What is the difference between an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in social work?

What is the difference between an associate's and a bachelor's degree in social work?

Social work is a noble profession that entails helping people from all walks of life. It is a practice-based profession that teaches students to meet people’s basic needs and improve their social functioning, leading to optimal health and overall well-being.

What is a social work degree? 

Social worker degree programs are designed for students passionate about helping others lead better lives despite their challenges and make a difference. It is a practice-based field that combines academics with hands-on learning to prepare students for a complex but rewarding career. Social workers seek to improve the quality of life for individuals, groups, families, and communities. They often work with underserved communities but also help people from all walks of life. 

Social workers make a positive impact on the lives of the people they serve. Social worker degree programs teach them to help people overcome difficult life challenges and work one-on-one with clients. Students can choose a necessary degree to chart their path to becoming social workers and develop a meaningful and rewarding career. 

Social work is an umbrella term that includes many specialties within it. These include:

  • Community Social Work
  • Child, Family Social Work
  • School Social Work
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Work
  • Social Work with Military Members and Veterans
  • Disaster, Crisis, and Intervention
  • Medical Social Work
  • Forensic Social Work 

The career choice would determine the right degree path students would choose. Along with their education, their experience and personal goals would also add to their success as social workers. Those wishing to work in a clinical setting go into clinical social work and choose that specialty. They manage cases at clinics, hospitals, and related health settings to help patients overcome problems through one-on-one therapy. 

They undergo many hours of supervised training to gain hands-on practice as they work to obtain a master’s degree from a CSWE-accredited school. Those who wish to provide counseling or consultation services to individuals and groups opt for non-clinical social work specialties. They work in administrative roles, manage social systems and community programs that impact society at large.

Students with a social work degree are trained for success and growth in the field. Growth prospects are understandably great for those who have a graduate degree. Still, associate’s and Bachelor of Social Work degree holders also get into some of the best social work jobs. 

What are the various social worker degree programs?

The different social work degrees include an associate’s degree in social work, a BSW degree, master’s, or doctorate degrees in social work. The social work degree student’s choice would depend on their career plans and interests. Different degree levels for social work majors can prepare for different jobs; some require a master’s in social work, while entry-level jobs are readily available for those with an associate’s degree in social work online.

What are the different types of social work degrees at the associate’s level?

An associate’s degree in social work lays the groundwork for earning a bachelor’s and preparing students for entry-level positions. Students can opt for an associate of arts in social work or an associate science in social work. Social work associate degree holders work as community outreach workers, home health aides, or wider health and community settings. Typically, it takes around 60–70 credits for completion of the degree. Average tuition costs for an associate’s degree in social work vary between $3,156 and $14,587 per year.

While the degrees are similar at the core, they differ slightly in terms of approach and specialties offered. The former’s general education requirements focus more on the humanities, while the latter focuses more on hard sciences and math. Both prepare students to transfer into a bachelor’s program in social work. The degree typically takes two years to complete and covers introductory coursework in psychology, social work practice, and sociology.

What are the different types of social work degrees at the bachelor’s level?

A bachelor’s degree in social work is the popular and the minimum educational option for students to start a career in social work. It prepares students to work entry-level, non-clinical work. Typical coursework includes topics like social work practice, intercultural social welfare issues, and introduction to psychology. The different BSW degree options include 

  • BSW – Bachelor of social work – Designed for students who wish to work as generalist social workers in larger organizations immediately upon graduation. 
  • BASW – Bachelor of Arts in social work – It is a generalist, liberal arts degree as well that includes general education content in addition to social work topics.
  • BSSW – Bachelor of Science in social work – It emphasizes research methods in social work, offering more intensive practicum/internship requirements and more math or science courses than a regular BSW.

The degree normally takes four years to earn and usually incorporates a practicum. Depending on a particular state, a bachelor’s in social work can lead to various positions, such as case managers or public health social workers. 

What is the difference between an associate's and a bachelor's degree in social work?

Associate degree vs bachelor degree: which is better?

Pursuing an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree is a personal decision for each student, depending on various factors. One of the most fundamental differences between the two is the time it takes to earn the two degrees. Typically, a student can earn an associate’s degree in two years or a bachelor’s degree in four years unless they attend the course part-time. While an associate’s degree will be faster to get than a bachelor’s degree, one must keep in mind that part-time students take longer to earn their degrees. 

Once an associate’s degree is completed, students can transfer to a bachelor’s degree program with the credits earned in the program. Students can check with their school’s credit transfer policies to see if it is possible to fast-track their bachelor’s degree and complete it sooner. 

Students can prepare for a career in a specific field by enrolling in a highly-skilled vocational or technical program, which is one way to get an associate’s degree. With this training, they can get into entry-level jobs in social work. They can also choose a general studies approach to earn transfer credits and simultaneously gain an associate’s degree. They can choose a major or not, depending on their preference. 

