Bachelor of Social Work (BSW): 2023 Guide

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW): 2023 Guide

A bachelor of social work (BSW) degree is a comprehensive program that provides knowledge and skills to focus on and address social issues, promote social justice, and enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Though this program has a rigorous curriculum combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience, many students lean toward this discipline in order to serve and uplift diverse populations. In fact, from A.Y. 2019 to 2020, there were 19,474 baccalaureate degrees in social work conferred nationwide (Council on Social Work Education, 2020).

With BSW degrees, students acquire a solid foundation in human behavior, social policy, research methods, and cultural diversity. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary nature of social work opens doors for graduates to pursue diverse and fulfilling career paths. BSW graduates can explore roles in counseling, case management, and community organizing. They can also create meaningful careers in humanities and social sciences.

In this guide, our team of researchers has collated reputable data on the cost, requirements, programs, salary, and job opportunities to expect from a social work degree.

Bachelor of Social Work Degree Table of Contents

  1. What is a bachelor of social work degree?
  2. Cost of Bachelor of Social Work Degree
  3. 2023 Best Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Programs
  4. Bachelor of Social Work Degree Jobs
  5. Types of Degrees in Social Work
  6. Bachelor of Social Work Degree Requirements
  7. What to Look for in a Bachelor of Social Work Degree Program

What is a bachelor of social work degree?

The bachelor of social work definition as an undergraduate program focuses on preparing individuals for a career in social work. This social worker degree program emphasizes societal improvement and marginalized populations' empowerment. In addition, this discipline is also broad and multidisciplinary. Students learn about the complex interplay between individual experiences and social structures, developing a holistic understanding of the factors contributing to social problems and inequality. Practical experiences, such as field placements and internships, are also integral components of the degree program, allowing students to apply their knowledge in real-world settings and gain hands-on skills in working with diverse populations. To compare social work, read our guide on sociology vs social work degree.

What can you do with a bachelor in social work degree?

A significant majority, specifically 75.2%, of bachelor’s degrees in social work were awarded by public institutions, while 18.9% were obtained from private institutions with religious affiliations. Moreover, 5.8% of bachelor’s degrees were conferred by private institutions not affiliated with any specific religion, and a mere 0.1% were granted by for-profit institutions (Council on Social Work Education, 2020). Consequently, individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in social work, coupled with the necessary licensure, have the opportunity to pursue diverse career paths. These degree programs equip students with the knowledge and skills to excel in direct service positions focused on social welfare and policy. See our post on palliative care social work careers.

Graduates can support individuals and families, implement intervention strategies, and devise casework plans. The broad scope of this degree opens up various career prospects in numerous settings, including social service agencies, healthcare organizations, government departments, nonprofit organizations, and research institutions.

Furthermore, graduates can pursue advanced degrees in social work, such as a master of social work (MSW) or doctorate of social work (DSW) program, enabling social workers to specialize in their chosen focus areas. In line with this, there are numerous related fields in which individuals can further their education. These include psychology, child development, gerontology, sociology, or counseling degree programs. These additional areas of study provide opportunities for individuals to expand their knowledge and skills beyond social work and explore complementary disciplines that align with their professional interests.

Source: Council on Social Work Education, 2020

Cost of Bachelor in Social Work Degree

Carefully evaluating the cost of a social work degree is important to prospective students. From bachelor of social work degree tuition fees to textbooks and living expenses, understanding the financial implications of obtaining a social work degree is crucial for effective financial planning.

How much does it cost to get a social work degree?

The cost of obtaining a social work degree varies depending on the type of institution and residency status. The average cost of tuition for a four-year in-state program was approximately $9,377, while out-of-state students paid an average of $27,279 (Education Data Initiative, 2023). These figures represent the cost of tuition alone.

The overall cost of attendance includes additional expenses such as textbooks, housing, meals, and miscellaneous fees. The average cost of a four-year in-state program was approximately $25,707. At the same time, out-of-state students had an average cost of $44,014 (Education Data Initiative, 2023).

Social Work Degree Tuition

Associate Degree$3,862$13,585$17,968
Bachelor's Degree $9,377$27,279

Master's Degree$9,700 - $15,900$12,200 - $38,800$36,300 - $54,250
Doctoral Degree$6,000 - $11,120$32,370 - $61,850$24,712 - $44,020
*Values are estimates.

Is a bachelor of social work degree worth it?

A career in social work offers the potential for personal fulfillment and meaningful impact. If you seek a profession that allows you to utilize your skills to improve the well-being of others, social work may be an ideal choice. Pursuing bachelor of social work degree programs can be the initial step toward launching your career in this field.

