Online Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

An online bachelor's degree in social work provides learners with the knowledge needed to obtain entry-level positions in the field. Students learn how to empathize with their clients, communicate effectively, and solve problems. Learners are also taught about additional resources that can help their clients, such Alcoholics Anonymous.

There are many types of social work that professionals can pursue. Most students pursue the type of social work that aligns best with their personal and career interests. Many social work programs offer opportunities for specialization, which may focus on the type of social work in which a learner is most interested. Graduates have the skills to help others in the most efficient manner.

A bachelor's in social work also prepares students to pursue an advanced degree. Learners can choose to continue their education with a master's or doctoral degree in social work and acquire more career opportunities.

Pursuing online social work bachelor's degree programs is a good decision for students who need flexibility. Online programs are typically delivered asynchronously, meaning that students can complete their coursework on their own schedule. This helps students maintain personal and career responsibilities. Working while in college gives students the advantage of being able to pay for tuition and living expenses without having to take out as many student loans.

Some colleges and universities have a designated online tuition rate, which is usually lower than the on-campus student rate. Other universities offer the in-state tuition rate to all online students. Most bachelor's in social work programs require students to complete an internship, which online students can complete in their own communities.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an Online Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

The completion time for an online bachelor's degree in social work will vary between schools. Typically, the programs consist of about 125 credits. In addition to the required coursework, students also have to fulfill internship and fieldwork requirements, which usually takes around four years.

Social work bachelor's programs cover a wide range of topics. Students will learn different skills and topics through practical application. Some courses will focus on a specific type of social work, while others will provide broad perspective. Below is a list of common classes that students in social work programs complete.

Example Courses

Generalist Social Work Practice In this course, students get an introduction to social work practice while learning about the knowledge, skills, and values that are used daily in the profession. They learn what a typical day as a social worker looks like and about different situations they may encounter professionally.
Social Welfare Programs, Policies, and Issues Students learn about policy analysis, service delivery systems, and the influences and effects of policy in regards to practice and planning decisions. They practice these elements during assignments.
Human Behavior and the Social Environment Learners are taught the different theories within human behavior, including ecological perspective, social learning theory, and eco psychology emphasizing the life cycle.
Social Work Practice with Groups In this course, students learn how to use teamwork in their chosen field. They are taught group dynamics and how to communicate with others. They also learn how to interact professionally and effectively.
Foundations of Social Justice Students learn about the demographics and history of diverse cultural groups in the United States. They also learn about ethnic-sensitive social work practice and how to handle cultural diversity.

Many students have the opportunity to pursue a concentration. Specializations typically focus on a specific field within social work, better preparing them for related careers. Here are some of the most common concentrations available to social work students:

Mental Health

This specialization, students will learn about mental illnesses and the different services they can provide to patients who suffer from them. They learn about different techniques and tools to use in their professional career.

Medical/Public Health

Students learn the skills and knowledge they will need to work as a social worker in a nursing home, hospital, assisted living facility, substance abuse treatment center, or home health agency.

Child Welfare

Learners are taught how to work with children in crisis situations, including children who have been neglected or abandoned. They learn about the variety of child welfare cases that exist and how to handle each situation.

Substance Abuse

This specialization teaches students about substance abuse and the impact it has on family members. They learn how to provide treatment and care to their patients and how to develop rehabilitation plans.

School Social Work

In this specialization, students learn how to work with students in a school setting. They learn about the different types of situations they will encounter with school social work and how to best serve students.

Many bachelor's of social work students make the decision to continue their education and pursue their master of social work degree. Earning a master's in social work is an excellent next step for bachelor's students because it allows them to pursue a variety of licenses, which can lead to a career in clinical social work. Bachelor of social work programs are often geared toward being a first step for students interested in entering the social work field. The programs prepare students for what to expect during their master's program.

Because a master of social work degree opens more career and licensure opportunities, students who have a master's in social work are also able to earn a higher salary. Master's graduates also have the option to continue earn a doctorate in social work, which will prepare to work as a postsecondary teacher.

Bachelor's graduates are prepared for positions such as social and community service manager, substance abuse counselor, and caseworker. Careers in this field are about helping others; all social workers are interested in and dedicated to helping their patients, and they are always looking for ways to improve to ensure they are offering the best services and advice possible.

Caseworker (Bachelor's Social Worker)

Caseworkers or bachelor's social workers help people identify, solve, and cope with the problems they face in their daily lives. They work in a number of different settings, including schools, child welfare and human service agencies, and hospitals.

Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist

Probation officers or correctional treatment specialists offer social services to help rehabilitate offenders who are either in custody, on parole, or on probation. They work in an intense work environment that sometimes requires fieldwork.

Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers organize, coordinate, and supervise different social service programs and community organizations. They work for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private social service companies.

Social and Human Service Assistant

Social and human service assistants provide client services of all types, including offering support to families, social work, and psychology. They provide assistance to social workers and help clients find community services and benefits.

Substance Abuse Counselors and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors work with people who struggle with alcoholism, eating disorders, mental health issues, drug addiction, or other behavioral or mental problems. They provide treatment, support, and advice to their patients.

