Study Social Work: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a social work degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and associate degree and potential careers.
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Social Work Bachelor's and Associate: Degrees at a Glance

If you have a desire to help others, an undergraduate social work program might be for you. However, keep in mind that associate degrees in this field are largely offered as transfer programs. Job opportunities for graduates are limited to positions as social and human service assistants or substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. More job options are available to graduates of bachelor's degree programs. But if you're interested in a social work career, you should be aware that a master's degree is required for positions in some settings.

The job outlook is favorable for graduates of either degree program. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a 28% job growth was projected for social and human service assistants from 2010-2020. Social and community service managers as well as substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors could expect a job growth of 27%, while probation officers and correctional treatment specialists could see an 18% job growth. A 25% increase in employment opportunities was projected for social workers over the same period.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People who wish to begin entry-level human service careers or transfer to bachelor's degree programs People who wish to work in human service professions or advance to graduate-level studies in the field
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Social and human service assistant ($31,000)*
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor ($41,000)*
- Healthcare social worker ($51,000)*
- Child, family and school social worker ($44,000)*
- Mental health and substance abuse social worker ($43,000)*
- Probation officer or correctional treatment specialist ($52,000)*
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs will need additional experience for this position:
- Social and community service manager ($63,000)*
Time to Completion Two years of full-time study Four years of full-time study; students transferring from an associate degree can complete it in about two years
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60-70 credit hours
- Internships could also be required
- Around 120 credit hours
- Field seminars
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent; many programs require two years of pre-major coursework prior to beginning the social work major
Online Availability Online programs are common Online and hybrid programs are available, but rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Social Work

Because many associate degree programs are designed as stepping stones to continue your education, program curricula largely consists of general education courses. You'll also take a cluster of introductory social work courses to learn about the social theory and best practices needed to help others navigate their relationships and adapt to challenges in their lives.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You can complete an associate degree program in only two years
  • Online programs are available
  • An aging population's increasing need for social services was expected to drive the demand for social and human service assistants*

Cons

  • The job market for associate degree holders is much more limited than it is for graduates of bachelor's degree programs
  • Positions as social and human service assistants often entail heavy workloads and low pay
  • You might need a state license or certification to work as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

An associate degree program often includes general education coursework in mathematics, the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. These are combined with sociology courses that can introduce you to the theoretical and practical areas of social work. Some programs also have an internship requirement. Courses that you might take in an associate degree program include the following:

  • Behavioral science statistics
  • Group therapy
  • Cultural anthropology
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Human development and behavior
  • Social welfare policy

Online Degree Options

Online associate degree programs are fairly common and include coursework similar to campus-based programs. Course materials can be delivered online or through televised lectures. On-campus attendance might be required to complete course orientations or take exams.

Stand Out with This Degree

Look for associate degree programs with internship requirements. These hands on experiences can give you the opportunity to apply your knowledge of social work theory in a real-world setting. This could give you and edge when applying for some jobs. For example, the BLS reports that employers of addictions and substance abuse counselors prefer to hire graduates with experience in the field.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A social work bachelor's degree program can equip you with the assessment, case management, community organization and interviewing skills needed for a career as a social worker. Curriculum for the first two years is similar to that of an associate degree program. You'll complete general education courses to fulfill pre-major requirements. The second two years are spent completing a social science core that includes advanced topics in policy analysis and social work economics. You could also spend up to 480 clock hours working in a social service agency. Some programs might even allow you to specialize in an area such as urban studies, women's studies or anthropology.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Earning a social work bachelor's degree allows you to pursue a variety of career options
  • Some bachelor's degree programs can be completed full- or part-time, depending on your schedule
  • Jobs in social work were expected to increase 25% from 2010-2020*

Cons

  • Some employers require a master's degree for social work positions in a school or healthcare setting
  • Entry-level positions as a social and community service manager often require work experience in addition to a bachelor's degree
  • Working as a social worker, probation officer or correctional treatment specialist could be stressful, due to large case loads

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

Students in social work bachelor's degree programs typically satisfy the requirements for pre-major coursework by studying topics in language arts, sociology, psychology and statistics. You'll then concentrate on social work courses during your junior and senior years. These can include the following:

  • Foundations of social justice
  • Human behavior
  • Social work in organizations and communities
  • Social welfare programming
  • Social research methods
  • Group social work practice

Many programs also require the completion of a field seminar in a social service agency. During this time, you could be responsible for collecting data, assessing clients' needs and designing intervention strategies.

Online Degree Options

Online and hybrid options for a social work bachelor's degree are only offered by a handful of schools in the country. Some programs are geared toward working professionals and combine online courses with those offered on weekends and evenings. Others allow you to complete all of your social work courses from home once you've finished pre-major requirements. However, you'll still need to complete field seminars as you reach the end of your program.

Stand Out with This Degree

To stand out in this field, you might consider joining a professional organization, such as the National Association of Social Workers. Member benefits can include web-based continuing education courses and networking opportunities. This organization also offers specialty credentials to applicants who meet experience requirements. Certification areas available to social workers with a bachelor's degree include youth and family, hospice and palliative care, gerontology and case management. Earning one of these credentials could help you demonstrate your professionalism to future or current employers.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Human Services
      • BS - Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services
      • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services
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    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Business - HR Management
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology
  • Syracuse, NY

    Syracuse University

  • Online Programs Available
    7. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
      • BS in Human Services
      • Bachelor: Liberal Studies
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
  • Athens, GA

    University of Georgia

Featured Schools

Colorado State University Global

  • BS - Human Services

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Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services

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Regent University

  • Bachelor of Science in Business - HR Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Interdisciplinary Studies

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Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics

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American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - Gerontology

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Kaplan University

  • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
  • BS in Human Services
  • Bachelor: Liberal Studies

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