Social workers help people deal with everyday problems, assist those suffering from mental health disorders, provide assistance with concrete services and advocate for the needy. They also often conduct research or teach in colleges and universities, if they have advanced degrees. If you love working with people and helping others, obtaining a social work degree could be your first step toward a rewarding and fulfilling career. The college coursework you'll need to complete depends on the specific degree level of your program.

Associate's Degree

An associate's degree in social work is a two-year program, if completed full-time, that qualifies you for entry-level social service positions. You can study for an associate's degree in social work at many community colleges. The associate's degree focuses on coursework that helps you gain a basic working knowledge of social work methods and principles. Examples of the types of courses you will take include an introduction to social services, abnormal and general psychology, basic case management techniques, and in some cases, an introduction to social work research.

Bachelor's Degree

The bachelor's degree in social work, also referred to as a BSW, is a four-year program, if completed full-time, that builds on the associate degree by providing more intensive and advanced coursework. A BSW qualifies you to provide direct social work services, such as advocacy and case management. The general outline for a BSW program includes research methodology, human behavior, abnormal psychology, social work interventions, multicultural issues in social work practice and social welfare policy. In addition to completing coursework, BSW programs also require participation in an internship or field placement.

Master's Degree

The master's degree in social work, or MSW, is usually a two-year, full time program of study. The degree allows you to work in private practice and to provide clinical social work services. All MSW students need to complete advanced coursework in human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy, social work research methods and several professional seminars. In addition, MSW programs require the completion of a two-year field practicum. Many schools also offer students the opportunity to specialize in specific areas of social work, such as clinical social work or practice with children and families. The exact coursework needed to complete a specialization depends on your specific area of focus.


The doctorate in social work, or DSW, is for candidates who already have an MSW and at least two years of postgraduate experience. With a DSW, you can teach at the university level, engage in research, provide clinical services or focus on the study and development of social policy. Most programs allow doctoral students to specialize in clinical social work or research, so the exact coursework required varies depending on your area of specialization. In general, doctoral level social work courses focus on advanced research methods and statistics, clinical theory, clinical measurements and several electives of your choice. This might include advanced practice and interventions with children and families, organizational trauma or substance abuse treatment.

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