Salaries and Job Outlook for Social Workers

Occupation Minimum Degree Required Employment Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
Caseworker (BSW Social Worker) Bachelor's 682,100 $23.07 $47,980
Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist Bachelor's 91,300 $24.71 $51,410
Social and Community Service Manager Bachelor's 147,300 $30.82 $64,100
Social and Human Service Assistant Associate 389,800 $15.92 $33,120
Substance Abuse Counselors and Behavioral Disorder Counselor Bachelor's 102,400 $20.82 $43,400
Source: BLS, May 2016

In many states, graduates with an online bachelor's degree in social work can obtain entry-level positions without having to gain licensure. For more advanced positions, such as clinical social worker, graduates must obtain licensure, which requires them to hold at least a master's in social work, complete between 2,000 and 4,000 supervised clinical hours, and pass a state exam. Some states offer non-clinical, master's-level licenses, which have less strict requirements, but do not prepare students to practice independently.

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors must obtain licensure in order to become qualified to work in most states. Other careers just have educational requirements. In most cases, a probation officer and caseworker must hold at least a bachelor's degree in the field.

The two most common types of accreditation are regional and national. Credits earned from regionally accredited institutions are more widely accepted by other college programs. Degrees earned from regionally accredited schools are also more desired by employers, as they usually have more rigorous standards. Students pursuing their online bachelor's degree in social work need to pay attention to accreditation. If bachelor's students wish to continue their education by earning a master of social work, they will need to have bachelor's credits from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited college or university. Licensing requirements outline that applicants must have earned their bachelor's or master's degree from a college or university that is CSWE-accredited.

Professional organizations offer many opportunities for students and graduates, such as events, which serve as networking opportunities. They can also help students find employment, and they provide a way to share ideas.

National Association of Social Workers

The NASW is the largest membership organization of social work professionals in the world, with over 120,000 members.

International Federation of Social Workers

The IFSW represents more than three million social workers and 120 professional social work associations. The organization contributes to developing a social and just world.

National Association of Black Social Workers

The NABSW consists of African-American social workers who advocate for social justice, change, and the development of the black community.

Society for Social Work and Research

The SSWR is a nonprofit organization committed to advancing social work research and improving the support that is given to social workers.

School Social Work Association of America

The SSWAA is an organization dedicated to empowering school social workers and promoting their profession in order to improve the emotional, social, and academic growth of students.

There are many scholarship opportunities available to social work students. Scholarships help alleviate the cost of higher education, and the funds do not have to be repaid. Students often have to meet GPA requirements and other criteria to become eligible for certain scholarships.

Social Work Scholarships

Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Scholarship Funds $8,000

Who Can Apply: The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Scholarship Funds are typically awarded to students in the Chicago area who are full-time undergraduate or graduate Jewish students planning to pursue a career in the helping professions. View Scholarship

National Association of Black Social Workers Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: The National Association of Black Social Workers offers several scholarship opportunities to members of the NABSW. Candidates must be bachelor's, master's, or doctoral students who are enrolled full time in a social work program. View Scholarship

Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans $20,000 to $25,000

Who Can Apply: The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provide students with partial support in completing their education. Candidates must have their green card or be naturalized, first generation citizens of the United States. Applicants must also be either a college senior or in their first or second year of a graduate social work program. View Scholarship

Freemont Foundation Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The Freemont Foundation Scholarship Program is available to high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students pursuing a career in the helping professions. Candidates must attend a historically black college or university. View Scholarship

SIP Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The SIP Scholarship Program offered by UAS7 awards two-to-six month internship opportunities to social work and applied science undergraduate students and provide them with a full-tuition waiver for the semesters in which they are enrolled in the internship. View Scholarship

Elizabeth J. Davis Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: The Elizabeth J. Davis Scholarship is available to Vermont undergraduate or graduate students studying nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, or medical social work. View Scholarship

Senior Care Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: The Senior Care Scholarship is available to students interested in gerontology. Candidates must be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in social work, nursing, or another medical-related program and plan on pursuing a career that involves working with senior citizens. View Scholarship

Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship for Outreach and Health Communications $5,000

Who Can Apply: The Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship for Outreach and Health Communications offers scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students dedicated to helping truth initiative accomplish a tobacco-free generation. Candidates must be pursuing a major in social work, communications, or public health. View Scholarship

Bethesda Lutheran Communities Student Scholastic and Service Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: Bethesda Lutheran Communities Student Scholastic and Service Scholarship awards scholarships to undergraduate students pursuing a degree in any area of service to help people with developmental disabilities. Candidates must be an active member of a Lutheran congregation and have a 3.0 minimum GPA. View Scholarship

NFRW National Pathfinder Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: The NFRW National Pathfinder Scholarship is awarded to women studying to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. Candidates must be majoring in social work, sociology, psychology, or pharmacology. View Scholarship
  • Clinical Social Work Association The CSWA is an organization that works to keep clinical social workers and students enrolled in a master's or doctoral social work program informed on what is going on in the field.
  • American Clinical Social Work Association The ACSWA offer online resources to serve as a place for social work students and professionals to connect with one another, sharing ideas and networking. The site posts trends in the industry and relevant news stories.
  • American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry AAGP is a national association that serves and represents members in geriatric psychiatry. The organization offers networking and collaboration opportunities, access to the members-only website, free educational publications, and discounts on annual meetings.
  • American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children APSAC works to improve society's response to the abuse and neglect of children by promoting approaches to the identification, intervention, treatment, and prevention of child maltreatment. The organization offers networking and education opportunities, access to publications and resources, and discounts on clinics.
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