Social work is a challenging career in many ways – emotionally, mentally and often physically. The education required to attain this career is easy in some ways but difficult in other ways. Most people in this helping profession start their career with a social work bachelor’s degree, which is the easiest social work degree for getting a job in this field. Studies in social work at other levels of education may be easier to complete but more difficult to find a job with or vice versa, so the bachelor’s in social work degree is the easiest and best choice for the majority of aspiring social workers.
Identifying the Easiest Social Work Degrees to Earn and Use Professionally
Generally, the less advanced the degree you are pursuing is, the easier it will be to meet graduation requirements. In other words, you will have the easiest time earning a low-level degree like an associate’s degree and the most difficult time earning a graduate degree in social work.
The opposite is true for using a degree to start a social work career. Master’s degrees in social work offer the widest variety of job prospects because they qualify social workers for duties that can only be done by those with a graduate education. Associate’s degrees are the most difficult social work degrees to base a career on, because the curriculum leaves you underqualified for actual social worker roles.
For a degree that is comparably easy to earn and to launch a social worker career with, we recommend considering a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree.
The Bachelor’s in Social Work Degree
A bachelor’s degree in social work is the typical starting place for social worker careers. This degree includes, typically, 120 credits of undergraduate-level coursework in professional social work practice and general education. Students may take upper-level courses in their major as they reach the later years of their social work education, but they start their curriculum with easier classes that introduce them to the social work profession, social research, human behavior in the social environment, matters of social justice and social welfare history and values in the United States.
What makes a major “difficult” to many people is the extent of mathematics and natural and physical sciences involved in the course of study. If you view math and science as difficult fields, then a social work curriculum may fit your definition of an easy major. Social work is a degree field that is not generally math-intensive, especially at the undergraduate level. However, students are often required to take at least one course in statistics and in methods of empirical research, including quantitative research, used in the social sciences and social justice efforts.
Experience is an important and mandatory part of most BSW degree programs. In a typical bachelor’s in social work curriculum, you might find multiple practicum courses and seminars on social work practice. By the time you graduate with your Bachelor of Social Work degree, you should have enough supervised experience in the field to start working in a direct-service social worker role.
As any social worker can attest, direct-service social work practice can be demanding and, at times, frustrating – but it’s also a truly rewarding profession in that you make a real difference in the lives of the people you serve.
Lower Levels of Degrees in Social Work
The lower your level of study, the easier you can expect your curriculum to be – but the harder it might be to find the job you want. If you start your career with an associate’s degree, your curriculum will include mainly general education and foundational major courses, not high-level studies in the field. Of course, there’s always a tradeoff. Choosing an easier program like an associate’s degree won’t qualify you for a lot of the better and better-paying positions in social services.
Unfortunately, these programs don’t qualify you to become a social worker. The minimum level of education you need if you want to be a social worker is a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you stop your education at the associate’s degree level, you are most likely to find employment in a social and human service role, holding a position such as social work assistant or human service worker. There’s a considerable salary difference between social and human service assistants and actual social workers. The median wage for social service assistants is just $33,750, while for social workers, it’s $49,470, the BLS reported.
If you know you want to work as a social worker rather than an aide or assistant, the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree is a happy medium and a great launchpad for your career. By studying the social work foundations, theories and models used in generalist practice, students in a BSW program become qualified for entry-level social worker roles that you can’t get with just an associate’s degree, and they don’t even have to delve into the specialized coursework common in MSW programs.
Although some community colleges offer associate’s degree programs in social work specifically, many schools instead offer more general degrees in human and social services. These two-year programs may require few, if any, hours of fieldwork experience.
Easiest Social Work Degree Options at the Graduate Level
Most social work degrees awarded at the graduate level are Master of Social Work (MSW) degrees, although there are Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree programs. Generally, MSW degrees are professional practice degrees that put you on the path to working as a licensed clinical social worker who is authorized to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. Doctorate degrees in social work tend to be more research-focused, although they can also prepare students for leadership roles.
Master’s degrees, generally, aren’t easy. By definition, their curricula encompass advanced graduate-level coursework and often cover specialized topics. Fieldwork is a big part of a Master of Social Work program. While students pursuing a BSW do enough fieldwork to become qualified to seek a social worker license or certification as needed in their state, their fieldwork obligations are much more modest than those found in graduate school. MSW students may be required to put in upwards of 1,000 hours of fieldwork to qualify to earn their degree, and an additional two years of supervised work experience is necessary before they can become licensed clinical social workers, according to the BLS.
