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Career in Social Work: Online Social Work Degree, Social Work Careers and Education

Social workers help people improve their lives and cope with challenges and difficulties. Some social workers choose to specialize in a particular field such as substance abuse, mental health or domestic violence, while others pursue a general education in the field to find work with a social services agency. As the field becomes increasingly competitive, individuals interested in a career in social work will need to complete at least a Master's degree in the field to obtain attractive job positions. However, most social workers can enter the field with a bachelor's degree, and this can be completed in a campus setting or online.

What to Expect with a Career in Social Work

A career in social work can be challenging but also very rewarding. Individuals interested in a career in social work must have a strong empathy for other people, excellent communication skills and leadership skills to motivate and inspire others to make important changes in their lives.

Social workers can provide guidance, education and counseling for those in need of assistance and care. They often work with local nonprofits and volunteer organizations to locate resources, find therapists and additional help for certain individuals, and provide support services around the clock.

The majority of social workers work in an office setting or residential facility, but those who work in a private practice may travel to meet clients or hold workshops and educational seminars for the public or volunteers. The majority of social workers work for nonprofit agencies.

Education and Training for Social Work Careers

Every State and the District of Columbia has its own licensure, certification and education requirements, but most social workers need to have at least a bachelor's degree in social work to find a job in the social services industry. Most States require social workers to complete at least two years of supervised clinical experience before entering the field. Individuals who complete an Associate's degree in the field may be able to find a position as a social services assistant.

Master's degree programs in the field allow candidates to perform clinical assessments, take on research projects and coordinate various social services efforts with nonprofit agencies in the area.

Social Work Degree Information

Almost all social work degree programs from accredited colleges and universities requires students to complete core classes in general education. These courses may include basic science, mathematics, English and health courses, and can be completed in two years. Students can then declare a social work major to pursue a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work (BSSW).

Some colleges and universities give students a chance to declare an emphasis with their bachelor degree in social work program. Students may become Skilled Practitioners where they work with an area social service agency to gain work experience in the field under the supervision of a professional social worker; or, they may declare a Commitment to Social Justice where they work for the school's social work research center to collaborate with other students and faculty on various research projects, and participate in workshops and conferences.

Students who successfully complete their BSSW can then apply for a Master's degree program where they may pursue research studies or work towards teaching credentials.

Social Work Degree: Courses and Classes

Common courses and classes for those who wish to pursue a career in social work include:

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment
  • Diversity and Anti-Oppression Practice
  • Social Work Research
  • General Psychology
  • Rhetoric and Research
  • Theological Foundations
  • Social Science Research Methods
  • Ethics
  • American Politics
  • Child Psychology

Completing a Social Work Degree Online

Many students who wish to take courses on a part-time basis or from a distance can elect to complete their social work degree online. Completing a social work degree online gives students a chance to collaborate with other students and research professionals from around the country, and use a web-based platform to submit assignments, participate in discussion forums or simply watch or download lectures and presentations. The curriculum for online degree programs is usually very similar to a campus-based educational program, but gives students the freedom to study from home and take classes at their own pace.

Social Work Education: Employment Prospects and Career Options

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook reports that employment of social workers is expected to grow much faster than average compared to all other occupations. Demand for social workers is expected to increase by as much as 22 percent through 2016, and those who hold a Master's degree or higher can expect to obtain the most attractive positions and career opportunities in their field. This increase in demand is largely due to the growing baby boomer and elderly populations that need trained and experienced social workers for a number of health and counseling services.

While some graduates work with a social services agency or the local government, many decide to open up their own private practice and offer assistance programs to organizations on a contractual basis. Median annual earnings of child, family, and school social workers were $36,480 in 2006. Individuals who pursued a career in social work in the medical and public health field earned an average of $43,040 in 2006, and social workers that specialized in mental health and substance abuse earned an average of $35,410.

The majority of social workers could be found in the local and state government sector, as well as individual and family services organizations. Related occupations include:

  • Social and Human Services Assistants
  • Correctional Treatment Specialists
  • Psychologists
  • Clergy Members
  • Guidance Counselors

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