The 2022 Guide to Online Bachelor’s in Social Work Programs

Social workers assist people in many different situations—including students, children, families and people in medical, addiction and mental treatment. A career in social work can be fulfilling if you enjoy helping others and want to positively contribute to society through your work. If you’re interested in a major in social work, there are a variety of online bachelor’s in social work (BSW) program options available. Use this guide to learn more.

What Is a Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW)?

What is a BSW? A bachelor’s in social work is an undergraduate degree that may prepare graduates for roles as social work assistants or case managers. Those majoring in social work in a bachelor’s degree program will learn about topics such as:

  • Skills for social work practice
  • Diversity and multiculturalism
  • Human behavior in a social environment
  • Social work research
  • Policy and advocacy

BSW programs also typically include field work hours. In field work, students will perform social work duties under the supervision of an approved social worker. Qualifications for social work supervisors may vary by state (PDF, 209 KB)

Upon completion of a social work bachelor’s program, a graduate may be able to work in an entry-level social work administrative position or pursue a direct-service position, such as mental health assistant or caseworker. 

A BSW may also be a requirement for some Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. Social workers who want to become licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), who provide therapeutic services in a one-on-one setting, must earn an MSW.

BSW graduates may become licensed social workers as well. Typically, licensure for a BSW requires supervised field work, but this may vary by state.

Can You Earn a Bachelor’s in Social Work Online?

Yes. There are online social work degree options that enable students to study from wherever they are, with no need to relocate to attend classes on campus. 

Most social work classes easily translate to an online format, but you may be wondering how BSW field work happens in an online degree program.

In online BSW programs, students will typically need to get approval for social work field placement at a location that’s convenient for them. The school will have to sign off on where an online BSW student is doing their field work. Some schools may place students in approved agencies.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work: Accredited Programs

When you’re comparing BSW programs, you may want to look for accredited BSW options. Accredited online social work bachelor’s degree programs indicate that those schools have met the standards set forth by a college accreditation board, which typically signifies quality assurance and holds schools accountable to the public.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Commission on Accreditation (COA) is the accrediting body for U.S. social work programs. In order to become a licensed social worker, you must have a degree from a CSWE-accredited social work program.

Online Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Programs

Since online programs may offer more flexibility for students to take classes where and when it’s convenient for them, you might be interested in exploring accelerated BSW options like a BA in social work. In an online program, you may be able to take extra credit hours, as well as take classes year-round. Additionally, some online BSW programs may offer shorter eight-week class formats, which may allow you to take more classes in a calendar year than you would during traditional semesters. 

Also, if you’ve completed prerequisites in a program like an associate degree through a community college, you may be able to apply them to an online BSW program. General education courses may account for around one-quarter to one-third of your program requirements. That could shorten a four-year online BSW program down to two years or less.

Online Social Work Degree Transfer Credits

As stated above, some online BSW degree programs accept transfer college credits and associate degrees. If you’ve already studied general education and/or social work courses at a community college or university, it may benefit you to research how to move those credits over into an online BSW program. You may be able to start the social work curriculum immediately if you have an associate degree.

BSW Online Program Admissions Requirements

BSW admissions requirements may vary across programs and schools. Be sure to research each program’s requirements to see if you qualify. A typical application may require the following: 

  • High school diploma or its equivalent and transcripts.
  • A minimum GPA. 
  • A minimum number of credit hours.
  • Introductory coursework requirements.

Some programs may also require materials like a personal essay, resume or recommendations. Since online programs are often a good option for nontraditional students, you can talk with an admissions advisor about how your life or work experience may be used in your application.

Bachelor’s in Social Work Degree: No SAT Requirement

Some schools don’t ask for SAT/ACT scores for entry into an online BSW program. As you research programs, look for “no SAT required” options that may enable you to apply with only a high school diploma or GED.

Online Bachelor’s in Social Work Program Curriculum

In an online bachelor’s in social work program of study, you’ll likely learn about social work theory, research and best practices. Social work curricula vary by institution but may include general core classes, social work core courses, and general and social work electives. Sample classes may include: 

  • Written and oral communication
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Social and behavioral sciences
  • Natural sciences
  • Social welfare institutions, policies and service
  • Social justice practice
  • Alcohol and drug counseling
  • Mental health

In addition to lecture-based courses like these, students will typically have a field work assignment that provides credit hours for completion. These field work assignments allow students to gain real-world experience outside the classroom. 

Prerequisites for a Bachelor’s in Social Work Online Degree

BSW prerequisites will depend on the program. Some colleges will only require that you’ve completed the courses necessary to obtain your high school diploma, such as algebra and a foreign language.

