bachelor of Social Work for only $12,750 per year, making it an affordable choice for distance learners who are looking for a high quality and affordable education.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

Rank School Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 $17,573 $64,200
# 2 #2 $12,750 $54,600
# 3 #3 $11,700 $50,300
# 4 #4 $6,708 $47,200
# 5 #5 $10,140 $48,000
# 6 #6 $22,510 $52,500
# 7 #7 $11,880 $47,800
# 8 #8 $15,900 $48,100
# 9 #9 $10,492 $45,700
# 10 #10 $19,290 $46,900
# 11 #11 $15,270 $43,000
# 12 #12 $32,505 $46,600
# 13 #13 $12,270 $36,200
# 14 #14 $13,230 $31,500
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Social Work Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 University of Toledo

  • Annual Tuition: $17,573
  • Median Salary: $64,200
  • Locations: Toledo (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies degree at the University of Toledo allows students to specialize in various areas, including social work. Graduates of the online social work degree program can start their careers in the field of social and human services or pursue advanced studies in a Master of Social Work program. Many students finish this 120-credit degree in two years. Students take classes in their concentration following the completion of the core liberal arts requirements.

The Blackboard learning management system is used to deliver course material and for submitting assignments. Communication between students and their instructors is facilitated through Blackboard Collaborate in both audio and video formats. Instructors may also use Echo360 to upload video lectures that students can access and use for note-taking. During their studies at the University of Toledo, online students can benefit from resources such as eTutor, offered through the Learning Enhancement Center (LEC), academic advising, career services, and the UToledo counseling center.

To apply, prospective students must have at least a 2.5 GPA and minimum scores of 20 on the ACT or 1030 on the SAT. New college students and transfers must send in their academic transcripts from the institutions they have attended. Credits are awarded for prior life experience and for completing proficiency exams.

#2 Aurora University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,750
  • Median Salary: $54,600
  • Locations: Aurora (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree completion program at Aurora University provides the foundation necessary for students to begin careers in social work. Coursework is taught by faculty with real-world experience, and digital resources are provided at no additional cost in place of textbooks. Students take courses in human behavior and the social environment, the study of individuals and families, and social welfare. After earning their BSW and working for two years in the field, graduates are qualified to take the state social work license exam (LSW) or apply for Aurora University's Master in Social Work program.

Online coursework is hosted on the Moodle learning management system, where students have access to class materials, grades, and assignments. Online classes are asynchronous and follow an 8-week format. Distance learners have access to several resources, including academic advising, career development assistance, and tutoring.

Before applying to the BSW program, students must first be admitted to Aurora University, which requires an associate degree or at least 60 hours of college credit with a 2.5 minimum GPA. Prospective BSW students should send in a separate online application, their academic transcripts, a professional resume indicating at least two years of relevant experience, and a statement of purpose. Transcripts should demonstrate that applicants have taken the following prerequisite courses, U.S. Government, General Psychology, and Principles of Sociology.

#3 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,700
  • Median Salary: $50,300
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University’s Bachelor of Social Work degree is designed for individuals interested in pursuing a career dedicated to helping others. The coursework enables students to look at society through the lens of human psychology and is rooted in the Christian faith. The social work degree program is completed online, except for a five-day experience that is hosted on campus. On average, program participants complete their degree in three and a half years.

Online coursework, including assignments, quizzes, and classroom discussions, are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. Students needing technology assistance can find IT support readily available. Other online student resources include tutoring services, an online writing center, faculty mentoring, and professional advising.

The admissions process requires that prospective students submit an online application, official transcripts indicating at least a 2.0 GPA, and proof of English proficiency.

#4 Wichita State University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,708
  • Median Salary: $47,200
  • Locations: Wichita (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The online Bachelor of General Studies degree at Wichita State University offers a concentration in Social Work. The curriculum focuses on building critical thinking and communication skills, combining 94 credits in the liberal arts and sciences with 33 credit hours in social work. Graduates of the program may pursue career opportunities in various fields or choose to advance their studies by enrolling in a graduate degree program.

