Social Work Degree and Everything You Need to Know to Earn One

It’s time to talk about another degree, kids! We promise that it won’t be too terribly boring today and that it will be worth the read in the long run.

Today we want to tell you a little…Ok we want to tell you a lot about earning a degree in social work. This is a pretty interesting field of study and we are sure that there is a little something in here for all of our readers today. With that in mind, prop up your feet and get reading. Pay attention because we may throw a pop quiz at you to make sure you were paying attention!

Social Work Degree

A social worker doesn’t have an easy job by any means. There are many different branches to this field and you may gear your degree to any which one that strikes your interest the most and you feel that you will be best suited for. As a social worker you may work in a direct-service, clinical or educational environment. You will largely be tasked with helping people that are in need during various stages of life at all ages. If you’re still reading this it’s likely that you have what it takes to complete a social work degree and to get a job soon after your degree is completed. Sit tight and take some notes, because we’ve got a lot to tell you about this tough and rewarding degree program.

social work

Different Degree Levels

As with many college degrees out there, you will have quite a selection at your fingertips if you decide to shoot for a social work degree. When deciding which level of a social work degree you would like to achieve consider these options: associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate degree. Each degree level will offer different courses that will give you good jumping off points when you are ready to start a career. Let’s go right in and take a look at each type of degree available for social workers as well as some of the courses and schools that are available too.

Associate’s Degree

The first educational step for you to take after earning your high school diploma is to find a school that offers an associate’s degree in social work. Associate’s degrees in this field of study are commonly known as “pre social work” studies as students are learning enough to become fully employed as a social worker, but they are still gaining some solid skills and education.

An associate’s degree will take you about 2 years to complete and will prepare you for a very entry level position in a human services position as well as prime you to transition to a 4 year bachelor’s degree program in social work. During your studies you will learn a bit about behavioral issues, counseling methods and social policy and planning development.

Rasmussen College offers a Human Services Associate’s degree which has a different name than the straight forward “social work degree”, but it is the same thing. During this degree program you will learn a great many things that will prepare you for your future in this area. Let’s peek at some of the classes that you can expect to take during your time earning an associate’s degree:

  • Introduction to Human Services: This course will show you the many different layers of social work. Some of the topics that will be covered are policies, history, politics and how today’s economics shape human service programs
  • Community Psychology: In a community psychology course you will learn about the four systems that help a community to function. These four communities are: the mental health system, educational system, criminal justice system and social service system. It’s important for social workers to have a good understanding of these systems and this class will provide a cursory glance at each
  • Counseling Clients: The counseling clients course will help potential social workers learn the process and effects that counseling can have. You’ll learn assessment tools, methods of evaluation and how case plans are explored. The different counseling environments will be explored as well

Bachelor’s Degree

Next on the check list to get a social work degree is going to be to earn a bachelor’s degree. Your bachelor’s degree will take a total of 4 years to earn or an additional 2 years after the completion of an associate’s degree. Most bachelors’ programs breakdown as follows: 125 semester hours, 30 hours of course work in research, policy work, human behavior and practice and about 480 hours of field work in social or human services.

You can expect you Bachelor’s in Social Work degree to come in the form of a combination of liberal arts classes that will prepare you to step right into a social work position upon graduation. During a bachelor’s program you will learn in a variety of settings that will encompass the important areas of case assessment, interviewing, service planning, case management, crisis intervention, problem solving, program evaluation, community outreach, community organizing, advocacy and research.

The University of Texas at Austin has their very own School of Social Work where you can snag yourself a Bachelor’s in Social Work degree. You will be adding to your knowledge base that was earned during your associate’s degree. Take a look at some of the classes that you may be able to take:

  • Current Issues: This is a class that is seminar based and it will enable you to understand in certain aspects of human services. You can expect to cover the following topics in depth: criminal justice, children from at risk environments and contemporary issues in adoption and foster care
  • Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare: In this course you will cover the basics of social work as a profession as well as the roles of social workers in the human services systems. There will be an emphasis on social problems, our society’s historical response and some of the proposed solutions. You will likely be able to clock in 40 hours of your field work time during this class
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment: The Human Behavior and the Social Environment class is loaded with some selected theories of human behavior that will include systems/ecological perspective, ego psychology and social learning theory. There will also be an emphasis on the important of the life cycle and development from adolescence through adulthood

Master’s Degree

The next educational phase for those that are interested in becoming social workers is to earn your master’s degree in the subject. A master’s degree will help you to learn the more advanced aspects of social work along with teaching each student important critical thinking skills. These skills and bits of knowledge achieved will provide to be rather valuable once you are working as a social worker.

