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Earning an Online Social Work Degree?

Do you love helping others?i Are you skilled at negotiating everyday problems, and assisting others as they do the same?i If you answered “yes,” you may want to consider ...

Do you love helping others?i Are you skilled at negotiating everyday problems, and assisting others as they do the same?i If you answered “yes,” you may want to consider earning a social work degree online. Social workers tend to be exceptionally empathetic people, with skills in communication, organization and problem solving.ii  They also might have good self-control, adaptability and dependability, as many rely on them to get through the day.iii  They may specialize in a number of health and human-related fields, from school or family, to substance abuse, to healthcare.iv  If this sounds like something you’d like to pursue, keep reading for more information.

Degrees at Different Levels

The first thing you might notice as you begin to investigate your options for earning a social work degree online is that there might be programs offered at a number of different levels of education. Depending on your prior education and your career goals, you might want to look into degrees at one level or another. To help you navigate this choice, check out the brief summaries of each degree level below!

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

A cornerstone of the education system in the United States, the bachelor’s degree might be the most common degree for students to first earn when they begin higher education.v  Bachelor’s degrees may take four to five years to complete, and may offer coursework that is both broad and deep.v This means that, although there may be a number of general education requirements, students will also be able to focus narrowly on a subject, or major,v such as social work. You may commonly see bachelor’s degrees with the titles Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, both of which might be available in a number of different fields.v You may also, though, come across programs offering a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).ii

Master’s Degree in Social Work

If you’ve already completed a bachelor’s degree program, you may be interested in earning a social work master’s degree. Master’s degrees are considered second-cyclev or graduate degrees, pursued only after a student has earned their bachelor’s degree.vi  They may typically take about two years to complete, and offer advanced, narrowly focused coursework.v

Master’s degrees may tend to fit into one of two major categories.v The first, research master’s degrees, may feature a great deal of writing and research, and may normally require students to complete and defend a thesis in order to graduate.v These degrees may typically be offered in academic subjects.v

The second type of master’s degree is the professional degree,v and this may be what most master’s in social work programs may award.ii Coursework may be deal mostly with the responsibilities of social work careers,v and, instead of a thesis, programs may require an internship or a practicum.ii

Social Work Degrees at the Doctorate Level

Doctoral degrees may generally be the highest degree possible in American higher education. Similar to master’s degrees, these are offered at the graduate level,vi but may take longer, up to five years or more to complete.vii They may be intensely research-focused, and could center on a dissertation or similarly large research project.vii These may often be guided by faculty and might have to be successfully defended to a committee in order to graduate.vii

The most common doctoral degree title may be the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which may be available in a number of fields.vi In the field of social work, though, you could also come across the Doctor of Social Work (DSW), which may be considered an equivalent to the PhD.vii

Social Work Degree Concentrations

As mentioned above, there might be a number of different career paths within the wide field of social work. Considering this, you may not be surprised to learn that there may also be a number of different concentrations to choose from when earning a degree in social work. While not every school may offer this possibility, and the concentrations, or areas of focus, may vary depending on the program, school and degree level, you’re probably interested in what some potential options might be. Below you’ll find a short list of social work degree concentrations that you might notice when comparing different programs:

  • Addiction
  • Clinical social work
  • Criminal justice
  • Family
  • Administration
  • Youth development
  • Community partnerships

If there’s a specific area of focus you’re looking to take classes in, feel free to reach out to specific schools to ask what their concentration options might be.

Coursework for Online Social Work Degree Programs

With so many degree types and concentrations out there, it shouldn’t shock you that there’s no standard curriculum to earn an online social work degree. That being said, you may notice a lot of the same topics might be covered by various programs in their course offerings and requirements. While these are not guaranteed to be part of any program, some common class subjects you might notice when comparing schools might be:

  • Psychopathology
  • Social welfare policy
  • Human behavior
  • Research methods
  • Diversity
  • Social change
  • Case management
  • Intervention

Feel free to contact any schools you’re considering directly to determine what courses might be a part of their curriculum!

Career Pursuits in Social Work

As you might expect, a career as a social worker could be one option you may be able to pursue after earning a degree in social work.ii Typically, an entry-level education for this position is a bachelor’s degree, although some employers may prefer a master’s degree.ii Social workers, depending on their specific role, might help people cope with illness, deal with addiction, or improve services for specific communities.viii  In 2015, they earned a median annual income of $45,900.i

Another potential career you might pursue with a bachelor’s or master’s social work degree might be in community service management.ix  These professionals might oversee social service programs, work with communities to determine needs, or manage budgets for organizations.x They earned a median yearly salary of $63,530 in 2015.xi

If you earn a doctorate degree in social work, you may be able to pursue a career as a college professor of social work.ii If you have a passion for teaching, research and writing, this might be something you could consider looking into.  This role earned median annual wages of $72,470 in 2015.xiii

Getting Started

Feel free to begin your search and start comparing online social work degree programs right here on eLearners.com! You can check out our sponsored listings, and reach out directly to any schools that catch your eye. Don’t forget to find out as much about each program as you can before applying. Good luck!


[i]bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm [ii]bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-4 [iii]onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1021.00#WorkStyles [iv]onetonline.org/find/quick?s=social+worker [v]ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/bachelor.doc [vi]bls.gov/careeroutlook/2008/fall/art01.pdf [vii]ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/doctorate.doc [viii]bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-2 [ix]bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm#tab-4 [x]bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm#tab-2 [xi]bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm#tab-1 [xii]bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-2 [xiii]bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm#tab-1

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