Students use the Blackboard learning management system and other third-party resources such as Zoom, Brainshark, and ProctorU. These tools allow online students to engage with their class materials by participating in classroom discussions, watching video lectures, and taking quizzes. Support services for distance learners include advising, writing assistance, math assistance, virtual library access, and general tutoring.

To apply to this social work degree program, prospective students must submit the online application and all official academic transcripts. An academic advisor can guide applicants through the admissions process and assist with enrollment.

#5 Troy University

  • Annual Tuition: $10,140
  • Median Salary: $48,000
  • Locations: Troy (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The online Bachelor of Social Work program at Troy University prepares students to serve others through a career in social work. The curriculum focuses on social work values, ethics, and best practices for individuals, families, and groups in various settings. Distance learners in this program have the opportunity to network with current social workers. The program requires a 400-hour practicum completed under the supervision of an experienced social worker.

Online coursework is hosted on the Canvas learning management system and includes video lectures, PowerPoint, interactive activities, and classroom discussions. Several resources are available to online students, such as career services, online tutoring through NetTutor, library access, and the IT Helpdesk.

Prospective students can apply by sending in an online application and their previous academic transcripts. Applicants should have at least a 2.0 GPA.

#6 Metropolitan State University of Denver

  • Annual Tuition: $22,510
  • Median Salary: $52,500
  • Locations: Denver (CO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Metropolitan State University of Denver offers an online Bachelor of Science in Social Work. The undergraduate online degree requires students to complete 120 credits, 60 of which will be in social work. All students must begin the program in the fall term. To graduate, students must complete 480 hours of field experience over two semesters working at a community agency under the supervision of a professional social worker.

Online courses are delivered both synchronously and asynchronously, where students participate in scheduled class meetings, one-on-one meetings with instructors via Zoom, and complete readings and independent assignments. Students will have access to student groups, including the Student Association of Social Workers, Phi Alpha Honor Society, and Building Allies of Diversity, where they can connect with their peers.

To be considered for admission, applicants must submit official high school transcripts, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and unofficial ACT and/or SAT scores.

#7 University of Nebraska at Kearney

  • Annual Tuition: $11,880
  • Median Salary: $47,800
  • Locations: Kearney (NE)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Social Work through its eCAMPUS program. The 120-credit degree is designed to prepare students to work with different members in the community in areas such as public health, mental health, and substance abuse. The degree includes 48 credit hours in social work and 24 credits of unrestricted electives. Students will be able to join the Student Social Work Organization and Phi Alpha Honor Society to network with their peers.

Online courses at UNK are delivered asynchronously through the Canvas learning management platform, where students are expected to participate via email, live chats, and discussion forums. Once enrolled, students will attend an online orientation.

Applicants must submit an online application along with official high school transcripts and either SAT or ACT scores.

#8 Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $15,900
  • Median Salary: $48,100
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ)(and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Community Advocacy and Social Policy through its School of Social Work. The 120-credit degree requires a total of 39 classes, and students can enroll full-time or part-time. Each class follows a 7.5-week format. Students will complete courses in two core areas: the diversity/oppressed populations sequence and the social problems and interventions sequence.

Online courses include interactive activities, web conferencing, graded assignments, and one-on-one interaction between students and faculty. New students will attend a one-week online orientation where they meet with other online students and learn about the tools available to them throughout the program. Students will also have virtual access to the library, career services, online tutoring, and military and disability services.

Applicants to the program must submit official high school transcripts, have an overall GPA of 3.00 or higher, and must be in the top 25% of their graduating class. They must also submit ACT or SAT scores along with their online application.

#9 University of Cincinnati

  • Annual Tuition: $10,492
  • Median Salary: $45,700
  • Locations: Cincinnati (OH)(and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Cincinnati offers a Bachelor of Social Work degree completion program that can be completed entirely online. The program is offered through the School of Social Work in the College of Allied Health Sciences and takes an average of two years to complete. This online social work degree requires 60 to 75 credits, and students can enroll full-time or part-time. Before graduating, students will complete two capstone courses that include supervised fieldwork.

