Earning a degree in social work is a long-term commitment – not only does it require years of education and training, there is also an emotional commitment and a financial obligation. Before embarking on such an important step and making such a personal investment, it’s important to find the right program that will serve you best in a future career. There is a huge array of programs available all over the country that can serve your education needs and thinking specifically about your goals and options can help you find the best one for you.
Think About the Future
Ask yourself why you’re entering the field of social work and make sure you’re in pursuit of the particular area that best resonates with you. Do you want to work with kids in a high school or work one-on-one with prisoners in a rehabilitation facility? Maybe you’ve always wanted to start your own private practice, perhaps even make a difference in the underfunded, understaffed government agencies. These are all very different positions, but all things you can do with a degree in social work. The degree provides impressive flexibility, while broadening potential horizons for careers. Trying to pinpoint exactly what you’d like to do might help in the program search.
Consider the Level of Education
There are three types of degrees available in social work: a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a doctorate. A BSW is usually the lowest level of education required for a person to work in the field of social work – those with a BSW usually work as caseworkers, case manager, or clerk. Earning an MSW means more training and the opportunity for more jobs. Those with a master’s in social work can go on to get their license as a clinical social worker and have the option of working in private practices as part of a mental health group or in a school setting. A doctorate is best for someone who wants to be a professor, instructor, or researcher. Ultimately, the salary range for people working in social work is, on average anywhere from $33,000 – $53,000.
Think Over Your Budget
Education can be expensive, but that’s no reason to skip school. Many excellent programs have really good financial aid packages, including scholarships. Some master’s and doctorate programs also offer fellowships which pay for students classes while asking the student to “work” in an area of teaching or research, allowing them more experience and hands-on training that is exceptionally valuable. You can also look into traditional vs. online programs to see if there is any cost savings there – sometimes even saving the cost of gas or being able to keep your regular job hours can be enough to make it possible to earn a degree.
Do Your Research
When you’re looking at specific schools, make sure the school is accredited and has a good reputation, particularly for what you’re looking to do. Does it have a good concentration for what you’re looking to study? If you’re looking to focus on families and children, does the school offer courses to accommodate for that? What about community social work?
Look Closely at the School
When you finally find a school you think you’ll be academically suited at, look closely at what they offer beyond their course requirements. Check out where their professors have come from and if they are connected to any social service agencies. This is particularly valuable for potential networking opportunities down the road. Ask students about the career services department, and find out how willing and able they are to work with students. Thinking about the resources you have access to after graduation is a crucial step in deciding if you want to commit to that particular program.
Finding the right program is the first step in starting your life in social work. Taking some time to consider yourself and all of your options can put you in just the right place.