The field of social work includes vast opportunities for growth, hard work, and prosperity. You can find a wealth of career opportunities through completion of a social work degree program in diverse specializations and from different methods of instruction. But which social work degree is the best for you? Read on to find out, written by one of our social worker experts.

Which Social Work Degree is the Best for Me?

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You can find social work degree programs in all states throughout the U.S. to enroll in. Your decision as to which program to enroll in depends on the type of work you want to do in the field and the type of college degree programs you can participate in according to your personal needs.

There are a number of social work degrees, at all levels

At the beginning of your learning experience, you may find that there are varying benefits to completion of social work degrees at different levels. Our team has researched information pertaining to social work degree programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, and within different learning settings to help you learn more about the value of different programs.

What to look out for as you read through this guide

As you read through the guide below, you should consider which population you would prefer to work with and in what capacity. This preference can help guide you into relevant degree programs that can influence your growth and success during the learning experience. Envision yourself in your new role: what do you like to do? Who do you like working with? What organizations are important to you? Who do you want to help on a day-in, day-out basis? Is money important to you?

There are no exact right answers to these questions - it is subjective and will be different for each individual.

Is it Best for a Traditional Social Work Program, or an Online Degree?

Today's college students have different choices in terms of the type of setting in which they complete their degree programs. Depending on which state you live in, you may have access to traditional or online degree programs in social work, or a variety of both options at multiple schools.

Why a traditional social work degree might be best

The traditional social work degree program may require that you attend on campus during all hours of instruction. Most institutions may allow you to choose from classes that are offered during the day, afternoon, or even at night to help fit with a busy personal schedule.

Why an online social work degree might be best

Online degree programs in social work can be more accessible to learners from different walks of life and levels of responsibility. These programs were designed especially for learners that needed more flexibility with their degree programs due to holding full-time jobs or having a busy family schedule.

The benefits of both degrees

The benefits of either the traditional or online social work program can be dependent on your needs as an incoming learner. Some learners may thrive in a face-to-face environment while others can take on the independent learning process gracefully throughout the entire degree process.

Wrapping up the thought

Some learners have also found the online programs can help them save on the costs of travel and housing associated with the degree acquisition process, which can be a huge advantage for college students in today's society. You are encouraged to compare the costs of different types of degree programs prior to making a decision about which to enroll in.

What about the Bachelor's in Social Work?

If you have spent any time researching degree programs in social work, you may have seen information about the Bachelor's of Social Work (BSW) degree. This program is one of the most popular types of social work degrees, due to its introductory nature and the career opportunities available after graduation.

What is the BSW?

The Bachelor's of Social Work is a 4-year program that consists of both general education courses and social work specific classes. During this program, you can gain a generalist knowledge of the social work field for use in entry-level positions in the field.

What you would study

The first 2 years of your BSW can include engagement in general education courses like Intro to Psychology, Sociology, and English Composition. These types of courses may be required for any bachelor's program in social sciences and can provide you with excellent background knowledge into the subfields associated with the social work profession.

After foundational courses you take electives

Later in your program, you may begin taking courses such as Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Social Work Research, and Generalist Practice I & II. These courses were designed to help you gain introductory skills associated with social work practice in multiple settings.

Field study and internships

Some colleges may also allow students to substitute later classes for internships within a social work agency. This experience component can provide you with the opportunity to see actual social workers in the field and gain invaluable skills for later use in the field.

Many BSW programs have no internship requirements while others may mandate field practice as part of their degree requirements. You should look closely at each BSW options prior to choosing the right one for you.

Who is the BSW for?

The BSW program can be an excellent first choice for learners that are prepared to begin gaining experience in the field prior to moving into higher level degree programs with differing specializations. This program can also be an optimum stepping-stone for learners on the path to master's and doctoral programs in this field.

Learn about the Master's in Social Work

The Master's in Social Work (MSW) is an advanced learning program designed for students interested in pursuing higher level positions or specializations in their field. This program may welcome graduates from BSW programs, as well as graduates of Psychology, Sociology, and Criminal Justice bachelor's programs.

What is the MSW?

This degree program includes around 2 years of instruction focused strictly on social work practice within multiple specialized areas. When you first enroll into a MSW program, you may have the option to pursue a specialization or choose a generalist social work path for your degree.

Multiple different types of MSW programs

There are different forms of MSW programs available to students with different educational backgrounds. The most common program option for incoming master's learners is the traditional MSW program - which is typically offered in both the in-person and online environment at a large number of universities.

The traditional MSW is about 60 credit hours

The traditional MSW program consists of 60 credit hours on average and may be open to a wider array of students based upon their bachelor's degree. If you come from a bachelor's program outside of the social work field, you may qualify for entry into traditional MSW programs.

The Advanced Standing MSW degree is for BSW graduates and takes less time

An alternative MSW option is the Advanced Standing MSW program, which can be found at numerous universities across the United States. This degree opportunity was created especially for graduates of BSW programs that are seeking a degree advancement through involvement in a MSW program.

Why the Advanced Standing MSW is one of the best degrees: lower time to completion

Advanced Standing MSW options can provide you with a MSW degree with a lower credit hour requirement on average. One university offering this advanced option requires that students complete 37 credit hours for graduation in comparison to the 60 credit hour standard MSW program.

Depending on the program you choose, you may be accepted into Advanced Standing programs through receiving your BSW or through extensive work experience in the social work field. Each school may have specific expectations for acceptance into their program, so you should research each program thoroughly prior to applying.