Coursework focuses on a wide range of skills and explores working with communities impacted by various factors, like child abuse and neglect, substance abuse, mental disabilities, geriatrics, and physical disabilities. All virtual learners are assigned an academic advisor and a student success coordinator to support them through the program.

To be considered for enrollment, students must have an associate degree or a minimum of 60 credit hours of social work, pre-social work, or similar coursework. Students must have a minimum 2.75 GPA.

#10 Millersville University of Pennsylvania

  • Annual Tuition: $19,290
  • Median Salary: $46,900
  • Locations: Millersville (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Millersville University of Pennsylvania offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Social Work degree completion program through its School of Social Work. The bachelor's degree requires a total of 120 credits to complete. Students enter the program with a cohort of peers, and the program is typically completed on a part-time schedule within two academic years. There are two cohorts admitted each year—one in the fall and one in the spring. To graduate, students will complete 60 hours of service-learning and 450 hours of fieldwork experience.

Online courses are delivered asynchronously, but some professors may require students to meet in real-time over Zoom throughout the semester.

To be considered for admission, students must have at least 60 transferable college credits or an associate degree with a minimum GPA of 2.0.

#11 The University of Tennessee - Knoxville

  • Annual Tuition: $15,270
  • Median Salary: $43,000
  • Locations: Knoxville (TN)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Tennessee – Knoxville (UTK) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Social Work degree completion program for students who have already earned an Associate of Arts degree or Associate of Science degree. Enrollment is only available during the fall semester, and students must complete 60 credits at UTK. Coursework explores trauma, forensic social work, crisis intervention and suicidology, and social work in the military and veteran populations.

Online courses are delivered on a real-time, synchronous schedule using video conferencing software to connect students with their peers and instructors. Students will also participate in asynchronous activities such as submitting regular assignments, participating on discussion boards, and communicating via email.

To be eligible for admission, applicants must have a transferable GPA of 2.5 or higher. Prospective students must have completed the prerequisite courses in Introduction to Social Work and Introduction to Social Welfare. Applicants must submit a personal essay and official college transcripts.

#12 Wayne State University

  • Annual Tuition: $32,505
  • Median Salary: $46,600
  • Locations: Detroit (MI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Wayne State University offers an online Bachelor of Social Work degree completion program through its School of Social Work. The 60-credit program is designed for students who have already earned 60 college credits, requiring a total of 120 credits to graduate. This program can be completed over four semesters. Students are required to take a service-learning course in the first semester of the program.

Online classes are delivered through Canvas learning management system, where students can access course materials, submit assignments, participate in online discussion boards, view video lectures. Resources available to students include advisors for online mentoring, writing support, and tutoring.

Applicants must submit official transcripts showing they have completed 60 college-level credits with a minimum GPA of 2.50. Prospective students must also complete an online assessment to determine their readiness for online learning.

#13 Eastern Kentucky University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,270
  • Median Salary: $36,200
  • Locations: Richmond (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Eastern Kentucky University offers an online Bachelor of Social Work degree. The 120-credit degree program prepares students for careers in working with children and families affected by mental health or substance abuse. Students will take courses in accelerated eight-week terms and can choose to study either part-time or full-time. There are six start dates throughout the year, and students complete optional practicum experiences.

The Bachelor of Social Work online courses are delivered asynchronously through the Blackboard learning management system. Students are expected to communicate with their instructors and peers via online discussion boards, chat rooms, social media, and email. Online learners can take advantage of virtual tutoring and career services.

To be considered for admission, applicants must have either a cumulative high school GPA of 2.50 or higher, an ACT composite score of 20, an SAT combined verbal/critical reading score of 950, or 24 hours of transfer credits from a regionally accredited institution.

