Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work
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Social work is both an academic discipline and a practice-based profession focused on helping individuals, families, groups, and entire communities meet their needs, sustaining and enhancing their well-being. In doing so, the field of social work contributes to the stability and collective well-being of society as a whole.
Social work is defined as work by trained professionals designed specifically to help individuals and groups of people who may be disadvantaged or experience challenges such as personal problems. The National Association of Social Workers defines social work as a profession “devoted to helping people function the best they can in their environment”. According to the Council on Social Work Education, social workers are trained and committed to promoting social welfare, helping all people overcome their challenges and achieve optimal functioning, advocating for social and economic justice, and adhering to a professional code of ethics.
A social worker is trained to fulfill three primary functions. These functions are curative/ rehabilitative, preventative, and developmental. A social worker thus may support individuals, groups, and even entire communities in achieving optimal development and related measurable milestones. Supporting people in their efforts to thrive can be done by reinforcing behaviors that enhance people’s health and by applying a preventive approach in which people are guided away from choices and behaviors that may harm their health. For those whose quality of life is already impaired, social workers may perform curative and rehabilitative functions to help such individuals restore their health.
Social work is often very appealing to professionals of diverse backgrounds due in part to the value it offers within many contexts. Stated differently, social workers’ skills and value can often be integrated into the operations of a large variety of organizations. Because social workers can be tasked with various duties within many settings, it is difficult to provide a list of tasks a social worker “typically” performs. A listing of responsibilities a social worker may hold can nonetheless be devised. According to the Council on Social Work Education, those responsibilities may include any of the following:
- Identify individuals, families, groups, organizations, and whole communities in need of help
- Conduct assessments of client needs, environments, strengths, and support networks to help clients both identify their goals and craft strategies to achieve those goals
- Provide psychotherapy services appropriate to the needs, circumstances and backgrounds of clientele
- Research, provide referral to, and advocate the use of community resources
- Using assessments, research, and other data, to develop, evaluate, and monitor programs
- Advocate for policy change at multiple levels of government
- Work within varied teams and other organizational structures to fulfill institutional missions and goals
- Organize groups, task forces, and communities for social change events and movements
Online education has expanded the opportunities available for professionals seeking to establish a career in social work. The phenomenon of online education can itself be interpreted as something the field of social work would champion, as this educational delivery model often effectively serves some of the very same populations of people that social workers often will see substantially represented among their clientele. Such populations include economically disadvantaged populations, those whose health and other limitations create significant barriers to accessing and thriving in a traditional learning environment, single-parent households, and those whose learning styles are more compatible with the framework provided by an online learning environment.
For those interested in earning an online bachelor of social work degree and those who wish to pursue graduate-level study that requires such undergraduate study, read on to learn about admissions requirements, coursework, and information about institutional accreditation. In addition, review the listing of featured online bachelor of social work programs, distinguished professors delivering essential courses, and job categories graduates of online bachelor of social work programs may find open opportunities.
Typical Admissions Requirements for Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work
The admissions requirements for online bachelor of social work programs vary among educational institutions. Licensing requirements also typically vary by state, and according to the specialization an individual may pursue. For example, social workers who wish to work in substance abuse and addiction may need additional training to qualify for the type of licensure needed to work with this target population. Given this reality, prospective students are recommended to thoroughly reflect on their professional values, desired career trajectory, and strengths when reviewing educational programs and subsequently preparing applications. Prospective students typically need to submit a variety of application materials including, but not necessarily limited to, the following:
- Documentation of successful completion of high school or an equivalency
- A GPA that at least clears the school’s threshold for admission
- Satisfactory SAT/ACT scores
- A writing sample which may be a statement of purpose, essay or another suitable document
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Completed application
- Proof of valid, government-issued form of photo identification
- Application fee
- Registration acknowledgment form
Some programs may also require an interview with a faculty member or similar individual. Such interviews can be held in person, by phone, or by other remote communications technology to accommodate the needs of both interviewer and prospective student.