MSW Specializations

One of the greatest advantages to choosing the MSW as your degree choice is that you may be free to choose a specialization to accompany your general degree. A specialization can allow you to develop expertise within a certain treatment area or in social work pertaining to certain groups within society.

This point in the degree process can allow you to separate from generalist practice and begin training for more advanced positions within your current field. As you read through the list below, consider which specialization option may be the right fit for you.

Specialization Description
School Social Work The School Social Work specialization may be the best option for learners that are interested in working specifically with children and families within the educational environment. MSW programs featuring this specialization may include courses related to educational policy, assessments, and treatment planning for students that present with interferences with educational progress.
Child and Adolescent Social Work The Child and Adolescent Social Work opportunity can provide you with skills specific to working with children in varying age groups. As you move through specialized programs in this area, you may be introduced to common social issues associated with children, complex behavioral and emotional considerations, and developmental treatment planning in multiple settings.
Child and Family Social Work Child and Family Social Work specializations can allow you to work with an entire family unit when solving problems associated with healthy family relationships. This specialization may be one of the most popular due to its versatility in terms of career options in the future. Completing a degree with this concentration can allow you to potentially qualify for career opportunities in diverse treatment fields.
Geriatric Social Work Many social work learners choose specializations based upon the population in which they prefer to work with. Geriatric Social Work was designed especially for learners that wish to work with the aging population, in settings such as home care, retirement homes, and in medical care facilities. Through this option you can focus your learning on the needs of the aging population and the services available to them in your area.
Substance Abuse Social Work Social workers choosing Substance Abuse Social Work for their degree program can provide guidance and assistance to individuals struggling with various forms of addiction and substance abuse. With this degree you can possibly work in drug rehabilitation centers, with social service agencies, or even partner with the courts to help individuals working towards healthier lifestyles.
Rehabilitation Social Work Rehabilitation Social Work specializations can allow you to provide support to individuals receiving rehabilitative care due to disability, injury, illness, or disorder. This diverse concentration option can allow you to learn more about your client's rights and the supportive services that may be available for their taking. In this career field you can work for at-home health agencies, rehabilitation centers, or even in the clinical hospital setting.
Medical Social Work If you are interested in pursuing a social work career in the health care field, Medical Social Work may be the right choice for you. This specialization can provide you with knowledge pertaining to patient rights and services, as well as multiple forms of treatment advocacy for clients in need. You can partner with clients receiving direct services from hospitals or other medical care facilities through pursuit of this degree option.
Social Work Policy and Research Students interested in taking on leadership or research positions in the field of social work can potentially do so through completion of degree programs focused on Social Work Policy and Research. In this option, you can learn more about the development of this field and current research supporting positive change for field workers. Many learners in this specialization move forward to doctoral programs after completion for optimum experience.
Organization and Community Leadership The field of social work includes knowledgeable leaders that can direct, supervise, and provide recommendations to social workers in multiple settings. Organizational and Community Leadership Specializations can allow you to focus more on the development of social systems and methods for training and guiding social workers within your treatment area.
Clinical Social Work Clinical Social Work specializations can allow you to take on a diagnostic approach at changing the lives of your clients. In this area of concentration, you can gain insight into various mental health disorders and illnesses, learn assessment and diagnostic skills, and receiving training in treatment planning for emotional growth.

Social Work Licensing

Each state may have varying expectations for social workers and degree-oriented licensure. Before beginning your path to licensing, you should check in with your state about their specific requirements in terms of degree programs, supervised experience, and any testing obligations prior to applying to any program.

Most states require that you participate in degree programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Any testing requirements may be regulated by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

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Depending on your degree level, you may have access to different levels of licensing according to what your state provides. Check out the list of common licensing options for social work professionals in the list below.

Licensure Summary and Requirements


The Licensed Baccalaureate of Social Work (LBSW) requires that you hold a BSW, pass the American Social Work Board’s (ASWB) bachelor’s exam, and meet all supervised hour requirements based on your state’s LBSW licensing expectations.


Licensees holding the Licensed Master Social Worker distinction have completed their accredited MSW program include all degree-related experience. There are no post-degree experience requirements related to this license option.


The Licensed Master Social Worker – Advanced Generalist license requires that you complete your accredited MSW program as well as 2 years of post-degree supervised experience prior to becoming approved at this level.


Licensed Clinical Social Workers hold an accredited MSW degree and have completed 2 years of supervised clinical experience in the field.

MSW – Clinical Social Work

One advantage to pursuing the Master of Social Work degree program is the option of multiple specializations according to your interests. As discussed in the previous sections, the MSW can allow you to choose a concentration option focusing on different levels of treatment or different groups of clients during your experience.

What the specialization does

The Clinical Social Work specialization provides learners with insight into mental health diagnoses and treatment. The goal of this program is to create knowledgeable counseling professionals with skills and practice in social work careers.

Where you can work

Clinical social workers can work for mental health organizations as counselors or act as supervisors in social work fields. This versatile licensing option can be a great option for people with the desire to help individuals and families as they work through complex situations or navigate complicated mental health disorders.

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Working in private practice for mental health

Licensed Clinical Social Workers may also provide mental health services in private practice once licensed through their state. The credentials provided after 2 years of supervised clinical experience can also allow you to specialize in various treatment areas such as trauma-focused counseling, child and family intervention, or substance abuse counseling.

If you are interested in pursuing a degree program in Clinical Social Work, you are encouraged to seek out MSW programs with focus in this degree area. You can find these programs at universities across the United States.