#14 Limestone College

  • Annual Tuition: $13,230
  • Median Salary: $31,500
  • Locations: Gaffney (SC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Limestone College offers a fully-online Bachelor of Social Work degree. The 120-credit program includes both general education courses and 48 credits are completed social work. Students can enroll full-time or part-time and complete the degree in four years. The curriculum explores topics in assessment, interviewing, intake and referral, service planning, case management, crisis intervention, problem-solving, program evaluation, community outreach, advocacy, research, and networking. Students are also required to complete a field practicum, which involves 400 hours of supervised social work practice.

Online students will interact with their professors and peers by participating in discussion boards and chat rooms, and through email and web conferencing. Students are expected to submit assignments and take exams and quizzes in time to meet weekly deadlines. Virtual access to the library and academic advisors is available.

Applicants must submit an online application along with official high school transcripts.

Online Social Work Degree Overview & Career Information

Many students begin their studies by pursuing an associate degree in pre-social work or human services before transferring to a bachelor's degree program. An associate degree provides introductory information in the field and acquaints students with appropriate counseling techniques, behavioral analyses, and the overall nature of social work. A bachelor's degree in social work, also known as a BSW, helps to prepare students for entry-level positions in the field. Students obtain in-depth knowledge on intervention strategies, industry trends, administrative practices, and coordination policies. Common coursework includes foundations of social work, human behavior and diversity, social welfare policy and services, and research methods. 

Master's degree programs in social work are commonly referred to as MSWs and are for students who plan on becoming licensed clinical social workers. These programs are research intensive and offer students a chance to gain more hands-on training in the field. Master's students learn how to supervise personnel and perform clinical assessments. Online MSW programs may also enable students to begin internships in their specialty and become eligible for licensure.

Those who desire to work in consulting, research, or postsecondary teaching may choose to earn a doctorate in social work. Students learn how to examine complex issues in social policy and arrange new solutions in public policy. They take classes in data analysis, counseling, and welfare policy. Most programs also heavily focus on clinical psychology. Each PhD candidate must present a dissertation before graduation.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Social Work

Program Requirements

Online bachelor's degrees in social work require approximately four years of full-time study and 120 units of coursework. Applicants to a BSW program will need a high school diploma or the equivalent, as well as acceptable scores on a college entry-level test, such as the SAT or ACT. Those who have completed an associate degree may be able to complete a bachelor's degree in two years, depending on the program's particular course requirements.


A bachelor's degree in social work will give students a broad understanding of introductory theories in social work, human behavior, sociology, psychology, and history. After the introductory courses, students can expect to take courses such as social issues and diversity, social welfare, research methods, human behavior and the social environment, and preparing for the field. Topics covered by the coursework may include administrative principles and practices, alcohol and drug abuse, communication, crisis intervention, family systems, human growth and development, psychology, social work ethics, social work interventions, social work principles, and working with communities and organizations.

For many distance learning bachelor's programs, students may complete all of their coursework online. The last year of the program typically involves hands-on training under the direction of a professional social worker, however, so students may need to obtain that experience in a local social services setting.

Common careers for bachelor's graduates include child and family social work, healthcare, and school social work. A bachelor's degree is required for many social work positions, but some jobs may require a master's degree. For example, clinical social workers must have a master's degree, pass an exam, and obtain a state license before entering the workforce.

The Importance of an Accredited Online Social Work Degree

Accreditation is an important aspect that students should take into account when considering enrolling in an online social work degree program at any level. Institutional accreditation is granted by one of six regional accrediting agencies recognized by the US Department of Education. The accreditation process involves a thorough, independent evaluation of all aspects of an undergraduate or graduate degree program. Students who choose an accredited school can feel more confident that they are going to receive a high-quality education and that their degree will be recognized by other academic institutions and potential employers.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the predominant agency for the programmatic accreditation of social work degrees. The CSWE accredits individual bachelor's and master's social work programs. Along with institutional accreditation, programmatic accreditation from the CSWE indicates that an online degree program meets the national standards for education and social work education speficially. A complete list of accredited social work programs may be found at the CSWE's website'.