Courses in Online Bachelor’s in Social Work Degree Programs
While the curriculum of an online bachelor of social work degree program often varies among programs, many programs nonetheless feature certain elements necessary to achieve the accreditation necessary to be both competitive and provide students with the training necessary to establish successful careers. Such elements may include general education coursework, electives, and a capstone project. In addition, many programs will also offer graduate-level counseling or therapy courses designed for completion in the student’s final year of undergraduate studies. Such courses are designed to give the student the solid foundation to succeed in future graduate studies.
Core coursework for those pursuing a BSW often includes courses such as the following:
- Introduction to Social Work
- Social Work With Individuals
- Social Work With Families and Groups
- Social Welfare Policy and Practices
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment
- Diversity, Oppression and Social Justice
- Research Methods in Social Work
- Crisis and Trauma
Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements & Internships for Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work
Given both the graduate academic training many students will wish to pursue after completing their undergraduate degree as well as their career objectives which will often require completion of such advanced training, it is common for undergraduate social work programs to introduce students to the value of hands-on experience success by also featuring some sort of practicum requirement. This real-life experience may consist of community service within the social work field that must be completed under the direct supervision of a qualified, practicing social worker. Depending on the academic program, some students may accrue the training necessary to take the ASWB Bachelors Exam and thus secure licensure.
Students who complete a BSW and desire to become practicing mental health professionals eventually will often need to complete a master’s degree and post-master’s training requirements to ultimately secure the licensure and/or certification necessary to become practicing counseling professionals. The amount and type of academic training, direct service hours, and other requirements necessary for a professional to ultimately secure the qualifications to pursue their chosen career vary according to geography and intended specialization.
Prospective students envisioning a career in social work that necessitates training beyond a bachelor’s degree should thoroughly consider their strengths, interests and available resources when contemplating potential career paths.
Program Accreditation for Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work
Accreditation is a process by which educational institutions demonstrate their degree programs meet certain standards of quality and practicality. Accreditation standards often evolve over time to meet the ever-changing state of knowledge and best practices within a discipline. These standards may also vary within the field of social work based upon the specialized skills and client populations an individual ultimately chooses to focus upon.
Accreditation is valuable for students, institutions of higher education and employers. Accreditation benefits students because students are more likely to find comprehensive, effective training in accredited programs. Accreditation thus helps students make informed professional development choices. Accreditation benefits higher education institutions by enhancing their reputations and thus making them more attractive to prospective students. Unaccredited programs often use accreditation standards to guide their curriculum formulation. Curricula designed in alignment with such standards increase the likelihood of a successful application for accreditation at a later date.
Finally, accreditation benefits employers by reducing risk when making hiring decisions, as graduates of accredited programs are more likely to have received the training and guidance necessary to become effective professionals.
Students should be aware of the two common types of educational accreditation. As noted on the U.S. Department of Education website, these two types are institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation typically applies to an entire educational institution and indicates that each part of that institution directly contributes to the fulfillment of the institution’s objectives. Regional and national accrediting entities may both offer institutional accreditation.
Programmatic accreditation, sometimes called specialized accreditation, is typically held by a program, department, or college within an educational institution. The accredited unit within the institution can be as large as a college or department or no larger than a particular curriculum within an individual discipline.
In social work, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is responsible for the accreditation of baccalaureate and master’s level social work programs within the United States. Most states mandate students graduate from CSWE-accredited social work programs to be eligible to seek licensure. A person who does not hold a CSWE-accredited degree may still be able to work in some settings. However, those holding degrees not accredited by CSWE may need to fulfill other requirements to demonstrate sufficient competence. For example, recipients of degrees not accredited by CSWE may need to complete supervised work experience before being allowed to work in some states.
Not all states mandate graduates of baccalaureate-level social work programs also secure licensure before being permitted to work in social work. But the trend is towards an increasingly licensed workforce at the baccalaureate level. Prospective students are thus recommended to remain informed of this and other trends as they contemplate what careers they wish to pursue.
Featured Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work – BSW, BASW Programs
Bemidji State University offers a hybrid BSW program. This program, which follows the Social Work Integrative Model (SWIM), has previously been recognized as the nation’s eighth-best hybrid social work degree in the US. This hybrid program offers students greater flexibility than a traditional on-campus program. Students also complete a 480-hour internship in a human service organization to graduate. Students may complete a placement in their community on a full or part-time basis.
