Interested in Becoming a Social Worker?

 Please refer to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupational Outlook Handbook” to learn more about what Social Workers do and about the field of Social Work in general, including the nature of the work and its conditions, earnings, education/ training requirements, qualification requirements, advancement opportunities, job outlook, projections, earnings, related occupations, etc.

  •  The website for the “Occupational Outlook Handbook” is http://www.bls.gov/oco/.
  •   Once there, perform a search on specifically on “social work”.

The National Organization for Social Workers (NASW) website is another good source of information for learning about the field of Social Work.

Although untrue historically, in today’s practice world it is proper for a person refer to him/ herself as a “Social Worker” only if he/ she is degreed specifically in the field of “Social Work”.

  •   In all states, the practice of Social Work is regulated and generally requires registration, certification, and/ or licensure by the state.
  •   In some regions, the state places specific legal limitations on who can officially call themselves a “Social Worker”.

 Employment opportunities working with individuals in the same capacity that Social Workers do exist for those without a degree specifically in Social Work.

  •   Some of these jobs require an associate’s, bachelor’s, or graduate degree in a helping discipline (e.g., Psychology, Sociology, Human Services, etc.).
  •   Some do not, especially for entry-level positions.

It It is possible to earn a bachelor’s, master’s, and a doctorate degree in Social Work.

  •   A bachelor’s degree in Social Work is commonly called a “B.S.W.”. 
  •  A master’s degree in Social Work is commonly called an “M.S.W.”.


 The nationally recognized accreditation organization for programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field of Social Work is the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). 

Making certain that one earns a “Social Work” degree from a CSWE approved program is very important because:

  • Employers and state registration, certification, and licensure boards generally require that a degree in Social Work is earned from a CSWE approved program before an applicant will be eligible for employment and registration, certification, and/ or licensure.
  • Insurance companies also often require that Social Workers be degreed from CSWE approved programs before they will authorize reimbursement for the activities that Social Workers perform.

úEarning a Social Work degree from a school that is not accredited by the CSWE is possible in today’s world but will make it hard, if not impossible, to find employment and to obtain registration, certification, and/ or licensure in a state.

  1. Registration, certification, and/ or licensure is required by a state in order for a Social Worker to practice legally.
  • This is true at the master’s level and is commonly true at the bachelor’s level.
  • Regulations for registration, certification, and licensure for Social Work vary by state.
  • There are differing types of registration, certification, and licensure for Social Workers across the states and even within states.
    1. To learn about Social Work registration, certification, and licensure, please refer to the Association of Social Work Boards website at http://www.aswb.org/.
    2. It is a good idea to check on any Social Work registration, certification, and licensure requirements in the state that you desire to practice in before committing to a Social Work degree program to make certain that the degree earned will satisfy such criteria.

ú  Earning a Social Work degree from a school that is not accredited by the CSWE would make it difficult if not impossible for the person to pursue a master’s degree at a school that is accredited by the CSWE.

How to earn an associate’s degree in Social Work:

ú  There are no associate’s degree programs specially in “Social Work” that are recognized by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the nationally recognized accreditation organization for programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees specifically in Social Work.

  •  This means that relatively few, if any, course credits from programs offering associate degrees in fields similar to but different from Social Work can be transferred into CSWE approved programs-- although a college offering an associate’s degree might have some sort of transfer agreement in effect with a 4 year institution offering a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) has such transfer agreements through its Human Services Technology program.

1.   To review these agreements, please refer to the Human Service Technology program website at http://www.abtech.edu/ah/ss/default.asp, click on “Information for Human Services Technology Students”, and then click on “Transfer Agreements”.

2.   The courses that are required from departments outside of A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department are recognized as courses that will transfer by colleges and universities that recognize the “Comprehensive Articulation Agreement” in North Carolina.

3. Different colleges and universities might recognize select courses taken from within A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department- depending on the student’s intended major at that college or university.

  • State registration, certification, and licensure requirements for professionals with an associate’s degree in fields similar to but different from Social Work are generally nonexistent.
  • Depending on the region, associate degrees can be earned in fields similar to but different from Social Work such as “Social Work Assisting”, “Social Work Technology”, “Human Services Technology”, and the like.
  • Such graduates technically are not considered to be “Social Workers”, although they can perform several of the same functions that Social Workers typically perform and rely on many of the same helping skills and theories.

ú  All undergraduate (associate and bachelor) and graduate (masters and doctorate) programs, including online programs, should be accredited by their regional association of colleges and by the U.S. Department of Education.

