Among Gen Zs, values-based communities provide inspiration, empowerment, and satisfaction. The growing number of students enrolling in online bachelor’s degrees in social work can be attributed to this as social work professionals are able to provide help for persons struggling with domestic issues and personal concerns.
Social work professionals perform various roles such as probation officers who guide individuals re-integrate into communities. This career gives the opportunity to give back to the community, which makes it the ideal path for individuals who are strong advocates of initiatives that benefit more people.
A bachelor’s degree in social work opens its graduates to supporting roles in the industry. They can start assisting in cases, policy development, social work research, and other administrative work. Further down the road, they can also take up a master’s degree in order to apply for a license and practice counseling, case management, or therapy.
If you feel like this is the academic path for you, this guide will outline all the important details you need to know in obtaining an online bachelor’s degree in social work. Among the topics covered will be its costs, the perception of online degrees, different admission requirements, and more. With this, you will have all the information you need to gauge whether this field of study is well-suited to your long-term career goals.
Innovations in technology, teaching pedagogy such as adult learning theory, and improved access to the internet have made online degree programs a viable option for aspiring college students. So much so that most major higher educational institutions (HEIs) offer a few programs online along with their traditional counterparts.
Many HEIs also have open universities where all their degree programs, from bachelor’s to Ph.D., are offered remotely. The implementation of online degree programs differs for each institution, but most are designed to cater to professionals or students in a different geographical location. Additionally, universities are already offering international programs remotely, opening opportunities to foreign students without them having to migrate to another country.
Source: NCES, 2019
While there is still an existing stigma that online degrees are somewhat inferior to traditional programs, the pandemic has significantly changed how students, educators, and employers view remote learning. After all, the majority of students found themselves learning through online means, whether full-time or partially in 2020.
With most graduates in the next few years educated via distance learning, employers are adjusting their expectations and perception of online degrees. Many are already revisiting their candidate evaluation criteria and began focusing on the reputation of the HEI, portfolio, professional and internship experience, and even specific skills.
Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2021
In many countries, there is no single authority on recognizing foreign online degrees and other qualifications. For the most part, degrees granted through remote learning go through the same scrutiny as traditional degrees, and they are typically valid when local employers are concerned.
However, regulated professions, such as those requiring licensing, often have specific guidelines for graduates wanting to earn their license to practice in a specific country. Some countries fully recognize degrees granted by reputable institutions abroad, while others may require applicants to submit their program’s curricula for evaluation. As such, it is best to consult with your local higher education governing body regarding online degrees taken from a foreign institution.
On the other hand, employers are mostly concerned about the reputation of a degree-granting institution and the capabilities of its graduates, regardless of the delivery of instruction. As such, there is the continued growth of a CAGR of over 12% for the e-learning market in the United States, with many students coming from other countries.
Social work is an area that helps individuals via services of support, advocacy, and education. Working with people or groups, social workers meet their clients where they are in their life journeys, assisting them in identifying issues, recognizing strengths, and moving toward better lives. Social workers are found in governmental or social service agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, or in companies, but the unifying denominator for everyone, irrespective of gender, age, class, or ethnicity, is their dedication to social and economic empowerment.
Jobs in social work are largely focused on aiding and supporting people, organizations, and families in their efforts to live healthy and stable lives. It is also an academic discipline dedicated to promoting study in the fields of social welfare, injustice, societal transformation, and human rights.
Bachelor’s-level social workers assist licensed practitioners by providing administrative and support services. To perform therapy, counseling, or case management, professionals must have a master’s degree. Social workers can also create community programs, collect data on the success of current community policies, and manage health clinics or community centers. Substance addiction, healthcare, developmental impairments, and child welfare are some of the specializations available.
The pandemic has underscored all major social and economic issues in many, if not all, parts of the world. And with its effects expected to be felt for years to come, social workers are and will be at the forefront of the battle from data collection to policymaking.
An article by Heather A. Walter-McCabe titled “Coronavirus Pandemic Calls for an Immediate Social Work Response” published in the Social Work in Public Health highlights the role of social work in these trying times. Social workers collaborate with medical professionals and public health experts to identify issues brought about by the pandemic and solutions on micro and macro levels (Walter-McCabe, 2020).
