A career as a helping professional may allow you to make a significant difference in the lives of your clients and society as a whole. Social work and psychology are two closely related fields of study that focus on helping others deal with problems, handle stress and cope with psychological dysfunction. Although there is some overlap in the fields, some noteworthy differences may affect your choice of major.
The coursework required for a bachelor's degree in social work shares some similarity with the coursework needed for a bachelor's degree in psychology. To a certain extent, both social work and psychology undergraduate degree programs involve studying interpersonal dynamics, human behavior and psychological disorders. But a bachelor's degree in social work usually entails completing coursework in social welfare, social policy and human behavior within the social environment. Coursework for a bachelor's in psychology generally focuses more on the scientific study of the mind, emotions and behaviors.
Social work and psychology also differ somewhat in focus. Social work involves promoting social change and investigating various ways to improve the lives of individuals, groups and communities. A bachelor's program in social work teaches students how to accomplish these goals through the use of methods like advocacy, assistance with concrete needs such as housing and food, and social policy change. Psychology tends to focus more on the psychological functioning of individuals. A bachelor's program in psychology emphasizes the study of psychological dysfunction, such as mental illness, and focuses more on understanding the inner workings of the mind.
A bachelor's degree in social work usually requires the completion of a supervised internship, in which students are provided the opportunity to interact directly with clients, social workers and other human services professionals. Students in undergraduate psychology programs are not always required to complete internships as a part of their programs. Some schools may have this requirement, while others allow students to participate in voluntary independent study or internship opportunities.
Students who have earned bachelor's degrees may decide to enter the workforce directly after graduation instead of pursuing graduate study. A bachelor's degree in psychology may allow job seekers to pursue a wide range of career options, such as human services work, counseling positions in settings like group homes or psychiatric wards or business careers in areas like human resources or management. Students who have earned bachelor's degrees in social work often opt for entry-level social work positions, such as caseworker or mental health assistant.