Social workers in hospitals, clinics, agencies and private practice help people cope with issues in their everyday lives. A social work degree can be at both the undergraduate level -- Bachelor's of Science/Arts in Social Work -- and the graduate level. Because social workers deal with people with many kinds of problems, undergraduate and graduate coursework will include both classroom instruction and practice-based fieldwork. Credit hours vary from one state to another, but there are requirements common to most programs.
Undergraduate Credit Requirements
Evaluate programs in the state where you plan to work. You will have to complete all the required fields of study for state licensure and certification. If you are not certain where you plan to work, look for programs offering the widest variety and largest number of courses in social work, so your degree will apply to as many jobs as possible.
Plan to complete between 40 and 60 credit hours of social work courses. Some programs offer fewer social work courses, but expect the balance to come from related required courses in biology, social sciences and psychology, which may be taught in other departments. Expect to complete a minimum of 30 credit hours in required courses, while some schools require more.
Increase the value of your degree with related courses that may not be required. Courses in statistics and testing, often offered through the psychology or education departments, for example, add to your understanding of materials you may use in your field and other professions.
Fieldwork courses will run from 100 to 300 clock hours, generally earning three to six credit hours. You will work as a student under professional supervision. This develops your ability to apply what you are learning to the real-life situations you will face as a social worker.
Graduate Credit Expectations
Expect to complete between 48 and 60 credit hours to earn a master's degree in social work. Courses from undergraduate work may or may not apply to your credits. Social workers who work at anything but the most general agency or institutional jobs must be state-licensed, like teachers, nurses and doctors, to assure the quality of their care. Again, this means some of your coursework is compulsory to meet legal requirements.
Expect more fieldwork. Again, you will be a student under supervision, but your level of independence will be slightly higher, and you may have a broader choice of fieldwork projects, depending on your interests. Expect reporting and conduct requirements to be more stringent than for undergraduates.
Investigate flexible-study programs. As a graduate student, you are likely to be balancing work and study. Some programs offer evening classes, extended periods to obtain a degree, cross-registration at more than one school and even some online study.
Certification and Continuing Education
Increase your earnings potential by seeking specialized certification in child study, gerontology or other fields of interest. Dual programs permit you to obtain both a master's degree and certification requirements. Some programs offer dual master's degrees in related fields: Master of Social Work/Master of Business Administration or M.S.W./Juris Doctor in law, for instance.
Complete between 20 and 30 credit hours for certification in a specialty. Check with your state licensing and certification boards to determine state requirements. Some jobs are available contingent upon your earning your certification. Usually, these employers set a deadline by which you need to complete certification to remain employed.
Maintain your license with continuing education. Many states require proof of additional, accredited study as often as every two years. This tends to run from a minimum of six credit hours to 10 or more credits. The continuing education requirement is based on the recognition that those in health care professions need to stay current on changing practices and theories in their fields to do their best job in assisting clients.