What Do I Have to Take in College to Have a Career in Social Work?

by Ashley Miller, Demand Media Google
Social work can offer you a meaningful career affecting the lives of your clients.

Social work can offer you a meaningful career affecting the lives of your clients.

College programs in social work at both the undergraduate and graduate levels can prepare you for a rewarding career in social work. Direct-service social workers are bachelor's level practitioners who mainly provide assistance with concrete services like housing or food and offer informal counseling. Clinical social workers are master's level practitioners who offer clinical services like assessments and psychotherapy. The courses you'll need to take in college largely depend on your desired level of education and the type of practitioner you'd like to become.

About Social Work Programs

Before you decide on a social work career, it's important to learn the differences between the two main levels of practice. The key differences between bachelor's and master's programs are their length and level of coursework. Bachelor's programs are usually four-year programs that require you to complete specific prerequisites during your first two years of study before you can apply for entry into the social work major. The social work major is essentially an introduction to social work that allows you to work in entry-level positions. Master's degree programs are two year programs, if completed full-time, that require you to have a bachelor's degree and, in some cases, specific experience or education related to social work. Master's programs allow you to work in almost every area of social work, including direct service and clinical work.

Prerequisites to Social Work Major

You'll have to meet certain educational requirements before you can apply to the social work major in most colleges and universities, but the exact requirements can vary by institution. Generally speaking, you should complete core coursework in sociology, statistics, psychology and an introduction to social work during your first two years of study. Some institutions may also require you to take a basic biology course before admission to the social work major. Many colleges and universities also require the completion of certain core liberal arts courses, such as history or other courses in the humanities, during the first two years of undergraduate study.

Social Work Major Requirements

The social work major generally entails around 125 credit hours and can typically be completed within two years of full-time study. Once you are admitted to the social work major, your program of study will mainly focus on courses in social work theory, research and policy. Coursework usually includes human behavior and the social environment, social work research methods, social welfare policy and social work practice. Social work practice courses include practice with individuals, couples, families and groups and cultural diversity issues. Most undergraduate programs also require the completion of a field placement of at least two semesters and advanced coursework in social and behavioral sciences.

Master's Level Requirements

The requirements to enter master's level social work programs can vary by school. A bachelor's degree in social work isn't always required. Bachelor's degrees in other relevant fields, such as psychology or sociology, are usually accepted by many schools offering social work majors. Some candidates have degrees in liberal arts fields completely unrelated to social work, but you must usually show that you have taken introductory statistics courses, biology and some coursework in the social and behavioral sciences. If you don't have a degree in social work, it's also advisable to obtain volunteer or paid experience in a social services related field prior to application. Most graduate schools require a minimum undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 in the last two years of study, regardless of your degree field.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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