5 Types of Degrees That Can Lead to a Career in Social Work

Individuals who have careers in the field of social work use social theories to improve people’s lives, understand human problems and improve society overall. Their duties generally involve helping vulnerable people learn new skills and overcome addictions as well as providing other assistance and support. Social workers may also specialize in working with only children, adults, the elderly or families, or they could be more involved in social research. There are several types of degrees that students may obtain to have a career in this field.

Bachelor’s in Social Work

Most employers want their employees to have a bachelor’s degree in social work, which usually takes four years of study. The first two years is spent obtaining an associate’s degree in social work. Some of the course topics that need to be completed for a bachelor’s degree include human services, research and statistics, social welfare issues and theory of human behavior. Students will become familiar with field education, social research methods and welfare policies as well as learn the ethics and values of social work. This course of study prepares them for direct-service positions such as social services caseworkers, group health workers, mental health assistants and residential counselors.

Bachelor’s in Psychology

Some employers hire graduates who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, which involves the study of human behavior. A bachelor’s in psychology teaches students important skills for working in the social services field, such as the ability to be an advocate for and determine people’s needs, express empathy and care, and keep accurate and thorough documentation. Strong communication and interpersonal skills come with understanding human behavior and how the mind works. Students will also hone their research and writing skills, which are ideal for caseworkers, probation officers and related careers.

Bachelor’s in Sociology

A bachelor’s in sociology is another related degree that some employers accept instead of a bachelor’s in social work. Sociology is essentially the study of groups of people, particularly the development and structure of social groups and how people interact in and among them. A degree in sociology prepares students for working with diverse groups of people and offers a rich foundation of knowledge that directly relates to the field of social work. This course of study also provides students with the analytic, critical thinking and research skills that they need for entry-level roles, and it can be applied to a range of jobs in the social services field.

Master’s of Social Work

More advanced, higher-paying jobs require a master’s of social work, which generally involves two years of study. This level of degree is a must for students who aspire to offer therapy, and a bachelor’s degree is not always required for admission. The course of study for a master’s degree concentrates on certain areas such as child abuse and neglect, children and adolescents, and older adults in community and residential settings. This degree teaches students the skills that they need to develop new forms of skills, manage numerous cases, and perform and prepare clinical evaluations and research.

Doctorate or PhD of Social Work

A doctorate or PhD of social work are options that are available to students who want to focus on administrative or research jobs. A doctorate degree is an applied degree that prepares students for advanced appointments in administration, staff training and supervision. Essentially, doctoral program graduates are trained to become leaders. A PhD is a research degree that trains graduates how to teach others to be social workers and how to advance the profession with scholarly research. Colleges and universities generally require a PhD in social work for teaching and research positions, but sometimes a doctorate degree is sufficient.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that about 50 percent of social workers hold positions in the social assistance and health care sectors, which includes mental health clinics, private practices and hospitals. About 30 percent work for local and state agencies, evaluating child welfare, providing public assistance and working with individuals in the criminal justice system.