Now more than ever, social workers are in high demand. Social workers provide services in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, schools, government agencies, and private businesses. There are 380,000 social workers in the United States with a projected shortfall of the 180,000 social workers by 2030, according to an article in the journal Social Work.In this guide
- Find the right program
- Admissions requirements
- Degree curriculum
- Tuition and career outlook
- School listings
- Ask an expert
Social workers provide key social services for individuals, families, and communities. A bachelor of social work degree provides social workers foundational knowledge about human behavior and social systems to prepare students for jobs in diverse settings.
How to find the right BSW program
According to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), there are over 500 bachelors of social work programs in the United States. Programs are widely available at colleges and universities across the country, so there’s a lot of choice and ability to find the right fit. Some programs have certificate programs that allow the BSW student to graduate with additional knowledge about specific populations.
BSW programs often share the same prerequisites and as other degree programs at the college or university. For most programs, a high school diploma or GED program is required for admission along with SAT or ACT scores. For social work programs, extracurriculars and community involvement may be more important than other programs, as social work is about providing services to the community’s most vulnerable people. Each school and program will have its own specific requirements.
Social work degrees prepare students for a variety of jobs, but some schools have a focus on specific types of work. For example, one program may provide robust case management settings while others like New York University (NYU) may provide excellent training for macro fields, such as community organizing or program evaluation. NYU University provides electives such as “Global Perspectives in International Social Policy”; “Social Justice and Peacemaking,” providing students with more in-depth social policy and organizing experiences.
Some BSW programs have certificate programs that provide additional training to work with particular issues or populations such as gerontology, child welfare, or addictions.
Since a field placement (an internship) is an important part of the program, the location of the program may be important; as rural and urban communities have diverse and different needs. There is also the option of attending an online program. Less than half provide a part-time online program while only 4 percent provide a fully online BSW program.
A bachelor of social work is a four-year degree. The degree requires 400 hours of supervised field experience. Since social workers are subject to state licensure laws, programs may have different requirements.
Each school will have its own expectations for admissions, researching each specific school and understanding their expectations is important. The school admission information about GPA requirements, college entrance exam scores, and other requirements. Most schools require recommendation letters from teachers, counselors, or other educators who can speak to your skills.
BSW programs follow the same schedule the general undergraduate admissions for the college or university. Typically, schools begin accepting applications in the fall. BSW programs often have early decision deadlines before the new year. Some schools have rolling deadlines, which means they will review applications until they have filed all of their spots, while others have a more definite deadline in the winter.
Cost of the program
The average national tuition for a BSW degree is approximately $27,000 per year (CSWE). In-state public schools may have a lower cost, while out of state and private schools may have a higher tuition rate.
Each bachelor of social work program tuition will vary based on whether the school is public or private, and location.
Scholarships and financial aid
After applying to the desired BSW programs, applicants should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA provides access to federal loans and grants based on financial need. Federal loans provide the lowest interest rates and are only accessible if you complete the FAFSA. Government grants are also available exclusively through FAFSA. While loans must be paid back after graduation, grants do not need to be paid back. Banks offer loans at a higher interest rate than federal loans.
Searching the web for scholarships can also be a good way to find financial support for school. Scholarships.com and Fastweb.com are two search engines for scholarships, that help students find scholarships based on their demographics and skills.
Bachelor’s of social work admissions requirements
Applying to a BSW program can look different depending on the school. Here are some examples of application processes.
- Apply to BSW track after completing general education requirements: Many schools require students to apply to the BSW program after they have completed 2 years of their undergraduate education or 60 credit hours. In this type of program, students will need to enter college as an undecided student, take general college prerequisites, complete an introductory social work class and then apply to the BSW program. Students may also decide to complete their first 60 credit hours at a community college and then transfer to a college or university that offers a BSW program.
- A less common application process is to apply directly to the BSW program at the beginning of your college career. In this scenario, the college or university allows the student to declare their undergraduate major of social work right away and begin working on their BSW degree requirements immediately.
In either case, the application journey will start with applying to the college or university. The application packet usually consists of the following components:
- The application form summarizes all of the necessary elements of your application. It will ask about demographic information, your grades, and extracurricular or community involvement. Many schools use the Common App, a shared application platform that allows you to use the same application for multiple schools.
- Most schools will require applicants to write a statement of purpose. Some schools may have a specific question to answer while others may ask applicants to share something meaningful about themselves and how it prepared them for school. The statement of purpose allows the school to have a more personal perspective about the applicant.
- Letters of recommendation are another common component of the applicant. Counselors, teachers, or other professionals who know the applicant well are appropriate writers for the letters. Colleges want another perspective of the applicant’s strengths and talents as a student and a citizen.