“Some of us work at the micro and mezzo levels. As our population is increasingly isolated from social distancing, stay at home precautions/orders, isolation, and quarantine, we are already seeing reports of anxiety and depression increasing,” Walter-McCabe said. She also highlighted that “social workers must be on the front lines not just of service provision, but also at the policymaking tables for microservice delivery at all levels.”
You will be either on a fourth system or on a semester system if you attend a traditional institution. In a given time frame, you need to take a number of courses to finish your studies. But you do not have to be restricted to the standard on-campus schedule if you opt to complete your degree online.
You may choose your own pace and work as fast or as slowly as you like by pursuing an online degree. You can learn the material, take your questions, and complete your projects if you have a slow week at work and would want to focus on learning. Earning an online degree in less time than a traditional four-year college degree might be attractive for a variety of reasons. For example, you may like college but want to begin obtaining professional experience in social work as soon as possible. On the other hand, if you already have a full-time job, you can take your courses online and balance your work schedule. You may want to learn at your own speed and not hurry through classes when you are busy.
People often assume that there is a minimal social connection with teachers and colleagues when they pursue an online degree. However, professionals in higher education will take an active part in your courses in an online degree program. While online learning may be a hands-on experience, and you do not need to follow the same schedule or participate in lectures, assisted courses contribute to building productive interactions between students and teachers.
Feedback through email, video calls, and other media can be conducted by course facilitators. Their job is to provide any assistance you may need during your self-study courses. You always have the option of taking part in term courses that start every month or every quarter if you prefer more structure and contact with classmates and teachers. You can study in these courses with a team of peers and get your teacher’s more customized help.
These kinds of courses might work best for you, or you can opt to balance certain courses at your own speed and some more involved term courses. The key is that you may pick the level of interactive contact you have with your instructors and peers while you study towards your social work degree online.
Many HEIs would not specify if a degree was earned online in the diploma or any other academic record. As such, the reputation of the institution carries weight, especially among employers. Social work earned through remote methods holds as much weight as any degree earned through traditional programs.
Additionally, some colleges and universities are known for their social work programs, which are offered in both traditional and online means. Earning degrees through these institutions is often advantageous, especially during internships or applying for jobs after graduation. Similarly, their programs are accredited by bodies that monitor the quality of social work programs. That means you can ensure top-notch education even through remote learning.
Everyone understands that the debt with tuition payment is one of the major obstacles to getting a college degree, and is behind arguments on why college should be free. Student loan debt in the United States has reached $1.6 trillion in 2020 (Friedman, 2021). Forty-five million students have borrowed money and had to bear the debt load with them for their whole adult life after graduation. There are, however, opportunities for students who wish to acquire a degree while avoiding debt.
While program structures vary from institution to institution, many online degrees are quite flexible. As such, you can decide to pay for each online course for the semester, whether you take one or five.
Source: Pew Research Center (2019)
The low cost of online college frequently draws students looking for reduced tuition. There are no parking or transportation costs for online students on campus. They may also finish classes from anywhere and frequently with asynchronous learning at their discretion. This flexibility allows students to pursue their jobs while studying.
Typical tuition for a public, four-year program for out-of-state students can cost up to $27,000, plus about $12,000 in accommodation expenses. This does not include living costs, textbooks, and other expenses of living outside of your home.
On the other hand, the average tuition fee for out-of-state students taking online degree programs costs about $14,000 per year. And, without the costs of living on-campus, such as accommodation, parking, and other expenses, students taking up remote learning have the opportunity to save each year significantly.
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Several myths about online degrees have been debunked in the past few years. While the method of delivery is significantly different from traditional programs, it does not mean that remote learning is inferior in quality. Depending on the institution, students are held to the same standards regardless of the type of program they are in.
In many ways, online degree programs in social work are much more challenging as students need to make deliberate efforts to keep up with their studies. Similarly, they need to maintain a certain level of self-discipline and time management skills, which are valuable in their professional life.
There are numerous aspects influencing the costs of an online degree in social work. Because many schools and universities charge more tuition for out-of-state students, state residency is a significant factor. Some institutions nonetheless charge online students flat tuition irrespective of their residence. Technological costs are another important aspect; these expenses frequently apply to students in an online bachelor’s degree in social work but not to their fellow students in traditional classes.
