How do I Choose the Best Social Worker Programs?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Choosing the best social worker programs means considering many important elements. First among these is understanding the requirements to become a social worker within a particular region. These may mean having a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in social work, and there are frequently other requirements attached like participating in two or more years of additional training to be licensed. Another consideration is whether a license in one region is transferable to another, as most aren’t, and deciding where to work will help dictate which schools to attend. Other things to think about in evaluating social worker programs include emphasis or emphases of the programs, convenience of attending, and accreditation.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) working with a teen.
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) working with a teen.

In some areas, people can have a social work career by simply earning a bachelor’s degree. Most people are better served if they earn a master’s in social work or MSW. It allows for greater job flexibility in many areas, and it appears that many regions are trending toward requiring the MSW for employment. Most people don’t stop with earning the MSW and instead go on to complete several years of paid supervised training, approximately 3000 hours, though this can vary. Upon completion of this training and passing exams people may have a LCSW or licensed clinical social worker designation.

The reason that earning the LCSW is most desirable is due to its flexibility. People with this designation are licensed to work as social workers in many different fields and they can also work as private therapists. Given a job market that isn’t always reliable, getting this extra designation expands job options, making a person much more employable. It isn’t even necessary in many programs for people to approach the work with behavioral science undergraduate degrees, though taking statistics is typically advised. The advantage of first participating in social worker programs at the bachelor level before taking a master’s is that this sometimes shortens the master’s program and people could request advanced standing, completing the MSW sooner.

When reviewing any social worker programs, one thing that must be reviewed is whether units earned there will transfer to a different state/region/country. Students are usually advised to get a degree in the state they plan to work, since the courses taken will most align with courses needed to get a license. If people do want to study out of the area, they must make sure that the program they choose will be accepted as reasonable study prior to obtaining license training. This can be verified through national social work organizations or regional behavioral science organizations.

Another thing to think about when assessing social worker programs is their particular focus. Some have a strong focus on traditional social work and others may be more geared to mental health counseling. Of the two, the former is more likely. Those who really seek the MSW for therapy training might want to do some searching for programs where this is a focus, though these can be harder to find.

Additionally, verification of accreditation is a valuable thing. This can, again, be checked through country or region behavior science organizations. Schools online likely do not possess this presently, but they could in the future. Clearly when people have a wide choice of schools to attend, they can also weigh matters like length of program and cost, and ease of getting to school. Those who live in urban areas may be surrounded by several good schools and should evaluate, visit and compare each one before deciding which school features the best social work programs.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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