Social services support elderly populations and their families as they adapt to new treatments, medications, and lifestyles. The demand for mental health and substance abuse experts with social service degrees will also increase due to a rising number of individuals seeking treatment. These developments will open diverse social science career paths for sociology, psychology, and social work professionals.
The employment outlook for social workers is promising, with a projected growth rate of 9% between 2021 and 2031, surpassing the average for all occupations. On average, around 74,700 job openings for social workers are expected each year over the next decade. Many of these openings will arise from the need to replace workers who transition to different fields or leave the workforce, often due to retirement. (BLS, 2022)
Our team has compiled a comprehensive guide encompassing all the necessary information to help you find out how to get into social work and navigate the various social service degrees should you wish to become a social service provider.
Social service encompasses a range of practices to address the diverse challenges present in today's society. The social service field continually evolves to meet the distinct challenges each generation faces.
To pursue a career as a social service provider, obtaining a degree focusing on social service is essential. Social service education can be obtained through various programs, such as psychology, public health, and sociology degrees.
A popular option is to pursue a degree specifically in social work, which offers both undergraduate and graduate programs. An undergraduate degree in social work can qualify individuals for entry-level social service positions. In contrast, a graduate degree provides opportunities to advance into higher-level roles within the field of social work.
A significant majority of Americans, specifically 86%, are aware that social workers are involved in social services and child welfare (NASW, 2023).
While the motivations for entering the profession may vary among the countless social workers, a shared purpose often unifies them: to affirm the inherent dignity of every individual.
Public schools typically have lower tuition rates compared to private schools. Also, there are variations in tuition rates between in-state and out-of-state students. In-state students generally pay lower tuition fees compared to out-of-state students.
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year bachelor's degree program at a public school was $9,400 in the academic year 2020–21. In contrast, for-profit and non-profit private schools had average costs of $18,200 and $37,600, respectively (NCES, 2022).
Furthermore, in-state tuition for master's degree programs in social service usually ranges from $868 to $1,834, while out-of-state tuition can cost up to $2,714.
Social service degree graduates acquire diverse skills and knowledge throughout their studies, enhancing their employment prospects. As a result, individuals who have completed a postgraduate social service degree can potentially earn an annual salary exceeding $100,000. See our guide on social worker salary to know how much does a licensed social worker make.
A survey conducted by the Council on Social Work Education in 2020, which gathered responses from 283 programs, found that a total of 75,851 students enrolled in postgraduate social service degrees. Specifically, these students were pursuing an MSW. Among these students, 63% were enrolled full-time, while 37% chose part-time enrollment (CSWE, 2021).
Source: CSWE, 2021
Our team of expert reviewers gathered data from reputable sources, including current public datasets, to determine the rankings for the best schools for a Master's Degree in Social Work in 2023. The evaluation process considered various important metrics such as academic ratings, enrollment rate, accreditation, and other relevant factors.
The University of Michigan provides a highly regarded MSW program known for its comprehensive selection of specializations incorporating the latest research, innovative learning methods, and a robust interdisciplinary approach.
The MSW program consists of 60 credit hours and offers both part-time and full-time enrollment options, accommodating students' needs and preferences. Part-time enrollment allows qualified students to fulfill the requirements for the master's degree, enhancing accessibility for those unable to commit to full-time study.
The master's degree program in social work, social policy, and social administration at the University of Chicago focuses on developing the necessary skills and behaviors to bring about meaningful change within their environment. The program starts with a core curriculum in the first year, which introduces students to various methods of social intervention.
Additionally, students gain a deeper understanding of the diverse range of human experiences and the fundamental aspects of human behavior and development. In the following years, students can choose between two academic concentrations: clinical practice and social administration, allowing them to specialize in their preferred study area.
The MSW program at the University of Washington is designed to equip graduates with the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue leadership roles and direct-practice positions in a wide range of professional settings.
These settings encompass areas such as aging, mental health, and multicultural communities. The program focuses on preparing students to navigate and address complex social challenges through innovation, leadership, and culturally competent practice.
The program incorporates a blend of theoretical classroom instruction and practical fieldwork experiences.
The MSW program at Washington University in St. Louis equips students with the necessary foundational knowledge to enter the field of social work. It also helps them foster advanced skills in analysis, problem-solving, and teamwork to excel in their careers.
The program's distinctive features include a flexible curriculum, an evidence-based approach, and a focus on addressing oppression. It empowers students to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations, enriched by real-world learning experiences and research prospects.
Columbia University's MSW program is designed to equip students for specialized social work practice. The curriculum strongly emphasizes advocating for social and economic justice, particularly for vulnerable populations. It also focuses on providing training in working with diverse populations.
The program integrates a solid foundation in social work practice with a concentrated emphasis on each student's chosen area of specialization.
Some social service providers engage at a broader level, collaborating with community organizations and policymakers to develop and enhance social programs, services, and overall conditions. This specific social service aspect is known as macro social work, focusing on systemic changes.
Advocacy is vital in social work, where professionals raise awareness and advocate for their clients and communities. Social workers also advocate for advancing the social work profession at local, state, and national levels.
Due to the vital role of social service in supporting individuals through life's challenges, there is a significant demand for professionals in this field. The industry that employs the highest number of social workers is individual and family services (Data USA, 2021).
