Social Work Degrees in Alabama

Social work professionals help people solve problems and deal with difficult issues, including finding housing for families experiencing homelessness and protecting vulnerable children from abusive situations. Alabama requires individuals to hold a bachelor's degree to practice as a licensed social worker. Additionally, professionals need to earn a master's degree to work as a clinical social worker in the state.

Alabama requires individuals to hold a bachelor's degree to practice as a licensed social worker

You can earn a social work degree at the associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral levels. Depending on their level of education and experience, social workers can practice in a variety of settings, including in hospitals, schools, mental health clinics, libraries, private practices, community development corporations, and human service and child welfare agencies. Many social workers focus on specific populations, such as the elderly, children, people dealing with mental illness, or families. Social work graduates can also find work as researchers, educators, and administrators.

Students interested in earning a social work degree in Alabama can choose from several online and on-campus programs. Alabama is a good place to earn a social work degree because many of its residents desperately need the services social workers provide. Alabamians face numerous problems resulting from the state's high poverty rate. The sixth poorest state in the U.S., Alabama lags behind the national averages in terms of health, education, and annual income. In recognition of how desperately the state needs social workers to help address these problems, Alabama requires that individuals only hold a bachelor's degree to become a licensed social worker; most other states require social workers to hold a master's degree.

To become a licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW) in Alabama, you must hold a bachelor's degree in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program. If you want to work as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), the state requires that you hold a CSWE-accredited master's degree.

After you earn your degree, you must apply to take the appropriate social work exam through the Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners. Once the board approves your application, you become "license eligible," which means you can legally accept an employment offer and start working as a social worker. However, you must pass the required exam within one year. At this point you begin your supervised practice.

To become an LCSW, you must complete 24 additional months of post-master's supervised experience

To earn the LBSW designation, individuals complete 24 months of post-baccalaureate supervised practice, including four hours of face-to-face supervision each month. If you decide to work in a different practice area or serve a different population after you complete your supervised practice, you need to finish an extra six months of supervision in the new area. To become an LCSW, you must complete 24 additional months of post-master's supervised experience. Additionally, to receive the private independent practice (PIP) certification, which lets a social worker go into private practice, you must be an LCSW for at least one year.

Alabama requires social workers to renew their licenses and certifications every two years. Socials workers with an LBSW or LCSW credential must complete 30 hours of continuing education to be eligible for renewal. Alternatively, individuals with a PIP must complete 50 continuing education hours.

Students can pursue different levels of social work degrees, and the time it takes to earn these diplomas varies widely. An associate program typically takes two years of full-time attendance, while a bachelor's takes a total of four. As for graduate-level degrees, master's degrees typically take two additional years of study and a doctoral degree in social work usually takes three to five more years of study.

Although pursuing an advanced degree in social work increases the cost of your education and the time it takes to enter the workforce, this investment can pay off. The career outlook for social workers with higher-level degrees tends to be much better. In particular, many more jobs with higher compensation can be accessed by social workers who hold a master's degree.

Associate Degree
Students take introductory classes in topics like psychology and sociology, learning the foundations of the social work field. This degree prepares graduates to work in support roles in the field but not as actual social workers. Earning an associate degree is good preparation for entering a bachelor's in social work program.
Bachelor's Degree
Earning a bachelor's in social work prepares graduates for entry-level social worker positions in some states, including Alabama. Students take courses in social work research, policy and advocacy and are also introduced to the welfare system. Most bachelor's programs include field practica and social work internships as a part of the curriculum.
Master's Degree
Most states require social workers to hold a master's in order to practice, particularly as licensed clinical social workers. The curricula for MSW programs typically cover the same issues explored in bachelor's programs but in much greater detail. Most MSW programs require students to choose an area of specialization, such as families, children, mental health, or the elderly.
Doctoral Degree
Earning a Ph.D. in social work prepares graduates for supervisory, administrative, and research-related careers in the field. Curricula often include seminars and courses in advanced research methods, teaching, and policy. A substantial portion of the program is spent on the dissertation process, including research, writing, and a defense.

The field of social work encompases numerous subfields and specialties. Depending on the specialty area you choose, your day-to-day work and career trajectory can look very different. Most social workers choose a group of people or area to specialize in, such as children and families, schools, healthcare, or mental health and substance abuse. Other social workers focus on helping people experiencing homelessness or with incarcerated individuals. When looking at online social work programs in Alabama, make sure that a school offers the specialty area you want to work in.

Child and Family Social Worker

These social workers offer direct services to families and children facing socioeconomic challenges. They work in a variety of community settings, such as at child welfare agencies, shelters, and other non-clinical environments. These professionals engage in case management, provide information and referrals to clients, and act as advocates.

School Social Worker

School social workers help school-aged children and work in educational environments. They address a wide range of issues, including homelessness, bullying, and other concerns that might affect students' academic success. School social workers may also end up acting as school counselors.

