What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Social Worker?

Social worker 2.2015

If you want to help others improve their lives, a career in social work could be the perfect choice for you. Social work is a rewarding career field. Not only do social workers have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their patients or clients every day, but they also earn a median wage higher than that of all occupations: $44,200, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first step to a fulfilling career in social work is earning a college degree.

A Career in Social Work

Social workers assist a wide range of people in coping with a variety of problems, from injuries and illnesses to abuse and addictions to life changes. One type of social work professional, the clinical social worker, is a licensed healthcare professional who diagnoses and treats patients’ mental health conditions. Social workers find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, schools, prisons, government agencies and substance abuse clinics.

Bachelor’s versus Master’s Degrees in Social Work

While some social workers enter the field with a background in psychology or sociology, earning a degree in social work specifically is a good choice for any aspiring social worker. However, to plan their educational path, aspiring social workers need to decide what their professional goals are and how much education they will need to reach them. Opportunities exist for social workers at both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, but those opportunities are very different from one another.

With a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW), candidates can attain entry-level positions as mental health assistants and caseworkers. However, a master’s degree in social work (MSW) is essential for those who aspire to become clinical social workers, and for many positions in the education and healthcare industries. In a BSW degree program, students will study topics such as human behavior, diverse populations and social welfare policy and will gain hands-on experience working with clients and patients through an internship. Master’s degree programs typically prepare students for specialized work in the field of social work as well as providing them with the tools to clinically assess and diagnose patients.

Some students earn a BSW and then complete their MSW studies over an additional two years, while others earn their undergraduate degree in sociology, psychology, economics or another related field before beginning their graduate-level studies. Still other students enroll in accelerated programs that allow them to earn both a BSW and an MSW in five years of study. Deciding which educational path is right for you depends on your personal career goals.

Choosing to embark on a career in social work and choosing which educational path to pursue are major decisions, but social workers find the career fulfilling. Like other graduates of the social sciences, they can expect to earn $2.5 million over the course of their work-life. They also enjoy the chance to make a real difference in the lives of their clients.

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