The hybrid BSW program features a format in which a group of students complete coursework together throughout the entire duration of the program. While most of the coursework is delivered online, students must come to campus one Saturday a month. This cohort style program offers admission in the fall only.
- Location: Bemidji, MN
- Duration: At least three years
- Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Tuition: $313.55 per credit
The California State University Chico School of Social Work offers a distributed learning (DL) bachelor of social work (BSW) degree completion program. The curriculum for this program is identical to the traditional, campus-based BSW program. Students must complete prerequisite coursework early in their degree program before being permitted to advance to core coursework in social work. Pre-requisite requirements consist of non-social work courses in psychology, sociology, economics, statistics, and biology, and nine credits of social work core pre-requisite courses. Beginning in the spring of their junior year, students proceed to their professional sequence and upper-division pathway courses. Students also complete a field placement within the Chico State service area. In many cases, students may utilize their place of employment to satisfy their internship requirements.
Though marketed as a DL program, this program, like others, is not 100 percent online. The curriculum is delivered in a hybrid format that combines online and in-person coursework. Students complete two-thirds of their coursework online and the remaining one-third in person. Students attend courses on campus two to three weekends per semester (fall, spring, and summer) and attend live class sessions via Zoom. Students completing an accelerated program can complete the program within three years, while others will usually complete in four years.
- Location: Chico, CA
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Tuition: $7,814 per academic year for resident students; $9,504 for non-resident students
Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) offers a fully online 120-credit bachelor of social work degree. The program provides students the academic foundation to become leaders and advocates for social and economic justice. Students can begin their coursework at six different times of the year. Courses are offered in an accelerated eight-week format. Examples of courses include social welfare policy history, social work practice, crisis intervention, and substance abuse and addiction treatment. Of the total credits required for graduation, 42 credits must be upper-division credits.
Additional program features include free online tutoring and career services support, free textbooks, a personalized graduation plan students design in consultation with their advisor, and reduced tuition for active duty military personnel and their spouses. EKU also has a generous transfer credit policy. Students can transfer up to 90 hours of credit from accredited institutions.
- Location: Richmond, KY
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Tuition: $421 per credit
Humboldt State University (HSU) offers a bachelor of arts in social work (BASW) degree program based on a distributed learning model. Distributed learning (DL), often interchangeably described as online learning, allows a larger pool of students to access learning opportunities than would typically be able to do so.
Admitted students must live within the state of California during the duration of the program but are not required to live within Northern California itself. This flexibility is based on the recognition that some prospective students are already deeply invested in their existing local communities and may wish not to relocate due to the disruption such a relocation may cause in their professional and personal lives.
The mission of this program is to prepare students to become generalist social work practitioners skilled in meeting the needs of both rural and urban populations. This program emphasizes working with indigenous and rural communities. Given HSU’s location and deep ties to Northern California’s coastal, rural, and indigenous communities, students seeking to establish a career primarily focused on serving such communities in Northern California or elsewhere will find the HSU program particularly well suited to their training needs.
Students are trained to effectively analyze, evaluate and apply research findings in their practice. The program emphasizes ethics and critical thinking. Such subjects are especially important for careers in schools, medical offices, child and adult protective services, legal work, and services designed for refugee and immigrant populations.
Before beginning core social work coursework, students must complete prerequisite coursework. These prereqs include an introduction to social work course, a course focused on human diversity, and a course in elementary statistics. Students must complete coursework in a designated order, as the coursework sequence is designed to build upon content from prior semesters. DL students generally have priority for most online courses. Regardless of the learning delivery model, all students attend weekly live webinar sessions and must come to campus for a mandatory orientation at the beginning of their studies and an annual intensive held in January.
As is customary in social work programs, students must complete a field placement to graduate. Students living in the HSU Department of Social Work service area, namely the Superior Region of Northern California, can directly benefit from the existing network of field placements and contacts that HSU maintains.
