Social Work Training: Top 25+ Courses, Degrees, & Online Options

Social Work TrainingThe employment of social workers in the United States is projected to grow by 13% from 2019 to 2029 to meet the growing needs of society (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Gaining and maintaining the skills and licenses necessary for newly qualified social workers to help in family, schools, and healthcare situations requires increasingly flexible and effective education opportunities.

A solid grounding in theory and policy needs to be accompanied by essential skills practiced in real-world situations.

If you are thinking about becoming a social worker, this article provides information on a selection of some of the best bachelor’s and master’s degrees available.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

Qualifications & Requirements of Social Workers

Practicing as a social worker requires undertaking comprehensive training to earn a master’s degree in social work (often a Master of Social Work, or MSW) and passing an exam to become licensed in the state in which you will work.

There are also different levels of examination, with minimum education requirements for each state that determine the scope of practice (How to become, n.d.).

The requirements vary slightly depending on the field in which the social worker intends to practice, but generally, the United States requires that the person (National Association of Social Workers, 2020a):

  • Hold a master’s degree in social work from an approved or accredited college or university
  • “Be licensed or certified to practice social work independently”

In the UK, a two-year postgraduate degree in social work approved by the Health and Care Professions Council is followed by a Disclosure and Barring Service check to look into the individual’s past, checking for reprimands, cautions, and convictions (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, 2015).

 

Training in Social Work: Top 10 Courses and Programs

There are many bachelor’s degree programs to start students on their journey to becoming a social worker, but they typically need to be followed by a master’s degree in social work to practice.

Below is a sample of some of the best options available.

Visit each website, and consider the entry requirements and whether the training, program structure, and location meet your needs.

 

Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BS), Southern Illinois University, Illinois, US

Southern Illinois University

This undergraduate program combines hands-on learning and research with faculty-led classroom teaching.

Along with a foundation in social work practice and policy, specific areas of study include:

  • Parenting children with special needs
  • Medical social work
  • Cultural competence
  • Disaster management
  • School social work
  • End-of-life care

Find out more on their website.

 

Undergraduate options in social work, University of Michigan, Michigan, US

The University of Michigan School of Social Work offers valuable programs for undergraduates wishing to learn about social work and develop the knowledge and skills required for further study.

Michigan offers a variety of options for students, including a minor in Community Action and Social Change, and streamlined bachelor’s degrees (BA in Sociology or BS in Health and Human Services) that can be completed in four years and prepare students for a three-semester MSW program.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), University of Georgia, Georgia, US

School of Social Work

The University of Georgia offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work.

The bachelor’s degree prepares students to address human needs, especially for vulnerable populations, while understanding social policies and their impact.

The program combines practical experience with a thorough background in theory, including a deeper understanding of power, social justice, oppression, advocacy, and diversity.

The bachelor’s degree offers a fast-track to their master’s program.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW), California State University–Long Beach, California, US

The School of Social Work at California State University, Long Beach, provides an affordable yet high-quality undergraduate program to inspire critical thinking.

The degree prepares students to serve vulnerable and oppressed populations across multiple social work roles and engage in collaborative research to support wellbeing in individuals, families, and communities.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Appalachian State University, North Carolina, US

Appalachian

Appalachian State University offers an accredited Bachelor of Social Work degree at its Beaver College of Health Sciences. Its goal is to address local social work issues while engaging with other educational institutes internationally.

The program also offers a minor in social work. Overall, the program aims to help students develop the skills needed to work with diverse clients while encouraging and protecting human rights and social and economic justice.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), University of Wisconsin–Madison, Wisconsin, US

The Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, offers three bachelor’s degree options for students interested in social work. The BSW degree provides undergraduates with an overview of social and behavioral sciences and how they apply to human problems, preparing them for roles in human services, social policy, and addressing social issues.

The program introduces students to social problems and practice methods in child and family welfare, mental health, poverty, developmental disabilities, diversity, ethnicity, and oppression.

Find out more on their website.

 

Social Work BSc (Hons), University of Brighton, Brighton, UK

University of Brighton

Approved by Social Work England, this undergraduate degree results in a generic qualification in social work that can lead to further specialization or registration as a social worker.

Blended approaches to education involve remote and onsite learning with lectures combined with other health professions, including midwifery, medicine, education, and physiotherapy.

Tutorials and lectures are supported by carers, service users, and practitioners from other agencies to offer a more rounded education.

Find out more on their website.

 

Bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BA), University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

University of East Anglia

With an international reputation for excellence in social work, this undergraduate degree focuses on establishing an ethical and practical career as a social worker.

Graduating students will be well placed to move into a research specialty or begin a social work career as a practice leader, policymaker, or senior manager.

Find out more on their website.

 

Social Work BA (Hons), University of Kent, Kent, UK

Qualified social workers typically active in research, with wide-ranging practical experience, lead the teaching in this program.

Core social work skills are taught early in the program before exploring trends and issues in adult services and social care for children and families.

