How to Choose a Social Work Program
If you’re interested in starting a career as a social worker, the first thing you’ll need to do is earn the appropriate degree. To gain the license required to be a social worker, you must obtain a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or Master of Social Work (MSW). Most employers look for social workers who have received a comprehensive education from a good program. If you’re wondering how to choose a social work program, there are numerous factors you should consider, which include everything from the program’s cost to its reputation.
On-campus or Online
When you’re considering different social work programs, you should first take time to explore the delivery method that the degree is using. Since the beginning of COVID-19, schools have focused even more on providing students with a range of different options for completing their studies. Many degrees provide on-campus and online options. If you have a job or other responsibilities you need to manage, online learning gives you added flexibility. It’s also common for online degrees to cost less to complete.
There are, however, a few issues associated with online learning, the primary of which is that the added flexibility can be an issue for students who require more structure with their education. Many online social work degrees use a self-directed curriculum, which means that students need to be organized and focused if they don’t want to fall behind. Weigh the pros and cons of each option before deciding.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous
A social work program’s delivery format can also be separated into synchronous or asynchronous solutions. If a course is provided to you in the synchronous format, you’ll take courses via live virtual meetings that are designed to provide you with a standard classroom environment. During these courses, students can interact directly with faculty members.
As for the asynchronous format, you’ll be able to log in to complete your studies at any time, which means that you can fit your coursework around your schedule. In most cases, the main requirement is that you complete a certain amount of coursework by the end of the week. Even though the asynchronous option provides you with more flexibility, the synchronous method gives you a structured learning situation that’s almost exactly like the on-campus model. Some social work programs provide students with a combination of these delivery options.
An additional approach that’s used by many social work programs involves hybrid or blended learning. In this scenario, you would take online and on-campus courses. The program you choose may evenly split course materials, which means that you would be on-campus 50% of the time and online for the other 50% of your classes. Certain programs give you the ability to pick and choose which classes occur online or on-campus to ensure your coursework fits around your schedule.
Among the most important factors to consider when you’re learning how to choose a social work program is cost. However, the cost associated with social work programs can vary depending on how long the degree lasts and the type of degree you’re pursuing. For instance, MSW degrees often cost more than their BSW counterparts even though they don’t take as long to complete.
In-state vs. Out-of-State
If you’re set to attend a public college or university, your residency status can determine what your costs are. Most public colleges provide students with lower rates if they are in-state residents. Out-of-state students usually pay much higher costs, which is why residency status is important. Keep in mind that the financial aid options you have access can differ depending on your status as an in-state or out-of-state student.
One thing you should understand about this delineation is that many states have reciprocity agreements in place with nearby states, which makes it possible for you to attend college in a nearby state without having to pay the out-of-state tuition rate. There are some exceptions to these guidelines, which is why you should contact your college of choice to ensure you qualify for in-state tuition rates.
Public or Private
In most cases, a school being considered a public or private college makes the biggest difference between the amount of tuition you need to pay. Public colleges can obtain state funding, which helps to subsidize tuition and reduce the cost of attendance for new and current students.
In comparison, private colleges don’t have access to the same funds, which means that they must receive donations, tuition, and endowments to be operational. Because of these issues, private colleges usually charge a considerably higher tuition rate when compared to public ones.
An advantage of attending a private institution is that they often provide students with much more substantial financial aid packages, which makes it possible for qualifying students to have a large portion of their tuition covered. Low-income students may also gain access to sizable scholarships from the private college they choose to attend. Consider all these cost factors when deciding which school you want to attend.
The type of school you prefer depends on what you’re looking for in a college. Public schools are often larger than private ones, which means that they can provide more degree options. While private colleges don’t have the same variety of degrees, the smaller enrollment means that there’s a lower student-to-faculty ratio. In this scenario, students receive more attention.
On-campus vs. Online Costs
If your main consideration when choosing a social work program is to select the most affordable option, online learning could be ideal for you. Online learning costs are typically lower since colleges don’t need to spend as many campus-related resources. This form of learning also eliminates costs associated with room and board, parking, and commuting, which should significantly reduce the price you pay. Online students usually have access to the same financial aid packages as campus students.
When you’re searching for the right online social work degree, it’s essential that the school you choose has the necessary accreditation. The proper accreditation is only provided to colleges and universities that have met specific guidelines and standards for their curriculum, which means that non-accredited schools won’t have as strong of a reputation.
If the program you wish to enter is accredited, you can be confident that you’ll receive a high-quality education. When a school is accredited, any credits you earn there will be transferable to other institutions, which means that the credits from your bachelor’s degree can immediately be applied as the base of your master’s degree at a different college.
In most situations, online programs obtain the same level of accreditation as their on-campus versions. However, there are some fraudulent online programs around, which is why it’s highly recommended that you take time to verify the school’s accreditation before sending in your application. Verification is possible through the Council of Higher Education Accreditation.
It’s somewhat common for individual programs to obtain accreditation to denote that the program meets a certain standard for academic quality. The best social work programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). If you complete a CSWE-accredited program, prospective employers may rate your resume higher in comparison to applicants who don’t take an accredited program.
Programmatic accreditation also indicates that the program in question is properly preparing its students for the work they’re about to perform while out in the field. At times, this level of accreditation is necessary to obtain a social worker license. Depending on where you live, you may be unable to take social work licensing exams without holding a CSWE-accredited degree. Obtain the specific requirements from your state licensing agency before entering a social work program.
Regional vs. National Accreditation
Every college obtains accreditation from a regional or national agency. It’s often believed that regional accreditation is best for social work degrees. National accreditation is typically provided for vocational education programs, which can involve anything from cosmetology to carpentry. When a school receives regional accreditation, this indicates that it offers academic programs, which can involve social sciences and social work. Keep in mind that colleges with regional accreditation are more likely to provide you with transferable credits.
If you’re about to start a career in social work but want to take a more specialized area of study, some social work programs provide students with numerous specialization options. While BSW programs are typically generalized and provide the same type of coursework regardless of the school, many MSW programs offer different concentrations, which means that you can specialize in a single area of social work. The various specializations at your disposal include:
- Mental health – In this specialization, you’ll likely deal with people who have been in traumatic situations, which means that you’ll provide medical, psychological, emotional, and social support.
- Children and families – With this specialty, you’ll provide your services to children and families. You might work at a child welfare agency or community shelter.
- Clinical practice – If you focus on clinical practice, this form of social work involves having direct contact with your clients. You’ll learn how to treat a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems.
- Adult mental health – Many students who take this social work track will aid adult clients who are recovering from substance abuse or emotional trauma.
- Social change – This specialization focuses on developing, improving, and implementing different social programs in a manner that can help clients.
- Community development – You’ll develop strategies that will improve support systems and services to facilitate stronger communities.
The reputation of the program you enter or school you wish to attend can determine the decision you make. There are numerous factors to consider when assessing a program’s reputation, which include the:
- Exam’s pass rate
- Teacher credentials
- Graduate job placement rate
- Current accreditation status
Internships or Practicums
You can also narrow your options by looking at the program’s internships or practicums. Many social work programs require students to take and complete an internship or practicum that involves hands-on experience at a social work organization. During your internship, you’ll gain the practical skills you need to excel in a similar position once you graduate. Most fully online programs have these requirements as well.
If you don’t live on campus, the internship or practicum would need to occur close to the place where you live. If you already know where you want your internship to be, your school will likely accommodate the social work organization of your choosing. When you’re unsure of where you’d like to work, most of these programs provide recommendations that don’t require you to travel long distances.