Healthcare Social Worker

This specialty area of social work focuses on helping people dealing with medical concerns. These professionals typically work in hospitals, hospices, or outpatient health settings. Healthcare social workers help patients navigate systems and plans of care. They may also serve as case managers.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

These social workers usually need to hold a license in clinical social work. They focus on helping people struggling with addiction and mental health issues, working in hospitals, health clinics, or residential treatment centers. They may provide psychotherapy and serve as case managers or discharge planners.

Every state makes its own rules about how it licenses social workers. To work legally as a social worker in Alabama, you must hold a social work license issued by the State Board of Social Work Examiners. You need a bachelor's in social work to be eligible for employment as a non-clinical social worker and a master's in social work to become a clinical social worker.

Every state in the U.S. requires that clinical social workers hold an MSW, but most other states also require non-clinical social workers to have an advanced degree. Alabama is also different from most states because it allows social workers to begin practicing in the field once they become "license eligible." This means that new social workers can work in the field for up to one year before passing the national Association of Social Workers Board (ASWB) exam.

Alabama allows social workers to begin practicing in the field once they become license eligible.

Alabama offers three levels of social work licenses. Professionals can become a licensed bachelor social worker (LBSW), a licensed graduate social worker (LGSW), or a licensed certified social worker (LCSW). The LBSW credential only requires a bachelor's degree in social work, while MSW graduates can apply for the LGSW or LCSW designations.

It is important to note the difference between social work licensure and certification. You need a social work license, regulated by the state, to legally work as a social worker. Alternatively, certification is usually a voluntary process that allows individuals to gain recognition for special professional competencies. One exception to this rule is Alabama's private independent practice (PIP) certification for social workers, which is legally required if you want to open a private practice in social work. Most social work certifications and credentials lead to more career-related opportunities; many employers seek out credentialed social workers. You can earn social work credentials and certifications through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials

Choosing between social work schools in Alabama can be difficult because so many variables influence the decision-making process. Issues to think about include cost, location, program length, and available specializations.

Cost is a fundamental issue for the majority of students. College is rarely inexpensive, but tuition rates vary substantially depending on the program. Be sure to figure out your budget and determine what you can afford before you start looking at programs. Also, keep in mind that students rarely pay the full price of tuition; most learners qualify for some combination of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, work study, student loans, and tuition reimbursement programs.

It is also important to figure out how long it will take you to complete a program. Will you be working while you attend school? And does a program offer classes year-round or a fast-track option? Program length often affects the total cost of a degree. Also consider what specializations a program offers. If you know you want to focus on school social work, for example, make sure a potential program offers that concentration. Additionally, decide if you would rather attend classes online or in person. After you consider these criteria, you can make an informed choice about which of the social work programs in Alabama is best for you.

Can You Earn a Social Work Degree Online in Alabama?

Students in Alabama can select from many options when pursuing an online social work degree. Earning a bachelor's or master's of social work online, as opposed to through a traditional on-campus program, does not negatively affect your ability to receive a social work license. The Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners -- the agency responsible for social worker licensure in the state -- does not differentiate between distance and in-person social work programs. As long as you attend an accredited program, your degree is valid.

With this in mind, it is very important to make sure that your social work program holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and that your school is regionally accredited. To be eligible to apply for licensure as a social worker in Alabama, you must hold a degree from an accredited program and college. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) is the accreditation agency that handles regional accreditation of online and in-person colleges and universities in Alabama.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Social Worker in Alabama?

The amount of time it takes to become a social worker in Alabama varies depending on which social work degree you plan to pursue. Students can earn an associate degree in just two years, while learners who want to earn a doctoral degree can end up spending 10 or more years in school. However, because Alabama requires entry-level social workers to hold at least a bachelor's degree, students should expect to spend at least four years on their studies.

Additionally, even within each degree level, the amount of time it takes to graduate can vary based on several factors, including whether a student opts for full-time or part-time study, whether or not a program runs year-round, and whether the program offers an accelerated option. Another factor that influences how long it takes to graduate is the format of a program. Some programs use cohort learning, where students go through the entire degree track in a specified sequence, taking courses with the same group of students. Participants know exactly how long the program will last when they enroll. Alternatively, in an individually paced program, the length can vary substantially based on how many courses you enroll in each term. If you take as many courses as possible, including over the summers, you can finish your degree more quickly.

How Much Does a Social Work Program Cost in Alabama?

When thinking about the overall expense associated with becoming a social worker, you should consider the costs of your degree, exams, and license. The cost of a social work degree in Alabama varies substantially depending on a variety of factors, including whether you attend a private or public school and/or whether you go to a community college or a four-year institution. Different levels of degrees -- associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate -- also cost different amounts. Generally speaking, the higher the level of a degree, the more expensive the program. To become an LBSW or LGSW, you must pay $230 to take the associated ASWB exam. The LCSW test costs slightly more ($260).

