5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Social Work Degree Program

You’re excited to start your career, but you don’t want to jump into the first social work degree program that catches your attention. You want to select the program that best fits your personality, your budget, your lifestyle and your personal needs. Whether you come across multiple programs that suit you on all of those levels or you aren’t sure how to begin comparing programs, this guide will tell you what to look for when comparing options.

1. Think about what you want to do with your degree.

Completing a social work degree program should lead you into a career that you find fulfilling on a personal level. While all programs will provide the basic knowledge and skills that you need to secure some type of social work job, some programs may have an advantage for the specific social work career that you want to build.

For instance, the University of Southern California identifies the following career paths as popular options for students obtaining their Master of Social Work degree:

  • Medical health
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health
  • Child welfare
  • School social work

Notice how each of these options allow you to work in a different environment with different types of people. You may work with diverse populations in a hospital if you go the medical health route, but school social work would allow you to work with elementary, middle or high school students. Before you select a program, think about what type of career you want to build and where you may have to go to secure the best jobs in that field. You can then ask how each educational program will help you get to that end goal.

2. Determine how much education you will need to fulfill your career goals.

The career that you ultimately want to enjoy will tell you if a bachelor’s degree will suit your needs or if you need to continue to earn a master’s or doctorate degree. If you’re only interested in securing a job with decent pay and benefits, then you may only want to invest in a four-year degree program. If you dream of holding the Clinical Social Worker title or want to maximize your potential salary, then you may take your education all the way to the doctorate level. If you plan on achieving one or both of the higher degrees, you will need to research programs at all levels to create your educational plan.

3. Identify your learning style and think about your lifestyle.

Your learning style, lifestyle and personality will drastically impact your ability to keep up with certain types of educational programs. While some people prefer to work at their own pace with online coursework, others lack the self-discipline or structured home environment needed to complete those programs. You may learn best when you have direct access to a live teacher, or you may know that online classes are the only option due to other time commitments and responsibilities. Make a list of class features that you must have in order to learn efficiently, and then eliminate any social work degree program that doesn’t fit those criteria.

4. Determine the level of competition and admittance requirements.

Selecting a social work degree program isn’t all about determining which option fits your needs. You also have to determine how well you match the admittance requirements for each program. Do some research to determine how popular each program is with students and what criteria current and previous students have used to secure admission. You may still apply to highly competitive programs or those that may not consider you a qualified candidate, but you will need a backup plan just in case it doesn’t work in your favor.

5. Research the reputation and professional ties for each school.

Some social work programs have close professional ties with government agencies while others are known to give students an advantage when applying for positions in select school systems. There are schools known for their social work research while others are simply known as easy options when it comes to admissions. Your goal is to select a school with an excellent reputation so that your degree is respected by employers, and any ties to professional companies or agencies may serve as an added benefit.

You’re now ready to start comparing social work degree programs. This is one of the most important decisions that you will make leading up to your career, so think about all of these factors before making that final decision.

Related Resource: 50 Most Affordable Accredited MSW Programs in the East 2016