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When you begin searching for the best bachelor’s in social work program for you, you might be surprised how many top-performing programs are offered on campus only. Despite the large increase in online education offerings in recent years, several highly ranked undergraduate social work degree programs continue to operate the traditional way, with regular schedules of in-person class meetings. There certainly are quality online programs for undergraduate social work students. However, the reason so many social work programs continue to focus on a traditional education is because they are known for qualities, like research opportunities and extensive fieldwork experiences, that lend themselves better to an in-person education.
Graduate-Level Research Opportunities for Undergrads
While many undergraduate programs do include at least basic coursework in research methodology in social work and social welfare, few programs really focus on social work research at the bachelor’s degree level. What sets some of the top residential bachelor’s in social work degree programs in the nation apart is the research opportunities they offer even to undergraduate students.
The University of Washington’s School of Social Work, for example, is known for offering advanced research opportunities for students. The school is home to more than a dozen research and innovation centers focusing on social welfare topics such as child well-being, suicide prevention and poverty and policy. New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, too, incorporates a heavy focus on social work research and is home to four research centers and institutes. In fact, being able to engage in informed research is one of the key competencies NYU expects of its undergraduate social work students.
These kinds of advanced research opportunities often fit better into on-campus programs, in which students are actively engaged in the community. Students may need to work in the research institute or travel off-site to gather the data they need for their research – tasks they can’t necessarily do from behind a computer screen.
Extensive Supervised Field Experiences
Every bachelor’s degree program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education requires some form of hands-on experience, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the extent of that required experience is often what distinguishes the best residential social work programs from less well-known programs that educate students in person or online.
Often, students at these top residential programs begin gaining hands-on social work experience as early as their junior year of studies. These degree programs often require anywhere from 480 to more than 700 hours of internship experience. In addition to being a lot of hours, that adds up to a lot of high-quality experience. For example, during their more than 600 hours of fieldwork, students at NYU get to attain “the kind of social work experience usually found only at the graduate level.” While students can complete their field experiences in a variety of settings, some programs, like NYU’s, even offer on-site fieldwork placement.
What About Online BSW Degree Programs?
All of this isn’t to say that you can’t get an excellent undergraduate education in social work through online learning. In fact, if you take a look at the top online bachelor degree programs in social work, you’ll find several schools that are known for providing a quality online education in several different fields of study.
Ultimately, whether it’s better to study on campus or online depends on the individual student. Some students value the flexibility and convenience of online education more than anything else. For students who are excited about social welfare research or jumpstarting their real-world work experience, however, a residential program may offer opportunities online learning can’t.