As a social worker, you will play a vital role in assisting individuals, families, and communities to overcome mental health challenges, environmental disparities, and family conflicts. Suppose you have a passion for working with people and a desire to contribute to the betterment of your community; in that case, a BSW degree provides the necessary footing to pursue licensure and begin working as a professional in the field.

Social workers actively advocate for social justice within various contexts, including schools, neighborhoods, hospitals, families, and community organizations. They work directly with individuals and groups to address and tackle the complex challenges they face. A BSW program may be a suitable fit if you are motivated by the opportunity to build a career dedicated to such a cause.

Moreover, a BSW education can open doors to advancement opportunities within the workplace and serve as a solid basis for further studies in the field. Depending on your career aspirations, these benefits alone make pursuing a BSW degree a worthwhile investment of time and effort.

2023 Best Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Programs

Our team at has gathered information from credible sources to create a compilation of the leading colleges and universities that provide bachelor of social work degree programs. The selection process involved assessing cost, academic rankings, program reputation, and other crucial criteria.

1. University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin is a renowned public research university in Austin, Texas. It offers various academic programs across disciplines, including social work. This university offers a bachelor of social work program that prepares students for entry-level social work practice. The program focuses on equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary to work with diverse populations and address social issues. Some core courses you can expect in the BSW program include Introduction to social work, human behavior in the social environment, social welfare policy, research methods, and field practicum.

Program Length: Four years
Cost per Credit: $1,282
Required Credits to Graduate: 120
Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

2. University of Michigan Flint

The University of Michigan Flint is a public university in Flint, Michigan. This university offers a bachelor of social work program that provides students with a comprehensive foundation in social work theory, practice, and ethics. The program curriculum covers the introduction to social work, social work practice with individuals and families, social justice and human diversity, social welfare policy and services, and field education.

Program Length: Four years
Cost per Credit: $509
Required Credits to Graduate: 120 to 124
Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

3. Ohio State University

Ohio State University is a prestigious public research university in Columbus, Ohio. It offers a bachelor of social work program that prepares students to engage with diverse populations, address social issues, and promote social justice. The curriculum encompasses courses that cover various aspects of social work, including social welfare policy, human behavior and the social environment, research in social work practice, and field practicum experiences.

Program Length: Four years
Cost per Semester: $6,500
Required Credits to Graduate: 120
Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

4. James Madison University

James Madison University is a public research university in Harrisonburg, Virginia. This university offers a bachelor of social work program that equips graduates to excel in diverse social service settings that tackle poverty, oppression, social injustice, and human rights violations. The program also prepares students for advanced social work studies and provides valuable experiences through case-based learning, experiential approaches, policy forums, conferences, interviews, and service learning.

Program Length: Four years
Cost per Credit: $435
Required Credits to Graduate: 120 to 124
Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

5. University of Arkansas at Little Rock

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a public research institution in Little Rock, Arkansas. This university offers a bachelor of social work program that gives students comprehensive education encompassing the knowledge, values, and skills essential for a well-rounded practice in a diverse community. The program is founded on unwavering dedication to promoting diversity, upholding human rights, and advocating for social justice. The social work curriculum also challenges students to reevaluate conventional perspectives on social issues the most marginalized populations face.

Program Length: Four years
Cost per Credit: $216.50
Required Credits to Graduate: 120
Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Bachelor of Social Work Degree Jobs

Social workers deal with individuals, families, and communities to address issues such as poverty, mental health, addiction, and child welfare. With many cases such as these, the world requires social workers.

Is social work in high demand?

With the rising demand for healthcare and social services, employers across different industries acknowledge the growing need for social workers. In addition, the government announced plans to improve the ranks of school social workers and add more gateways for work opportunities. The field of social work is projected to experience a 9% employment growth from 2021 to 2031. This translates to a requirement of filling approximately 74,700 job positions during this period (US BLS, 2022).

Social work careers will be in demand due to the aging population, young people aging out of foster care, the increasing awareness of mental health issues, the growing emphasis on preventive and community-based services, and the recognition of the impact of social determinants of health on overall well-being.

social worker employment growth

What jobs can you get with a bachelor of social work degree?

