Social Work Degrees in Colorado

Social workers employ a unique set of skills to support and assist underserved populations: they educate clients, offer counseling and/or therapy, and provide access to state and federal resources. This field requires professionals to explore intimate aspects of their clients' personal lives, such as the dynamics of a couple's marriage, family structure, parenting skills, personal thoughts, feelings pertaining to addictions, and much more. No matter the service, client wellbeing is at the core of the field, and social work practitioners must feel comfortable working with people from a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and at varying stages of life.

Social work is one of the top 15 positions for per capita income in Colorado.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social work is among the fastest growing occupations in the country. In Colorado, job opportunities are similarly abundant, as social work is one of the top 15 positions for per capita income in the state. Colorado also has more extensive requirements for their graduates compared to other states, ensuring practitioners are highly qualified.

Because social work is such a diverse field, practitioners can pursue a variety of positions depending on their education level and specialty areas. They work in human service agencies, private practices, hospitals, schools, and many more places that help people in need; they also may specialize in psychiatric, child and family, genetic, healthcare, geriatric, or even hospice social work. Clinical social workers, for example, have access to elite positions in Colorado, and must have at least a master's degree in social work.

Our guide below explores the education, certifications, and careers one can pursue to join the growing and exciting field of social work in Colorado.

Students should first identify their ideal job to learn its educational requirements. Some social work positions require only a bachelor's degree, while others require a minimum of a master's degree. Students looking to obtain their bachelor's degree should explore regionally accredited schools or Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited programs; each of these meet vital standards required by employers, and prepares graduates for entry-level social work positions. To be eligible for clinical practice, however, students will need to continue their education and complete a master's degree in social work.

Social work exams are offered at both the bachelor's and master's levels. In Colorado, students with their bachelor of social work (BSW) can hold positions that do not directly service clients -- such as program manager or case manager -- and therefore are not required to pass a licensure exam.

To become a licensed social worker (LSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), students endure a far more rigorous process. They must have a master's degree at minimum, pass the Mental Health Profession's Jurisprudence Exam, complete a healthcare professional profile for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, apply and pay for the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam, and then pay for the license upon passing. Students should also note there are mandatory hours of experience and supervision required to achieve licensure, and licenses are not permanent. Practitioners must apply for renewal every even-numbered year, which requires 40 hours of additional education and no more than 20 of those hours in a single category.

Students can earn four types of social work degrees in Colorado: associate degrees in social work can be completed in two years, and usually qualify graduates for administrative support careers; a BSW can be completed in four years, preparing graduates for higher paying entry-level positions; a master of social work (MSW) qualifies one for licensure exams, which leads to careers as licensed practitioners; and finally, those who earn a doctorate in social work are prepared to enter clinical practice. Doctoral programs are terminal degrees and can be completed in about three years.

Associate Degree
Students examine general theories of psychology and sociology, and complete social work-specific classes. This degree acquaints students with concepts like human welfare and addressing the needs of a community, family, and individual. Graduates are qualified for support jobs such as intake specialists or probation officers.
Bachelor's Degree
Coursework explores topics such as psychological human behavior, laws and policies of social work, diversity training, and research methods. Graduates can pursue entry-level positions in social work like case manager, adoption agency administrator, community outreach worker, juvenile court liaison, or human service specialist.
Master's Degree
Graduate students complete courses in social policy, clinical practice specialities, and specialty-related psychology theories. Specializations include youth and families, substance addiction, mental health, or geriatric societies, and graduates qualify for advanced or managerial roles in the field. Positions include child welfare case manager, program director, family practitioner, social service screener, and marriage and family therapist.
Doctoral Degree
Practitioners who earn a doctorate in social work (DSW) are regarded as subject matter experts in clinical practices, research, and leadership. These programs explore innovative ideas to improve the field of social work and to facilitate change. Graduates are qualified for leadership roles in the field, such as clinical directors or executives.

Social workers play an important role in the lives of their clients, and they work with people at all ages, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnicities. Prospective students should first consider their passions, and then select a specialty that best suits them. In addition to selecting a specific issue or population, social work professionals have several options for occupational settings. Practitioners are often found in hospitals, schools, nonprofit organizations, research facilities, the military, and even private practices.

Child and Family Social Worker

These professionals advocate for the safety and welfare of children and families. This includes helping parents locate resources to create a healthy home, identifying alternative housing arrangements for children in unstable environments, or possibly intervening if a client is in a dangerous situation.

School Social Worker

Professionals collaborate with students, school employees, and the families of the children to improve student performance and social abilities. They create action plans, meet with affected parties, and intervene when danger or neglect is present.