Students embark on 100 days of practice learning and 5 skill-development days in the final year.

Find out more on their website.

 

Social Work BSc (Hons), Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, Wales, UK.

Cardiff

This undergraduate degree partners with local social work agencies and service user groups to provide professional training and academic study.

Informed by theory, research, skills, and legislation, students will develop a range of competencies to meet national standards. Upon graduation, students will be able to register as a qualified social work practitioner or take up a research position.

Find out more on their website.

 

There are many other bachelor’s degrees available. Each offers different study modes: part time, full time, and a mixture of on-campus and remote learning modes.

Consider whether the program prepares you for your goal of future study, research, or social work practice.

 

7 Best Online Programs to Consider

Increasingly, education is moving online and, as a result, becoming accessible to wider groups of students of all ages and backgrounds.

The following is a sample of some of the online programs available. Careful consideration should take into account the costs, mode of study, duration, and applicability for future research and job prospects.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), Columbia University, remote, US

Columbia School

This top-ranked school offers a master’s degree in social work entirely online. The same high degree of academic excellence is maintained as the on-campus program, and students can complete placements in their own communities.

Online students can access all academic resources remotely, and a social work professional in their community acts as an advisor for the curriculum and helps students working toward career goals.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), Case Western Reserve University, remote, US

Case Western

The highly ranked School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western offers its master’s degree entirely online to working professionals across the country.

The program is designed to fit into busy lifestyles through the use of Zoom and an online learning platform.

Students attend live classes and work closely with peers and faculty members. A dedicated support team is available to address any issues and offers counseling and career services.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), University of Southern California, remote, US

Southern California

This fully online master’s degree in social work can be completed part time or full time and prepares students to become licensed clinical social workers.

The rigorous curriculum is the same as for on-campus students and is delivered to identical high standards.

While the program is rooted in the needs of today’s employers, it builds on the school’s historical strengths, including a focus on early intervention, leadership, core competencies, and prevention and wellness.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), University of Denver, remote, US

Denver University

This online master’s program prepares students to practice social work in traditional and non-traditional settings.

Taught to the same high standards as the MSW on campus, the online program offers students an understanding of social work principles and social justice in multiple settings.

The foundation curriculum provides students with a background of history, values, and ethics in social work, while the concentration curriculum offers a choice of focusing on either mental health and trauma or health, equity, and wellness.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), Boston University, remote, US

Boston

The goal of Boston University’s School of Social Work is to further social and economic justice, and this is embedded into their online MSW. Full time or part time, each student’s program is tailored to their individual needs, including teaching, research, and practice.

Teaching is done through required and elective online courses and attendance of weekly live classroom sessions. Practical experience is gained through local placements where students live.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master’s degree in Social Work (MA), Open University, remote, UK

Open University has been teaching remote and online courses for decades.

This MA in social work builds on students’ knowledge of social work theory and legislation, develops critical and analytic skills, and applies their learning to practice.

Accompanied by work placements and a work-based project, the course equips students for qualification as a social worker in either England or Scotland.

Find out more on their website.

 

Masters in Integrative Health and Social Care (MSc), University of Derby, remote, UK

This master’s degree is completed entirely online, either full time or part time.

It prepares students to deliver effective healthcare in inter-agency settings through policy and strategic development.

Experienced academics with the latest industry expertise teach all courses through an online education portal, group work, and presentations.

Find out more on their website.

 

10 Master’s Programs & Postgraduate Degrees

Practicing in the US, UK, and beyond requires a graduate degree in social work. We have selected a sample of some of the best master’s programs and postgraduate degrees (The best social work, 2019):

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), Columbia University, New York, US

Columbia School

Columbia University has been a leader in social work since its School of Social Work was formed in 1898.

This master’s program combines academic theory with real-world practice to provide a foundational understanding of social work practice and student-chosen specialties. Choices include social and economic justice, practicing with diverse populations, and evaluating practice outcomes.

Professional training integrates learning in the classroom with on-the-ground field training.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), University of Michigan, Michigan, US

This top-ranked master’s-level social work program offers flexibility, including evening, weekend, part-time, and online study options.

Opportunities to study a broad range of subjects in depth include pathways in:

  • Interpersonal practice in integrated health, mental health, and substance abuse
  • Lifespan perspective study that includes working with families and older adults
  • Social work practice, theory, and skills to identify and develop socially just policies

Dual-degree options are available to combine study with other degrees at the University of Michigan.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Welfare (MSW), University of California–Berkeley, California, US

Berkeley

This prestigious program consistently ranks highly in preparing students for a range of social work leadership and practice roles.

With a thorough overview of social science knowledge, social welfare policies, and social service organizations, this program also offers students the opportunity to gain specialized skills in areas of their choice.

The focus is on preparing students for both generalized and specialized practice and taking professional social welfare responsibility.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master’s degree in Social Work, Social Policy, and Social Administration (MA), University of Chicago, Illinois, US

University of Chicago

This highly ranked Master of Arts program is equivalent to an MSW, with a broader educational and experiential foundation.