The main goal of many Master’s in Social Work degrees is to prepare students for their careers. The way this is done is through curriculum infused programs that place an emphasis on values and the ethical standpoints of social work. It also serves to encourage each student to hone in on their own self-awareness and their identity as a professional. Two other important goals of master’s degrees in this field of study are to provide students with knowledge, skills and values that will enable you to work in diverse populations. This degree will also serve to help students in the advanced in clinical, organization and community social.

Michigan State University offers a Master’s in Social Work degree. This will provide a nice stepping stone to achieve your goals are being an awesome social worker. There are many classes that you will take here that will improve upon your knowledge base. Don’t forget that you will have to write a marathon of a thesis. Let’s take a quick look at some of the options available for your classes:

  • Theories of Groups, Organizations and Communities
  • Social Work Perspectives in Human Development
  • Social Welfare Policy and Services
  • Essential Research Tools for Social Work Practice
  • Applied Social Work Research: Experimental and Quasi-experimental Design

Doctorate Degree

Woohoo! The finally leg of your educational journey is to earn a doctorate degree of Ph.D.! To get to this point it can take you about 7 to 8 years. We know that sounds like a really long time and that’s because it totally is! It is also a lot of hard work, but it will ultimately be worth it in the end. You won’t have as many classes to take during this last phase to becoming a big shot social worker, you will instead be conducting a lot of research and getting together all of the needed information for your dissertation.

By this time you reach this point in your schooling you will have a lot of experience and skills behind you. You will likely also be working in the field already which will also garner you a good amount of knowledge that will ultimately aid you in whipping up an awesome dissertation.

Columbia University also has a special department that is dubbed the Columbia School of Social Work that is dedicated solely to social work. It is here that you will be able to finish up your schooling to earn a Ph.D.. They offer a curriculum that is based upon three advanced social work methods. These courses will study methodology, statistics and social sciences. Each method course will prime you for the research and completion of your dissertation.

Specialty Areas of Social Work Degree

During the course of earning your social work degree you may decide that you would like to steer yourself down a particular road. This road will lead you to earning a specific type of education about a specific type of social work division. There are five super popular areas for students to head in when studying to become a social worker. Here are the specialty areas that you can gain some extra knowledge in while pursuing your social work degree:

  • Medical and Public Health
  • Substance Abuse
  • Mental Health
  • Child Welfare
  • School Social Work

Jobs You Can Get with a Social Work Degree

You’re probably wondering by now, “if I get a degree in social work, what can I do with it? Where can I work?” Well we are going to tell you all about some of the interesting jobs that you will be able to get after your earn a degree in social work.