  • If a college or university is not sanctioned by these two accreditation bodies, the course work that a student takes to earn a degree and the degree itself will likely lack credibility with colleges and universities that are and probably with employers and state registration, certification, and licensure boards as well.
  • This can be problematic when a student desires to transfer course credit or is applying to a college or university for a graduate degree.
  • In the case of colleges and universities that exist in North Carolina, the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACSCOC) is the recognized regional association of colleges accreditation body for both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
  • The SACSCOC accredited Human Service Technology associate degree program in the Asheville-area is:
    1. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College at http://www.abtech.edu/ah/ss/default.asp.
How to earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.

ú  Generally, most bachelor’s degree programs usually do not require an applicant to have earned an associate’s degree first.

  • This is true for Social Work.

One way to earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work is for a person to apply directly to a four year institution that offers a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.

  1. SACSCOC & CSWE accredited programs in the Asheville-area are:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu

ú  Another way to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Social Work in North Carolina is for a person to earn an general Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree or an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree from a North Carolina Community College and then to transfer this degree to a four year institution that will count it as the first two years of college toward a four year degree.

  1. The person would then work on finishing the rest of the requirements for the bachelor’s degree at that four year institution.
  2. Institutions that are SACSCOC & CSWE accredited in Social Work and that offer recognition of such transfer credit are:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu

ú  Some community colleges might offer a “Social Work transfer track” which allows a person to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree or an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree along with some specific course credits that will transfer specifically toward a bachelor’s degree in Human Services or in a field similar to but different from Human Services at a four year institution. 

  1. Essentially this type of associate’s degree counts as the first two years of college toward a four year degree. 
  2. The other courses taken under such a track are counted toward the specific course credits needed for the completion of a bachelor’s degree.
  3. The rest of the requirements for the degree are finished at that four year institution.
  4. An institution that is SACSCOC accredited and that might offer such transfer recognition is:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu
  5. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) has such agreements through its Human Services Technology program.
    • To review these agreements, please refer to the Human Service Technology program website at http://www.abtech.edu/ah/ss/default.asp, click on “Information for Human Services Technology Students”, and then click on “Transfer Agreements”.
    • The courses that are required from departments outside of A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department are recognized as courses that will transfer by colleges and universities that recognize the “Comprehensive Articulation Agreement” in North Carolina.
    • Different colleges and universities might recognize select courses taken from within A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department- depending on the student’s intended major at that college or university.

ú  Some community colleges offer a “social work transfer track” which allows a person to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree or an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree along with some specific course credits that will transfer specifically toward a Social Work bachelor’s degree at a four year institution. 

  1. Essentially this type of associate’s degree counts as the first two years of college toward a four year degree. 
  2. The other courses taken under such a track are counted toward the specific course credits needed for the completion of a Social Work major.
  3. The rest of the requirements for the degree are finished at that four year institution.
  4. Institutions that are CSWE accredited in Social Work and that might offer such transfer recognition are:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu

ú  Another way to progress toward a bachelor’s degree in Social Work is for a person to earn an associate’s degree in a field similar to but different from Social Work such as “Human Services Technology” and then to transfer as many credits as a bachelor’s degree in Social Work program will accept.

  1. Institutions that are CSWE accredited in Social Work and that might offer such transfer recognition are:
    1. Mars Hill College at www.mhc.edu
    2. Warren Wilson College at www.warren-wilson.edu
    3. Western Carolina University at www.wcu.edu
  2. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech) has such agreements through its Human Services Technology program.
    • To review these agreements, please refer to the Human Service Technology program website at http://www.abtech.edu/ah/ss/default.asp, click on “Information for Human Services Technology Students”, and then click on “Transfer Agreements”.

ú  Some students who desire a bachelor’s degree either in Social Work or in a closely related field elect to earn the general A.A. or A.S. degree and an associate’s degree in a field similar to but different from Social Work such as “Human Services Technology”.

·         Among other things in such a case, they are attempting to maximize the amount of transfer credits that they can apply toward a bachelor’s degree in Social Work or a closely related field.

  1. Many schools have limits on the amount of transfer credit that they will count toward an undergraduate or graduate degree, thus requiring a student complete a certain portion of his/ her major course work at the school in order for the student to be eligible to earn a degree at the school.
  2. In the case of A-B Tech’s associate’s degree in Human Services Technology degree:
    1. Courses required from departments outside of A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department are recognized as transferrable courses by colleges and universities that recognize the “Comprehensive Articulation Agreement”.
    2. Different colleges and universities might recognize select courses taken from within A-B Tech’s Human Services Technology Department- depending on the student’s intended major at that college or university.
    3. Some of the advantages of pursuing an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology include:
      1. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology is a less expensive way for a person to obtain entry-level status as a helping professional than is earning an bachelor's degree.
      2. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology takes less time to complete than does earning a bachelor's degree.
      3. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology provides a person a less expensive way to test out his/ her ability to succeed in college than does earning a bachelor's degree.
      4. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology is less expensive way for a person to test out his/ her ability to work long-term as a helper than is earning a bachelor's degree.
      5. Earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology tends to increase a person’s chance of securing entry-level employment as a helper over those who lack a formalized academic training in a helping profession.
      6. Earning an associate’s degree can provide a person with a means to support him/ herself while he/ she works as a helper and pursues a bachelor’s degree.
      7. For a person whose college financial aid  is limited to a couple of years' worth of coverage, earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology offers an opportunity to earn a professional degree in a helping field without exceeding the limits of coverage.
      8. Several of the credits that a student can earn through the associate’s degree in Human Services Technology program are applicable toward the education credentialing requirements needed for qualification as a substance abuse professional in North Carolina.
      9. In comparison to earning a bachelor’s degree in a helping profession, earning an associate’s degree in Human Services Technology often means that a student has received more classroom practice utilizing several of skills that professional helpers rely on.