  • Social Service Workers. Knowing what is a sociology major, along with completing a social work degree, leads to social service worker positions. This means working in homeless shelters, healthcare facilities, and food assistance programs. The primary responsibility of these professionals is to provide assistance and ensure that individuals and groups facing hardships have equitable access to different community services.
  • Child Welfare Social Workers. In this role, you will advocate for children experiencing disability, abuse, or neglect. You will also collaborate with adoption agencies and support families in adoption and foster care services.
  • School Social Workers. These professionals collaborate with educators and school administrators to support students in achieving their academic objectives. They also play a crucial role in assisting students who face behavioral, emotional, and physical challenges that impact their learning capabilities.
  • Healthcare Social Workers. In this career, you will work in hospital settings and assist patients in navigating the emotional, financial, and social challenges associated with their medical conditions. You will also facilitate effective communication among healthcare professionals, patients, and their families.
  • Social Work Counselors. In this profession, you will provide counseling services to clients from diverse backgrounds in this role. Your primary responsibility is to evaluate the mental well-being of your clients, attentively listen to their concerns, and provide the necessary support they require.

What kind of salary can I earn with a bachelor of social work degree?

The salary of social workers varies depending on factors such as specialization, experience, and location. In May 2021, social workers earned a median annual wage of $50,390. Furthermore, social workers in all other categories had a median annual wage of $61,190, while healthcare social workers earned a median wage of $60,840. On the other hand, child, family, and school social workers had a median annual wage of $49,150, and mental health and substance abuse social workers earned a median wage of $49,130 (US BLS, 2022).

Types of Degrees in Social Work

Bachelor of social work degree programs are categorized into three main types. Each degree type offers different foci, allowing individuals to pursue their desired extent of expertise in social work. Read our related post on social work versus psychology degree.

What kinds of social work degrees are there?

1. Bachelor of  Social Work (BSW)

Average time to complete: Four years

A bachelor of social work degree is an undergraduate program that provides a structured curriculum to aid individuals in various situations, including group work in healthcare environments and social support programs. The BSW degree program encompasses a wide range of social work and liberal arts courses, emphasizing social justice and incorporating practical learning opportunities within the community. Furthermore, accredited BSW programs mandate at least 400 hours of supervised field experience (Council on Social Work Education, n.d.)

Entry-level jobs: Social workers, Case managers, Community outreach workers, or Mental health advocates

2. Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW)

Average time to complete: Four years

The bachelor of arts in social work is an undergraduate degree that offers students a comprehensive foundation in generalist social work practice. It combines a strong liberal arts education with a focus on the core values of the profession, such as social justice and the dignity of individuals. The program equips students with the necessary knowledge and skills to promote well-being in diverse populations, critically analyze the impact of social, economic, and environmental factors, and advocate for those facing structural barriers. Graduates of the program are prepared for both service and leadership roles in the field of social work.

Entry-level jobs: Case workers or Child and family advocates

3. Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW)

Average time to complete: Four years

The bachelor of science in social work provides students with a comprehensive understanding of social work while emphasizing practical and research-oriented approaches. This degree program focuses on social and economic justice issues and incorporates field practice experiences to prepare students for competent and ethical social work practice. With a BSSW degree, you will learn the importance of engaging in practice-informed research to promote social, economic, and environmental justice.

Entry-level jobs: Case managers or Community organizers

required social work field experience

Bachelor of Social Work Degree Requirements

BSW programs exhibit diversity across different educational institutions. Nevertheless, bachelor of social work degree prerequisites typically exhibit similarities. These aspects commonly include criteria for admission and fundamental skills.

Admission Requirements

  • Proof of Graduation and GPA. Besides a high school diploma or a GED equivalent, most institutions offering social work degrees have specific GPA requirements for admission. Generally, the minimum GPA expected for bachelor's degree programs in social work is 2.0.
  • Transcripts. Prospective bachelor of social work students must provide transcripts from all the educational institutions they have previously attended when applying to social work programs. This will help in academic evaluation, prerequisite verification, and competency assessment.
  • SAT and ACT Scores. You may also need to submit your SAT or ACT scores depending on the university. For undergraduate studies, the acceptable ACT scores usually range between 1050 and 1060.
  • Recommendation Letters. Prospective students must submit recommendation letters from former teachers, employers, or coaches. These letters will contain endorsements that vouch for your strengths, skills, and academic accomplishments.

Skill Requirements

Communication and Empathy

Prospective social work students must have effective communication skills to pursue social work, as they facilitate the exchange of information, active listening, and the ability to convey empathy and support to clients, ensuring that their needs and concerns are understood and addressed appropriately. Equally important is the ability to be empathetic towards clients. This will enable them to understand and connect with clients on a deeper level, fostering trust and rapport.