Healthcare Social Worker

Based in hospitals and the homes of clients, these practitioners provide psychosocial information and support to individuals and families facing terminal illnesses. They may also help clients reacclimate to their homes.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

These professionals work in hospitals, treatment centers, and clinics. They provide psychotherapy, manage complex cases, plan discharge instructions, and offer overall support to clients. Practitioners can explore specialty fields such as grief counseling or eating disorders.

To practice client-based, clinical social work in Colorado, graduates must obtain a license that correlates with their education level. Every state uses the ASWB licensing exams, and Colorado offers three licensing levels: the LSW, LCSW, and provisional licensed social worker (SWP). The LSW requires practitioners to have a masters degree at minimum, pass the Mental Health Profession's Jurisprudence Exam, complete a healthcare professional profile, and pass the ASWB masters exam.

Every state uses the ASWB licensing exams, and Colorado offers three licensing levels: the LSW, LCSW, and provisional licensed social worker (SWP).

The LCSW is very similar; practitioners fulfill all of the same requirements for the LSW, except they take the clinical ASWB exam. Applicants must also have 3,360 hours of social work experience within two years of applying for licensure. Finally, the SWP is a unique, limited license that Colorado offers for those specializing in marriage and family therapy, and counseling. Psychologists, social workers, and other related field professionals with a master's degree can apply. This license does not require an exam, and candidates can visit the website for the State Board of Social Work Examiners to complete an application. It is important to keep in mind that unlike other licenses, this license only qualifies practitioners to work under supervision.

Social workers can also obtain supplementary certifications. While many organizations offer certificates, the most widely accepted and recognized certificates are from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). However, certifications are not the equivalent of a license, nor do they legally allow the practice of social work. Certificates should be pursued to simply enhance the credibility of already licensed social workers. As a voluntary process, certificates confirm a deeper knowledge of a specific content area than what is covered under a typical license. Furthermore, NASW certificates meet the ethical practice standards that employers and clients expect.

Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials

Social work degrees vary, which is why looking for a program that is regionally and/or CSWE-accredited is important. Students should also identify what level of education, specialty field, or job title is ideal in order to compare program details. With full-time attendance, students can earn a BSW in four years and spend approximately $55,000 at a public university. An MSW can be completed with an additional two years of full-time studies, and for an approximate cost of $35,000. DSW programs, meanwhile, average $30,000 to $60,000 in tuition, and can be completed in 24 months.

There are ample opportunities for financial assistance in social work. In fact, most of the universities in Colorado with social work programs offer assistance to students in this area. While Colorado offers a variety of accredited social work degree at the bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. levels, students should note that social work is a broad field with many specializations. When considering a program, it is a good idea to identify how well the university supports the specialty.

Can You Earn a Social Work Degree Online in Colorado?

As the sixth largest state in the country, Colorado offers a variety of educational options to meet the needs of its residents. Colorado State University (CSU) offers a completely online degree in social work, which can be completed in two years if attended full time. Some online programs are also offered as hybrids, meaning students balance online and on-campus course requirements. CSU's hybrid MSW program, for example, requires students to attend class on campus twice a semester.

Other programs, such as the Metropolitan State University of Denver, require additional course activities. Students in their online BSW must complete extracurricular seminars online, however they can still complete their undergraduate degree in four years. Accelerated programs are also available, should students want to earn their credentials as quickly as possible. The MSW program at the University of Denver can be completed in 18 months.

All distance programs accredited by the CSWE are rigorously examined, ensuring they hold the same level of quality as their on-campus equivalents. However, the CWSE does not accredit programs at the associate or doctorate levels, therefore students interested in completing these degrees should confirm a school is regionally accredited.

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

Online programs are offered in many different formats to meet the needs of distance learners. Some programs allow students to move at their own pace, requiring independent work with no synchronous meeting times to interact with instructors or students. These programs can be completed in the standard amount of time as in-person courses. However, if a student progresses slowly, graduation dates may be pushed back.

Full-time students can expect to complete a BSW is four years, an MSW in two years, and a DSW between two and six years.

Some programs are accelerated -- allowing students to complete the coursework in a much shorter time -- and some progress more traditionally. Others may assign students to a cohort, which travels together through a set curriculum during the entirety of their program. Still others may emphasize independent learning, allowing students to complete their assignments when it best suits their schedule.

Full-time students can expect to complete a BSW is four years, an MSW in two years, and a DSW between two and six years. Part-time students will see their program length increase considerably.

How Much Does a Social Work Program Cost in Colorado?

A social work degree in Colorado can vary in price. Private institutions, for example, are much more expensive than public schools, while in-state students pay less than out-of-state students. CSU, for example, is a public institution that offers both a BSW and an MSW; residential students pay $11,982 per year and non-residents $29,884. Graduate students at CSU can expect to pay approximately pay residential tuition of $12,772 per year, while non-residents pay $27,596. At Metropolitan State University of Denver, undergraduate residents pay $3,676.36, and non-residents pay $10,074.46. MSW students at Metro State pay $8,827 as residents and $13,140 as non-residents. As a private institution, the University of Denver is a pricier option: tuition for an MSW is $16,464 for full-time students.