While accreditation isn't required, enrolling in an unaccredited program can negatively impact both your academic prospects and your future employment opportunities in the field of social work. In order to apply for student loans or transfer credits to another institution, you must attend an accredited school. For most upper-level social work positions, professionals are required to have a state license, and in order to take a state licensing exam, applicants must have a degree from an accredited bachelor's or master's degree program.

Licensing and Registration Requirements for Social Workers

In the United States, the profession of social work is regulated on the state level, which means that professionals must comply with their particular state's guidelines in order to practice as a social worker. Depending on the state, the process of regulation is referred to as either "registration" or "licensing." The two terms are often used interchangeably. In most states, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in social work to find a job in the field. A master's degree is required for clinical work. There are two distinct types of social workers—direct contact and clinical—and states have different regulations for each.

Direct-contact social workers, such as case managers or mental health assistants, don't provide mental health treatment; rather, they help clients work through everyday problems or achieve a particular goal. For example, they might help a family find low-cost child care or register for food stamps. In most states, direct-service social workers do not need to register or earn a license; they may only need a Bachelor of Social Work degree.

Clinical social workers assess, diagnose, and treat patients facing emotional and mental issues. This process involves an understanding of psychology, interviewing skills, and other counseling procedures. Thus, states require that clinical social workers have a license. In most states, licensed social workers, or LCSWs, must complete an accredited MSW program. Along with the degree, prospective LCWs must also have completed a supervised clinical internship, which usually takes at least one year. Some MSW programs integrate the supervised internship into the program. Along with the internship, most states require that social workers pass an exam before they apply for licensure.

Most US states and some Canadian provinces use the social work licensing exams developed by the Association of Social Work Boards. These exams ensure that candidates are prepared to practice social work at four different competency levels: Bachelor's, Master's, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. Each ASWB exam has 170 multiple choice questions and a four-hour time limit. To learn more about the specific social work registration guidelines for your state, visit the ASWB website.

Continuing Education for Social Workers

In many cases, social workers can have a significant impact on their clients’ well-being. Because of this responsibility, all US states require that clinical social workers possess a state license. To maintain this license over time, social workers are required to complete continuing education (CE) units. Not all social workers are required to have a state license, and thus, not all have to complete CE units. In many cases, bachelor’s-level direct-contact social workers do not need a license. However, they may be able to elect to earn an elective license for direct-contact work, in which case CE units may be required. All states require master’s-level clinical social workers to have a license, and most require continuing education units.

After a specific number of years, clinical social workers must renew their license with their state licensing board. The length of time between renewal periods varies from state to state. While this process always requires completing paperwork, it also usually requires completing CE units. The exact number of required continuing education credits will vary depending on your jurisdiction. Anywhere from 20 to 50 CE units may be required. All social workers who are unclear about the CE unit requirements in their state should contact their state's social work licensing board.

The type of classes available to any particular social worker is dictated by their licensing board. In some states, social workers may complete CEs in any topic as long as they come from an approved CE provider. Other states require that social workers complete CE units in their particular work area, such as substance abuse. Some states have a number of available topics, such as ethics or domestic violence.

Besides ensuring that the CE units are state approved, you can also look for CE units that are recognized by professional groups, such as the Association of Social Work Boards. Students should look for programs with qualified instructors that spend time interacting with students. A quality CE program will be well organized and have a clear syllabus with objectives outlined for the class. In many states, CE units can be completed online. Check with your board for details on CE requirements where you work. The ASWB has a list of recommended CE units, many of which can be completed online.

It’s the social worker’s job to keep track of their attendance and any other required proof of completion. Before enrolling in a CE program, students should make sure the class can issue the required signed certificate of completion. It is wise for social workers to hold on to the records of attendance for several years after the program, should they need to confirm their completion again.

