BSW vs. MSW: Types of Social Work Degrees

Female African American social worker speaks with white family of four.

Employment of social workers is projected to grow 15 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Illinois is among the top states for these professionals.

Increased demand for social workers takes place in all types of areas. Across Illinois and the country, rural poverty involves challenges like higher unemployment figures, lower earnings and a smaller job market compared to urban areas. Cities also face specific and separate problems. For instance, urban poverty in Chicago involves issues like lack of education, inequality and segregation.

Social workers are part of the solution. These highly qualified human services professionals can make a difference in several specialty areas.

BSW vs. MSW

There are two primary types of social work degrees that should be considered for entering the social work profession. The following sections explain some of the basics of the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) degrees.

BSW

A BSW is the most common requirement for entry-level administrative positions. This is where the vast majority of social workers begin their education in the field.

A quality BSW program will provide students with a broad academic background and field instruction in social work. An important sign of a strong program is if it’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a national association representing social work education in the United States. CSWE’s Commission on Accreditation is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States and its territories.

Curriculum will include core courses that prepare students to work with communities, groups, families and individuals in a variety of settings as well as with diverse populations and problems. Here are the core courses for Aurora University’s online BSW, Chicagoland’s only CSWE-accredited online BSW.

  • Survey of Social Work
  • Social Work with Groups
  • Social Welfare: Institutions and Policies
  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Infancy to Adolescence
  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment Adult Lifespan
  • Social Work with Communities and Organizations
  • Individuals and Families
  • Integrative Seminar in Social Work
  • Social Work Research I
  • Social Work Research II

The program includes field placement opportunities and offers multiple entry points for these field placements. Students can typically choose from specific field placement opportunities to tailor the placement to their career interests.

Career outcomes include administrative opportunities in social work and related human services areas. Graduates with a BSW may be able to purse titles such as case manager, care coordinator, community support specialist, mental health assistant, group home worker, residential counselor, activity director and more.

MSW

An MSW is required for clinical social work positions.

MSW programs prepare graduates for general or specialist clinical social work through coursework and field instruction. A good example of these components is Aurora University’s online MSW program, Chicagoland’s only CSWE-accredited online MSW. Students receive a minimum of 1,050 hours of field instruction to apply what they learn from coursework to real-life situations.

The program offers four optional specializations: Advanced Clinical Social Work, Faith-Based Social Work, Health Care and MBA Leadership. Students may also pursue the dual MSW/MBA degree program.

As a result, students receive a broad academic background, specialized study and field instruction in clinical social work. Graduates are prepared for a variety of careers such as health care social worker, clinical social worker, social service administrator, marriage and family therapist and more.

According to the BLS, employment of child, family and school social workers is projected to increase 13 percent by 2026. Health care social workers will increase 19 percent, and mental health and substance abuse social workers will increase 18 percent.

Social Work Degrees and Licenses

States differ in terms of what social work degrees lead to what licenses. Illinois will be used as an example in this section.

A BSW can immediately lead to administrative positions in social work and the general human services field. To become a licensed social worker (LSW), a graduate from a CSWE-accredited BSW program would need three years of supervised professional experience, in addition to other requirements. “LSWs are authorized to practice social work which includes social services to individuals, groups or communities in any one or more of the fields of social casework, social group work, community organization for social welfare, social work research, social welfare administration or social work education,” according to the Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

An MSW graduate can immediately sit for the LSW exam and receive this license. The degree leads to generalist and specialized clinical social work positions. An MSW graduate can also pursue becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) after 3,000 hours of satisfactory, supervised clinical professional experience following the graduate program. There are other eligibility requirements and another path involving a doctoral degree. “LCSWs are authorized to independently practice clinical social work in Illinois under the auspices of an employer or in private practice,” according to the Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Current or prospective social workers should check with their state for information about licensure and educational requirements.

Pursuing a Career in Social Work

You can pursue or advance your career in social work with an online social work degree from Aurora University. Choose from the online BSW and online MSW programs for preparation in direct-service positions and clinical social work careers. In a flexible and convenient online learning environment, you’ll learn the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in your field.