  • Children, Families and School Social Worker: As a social worker in the child, family and school environment, you will work closely with children, their guardians as well as the teachers that educate them. Your main focus will be the health and welfare of the children who have open cases. There will be a lot of visits with parents and caregivers to ensure that any abuse or neglect isn’t occurring and that those that have mental of physical illnesses are getting the help that is needed. Your work setting will vary in this position. You may have an office in a school, government facility, health care facilities, adoption agencies or other social service agencies.
  • Medical and Health Social Workers: As many of us know, medical situations often impact more than just the body of the inflicted person. There can be a great impact felt on emotional, financial and social levels. As a social worker in the medical and health field, you will be tasked with helping them to process all of the possible changes to their lives as well as provide patients with the resources that may be needed to find after care, funeral services, make payment arrangements, find home health care equipment or assist the patient in finding treatment outside of the hospital setting
  • Military and Veterans Affairs Social Workers: There are many challenges that our countries soldiers and their families must endure both during deployment and upon return. These struggles are nothing new, but there are new approaches that allow social workers to assist. As a social worker to our military members that are enlisted and those that are retired. Your job will be to aid the families of military members when their loved one is deployed, ensuring that they have access to counseling for children and support for significant others. You will also be tasked with the hard job of helping soldiers reintegrate into normal life after returning for deployment or retirement. This can be tough, but our troops have dealt with much trauma and loss, so an extra helping hand and needed
  • Psychiatric Social Workers: Those that are interested in the mental health field may consider pursuing a career as a psychiatric social worker. In this position you will aid those that are in need of mental health services. You will often work in an inpatient setting and will likely assist patients in drafting their plan for once they are discharged. There will be a lot of hand holding and monitoring of these patients to ensure that they have the help that they need and don’t backtrack in terms of their progress while in treatment. As a psychiatric social worker you will work a great deal with doctors, nurses and other support staff in psychiatric facilities as well
  • Palliative and Hospice Social Worker: This may be one of the tougher jobs in the social work field as you will be assisting people that are in the end stages of life due to a chronic illness or disease. You will largely act as a support person to their families by ensuring that their emotional and spiritual needs are fulfilled. It’s common for palliative and Hospice social workers to aid patients and families in filling out the necessary paperwork and making any final arrangements that are needed. In this position you may work in a hospital, nursing home or with a local Hospice organization.

Hold It Right There – You’ve Got to Watch This Video!

We hit up the mac to our cheese, YouTube, to see if there were any videos that could provide you with some extra information. Man did we ever hit the jackpot with the video we found too! We came across a video from a knowledgeable and super smart gal with the username Gabbz Taylor (we’re guessing her name is Gabby, but we could be wrong). Her video is loaded with details about getting a master’s in the field as well as many other important things about the process of becoming and being a social worker. We highly suggest that you carve out the 10 or so minutes that it will take to watch her video. You’re sure to come away with something. We know we did!

Characteristics of a Social Worker – Do You Have What It Takes?

Since you are considering earning a social work degree, we figured that it might be a bit helpful to know some of the characteristics that may prove to be helpful once you are done with your schooling. Let’s now take a look at some things that will be helpful to you sooner rather than later:

  • Training and Knowledge: Obviously you can’t be an effective social worker if you are not educated in the right areas. As we’ve already said, you can earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. in this field. Each phase of you education will help you to obtain different amounts of experience.
  • Courage: We know this sounds like an odd characteristic to the list here, but it is no doubt something that will come in handy after your social work degree is completed. As a social worker you will encounter high stress situations that are in complex environments. Some guts and will power will likely come in handy more times that you would think
  • Empathy: For the most part social work is all about empathy. It will be helpful for you to build on your empathy skills while you are in school. Having a compassion for other people and their life situations is rather valuable
  • Organization: This is a characteristic that will help you a lot not only during your time earning your degree, but also when you are working in the social work field. You’re likely to have a desk full of paperwork at any given time that will need to be organized. Having your ducks in a row will help you to stay on top of your work and to ultimately be the best social worker you can be
  • Respect for Diversity: This is a characteristic that is helpful for almost anyone whether you are in school or in a working environment. As a social worker you will deal with a pretty broad spectrum of people from many different socioeconomic backgrounds. Having this rainbow of cases with require that you keep an open mind and even an open heart if possible
  • Flexibility: The hours that social workers keep are a wee bit on the odd side at times. You will have times that you are on call and have to be available at the drop of a hat. It will be important for you to be able to adapt to the many demands of a social worker’s job and a not so traditional schedule
  • Continuing Education: Don’t breathe too deep a sigh of relief after you complete your degree to become a social worker because you will likely have to take some continuing education course. Some states and employers require this in order to keep working. So keep that thinking cap on long after you complete your education
  • Ethical and Responsible: Just like when you are expected to have integrity and not cheat on your exams while you are trying to earn your social work degree – the same applies for when you are actually working as one. You will need to put careful though into each case to ensure that you are abiding by the legal and moral standards that are to be upheld in this field

Sources and Recommended Reading

Take a look at these awesome sources that we have used to gather all of the information that we’ve thrown your way today. There’s a lot of good stuff here and each link is worth a look for sure. Happy clicking

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