If you do plan to pursue a Master of Social Work degree, the easiest options are the ones that allow you to count the credits you earned from a prior social work program toward both your undergraduate and graduate degrees. By entering a master’s degree program with advanced standing or enrolling in a dual degree program that culminates in both a baccalaureate and master’s degree, you can cut down on the total number of courses you have to take for graduation.
Students should be aware, though, that the dual degree and advanced standing programs that allow you to get your master’s degree faster can also carry a more intense workload than you might anticipate.
How Many Years of Schooling to Become a Social Worker?
Generally, you need at least four years of full-time college study to become a social worker with a BSW. Earning your MSW takes five to six years of study, counting your undergraduate education, and becoming LSCW takes an additional two years of supervised experience in the field.
In some cases, you may be able to cut down the time it takes to become a social worker by taking accelerated programs that include intense workloads. Some schools offer a three-year BSW program or a four-year combined BSW/MSW program for aspiring social workers. If you’re studying part-time, you may take quite a bit longer to earn any one of these degrees, but that’s okay. There’s no shame in working toward your degree on your schedule, and no matter when you graduate, you will still have the opportunity to make a difference.
Many students are drawn to the field of social work by issues of social justice and social problems that have affected them, their loved ones, or others in their community. Life experience is highly valued in the field of social work, according to The Guardian, even if gaining that life experience slows down your progress to earning a social work degree.
Social Worker Degree Requirements
Under the Council on Social Work Education’s Commission on Accreditation and Commission on Educational Policy’s 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, social work bachelor degree must include both classroom study and fieldwork that prepares students for generalist social work practice with individuals, families, groups and communities. All social work programs should include coursework and fieldwork that help students meet the nine competencies of social work.
These competencies touch upon ethical and professional behavior in social work practice, engaging diversity and differences in human experience and advocating for human rights and matters of social justice. Other competencies integrated into a social work degree program include engaging in policy practice and in practice that is informed by research and research that is informed by real-world social work practice. Social work students must learn to engage with, assess and intervene with individuals, families, communities and organizations and to evaluate practice outcomes and processes with a critical eye for improving future social work practice.
The accreditation standards for social work programs also include non-curriculum criteria such as instructor qualifications, program administrative and governance structure, and admissions criteria disclosure.
Easiest and Hardest Parts of the Social Work Curriculum
Unlike programs that are heavily based on laboratory science, high-level mathematics or complex abstract theories, the subject matter taught in a social work degree program isn’t difficult to master in a technical sense. Social work programs, particularly at the bachelor’s level of study, are primarily focused on the practice of social work and on learning to provide direct service to clients, as opposed to research or academic purposes.
For many students, the hardest part of the study of social work is also the most interesting and rewarding: field experience in real social worker settings. The Council for Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits social work degree programs, requires at least 400 hours of supervised experience for undergraduate students and 900 hours for MSW students.
Social work students still take some math and science coursework. Typically, they are expected to take at least one class in statistics, a laboratory science that satisfies general education requirements and a minimum of one class on social research methodology.
Graduate Social Work Programs That Reduce Credit Requirements
For roles in clinical social work practice, as well as many roles in advocacy and in social service management, a master’s degree is required. While there’s no way to truly make graduate-level studies – and the demanding fieldwork requirements that accompany them – easy, students can make their overall education somewhat easier by choosing certain types of programs when they go for their MSW.
Generally, master’s degree programs require four years of full-time undergraduate study plus another two years of graduate study, if you enroll full-time. There are two kinds of MSW programs that eliminate a year of studies, not by condensing them into a shorter time period but the same workload, but instead by reducing the total number of credits students need. A dual-degree program that awards both an undergraduate and a graduate degree works by allowing undergraduate students to begin taking graduate classes early and count those credits toward both degrees. Advanced standing MSW programs waive the first, foundational year of social work studies for students who already have a BSW, allowing them to jump right into the specialized coursework needed for clinical social work practice or for high-level leadership, policy and advocacy roles. In either case, the subject matter itself may not be easier, but the graduate requirements are less than what you would see through a traditional combination of earning a four-year bachelor’s and two-year master’s degree.
The most difficult degree options in social work are doctorates, such as the Ph.D. or the Doctor of Social Work (DSW). These programs often focus on research, academics and teaching as opposed to direct practice.