Students should also factor licensing fees into their education costs. Colorado licensing charges a fee for the application, the Mental Health Profession's Jurisprudence Exam, the state license, the ASWB exam, continued education, and renewal of licenses. The LSW, LCSW, and SWP application packet is $70, while the Jurisprudence Exam is $18. The ASWB application is $25, while the LSW and LCSW ASWB fee is $260; the SWP is $230. License renewal for the LSW and LCSW is $67 and the SWP renewal is $51.

Directory of Social Work Programs in Colorado

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Social work is a diverse field that crosses many different environments and sectors. From hospitals to schools to treatment centers, practitioners assist people in need wherever they may be. They commonly work as counselors, community development organizers, and even intervention specialists. However, practitioners may also hold government jobs that work help shape policy, or military positions to meet the unique needs of soldiers and veterans.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

Practitioners provide assistance to children and families, with the child's well-being as the primary objective. Practitioners might develop intervention plans or educate parents on rearing skills, and alternative home placement may become necessary.

Healthcare Social Workers

Due to an aging population, this specialty is in particularly high demand. Practitioners educate clients and their families on strategic methods to provide quality care and cope with terminal illnesses.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Practitioners counsel and educate clients on effective treatments regarding mental illness and addiction. Settings vary from residential treatment centers to outpatient clinics. These practitioners tend to work with families and court officers.

Social and Community Service Managers

This role plans and organizes community outreach activities. Practitioners develop creative ways to engage with clients, while adhering to budget requirements and policies.

Medical and Health Service Managers

These professionals improve the efficiency of healthcare services by examining the impact of new laws and regulations on a facility. They also manage other administrators and finances.

Median Salaries and Employment For Social Work Specialties in Colorado

  Employment Annual Mean Wage
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 64,760 $50,220
Healthcare Social Workers 2,650 $51,980
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 1,980 $43,430
Social Workers, All Other 1,280 $54,940
Source: BLS

Social work is an expanding field in many areas, and as a result, opportunities for financial assistance abounds. While many universities offer scholarships for specialties, there are also scholarships offered by national organizations, societies, and foundations who support aspiring social workers at all levels.

Social Work Scholarships

Ann Weaver Nicholas Scholarship Endowment $500

Who Can Apply: Aspiring social workers interested in the promotion of social change for underserved populations. Students should be able to prove financial need. This scholarship is available for students at any level of their academic career. View Scholarship

American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work Varies

Who Can Apply: This national organization values ethical and consistent social work. ABE also ensures that emerging social workers meet the standards of practice. Any graduate student in their first or second year may apply. View Scholarship

Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial MSW Scholarship $2,000

Who Can Apply: Students who are of American-Indian, Alaskan-Native, or Hispanic descent and are currently completing a master of social work can apply. Desirable candidates have worked with nonprofit or grassroots organizations in the United States. View Scholarship

Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW Scholarship $5,500

Who Can Apply: This scholarship is granted to students who wish to enter the mental health field. Students should be completing their MSW and display interest in working with the African-American community. View Scholarship

The Senior Care Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: Geriatric populations are a growing -- and underserved -- population. Students who are interested in working with aging clients should apply. Students must be enrolled into an accredited university in the U.S and be a permanent citizen. View Scholarship

Bethesda Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: Bethesda is a Lutheran-affiliated organization that supports aspiring social work professionals. Students who plan to serve populations with intellectual and developmental disabilities may apply. Students must be a freshman, sophomore, or junior completing their BSW. View Scholarship
  • NASW-Colorado Chapter The National Association of Social Workers is a U.S. organization with over 120,000 members. The NASW establishes and supports elite professional standards, while members have access to career services, consultation opportunities, and cutting-edge information in social work.
  • Social Work Helper This organization provides tools and information related to social work and supporting social justice. Social Work Helper believes in an interdisciplinary approach to discuss relevant topics and news. Professionals are welcome to submit articles, resources, and provide feedback to improve the quality of the newsletters and website.
  • Clinical Social Work Association CSWA is a national organization that provides vital services, products, and support for social workers on the clinical path. Members of this organization include professionals at varying levels of their career, which also makes it a great resource for networking and mentoring.
  • Department of Regulatory Agencies DORA is the state government department responsible for licenses and client protection. Social work practitioners can access all updates to law and policy changes in Colorado via their website. DORA also manages license and requirement information.
  • Colorado Society for Clinical Social Work The CSCSW advances the causes of social work professionals through education, recognition, and practice standards. Members have access to digital information and representatives over the phone who address any questions or concerns. The CSCSW is the only organization that specifically exists to support clinical social workers and their clients.