Types of Social Work Degrees

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There are a few different types of social work degrees. To be a social worker, you need to hold a degree in social work from an accredited college or university program. The undergraduate degree is the bachelor of social work (BSW). Graduate degrees include the master of social work (MSW), and a doctorate (DSW) or PhD in Social Work. Even if you have a bachelor's degree in another field of study, you can still pursue a graduate degree in social work.

Social work education is unique in a number of ways. The social work profession has its own body of knowledge, values, and code of ethics. While graduates of other human service fields may perform functions that social workers do, their educational backgrounds are distinctly different from that of social workers.

One unique feature of social work education is field placement. In addition to classroom study, all social work students have field experiences, that provide them an opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in a real world setting. A field placement can be any work setting in which social workers practice. Some examples include mental health clinics, child and family service agencies, and policy organizations.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW)

With the bachelor of social work (BSW), you will be qualified for entry level positions in areas such as mental heath, aging services, or residential treatment.

You will need an MSW to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). With this credential, you can provide one-on-one psychotherapy or deliver advanced clinical services. If you want to hold a program management or supervisory position in social work, or work in politics on social justice matters, an MSW is a degree you should earn.

Doctorate (DSW) or PhD in Social Work

With a doctorate in social work (DSW), or a PhD in Social Work, you will pursue advanced training in research, supervision, and policy analysis. Social workers with doctoral degrees are qualified to teach at the university level and to hold high-level program or systems management positions.

It's important that you get your social work degree from a college or university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). There are more than 600 accredited schools of social work in the United States. These programs have met  standards designed by social work educators and practitioners, to ensure that students are adequately prepared for professional practice. Your chances of being licensed or hired as a social worker are greatly enhanced by an accredited social work degree.


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Financing Your Education

When looking to finance your education, start with the U.S. Department of Education and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Look for scholarships and grants and, if necessary, get information from private lending institutions. You also can apply for loan forgiveness at the federal and state levels.

Learn about NASW's work on student loan forgiveness