The average cost per credit for an online bachelor’s degree in social work is $400 to $500. As such, total tuition should range between $48,000 and $53,000 for students (U.S. News, n.d.). Aside from tuition fees, there are other expenses that affect costs in college:
Social work takes dedication and passion, especially in helping people in their everyday lives. While it can be grueling, the work is rewarding as social workers are key professionals that contribute to improving society and changing the lives of many.
The job outlook in the industry is also expected to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020), which is much faster than average. Graduates of an online bachelor’s degree in social work have the opportunity to work in hospitals, human services agencies, schools, health clinics, community development companies, and private practices.
Students applying to online programs must generally submit the same admissions papers as their on-campus counterparts and fulfill the same academic criteria. The majority of colleges and institutions in the United States have set application deadlines in January. Early decision or early action deadlines often fall in November. On the other hand, online schools are more likely to employ a rolling admissions procedure, in which an admissions panel examines and decides on each completed application as it is received. This means you will know whether you have been accepted within a few weeks after submitting your application.
Students who want to join online degree programs in social work must go through the usual admission requirements set by their desired institution. While each HEI has varying criteria for admission, most request the following submissions from their applicants:
Source: American College Testing
Being a social worker is not only about academic and professional performance and experience. In order to be successful in social work, you will need to possess and develop the following skills and qualities:
Your computer and internet connectivity is critical to your success as an online learner. While certain programs or courses may have unique technical prerequisites, there are several that apply to all students, such as:
Most programs need at least 45 credit courses in social work, with the remainder of 120 credits being general education and electives. School curricula differ. However, the following courses are provided in the majority of social work bachelor’s programs.
Aside from topics in social work, a significant part of online degree courses in social work involves research and studying cases to fully understand the industry. Additionally, emerging issues in society are now being covered in social work courses.
For example, according to “LGBT-Competence in Social Work Education: The Relationship of School Contexts to Student Sexual Minority Competence,” concerns of sexual minorities are increasingly becoming a primary issue in social work cases, and as such, preparing graduates to deal and handle LGBT-related issues is becoming a necessity.
Based on the research, “a relationship was detected between organizational LGBT and individual LGB-competence within schools of social work, such that programs with higher levels of organizational LGBT-competence also had students with higher levels of individual LGBT-competence.”
“This implies schools of social work can take substantive action at an organizational-level to improve the professional competence of future social workers related to sexual minorities,” the researchers added (McCarty-Caplan, 2017).
Like any online bachelor’s program, you need to do in-depth research about the industry you want to get into. That starts with examining various online degree programs in social work, the top institutions that offer them, and which curriculum aligns with your goal.
Your career starts during your application to a program. As such, your academic and professional goals should be planned out even before you get accepted. Aside from common factors such as cost, courses, and type of degree, here are a few things that you should look for in an online bachelor’s degree in social work:
Social workers typically join professional organizations to network and gain hours of education. They produce exclusive newsletters and journals, promote laws that have a good social work impact, and hold yearly conferences. That means you will gain a significant advantage if your program includes connections to professional organizations in social work such as:
Accreditation shows that a certain institution or degree program satisfies specified quality and rigor requirements. Accreditation might be regional or nationwide.
Regional accreditation is the academic gold standard since it entails a more stringent examination procedure. Regionally approved colleges generally offer academically oriented programs. These colleges often only accept transfer credits from other regionally recognized schools.
Nationally recognized institutions are frequently more career-oriented. They generally have fewer study options. Transferring credits from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited college is challenging.
Students pursuing an online social work degree should look for a school that has regional and programmatic accreditation. Social worker training programs are accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE). Most states require candidates for social work licensure to have a CSWE-accredited degree.
After finishing their online degree courses in social work, many graduates lead challenging yet fulfilling careers. Most pursue advanced degrees as these are necessary for licensing in many states. With enough experience in both academic and professional fronts, they are able to work with clients as clinical social workers.
Additionally, other social workers specialize in public health, psychology, or other adjacent fields of study. With many parts of the industry overlapping with the medical field, many social workers specialize in behavior development, mental health, substance abuse, and more. Others focus on macro social work, such as policymaking or research.
Social work, as an industry, is a valuable part of any evolving society. Professionals in the field are at the forefront of solving social issues from personal development to urban homelessness. This means anyone entering the profession can expect abundant opportunities and career paths leading to valuable and rewarding careers.