Once you earn your degree and start working as a licensed social worker, you need to consider the cost of required continuing education hours. The Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners requires all licensed social workers in the state to complete 30 continuing education hours every two years to renew their licenses. Alternatively, private independent practice-certified social workers must complete 50 hours every two years. Depending on the certifications you hold through NASW, you may also be responsible for additional continuing education hours. The costs vary by class, but you can receive discounts if you become a member of the NASW.

Directory of Social Work Programs in Alabama

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Graduates of social work programs can pursue employment in several fields. Most social work graduates find jobs as some type of specialized social worker, including school social workers, healthcare social workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, and child and family social workers. Alternatively, some social work graduates pursue career paths not directly related to social work, in areas like research, education, and administration.

School Social Worker

School social workers help students in K-12 educational settings. They counsel students and refer them to outside professionals when needed. This position typically requires a bachelor's in social work.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

LCSWs provide therapy and counseling to individuals affected by mental health disorders. They also help with practical issues related to mental illness, including helping clients find jobs and housing. These professionals must hold a master's in social work.

Medical Social Worker

Medical social workers assist patients and their families, usually in hospitals or hospices. They perform administrative medical tasks. Assuming this position typically requires a master's in social work.

Child, Family, or School Social Worker

These social workers practice in a variety of settings to help children and their families. They primarily advocate for children in at-risk situations. Depending on the exact position, these professionals may need a bachelor's or master's in social work.

Social Worker

General, non-clinical social workers only need a bachelor's degree to practice in Alabama, although most other states require these workers to hold an MSW. These professionals find careers in numerous settings, helping clients deal with a variety of problems.

Median Salaries and Employment For Social Work Specialties in Alabama

  Employment Annual Mean Wage
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 3,280 $41,610
Healthcare Social Workers 2,380 $47,170
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 1,180 $38,580
Social Workers, All Other 400 $61,600
Source: BLS

College students can apply for a variety of scholarships to help them pay for their education, including many awards specific to social work students in Alabama. Corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit groups all offer scholarships to learners. The following list includes a sampling of scholarships for social work students in Alabama.

Social Work Scholarships

Torchbearer Scholarship $500

Who Can Apply: The Alabama chapter of NASW presents two of these scholarships each year -- one to a BSW student and one to an MSW student. Applicants must demonstrate leadership skills and be members of NASW. BSW students need a minimum 3.0 overall GPA and a minimum 3.5 in-major GPA. MSW applicants must hold an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher. View Scholarship

Tim Deyerle Memorial Scholarship $500-$1,000

Who Can Apply: NASW's Alabama chapter awards these scholarships to one BSW student and one MSW student each year. The money is intended to offset costs associated with BSW practica and MSW internships. Applicants must be enrolled in a CSWE-accredited program in Alabama and show a commitment to healthcare social work. View Scholarship

The Alabama Schweitzer Fellowship $2,500

Who Can Apply: The Alabama chapter of NASW organizes this yearlong mentored fellowship program for graduate-level social work students. Fellows complete community-based projects and receive a stipend distributed in three installments. Students must be attending a graduate program at an accredited school in north-central Alabama. View Scholarship

Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarships $4,000

Who Can Apply: NASW presents 10 scholarships each year to MSW students with a commitment to serving Hispanic/Latino or American Indian/Alaska Native communities. View Scholarship
  • Alabama State Board of Social Work Examiners ASBSWE awards licenses to clinical and non-clinical social workers in Alabama. Prospective social workers can find extensive information about the licensure process, including applications and forms, frequently asked questions, laws and rules, and continuing education resources. Licensed social workers can also renew their license online through ASBSWE's website.
  • Alabama Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers This is Alabama's chapter of the NASW, which is the largest professional organization for social workers in the world. It advocates for the entire profession of social work, giving a voice to social workers. The state chapter offers scholarships to students in Alabama, as well as extensive resources through its career center.
  • Social Work Division of Alabama Public Health The Alabama Public Health Department's social work division employs public health social workers who focus on children, families, disabled adults, and the elderly. The division includes a special section for students, containing information about how to become a public health social worker in Alabama as well as other career resources.
  • Alabama Society for Clinical Social Work ASCSW is a professional organization of licensed clinical social workers in Alabama. Its mission is to promote the profession within the state, mentor new social workers, engage in advocacy efforts, and promote standards of practice. Membership benefits include access to mentoring and networking opportunities, reduced tuition for continuing education credits, and an email news bulletin.
  • Alabama Conference of Social Work ACSW promotes the social welfare of Alabamians by offering training and continuing education opportunities to social workers in the state. The organization also hosts an annual conference with exhibits, lectures, awards, and networking opportunities.