While these skills should be innately present among students seeking social work careers, these skills can also be learned. In a study published in Research on Social Work Practice titled “The Teaching and Learning of Communication Skills in Social Work Education,” Hall et al. (2022) found that “Communication skills and empathy can be developed through structured teaching; some implications for practice can be identified. Findings suggest that the teaching and learning of communication skills in social work education should provide opportunities for students to practice skills in simulated and real environments.”

Moreover, the authors say, “... study findings for the teaching and learning of communication skills in social work education are promising. Reviews of communication skills and empathy training in medical education where RCTs and validated outcome measures prevail, also suggest that communication skills training leads to demonstrable improvements for students.”


Social workers come across diverse scenarios and people in their line of work. It is critical to remain patient when dealing with intricate cases and clients requiring extended periods to progress. This approach helps social workers comprehend the client's circumstances, avoid making impulsive decisions, and avoid the frustration that could result in costly errors and unfavorable results for the client.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking skills are indispensable to completing a degree program in social work as the profession necessitates profound reflection and analysis. Social work coursework frequently demands data examination obtained through impartial communication and observation. By honing critical thinking skills, you can systematically evaluate information via research, interviews, and observation objectively.

Cultural Competence

To establish effective connections with clients from diverse backgrounds, social workers must exhibit respect and adaptability toward their cultural beliefs and practices. It is worth noting that while 75.8% of the population identifies as white, the remaining 24.2% consists of individuals from different races and origins (U.S. Census Bureau, 2022). Aspiring social workers should possess a comprehensive understanding of and respect for the cultural backgrounds of their clients. Engaging in self-reflection becomes crucial as they strive to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and values to provide services that cater to individuals with diverse cultural experiences. By adopting a non-judgmental attitude and recognizing the significance of diversity and individual differences, social workers are better equipped to address the unique needs of their clients effectively.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2022

What to Look for in a Bachelor of Social Work Program

Embarking on a bachelor's degree in social work involves a significant investment of time, effort, and financial resources, making it crucial to ensure that the chosen BSW program is of exceptional quality to maximize the value of this investment. When seeking a bachelor of social work program, there are key factors to consider that one should keep in mind:

  • Accreditation. Ensuring that the school you are interested in possesses appropriate accreditation is essential to guaranteeing that the education you receive aligns with national requirements. By enrolling in an accredited undergraduate social work program, you may have the opportunity to use your coursework as prerequisites for more advanced degrees, such as an advanced standing in the MSW program.
  • Program Reputation and Credibility. It is critical to research the reputation and credibility of a degree program to discover its value in the field. Programs offered by prestigious and well-established institutions are typically regarded as more competitive, providing graduates with enhanced employment prospects. You might also want to check the number of graduates a school produces annually and investigate the reputation of the alumni associated with your prospective schools.
  • Specialties and Licensure. When considering a career in social work, there is a wide range of specialty areas. It is important to ensure that the program you are interested in offers a specialization that aligns with your career goals. In line with this, many social work positions require professional licensure, so it is crucial to verify that the curriculum of the degree program you pursue fulfills the requirements for licensure in your state.
  • Financial Aid Options. Over the past decade, the educational debt for social work graduates at the bachelor's and master's levels has increased significantly. Bachelor’s degree graduates experienced an increase in loan debt, with an average of $27,264 in 2020, compared to $24,683 in 2010 (Council on Social Work Education, 2020). These higher debt levels can have long-term financial implications for social work professionals, underscoring the importance of carefully managing educational expenses. When pursuing a degree in social work, students should look for financial aid options available to help alleviate the educational costs. Such are scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and student loans.

Source: Council on Social Work Education, 2020

Pursue a Fulfilling Career with a Social Work Degree

If you seek a career that allows you to have a fulfilling personal purpose, solid job prospects, and the opportunity to make a positive impact, perhaps bachelor of social work degree jobs is the best fit for you. By completing a bachelor of social work degree, you will establish a strong foundation for effecting positive change in society while also being rewarded financially for your efforts. These said, investing in this career path is highly worthwhile.

Aside from being a rewarding career, social work also gives professionals transferrable skills that enable them to pursue work in adjacent fields of study. For instance, with their knowledge and understanding of human behavior, social systems, and cultural diversity, bachelor of social work degree holders can find jobs in behavioral psychology. They can also choose to help out in the criminal justice system as forensic psychologists. Meanwhile, should they choose to be more hands-on in helping those in need, they can also find out how to become a therapist. From there, they can pursue advanced degrees such as MSW or a master's degree in counseling or psychology.

With all of these factors, one thing is for certain—those who pursue social work can expect plenty of opportunities as they enter the workforce. Read more on our detailed post on how to become a medical social worker.