In May 2021, social service workers had a median annual wage of $50,390. This median wage represents the midpoint, with half of the workers earning more and half earning less.
Source: BLS, 2022
The bottom 10 percent earned below $36,520, while the top 10 percent earned above $82,840 (BLS, 2022).
There are multiple variations of social service degrees, particularly in the field of social work. These degrees are tailored for individuals who desire to pursue careers as social workers. A prerequisite for entering this profession is obtaining a social work degree from an accredited program offered by a college or university.
There are two undergraduate degrees in this field: associate's degree and bachelor's degree. Learn more about associate's degree in social work online programs. For those seeking an advanced education, graduate degrees such as a master’s degree (MSW) or a doctorate in social work (DSW) are options to consider.
Average time to complete: Four years
A BSW prepares students for entry-level positions in social work through courses on theories, human behavior, and social welfare policy. BSW programs include field education for practical experience and utilize a combination of classroom instruction and experiential learning.
Entry-level jobs: Health Educator, Habilitation Specialist, Outreach Worker
Average time to complete: One to two years
An MSW is a graduate program that offers advanced training in social work. It focuses on deepening knowledge in social work practice, ethics, and social justice. Typical courses cover advanced practice, social policy analysis, and clinical social work.
MSW programs use a combination of classroom instruction, case studies, discussions, and practical experiences. Specializations may be available in areas like clinical practice, community work, or policy advocacy.
A masters degree in social work online is also an option for those who prefer remote learning.
Entry-level jobs: Child Welfare Specialist, Mental Health Case Manager, Mental Health Technician
Average time to complete: Two to four years
A DSW is one of the highest degree programs in social work that emphasizes the application of knowledge in a clinical setting. Students in the program can choose elective courses aligned with specific concentration tracks.
The program coursework typically covers advanced clinical practice, practice leadership, clinical research, and theory. It aims to enhance clinical expertise, leadership skills, and research capabilities in social work. Completion of a residency or dissertation may be required. To compare, read our post on DSW vs PhD social work.
Entry-level jobs: Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Therapist, Nonprofit Director
Average time to complete: Two to four years
The other highest degree in social work is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in social work. It is research-focused, preparing individuals for conducting research rather than clinical practice. This degree program also provides guidance on how to become a counselor.
Students in this program complete research, assignments, and a thesis demonstrating original work. Coursework typically includes advanced research design, behavioral science, teaching, and theory, with an emphasis on developing research skills in the field of social work.
Entry-level jobs: College Professor, Policy Researcher, Counselor
Source: Indeed, 2023
Obtaining a social service degree is an important step towards pursuing a career dedicated to improving the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. To successfully enroll in social service degrees, prospective students must meet specific admission requirements and possess essential skills.
To gain admission to social service degrees, universities and colleges typically have specific requirements that applicants must meet. While these requirements may vary slightly among institutions, there are several common criteria to consider:
Presently, prominent areas of focus within social work involve assisting individuals with trauma, integrating technology into practice, and combating racial injustice. 65% of survey respondents mentioned that they recognize social workers as practicing in mental health or private practice and substance use or behavioral health settings (NASW, 2023).
Social service degrees require students to develop and possess specific skills that are essential for success in the field. Here are some of the core skills that students should aim to acquire:
When selecting social service degrees, it is crucial to consider various factors that can impact your educational experience and future career. Here are some key factors to take into account:
Both types of social service degrees aim to prepare individuals for careers dedicated to improving the well-being of others. However, there are notable differences between the roles social workers and psychologists encompass.
A social work degree focuses on developing skills to connect individuals or families in need with valuable resources and services. This degree teaches aspiring social workers how to improve other people’s circumstances and advocate for social justice.
Conversely, a psychology degree delves into the study of the human mind, exploring the spectrum of normal and abnormal behaviors that can result from brain functions.
|Social Work Degree||Psychology Degree|
Both social work and sociology entail the study of individual and group behaviors. It is common for some to assume that the undergraduate social service degrees associated with these fields can be used interchangeably. However, social work and sociology are separate and distinct disciplines despite sharing certain similarities.
A sociology degree is centered around examining the behaviors exhibited by a population as a whole. Sociologists analyze this information to formulate theories about the functioning of a population. In contrast, a social work degree focuses on studying the societal and socioeconomic challenges prevalent within these groups.
|Social Work Degree||Sociology Degree|
Public health workers and social workers both aim to address societal issues, but they employ different approaches. A degree in public health adopts a macro-level perspective, teaching students to engage with large groups and tackle problems on a broader scale. The intention is that resolving these issues at a broader level will also positively impact individuals.
Meanwhile, a degree in social work focuses on the micro-level, preparing aspiring social workers to work closely with individuals, offering support and assistance in resolving their individual challenges.
|Social Work Degree||Public Health Degree|
Social services aim to promote the welfare and health of individuals, families, and communities. Social service degrees, in turn, aim to facilitate the professional development of individuals passionate about supporting their local communities and beyond. These degrees also open doors to humanities and social science career paths.
Various academic disciplines encompass social service-related pathways, including undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work and related fields like psychology, sociology, and public health.
If you are contemplating a career in social services, this guide can offer valuable insights to help you comprehend the different types of social service degrees.