Bachelor’s level Social Work practice can be regulated by state law which can require that a bachelor’s level Social Worker obtain registration, certification, and/ or licensure.

ú  In North Carolina, the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board oversees certification at a bachelor’s level.

  • Such bachelorette level workers can pursue this credential voluntarily and, if obtained, they are known as a:
    1. Certified Social Worker (CSW)
    1. http://70.61.113.172/index.asp
    • Website:


If a person earns a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, he/ she is not obligated to pursue an advanced degree in Social Work.

  • He/ she can practice at a bachelor’s level.
  • He/ she also has the option of pursuing advanced degrees in other fields of study including other helping disciplines such as Human Services, Psychology, Sociology, Counseling, etc.

Earning a masters degree in Social Work requires that a person obtain a bachelor’s degree first, usually in some sort of helping discipline (e.g., Social Work, Human Services, Psychology, Sociology, etc.).

Many institutions do not require applicants for master’s degree programs in Social Work to hold a bachelor’s degree in Social Work; however, they may prefer it.In fact, having a bachelor’s degree specifically in Social work can decrease the amount of time that it takes to earn a master’s degree in Social Work.

It is possible to earn a doctorate degree in Social Work.

However, it is not necessary to earn a doctorate degree to practice Social Work and to obtain registration, certification, or licensure in a state.Often doctorate-level Social Workers are eligible to hold and are required to hold only the same type of registration, certification, or licensure that master’s level Social Workers are required to have to practice.

  • Doctorate-level Social Workers may or may not actually practice Social Work, they often focus on teaching and research.
  • Doctorate degrees that can be earned in Social Work are the D.S.W.  (Doctor of Social Work) and the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy).
  • There is no “mandated” accreditation body for doctorate degrees in Social Work although GADE (The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education) does exist and recommends certain guidelines for schools offering doctoral degrees in Social Work.
  • The GADE website can be found at http://www.gadephd.org/.
  • This site contains a list of GADE member schools offering doctorate degrees specifically in Social Work or in closely related areas such as “social policy” and “social welfare”.

When pursing a degree in Social Work, it is possible, depending on the selected institution, to earn the degree with one or more specialty concentrations or certificates.

ú  Such concentrations and certificates are offered in a variety of specialized areas of practice, including macro practice, micro practice, mental health, substance abuse, gerontology, children and families, health, school Social Work, nonprofit leadership, community planning, and organizational administration.

Well in advance of committing to any academic program in Social Work, it is a good idea to:

  1. Become knowledgeable about and committed to the field of Social Work and its subfields.
  2. Know how the field of Social Work and its subfields are unique in comparison to other types of helping fields.
  3. Know which specialization of Social Work you are interested in, particularly if you desire to pursue a graduate degree in the field.
  4.  Know state requirements for any registration, certification, and/ or licensure that might affect the type of professional practice that you desire to perform.
  5. Become informed, at the very least, about the program’s:
    1. Admission requirements
    2. Policies on transferring in credits
    3. Costs
    4. Specializations, concentrations, and certifications
    5. Time-limits on degree completion
    6. Standing with the CSWE and SACSCOC.
      1. The CSWE website contains a list of programs that  it has accredited.
      2. The website can be found by performing an internet search on this organization.
      3. Or it can be found at http://www.cswe.org/CSWE/.

       

There are honorific/ voluntary credentials that can be earned in Social Work that are not tied to state registration, certification, and licensure requirements or to degree programs.

For example, the ACSW (Academy of Certified Social Workers) credential, the QCSW (Qualified Clinical Social Worker) credential, and the DCSW (Diplomat in Clinical Social Work) credential.

Various professional organizations in Social Work exist, including the NASW (The National Association of Social Workers) which has chapters in each state.

Such professional organizations fulfill many purposes, including research, advocacy, education, lobbying, setting standards, publishing, information and referral, and etc.

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