Types of Social Workers

Social workers play a very important role in the healthcare and general welfare of people from every social stratum. Some of the most common responsibilities include helping clients identify and access useful services that may be available to them and counseling clients with regard to emotional or mental health challenges. Here are a few examples of some of the areas in which social workers specialize:

Child and Family Social Work

Child and family social work is a branch of social work that specializes in the provision of assistance and social services to help children and their families. Quite frequently, this type of social work involves interaction with a child’s school. In fact, many of these social workers may be employed by a school or a school district, or may be assigned to work with certain schools. The primary goal of this occupation is to help the social and psychological functions of children and their families. There is a fair amount of stratification within this line of work. Professionals may specialize in areas via a population segment or by a particular type of setting, and may therefore find their work concentrated in areas such as homelessness, adoption, foster care, domestic violence, or child protection services.

In addition to working for schools, child and family social workers may also be employed by local and state governments, as well as for family or individual service agencies. Oftentimes, these positions are referred to as child welfare social workers, child protective services social workers, or as family services social workers. Within school settings, these professionals operate as a vital source to assist both school personnel and families in helping children maximize the most of their educational process, despite whatever issues may be present. Often, these issues may be related to stress as well as to emotional problems, so child and family social workers frequently interact with a variety of people such as teachers, guardians and parents, and administrative personnel. On some occasions, child and family social workers within school environments may lead classroom workshops about subjects such as conflict resolution. These professionals may also be called upon to assist teachers in dealing with the myriad issues that students go through related to teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, truancy, and general misbehavior.

Medical Social Work

There is a fair amount of similarity that exists between medical social work and public health social work. In many instances, public health social work is responsible for the formulation of the policies that directly affect the care and treatment provided by those engaged in the field of medical social work. It may suitably be asserted, however, that medical social work is involved with more of the actual implementation and facilitation of that policy, although it should be noted that there is a degree of policy determination involved in this field of social work as well.

There are many social workers who specialize in a particular environment or setting. For many medical social workers, those settings are frequently healthcare facilities, including hospitals, inpatient and outpatient care facilities, home health service environments, or nursing care facilities. Professionals working within this branch of social work are responsible for disseminating a variety of support to individuals in need of medical attention (as well as to their families) in a host of vulnerable populations that may be subject to illnesses. There is a fair amount of advisory responsibilities these professionals have to deal with, since they must help family members as well as patients with counseling, and help plan patients' needs once they have been released from hospitals. They also frequently interact with family caregivers and provide instruction to them.

More and more frequently, the target demographic for medical social work is the elderly population, which is largely attributed to increased technology and a higher quality of life that is responsible for people living longer than ever before. For those who are involved with the care of senior citizens and their families, job functions include the assessment, monitoring, and coordination of a plethora of services, such as long-term care, housing, and transportation. Those who specialize with this population group are called gerontological social workers.

Mental Health Social Work

Mental health social work is based upon the assessment and treatment of individuals who are experiencing mental health challenges. In addition to providing therapy, they also make provisions for patients as they readjust to daily living within their surrounding community after leaving inpatient facilities.

There are a couple of different options for the employment environment of mental health social workers. Oftentimes, these professionals may work in inpatient programs where those who are seeking mental health treatment are sequestered in a specific facility away from the public. In such locations the patients actually reside in these facilities for a finite amount of time, which is more than likely determined or approved by a mental health social worker. In such settings, mental health social workers may engage in both group and individual counseling with a particular patient, and also communicate with that person’s family to update them on progress and methods to employ to help that person when he or she goes home again.

In outpatient facilities, clients typically come in for treatment and leave. Although some patients may stay overnight, patients do not typically reside in outpatient facilities. Mental health social workers provide the same sort of intervention in these settings as mentioned in inpatient environments, but they typically have less time to work with a patient for the simple fact that he or she is not present at the facility for as long a time.

Another option for mental health social workers is to conduct their own private practices. In virtually all instances, these professionals must have a master’s degree within this field, as well as pass strict licensing requirements that vary by state. Private practice social workers are directly employed by a particular client and are referred to as clinical social workers. Oftentimes, mental healthcare social workers who have a private practice provide psychotherapy for their patients, which is typically financed either through a healthcare program or from the client. These professionals typically need a substantial network of contacts for referrals in order to help maintain their practice.

