Social Work Education at a Glance
Social work education at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels shapes the profession’s future through the instruction of competent professionals. Additional information about each degree level is outlined below.
Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)
A BSW is the minimum requirement for most social work positions. The BSW degree prepares individuals for generalist practice positions (such as casework), where you engage with clients (e.g., individuals, families, communities), assess their needs, link them to services, and monitor their progress. Accredited BSW programs require a minimum of 400 hours of supervised field experience.
Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)
MSW programs prepare graduates for work in their chosen field of concentration or specialization and include developing skills required to perform clinical assessments, manage large caseloads, take on supervisory roles, engage in policy-level advocacy, and explore new ways of drawing on social services to meet the needs of clients and communities. MSW programs last 2 years and include a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction.
If you have a BSW, you may be eligible for an advanced standing program that allows you to complete your MSW in just 1 year. Visit the What Do Social Workers Do page for examples of where individuals work with BSWs or MSWs.
Doctorate Degree in Social Work
There are two types of social work doctorate degrees: the practice doctorate, typically referred to as doctor of social work (DSW) and the doctor of philosophy (PhD). The practice doctorate curriculum varies from program to program, but it generally emphasizes advanced training beyond the BSW and MSW degrees. The PhD largely prepares individuals for research and academic careers. For more information visit the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in Social Work website.
Social Work Licensure
In most states you can be licensed with a BSW, which prepares you for practice at the generalist level. Individuals with an MSW can also pursue a license. Clinical work typically requires an MSW, completion of a license exam, and supervised hours (post-MSW). All states and the District of Columbia have licensing, certification, or registration requirements for social work practice. Each jurisdiction requires an individual to have a social work degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program to sit for a licensing exam. Licensing exists to provide state and provincial governments with a way to verify that a social worker has the skills and knowledge necessary to provide a safe level of practice. Licensing also establishes social work practice as a separate and distinct branch of mental health services and gives governments a way to monitor the professional conduct of social workers. For more information visit the Association of Social Work Boards website.