Careers in Social Work: Bachelor’s Degree vs. Master’s Degree

Many people, when looking into job ideas, want to find employment that can reach and help people in need. For some of these people, a profession as a social worker can be a valid professional choice.

A social worker is usually trained to help regular people who are having a hard time coping with events or issues in their lives. For a great deal of people considering a career in social work, the question can arise as to just how much schooling is needed before a reliable position can be secured.

While it’s true that many administrative social worker positions are available today with only a bachelor’s degree, there are a number of employers who require or expect an applicant to hold a master’s degree before they will even be considered for higher paying positions of one-on-one social work.

Types of Roles

While bachelor’s degrees are becoming more and more commonplace in a competitive job market, a master’s degree in social work is generally designed to create a good understanding of human behavior, supervision, leadership, and cultural respect of diversity. A bachelor’s degree in social work is likely to offer you the opportunity to land an entry level position, but is not likely to open any doors to an independent practicing license. Every state has different licensing requirements, but in most cases, you need a master’s degree for professional certification. If you don’t have a master’s degree, you might be stuck in lower level positions.

Social work is a pretty vast field, and depending on your interests, you can find employment in a number of different industries. If don’t want to work as a social worker, but want to work in social services, you can also look into such positions as:

  • Health Educator
  • Probation Officer
  • Psychologist
  • School or Career Counselor

If being a social worker is your long-term goal, below is a helpful list provided by The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the five main types of social work:

  • Child and family social workers: Some of these workers find foster homes for abused or neglected children. They also help parents learn how to care for children better. Other social workers help with adoptions. Other social workers help elderly people and their families.
  • Clinical social workers: These workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional disorders, generally in private practice, though sometimes in a group setting or with other mental health professionals.
  • School social workers: Social workers in schools give students and teachers advice about learning problems, behavior problems, and social problems, like bullying or shyness.
  • Healthcare social workers: These workers help people who are sick or who have health problems for a long time. They give advice to people and their families about how to deal with being sick. They also find services to help, such as nutrition classes or nursing care. Subdivisions of this field include geriatric social workers, hospice and palliative care social workers, and medical social workers.
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers: Similar to clinical social workers, these workers help clients with mental illness and addiction. They help provide information to clients such as support groups or 12-step programs.


Most entry-level positions will only require a BSW, often as a caseworker or mental health assisstant. For positions with more responsibilty, such as a clinical social worker, an MSW is required. Because a master’s degree generally takes one to two years longer to achieve than a bachelor’s degree does, it typically comes with a great deal more practical knowledge as well. There are also various licensure’s that differ by state. Generally, to become a licensed clinical social worker, one must have a master’s degree in social work and a minimum of either 2 years or 3,000 hours of work experience.


As a master’s degree will offer you more professional options as you enter the work force, it is also likely to allow you the opportunity to make a higher income than someone who has less education. The highest median wage in any field of social work as of May 2012 was in healthcare, particularly social workers in hospitals. Likewise, social workers who offer educational services made a higher median wage than the general median wage of all social workers.

While a BSW will certainly help you get your career started, an MSW is really the way to go to open up more opportunities in the field. There are many online options to help you complete your studies; take a look at the links below to find a fit that’s best for you.

Popular Online MSW Programs

University of Southern California — The University of Southern California offers a Master's of Social Work. The program is in the top 10 in the nation. To get into the program you need to complete an online application and include your resume, statement of purpose, recommendation letters, supplemental form and official transcripts.

Our Lady of the Lake University — The Master of Social Work program from Our Lady of the Lake University is designed for working professionals and students interested in social services leadership and advance direct practice. The program also emphasizes service to Hispanic families and communities. OLLU is a private, Catholic college located near San Antonio and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Walden University — If you are interested in an online MS in Social Psychology, Walden University has a program that can be completed in as few as 18 months. In this program you will explore the way individuals socially construct thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, and gain an understanding of how this affects behaviors.

University of New England — The Master of Social Work at the University of New England has an online option that offers comprehensive curriculum presented by compassionate, experienced faculty with the expertise and real-world knowledge to help you succeed. Courses include: Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Social Work Research I and II, and Social Welfare Policy and Programs.

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