Substance Abuse Social Work

Substance abuse social work can be emotionally demanding. It requires individuals to be emotionally mature, sensitive to people and their needs, and to be objective when dealing with them and their particular issues related to drugs, alcohol, and other substances that are foreign to the human body and produce effects upon the psyche. These professionals typically spend the bulk of their time within an office or residential facility, but they may also have to travel to meet with clients or service providers, as well as attend meetings that may be of benefit to a particular case.

The primary objective for substance abuse social workers is to help clients and their families deal with issues related to substance abuse. There are many different means of going about treating such people. Frequently, individuals within substance abuse social work must play a part in some sort of therapeutic solutions for clients, either in an individual or in a group setting. Other options include crisis intervention, outreach, teaching skills for coping with life, and social rehabilitation.

Because of the sensitive nature of such cases, most substance abuse social workers tend to have advanced degrees. In fact, some areas of the country actually mandate that professionals have such degrees in order to practice and treat patients. Since substance abuse social workers (along with mental health social workers) are called clinical social workers, there are also usually licensing requirements that must be met by these employees in order to work within a certain jurisdiction. Although most states have their own respective licensing requirements, it is fairly common for there to be mandates about a minimum level of experience required (usually two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience) before these professionals receive their licenses. It may be beneficial to check with certain states for their particular requirements.

Most employees within this field are employed by public agencies, such as family services, while some are employed by individuals. Substance abuse professionals may also work in outpatient care facilities and provide counseling to help people address their respective habits.

Public Health Social Work

There is a fair amount of administrative responsibilities for those who are employed in public social work health. This largely has to do with the nature of this work, which is primarily concerned with the formulation of policy from a managerial or supervisory perspective that is to be implemented and carried out at a variety of levels of public service. Quite frequently, these individuals are employed by entities such as the government as well as individual and family services agencies. Job positions encompassed within this field include social work administrators, policy makers, and researchers, the majority of which are responsible for the research and fostering of programs that address many issues such as violence, penury, homelessness, and child abuse.

To that end, these social workers typically have a hand in several different types of social work, since public health policy social workers frequently are the ones responsible for coming up with the rules and guidelines that professionals in these other areas need to adhere to. Public health social work may play a significant part of the formulation of governmental policy on various issues related to social work, which may require the analysis and advocacy for different public policy positions within governmental agencies. Additionally, these professionals are involved in the implementation of programs that they help to originate. Depending on what sort of a setting a public health social worker is employed in, he or she may be responsible for such practical job functions as the arrangement of at-home services for individuals in need of care, which may include programs such as Meals on Wheels and other forms of domestic assistance.

Due to the level of management or supervisory responsibility that is inherently a part of public health social work, it is often mandatory for professionals within this field to have master’s degrees. In particular, depending on what specific setting a professional is involved in, he or she will need to have an MSW with a concentration in an area such as administration or social services policy. It also may help to have a voluntary credential from a professional organization such as the National Association of Social Workers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work Degrees

Can I become a social worker without a degree?

While requirements differ from state to state, you will likely need at least a bachelor’s degree to become a social worker. Entry-level positions in similar roles may be available without a degree, however. For example, teacher assistants and paraeducators may be able to find positions with a high school diploma, GED, or associate degree. Positions in nursing or retirement homes, or working with children in preschools and other settings, may also be attainable without a degree.

What is the difference between a clinical social worker and a social worker?

The main difference is that clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat mental health and behavioral disorders, whereas social workers are not. A clinical social worker’s responsibilities more closely align with those of a psychologist or mental health therapist. Social workers without a clinical license often have a bachelor’s in social work, or BSW. They often work at more of a macro level with communities and organizations rather than one-on-one.

Which industries do social workers make the most money in?

Social workers are paid highest in local government positions (excluding education and hospitals) and in outpatient healthcare settings, providing support at non-hospital medical facilities such as rehabilitative and healthcare clinics.


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