On the other hand, a bachelor’s degree allows students to choose a major and complete a final project. They need to complete about two years of general education before they get to coursework in their major. Students can explore elective studies in a bachelor’s program, which can form a minor that complements their major. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who have a bachelor’s degree earn more and have more job options than those with an associate’s degree.

What is the difference between an associate's and a bachelor's degree in social work?

What will you learn in an associate’s degree in social work? 

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) states that social workers are the largest mental health and substance abuse counseling providers for diverse populations in the country. An associate degree in social work prepares students for this role to help thousands of people in their line of work. 

The degree lays the foundation for further studies to advance their education to a BSW degree and then post-graduate education. They are trained to carry out research studies on sociological topics and pursue licensure for jobs. Typical coursework includes:

  • Addictions
  • Child protection
  • Counseling
  • Disability
  • Child welfare
  • Probation
  • Family services
  • Employment services
  • Administrative procedures

Students pursuing an associate degree online benefit from flexible program formats so that they can study and work at the same time. These programs help them get jobs like social work assistants, aides, or advocates in health-related fields. Some schools offer online associate programs in accelerated formats, allowing students to graduate sooner than the usual period.

What is the difference between an associate's and a bachelor's degree in social work?

What kind of jobs can I get with an associate degree in social work?

Earning an associate degree in social work allows graduates to consider entry-level roles in the field and advance their degrees to broaden their job opportunities.

An associate degree in social work provides the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to pursue entry-level jobs across the field. These job opportunities include social work assistants, case management aides, and community outreach workers.

How is a regular degree different from an associate’s degree in social work online?

Regular social worker degree programs are taught on campus and face to face. Students attend classes either as day scholars or living on campus in a dorm. They interact with their teachers and peers directly and typically complete the program in two years.

Associates degree in social work online allows the flexibility of format, which greatly benefits students who wish to work and study simultaneously. Most of the time, the college offers an asynchronous format, so students log in and learn at their own time and pace. They also have the option to stretch their schedule to graduate in more than two years if need be or pursue an accelerated format to graduate sooner.

What will you learn in a BSW degree?

A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) provides students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the field. They get a broad foundation for generalist social work practice and can specialize in a particular area that they can then pursue as advanced studies. BSW degree teaches students to focus on underserved or oppressed populations and serve individuals, groups, families, and communities.

Typical coursework includes topics like:

  • Social Work & Social Change       
  • International Development with Grassroots Organizations
  • Social Work and the Military
  • Social Work and Disability Studies
  • Child Welfare Issues & Trends     
  • Dementia Care for Older Adults   
  • Social Work with Women
What is the difference between an associate's and a bachelor's degree in social work?

What can you do with a social worker degree? 

A social work degree can lead to various jobs in the social work field that may be clinical or non-clinical in nature. The former includes jobs in clinics and hospitals, while the latter may include work in a nonprofit organization. 

A bachelor’s degree in social work prepares students for entry-level positions upon graduation and also gets an opportunity to become licensed. An associate degree in social work lays the foundation for these jobs as well as further studies. Common jobs include correctional treatment specialists and social work teachers. Major industries that employ social work graduates include health, education, nonprofits, and community health.

Typical bachelor’s in social work jobs include: 

  • Adolescent Specialist
  • Adoption Specialist
  • Case Management Aide
  • Case Manager
  • Child Advocate
  • Children’s Service Worker

Job prospects for social workers are good, and the demand for them is on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that social work jobs will grow at 13 percent through 2028, much faster than average. Licensed social workers and those in applied specialties have the potential to earn more and grow in their careers faster. Social workers in mental health, health care settings, and substance abuse programs may experience the most growth due to the rising number of cases in these sectors. 

Social work professionals work in diverse settings like community centers, nonprofits, and government agencies. They can work with related agencies to help people in distress, as caseworkers for patients assigned to them refer patients for social and community services.  Jobs in metropolitan areas with high costs of living also tend to pay more, but the demand for social workers in rural areas is growing as well. 

How to choose the best social worker degree programs?

Whether online or on-campus, social worker degree programs prepare students for licensure in their respective states and jobs across the country. Choosing the right social worker degree can be a challenge with many options and choices of schools. It is important for students to do thorough research about the school, the degree, the curriculum, the time it takes to graduate, and the costs associated.

Students should consider all options before investing time and money into particular social work degree programs. These include the types of social work degrees offered as well as the choice of specializations. The latter may differ between the associate degree in social work and a BSW degree. They also have to consider the format and flexibility and the type of student support offered, which could once again differ between associate degree vs. bachelor degree.

Next, they have to research the school and programmatic accreditations and the cost of the programs. Students should note that the cost differs between schools, especially between public universities and private universities. These considerations are important, especially for busy professionals who need a good blend of cost and flexibility in their programs.


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