Others will require that you’ve completed introductory social work courses. If you haven’t completed those courses, some schools will offer free targeted open online courses so you can satisfy the requirement before joining the program.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s in Social Work Degree?

What can you become with a bachelor’s degree in social work? A BSW may help prepare you for a range of BSW careers. The following are some options to explore if you want to become a social worker with a BSW.

LBSW Certification Social Work License Exam

A BSW may allow you to become a licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW). An LBSW is a lower-level social work license for supportive services and casework management. An LBSW is not offered in every state, so you may need an MSW to become an LCSW, in order to practice.

Some social work jobs may require licensure. All 50 states require social workers to take and pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Examination to become licensed. But if you’re wondering if you need to become an LBSW to practice social work, the answer is no. For some jobs, including entry-level social work administrative positions, you may only need a BSW degree.

Caseworker Jobs in Social Work

Social work caseworkers coordinate social care for their clients. Typical job duties throughout a career as a caseworker may include:

  • Interviewing clients to see what they need.
  • Connecting clients with agencies and services that can assist them.
  • Checking in with clients on how they’re coping.

Caseworkers may work in fields such as foster care, adoption, healthcare and addiction.

Family Services and Child Welfare Jobs in Social Work

Social work jobs in child welfare and family services deal directly with children, parents and families. These social workers help families in need due to issues such as poverty, abuse and neglect. Child welfare and family social workers may work on issues like foster care, housing and food stamp benefits.

Criminal Justice Jobs in Social Work

Social workers are an integral part of the criminal justice system. They may work in roles such as court advocate or forensic social worker, providing testimony in court and serving as an expert witness.

Social workers who do work related to the criminal justice field may also work in reentry services as a prevention social worker, helping formerly incarcerated clients connect with services that help them rebuild their lives and provide alternatives to incarceration.

Research and Education Jobs in Social Work

Social work jobs in education deal typically with parents, teachers and school administrators to help students succeed in social development and academics. Social workers in schools may provide recommendations to improve school programs or work with families of students who are dealing with problems like bullying or absence from school.

In research, social workers may assist researchers with studies. This may include interviewing subject participants and conducting surveys.

Healthcare Jobs in Social Work

There are a variety of social work jobs in healthcare, including medical social worker, hospital social worker and pediatric social worker. Healthcare social workers work in healthcare settings like hospitals and nursing homes, providing patients with social services recommendations.

Healthcare social workers also may work with healthcare professionals like doctors to understand the social implications of medical conditions their patients are experiencing.

Community Organization Jobs in Social Work

Social workers may also do work in social policy, government and community organizations. Community organizing careers in social work may entail identifying social causes to advocate for, gathering participants for events like protests and marches, creating written and video materials that educate the public about causes and informing people on how to get involved in policy change. 

Online BSW Programs FAQ

Going to school for any degree requires a time and financial investment. If you’re thinking about how to become a social worker with a bachelor’s degree, consider how the potential outcomes of getting an online social work degree align with your goals.

Can you practice social work with a bachelor’s degree?

Yes. You don’t need a Master of Social Work (MSW) to practice social work in direct-service positions, but you will be limited in some capacities in what you can do with a BSW vs. MSW. To practice social work as an LCSW in a clinical position, you will need an MSW. Many social work leadership positions will require an MSW. 

Is social work a good major?

The answer to this question is subjective. Social work might be fulfilling for a number of personal reasons, such as if you’re interested in helping others.

In terms of job growth, there’s a significant demand for BSW and MSW social workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for social workers is an expected growth of 12% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than average.

How much can you make with a BSW?

A bachelor’s in social work salary will depend on factors including where you live, what position you have and the demand for social workers in your area. According to the BLS, the 2021 median pay for social workers was $50,390 per year. You may be able to earn a higher-than-average BSW salary depending on where you live. For example, in Hawaii, the 2021 annual mean wage for “all other” social workers (excluding healthcare, mental health and substance abuse, child, family and school social workers) was $85,760. 

What can you do with a BSW besides social work?

If you earn a BSW but decide a career as a social worker isn’t right for you, there are alternate careers you have the option to pursue by furthering your education. With a BSW, you may be able to qualify for programs such as an online master’s in school counseling, an online master’s in mental health counseling, an online master’s in psychology or an online master’s in marriage and family therapy.

You may also explore alternative jobs for social workers, such as teaching, community advocacy and nonprofit jobs.

Find the Best Bachelor’s in Social Work Online Program for You

You might consider a transition to a social work career at any point in your life. Social work may be immensely rewarding because you have the potential to make a difference for someone every day in your job. If this career path sounds fulfilling to you, a BSW can help you pursue a journey as a social worker.

Last updated May 2022