- Location: Arcata, CA
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Tuition: Contact the institution for a customized assessment
The University of Utah offers a BSW degree program designed to be completed in four years. This program is designed to train professional social workers who will work as agents of change in any number of marginalized communities. Through this degree program, the University of Utah trains individuals who will, in collaboration with the communities they serve, create effective programs to achieve various objectives, including social justice and improving daily life for all people. Students interested in specializing in working with children and families are invited to consider pursuing the Child Welfare Title IV-E Career Path. This path is made possible through a grant administered by the Utah State Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS).
Students must complete approximately 120 credit hours to graduate. Before embarking on social work courses, students must complete pre-major required coursework. This coursework covers a range of subject matter, including psychology, sociology, US national government, and mathematics.
After completing pre-major requirements, students advance to their 49-51 required credits in social work courses, including a practicum or internship. Accreditation standards dictate that students must complete social work courses within a certain sequence. Some of the social work curriculum courses are human behavior and the social environment, social work practice, developmental impact of child abuse and neglect, social diversity and cultural understanding, case management, social work research and evaluation, and crisis intervention.
- Location: Salt Lake City, UT
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Tuition: $260 per credit, regardless of residency status
Professors to Know in Universities with Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work
Humboldt State University
Dr. Abarca is a community organizer, scholar-activist, and urban farmer. He has practiced as a social worker in multilingual, multicultural, and multiethnic communities in California, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. He has also taught in social work programs at both undergraduate and graduate levels in these same states. His teaching experience includes the topics of social policy, research, community projects, community practice, cultural concepts, and master’s degree projects. His research interests include immigration, employment, community development and engagement, grassroots community organizing, ethnographic methods and social movements.
Dr. Abarca holds a PhD in sociology and social work from Boston University, and MSW and BSW degrees from San Francisco State University.
Eastern Kentucky University
Dr. Ann Callahan is the founding director of the Eastern Kentucky University Master of Social Work program. She serves as a full professor at EKU. She has extensive teaching experience in both undergraduate and graduate curricula. She began working in mental health care in 1993 and as a licensed clinical social worker in 2000. Dr. Callahan cites providing psychotherapy with residents in long-term care facilities as her most formative experience.
Dr. Callahan’s research focuses on spiritually sensitive social work in hospice, palliative, and long-term care settings. She is the author of the book Spirituality and Hospice Social Work. Dr. Callahan has an MS and PhD in social work from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work?
Given that the primary focus of social work is to improve the quality of life for individuals and groups, social work program graduates will typically find an industry filled with diverse opportunities. Licensure and completion of a CSWE-accredited social work program will typically open still more doors of opportunity.
Below are examples of two positions that someone with a bachelor’s in social work can secure following graduation:
Become a Community Outreach Worker
A community outreach worker can be a great entry-level job opportunity for a social worker who enjoys directly engaging with the public and supporting individual and community growth and resilience. A community outreach worker is typically a non-profit or governmental organization employee who works to engage and educate the community about the organization, its mission, and goals. In this regard, a community outreach worker is an essential point of contact and may be seen as the representative “face” of the organization.
Community outreach workers must be skilled in interpersonal relations as much of their work focuses on engaging, exciting, and motivating people to participate in the subject or issue their organization focuses on. Particular duties typical to such a worker are volunteer recruitment, organization, training and leadership, development, and execution of community events, and creation, development, and implementation of varied events such as community fundraisers and media campaigns.
Become a Residential Counselor
Individuals seeking to establish a career providing direct care to clients may find becoming a residential counselor to be an excellent entry-level job option. Residential counselors are tasked with supporting, guiding, and caring for groups of people living in various residential settings such as shelters, rehabilitation centers, and assisted living facilities. Given the variety of populations that live in residential settings, a prospective residential counselor may find many opportunities to work in such a role. Populations found in residential settings include the homeless, those transitioning from incarceration back to a free life in public, the elderly, and individuals going through intensive inpatient rehabilitation.
Given the variety of populations in residential settings, a residential counselor may hold various duties. Tasks may include support with daily personal care tasks, medication management, organization and facilitation of group activities, and supervising residents to ensure compliance with rules and policies and personal safety. Further tasks may include introducing residents to community resources, maintaining documentation and reports on client progress, and collaborating on care teams to assist clients with achieving goals related to activities of daily living, rehabilitation, and community integration.