Even though counseling and social work are closely related, some schools have a specific track for students who want to be counselors and for students who want to go into social work. In both cases, a master's degree and a residency is usually required to perform clinical work on patients. As an undergraduate, you have several options for majors that will get you on the right path toward a degree in counseling and social work.
Majoring in psychology is an ideal option when you want to become a counselor and participate in social work. Psychology majors take courses that focus on the human mind and how it processes and responds to information and situations. Introductory-level classes typically focus on how the brain works and how people interact and respond to the world around them. Upper-level courses usually cover psychological disorders, mental illness and treatment options. Undergraduates don't interact with patients directly, but often examine case studies to gain a deeper understanding of how the human brain works.
Some counselors and social workers major in sociology because it offers a broad understanding of society and explores causes of social problems. Even though students who major in sociology study the human brain, they typically focus on events and circumstances that affect human behavior and socialization. Sociology students study topics such as crime, social class, family structure, relationships, abuse, religious ties, gender roles, poverty, substance abuse, racial issues, homelessness and cultural differences. They explore reasons why people behave irresponsibly, make irrational decisions, disobey moral and ethical codes of conduct and respond with violence.
Some colleges offer a major in social work. For example, The University of Texas has a pre-social work major for freshman and sophomores that includes language arts, social and behavioral sciences, math, natural sciences and humanities. Once a student passes the core requirements, she applies for an upper-level social work major and completes social work courses her junior and senior years. Finally, all social work students must complete a supervised internship at a social services agency their last semester. Others schools, such as Florida State University, offer similar social work programs.
Choosing an undergraduate major is an important part of the college plan, but a bachelor's degree only qualifies graduates for entry-level positions at most family service agencies, child welfare centers and counseling centers, according to Rutgers' career services department. For example, graduates can't work as school guidance counselors or clinical social workers without a master's or a doctorate degree in the field. Advanced degrees and state licenses are required to prescribe medications and perform therapy on patients. It's best to consult a college academic adviser about a preferred major and plan of study to meet counseling and social work career goals.
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