The program’s interdisciplinary nature combines direct social work practice with policy development to equip social workers, social administrators, and policymakers with the skills they need.

Clinical and social administration specializations are available to meet specific career goals.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW), University of Texas at Austin, Texas, US

Texas Austin

One of the top 10 social work master’s degrees in the U.S., this program aims to prepare students for social work practice through a theoretical and practical background in social work, administration, and policy.

Classroom knowledge combines with supervisor-led field practice and the opportunity to tailor the program to gain the skills needed to meet specific career interests.

Students can take part in global study to gain international experience and a broader understanding of the field.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), University of Denver, Colorado, US

Denver

Consistently ranked as one of the top social work graduate programs, the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work focuses on transforming lives and communities by responding to real-world needs, including:

  • Housing
  • Food and security
  • Culturally competent mental healthcare
  • Environmental justice
  • Sustainability

The MSW will help new or established social workers further their careers, and opportunities are also available working with nonprofits, social policy, and clinicians.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), Simmons University, Massachusetts, US

This progressive master’s program integrates social justice and multicultural values with practice in the field.

The faculty is committed to an integrated learning experience where advisors work closely with students to offer a coordinated and integrated learning experience.

The format of the program embraces flexibility regarding online, in-person, and blended learning.

Find out more on their website.

 

Social Work and Professional Practice (MA), University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Birmingham

This MA in Social Research (Social Work and Professional Practice) is recognized as a pathway to research and beyond as a doctoral student. Advanced training is given in social science research methods and their application to social work.

Students can select particular areas of social practice and policy that will further their interests and equip them with the skills to make a difference in their chosen field.

Find out more on their website.

 

MSc Social Work, University of Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire, UK

Hertfordshire University

This program provides eligibility for registration as a social worker within the UK and opportunities for employment in health and social care settings.

Course topics include social work purpose, practice, impact, human growth and development, and social policy. Students also perform research in various social settings.

This master’s degree includes two placement blocks and culminates in writing a dissertation in an area of interest.

Find out more on their website.

 

Master of Social Work (MSW), University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

Western Australia

This program offers students with an undergraduate degree the opportunity to pursue a professional qualification and prepare to be social work practitioners within local, state, and international organizations.

Taught by award-winning staff, the students combine classroom study with high-quality placements to promote change at individual, community, and policy levels.

Find out more on their website.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Helpful Resources

We have many tools and worksheets available to help improve communication skills, empathy, and emotional awareness in social work, including:

  • Anger Exit and Re-entry Routines
    Social workers often face anger and conflict in family situations, so guidance on cooling down and re-engaging can be helpful.

  • The Win–Win Waltz Worksheet
    Finding a way to address the concerns of more than one party can be a difficult balance and requires empathy and a good understanding of their underlying concerns.

  • Listening Without Trying to Solve
    Listening is a valuable skill in social work, where it is important to understand the issues faced by the client. This tool helps professionals remain quiet and listen without engaging in problem solving.

  • Small Talk to Build Connection
    Connecting with clients and gaining their trust can be helped by increasing a sense of relatedness through small talk.

  • Strength Collisions
    Using strengths can lead to conflict, so it can be helpful to step into another person’s shoes to see the situation from their perspective.

  • 17 Positive Psychology Exercises
    If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

 

A Take-Home Message

With greater numbers of social workers required over the coming years to meet the growing needs of society, high-quality, flexible education is becoming increasingly essential (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Students and newly qualified social workers must have “knowledge of human development and behavior; of social, economic, and cultural institutions; and of the interaction of all these factors” (National Association of Social Workers, 2020b).

According to the National Association of Social Workers, social work practice requires a thorough and professional foundation in social work values, principles, and techniques. Only then can social workers successfully support individuals, families, groups, and communities, and further improve legislative processes and social and health services.

Becoming a social worker involves a considerable commitment of time and finances to meet education, training, and licensing requirements. Therefore, it is crucial to find the most appropriate program to meet your personal needs and practice in your preferred location.

Use this article to become familiar with some of the best social work programs available, follow the links to explore entry criteria and areas of study, and make an informed education decision.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

  • The best social work programs in America, Ranked. (2019). U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/social-work-rankings
  • How to become a social worker: 7 Steps to consider. (n.d.). Social Work License Map. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://socialworklicensemap.com/become-a-social-worker/
  • National Association of Social Workers. (2020a). Social work federal requirements. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Policy-Issues/Social-Work-Federal-Requirements
  • National Association of Social Workers. (2020b). Practice. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice
  • Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. (2015). Social worker. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://www.ucas.com/ucas/after-gcses/find-career-ideas/explore-jobs/job-profile/social-worker
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021, April 9). Social workers: Occupational outlook handbook. Retrieved April 25, 2021, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-6

About the Author

Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.

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