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The Best Degrees for a Career in Social Work

Are you looking for a personally rewarding career with good employment opportunities? Social work could fit the bill. Effective social workers are compassionate and committed to helping others, whether as substance abuse counselors, therapists, or a host of other occupations. In fact, social work is an extremely diverse profession, offering an exceptional variety of jobs.

While social work jobs are numerous, the degree paths to becoming a social worker are fairly straightforward. Top degrees in social work can help you prepare for a job in this satisfying and in-demand profession.

Best Degree in Social Work: Entering the Field with a BSW

An associate's degree might be the best degree for someone working as a human services assistant. However, a bachelor of social work (BSW) is the best college degree for social workers entering the field.

What does a BSW entail? The best degree programs combine a broad liberal arts background with courses in human behavior and psychology, research methods, and social work practice. The best degrees include a field work component, which equips future practitioners with real-world skills.

Programs that train practicing social workers -- whether at a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level -- are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

BSW Career Options

Social workers with a BSW work as child welfare officers, victim advocates, gerontology case managers, case workers in mental health and family services, and public assistance workers, among other occupations. Many social workers advance in the field through experience, although it is common for social workers to pursue advanced studies.

Master of Social Work Is Top College Degree for Therapists

According to a 2008 workforce study by the National Association of Social Workers, 89 percent of respondents who held only one social work degree held a Master of Social Work (MSW). Similar to an MBA, the MSW represents a terminal degree in the field for practitioners. The MSW is a top degree for social workers practicing in schools and many health settings, and is a requirement for social workers offering therapy to clients.

Most MSW programs combine a core curriculum with courses offered in a particular concentration, which is based on student interest. Specializations can include gerontology, family practice, schools, health, mental health, substance abuse, social action and community development, and child welfare.

Top Degree Programs at a Doctoral Level

A Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and a PhD are the top degrees for professors and researchers. Employers may include colleges and universities, research institutions, government agencies, and advocacy organizations.

Doing Good--and Earning a Living

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2009, social workers earned the following mean annual wages:

  • Child, family and school social workers: $43,540
  • Medical and public health social workers: $48,340
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers: $41,350
  • Other social workers: $50,470

And here's additional info about the highest-paying jobs for social workers.

    The BLS projects that employment opportunities will grow 20 percent for mental health and substance abuse social workers, 22 percent for medical and public health social workers, and 16 percent overall.

    If you're looking for the ideal combination of job satisfaction and ample career opportunities, social work is a smart choice.

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