- College entrance exams are required by some schools, but not all. The SAT and ACT are two exams that are used as part of the admission process and for some scholarship applications.
- The application will ask for copies of the applicant’s transcript and test scores to verify the information presented in the application.
- Schools often require a modest application fee when applying. They will often waive the fee if it’s a barrier for application.
Social work bachelor degree curriculum
Bachelor of social work programs train students to provide social services to individuals, families, and communities. The BSW program provides a strong generalist experience so that students are prepared to work in a wide variety of environments such as schools, hospitals, community centers, and businesses.
Classes will include topics from the discipline from psychology, sociology, policy, statistics and research methods.
- Introduction to Social Work
- Human Behavior and the Lifespan
- Cultural Diversity and Justice
- Social Work Case Management Practice
- Social Welfare Policy I
- Social Welfare Policy II
- Social Work Research Methods
- Research Methods II
- Social Work Practicum & Seminar I
- Social Work Practicum & Seminar II
Classes will include topics from the discipline from psychology, sociology, policy, statistics and research methods. Here’s an example of possible coursework from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:
- Introduction to Social Work
- Interviewing Skills and the Helping Relationship in Social Work Practice
- Human Behavior and the Social Environment I
- Social Work Research
- Power, Privilege, and Social Difference
- Contemporary Issues in Social and Public Policy
- Social Services and Welfare Reform
- Social Work Practice with Individuals and Groups
- Social Work Practice with Organizations and Communities
- Field Practice in Social Work I
- Field Practice in Social Work II
Students who participate in a certificate program for addiction, school, or gerontology (working with older adults) would have additional coursework in those fields.
All BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of a supervised field experience, which is like an internship or structured community service. The field experience is completed at a local agency and is supervised by a social worker that is at least two years post-graduation. Students take a field experience class in conjunction with the field experience to process learning.
Tuition for a bachelor’s of social work degree
The cost of attendance for BSW programs varies from school to school. While the average cost is approximately $27,000/year in-state public school tuition can be much less. Conversely, out of state or private schools can be more expensive.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be completed as early as the Fall before attendance and is due at the end of June. The FAFSA grants students’ access to all federal monies available for school including loans, grants, and work-study jobs. Here’s a brief description of each type of federal aid:
- Federal loans allow students to borrow a limited amount of money for educational expenses that are to be paid back after graduation. Federal loans offer lower interest rates than loans offered by banks and they don’t base their decision on credit history. Students can be eligible for some amount of loans no matter their level of financial need.
- Grants are basically “free money,” in that they don’t need to be paid back. There’s a smaller pool of money available for grants and high financial need is often a criterion.
- Work-study is a special classification of jobs offered on campus. Students are allotted a specific amount of work-study funds to pay for educational expenses and the employer pays the student using federal dollars.
Schools also use the FAFSA to consider students for their need-based scholarships. To fill out the FAFSA, you’ll need to have access to your family taxes and other financial information.
Schools may use the college application to consider applicants for merit-based scholarships or other scholarship opportunities based on demographics or other information the applicant shared.
There an endless amount of scholarship opportunities. US News and World Report states that there are over a billion dollars in scholarships available every year. Colleges and universities have scholarship funds for specific students, such as underrepresented minorities. Bachelor of Social Work programs may have scholarships for students studying a specific field in social work. The school admissions page should list scholarship opportunities and application processes for those scholarships.
Collegescholarships.org has a listing of dozens of options for students pursuing BSW degrees including the “Social Work and Elder Care Award” for students pursuing a gerontology focus or the Social Work Award for students who identify as LGBTQ.
Private loans are available from banks and other lenders. The loans are often at a higher interest rate than government loans and provide additional flexibility in the amount that can be borrowed.
Bachelor’s of social work career outlook
According to research completed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work as a profession will have steady job growth of 16 percent over the next decade. Social work settings such as medical social work, child welfare, and mental health positions all have a positive outlook as far as growth. Some states will experience a shortage of social workers over the next several years (CSWE).
The average annual salary for a social worker with a BSW as their highest level of education is around $40,000. Some settings, like healthcare, offer higher salaries. Obtaining licensure can also increase the base salary for a bachelor’s level social worker. Obtaining a master’s degree in social work increases base salaries by an average of $15,000. Bachelor’s level social workers with a degree from an accredited program can complete an MSW program at an accelerated pace, which is great for career advancement.
Expert advice for aspiring social workers
- What are the most important factors for students deciding on an BSW program?
- What kinds of hands-on or fieldwork experiences are available to your BSW students?
- What does it take to be successful as a BSW student?