The field of community and social services isn’t one that you typically associate with high-level mathematics. As a prospective social work major, you might wonder if you will have to take math classes in college. Although you probably won’t need to complete advanced math classes, students interested in social work will still need to take minimal math courses needed to fulfill their college’s general education requirements as well as certain math-related coursework that helps to develop their quantitative and analytical skills. Social workers do use math in their work to some degree, although their jobs don’t require them to know advanced calculus or abstract mathematical theory.
General Education Math Requirements
Social workers in the United States need at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As with other bachelor’s degrees, earning the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree requires students to meet different types of course requirements. One of the most basic types of requirements needed for an undergraduate degree is the general education coursework. Most colleges require students of all programs of study to take courses in a breadth of subjects, regardless of their declared major, to help them develop a foundation of college-level knowledge and become well-rounded individuals. Mathematics is an integral part of most general education requirements.
Although general education requirements vary from one school to another, most colleges require only a small amount of mathematics coursework, such as one or two classes. Often, students can fulfill this requirement with non-advanced college-level courses, such as College Math, Mathematical Modeling or College Algebra Concepts. Some colleges combine mathematics and natural or life sciences into one general education area of focus, so you may be able to split your credits between math and laboratory science courses.
Other general education areas of focus may include the humanities, the social sciences and communication coursework in composition and public speaking.
Coursework in Statistics and Quantitative Analysis
Once you knock out your general education math requirements, you may still have some mathematics coursework left to go. Part of a social worker’s education involves learning the methods used to understand data and conduct research.
Social work majors often take one or more courses in social work research. Though not strictly speaking math courses, these classes cover material such as the scientific method of research, quantitative and qualitative research methods, research design and the application of research and evidence-based social work programs and interventions.
It’s not unusual for a BSW program to also include mandatory coursework in statistics. One reason this requirement has become popular is because classes in statistics help social workers understand and interpret numerical data in the real world, according to The Houston Chronicle. Some schools offer specialized statistics classes, like statistics for social science, while at other schools, students fulfill this requirement by taking an introductory statistics and probability course or an elementary applied statistics course.
Social work research courses also cover topics such as ethical standards in social work research and practice as well as research into social welfare, diverse populations, social policy and advocacy.
Using Math in Real-Life Social Work Roles
How much math to social workers use in real life? It depends in large part on their specialty, work environment and job duties. A social worker who focuses on research will likely use statistical analysis techniques more commonly than one who works directly with families or individuals. Likewise, someone who works in macros social work, or the field of social work that involves indirect service through developing services and programs, might need to use their mathematical and quantitative analysis skills frequently to the efficacy of social services, policies and programs.
Even if you don’t plan on working in research or macro social work, you still need to be able to understand published social research so that you can incorporate new principles and findings into your own practice of social work. Additionally, you may need to use basic math skills in the paperwork you must file and the records you must maintain. If you develop care or treatment plans, you must be cognizant of the numerical costs of services and the resources that are available.
In the specialty of financial social work, the social worker will need basic math skills to teach clients to create budgets and manage their finances to improve their financial situation.