BSW vs MSW vs DSW In Social Work

Is your career goal to become a social worker? This is a very rewarding and in demand profession in the 21st century. It expected that the demand for social workers across the US will rise by 12% by 2024, and we can expect that the demand for health care social workers and clinical social workers will increase by 19%.

Therefore it is sensible that many students and professionals who want a strong, in-demand career with the opportunity to serve society want to earn their social work degree. In that case, your first step in most cases is to earn your bachelor’s degree in social work. Later in your career, you may want to earn your master’s in social work (MSW) and even your doctorate in social work (DSW).

What are the differences in these social work degrees? Below we will explore each social work degree program in more detail.

Overview of a Social Worker Career

Today there are more than 650,000 social workers who help more than 10 million people in the US every year. The main mission of social workers is to enhance the well-being of all people in the country and to meet their basic needs.

The social work field pays attention especially to people who experience mental, physical or intellectual problems and issues. Social workers also work heavily with people who are oppressed, vulnerable and/or in poverty.

A social worker helps many types of people to get solutions to their pressing life problems and helps them to deal with addiction, emotional problems, poverty, discrimination and more.

To become a social worker, you need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work. Earning your bachelor’s degree is how you get an entry level social worker job and gain experience.  Another option is to enter the field with a bachelor’s in another field and earn your master’s degree in social work. All clinical social workers must have at least a master’s degree.

Bachelor of Science in Social Work

A bachelor’s program in social work online requires four years of study for most students and approximately 120 credit hours. Your bachelor’s degree in social work will offer you a good, basic grasp of the introductory principles of social work. You also will learn about human behavior, psychology, and sociology.

After you have finished your introductory, core classes, you can expect to take these types of classes:

  • Social issues and diversity
  • Social welfare
  • Research methods
  • Human behavior in social environments
  • Crisis interventions
  • Family systems
  • Social work ethics

All online degree programs in social work can have most of your classes done online, but you will usually need to have hands-on training in social work in a facility in your area. This is done under the direction of a professional social worker.

University of Utah

A program to consider for your online bachelor of science in social work is the University of Utah. It is one of just eight BSW programs online that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, which we describe later on this page.

This program has a particularly strong focus on developing respectful, supportive relationships with all types of marginalized communities, such as people of color, refugees, immigrants and those with mental illnesses

You are required to take 51 credit hours of mandatory social work courses, and there is an internship or practicum you will complete in your community.

Your required classes for your degree are:

  • SW 2100 – Human Behavior and Social Environment I
  • SW 3102 – Human Behavior and Social Environment II
  • SW 3000 – Applied Social Work Statistics
  • SW 3110 – Social Work Practice I
  • SW 3550 – Social Diversity and Cultural Understanding
  • SW 4100 – International Community Based Research
  • SW 4220 – Social Work Practice II- Couples & Families
  • SW 4330 – Social Work Practice III: Groups
  • SW 4301 – Social Welfare Policy/Service
  • SW 4401 – Social Work Research and Evaluation
  • SW 4440 – Social Work IV

This program graduates 75 social workers out of the program every year and most become social workers in human services, health care or family services.

Master of Science in Social Work

To take your social worker career up the ladder, you can earn a MSW degree that will provide you with the advanced clinical skills that are needed to work as a clinical or health care social worker. Most MSW programs require you to have at least three years of experience as a licensed social worker.

You must have a bachelor’s degree to enter this type of degree program, but it can be in another field. The most important background materials for a MSW program are in the social sciences, such as psychology and sociology.

Along with your classwork, expect to perform up to 3000 hours of clinical training before you can apply for your clinical or health care social worker license.

Featured Online MSW Programs

Easily earn a Master’s in Social Work MSW degree from the following accredited schools online and on your time. Click request information to learn about tuition and financial aid, courses & curriculum, admissions and starting dates.


Arizona State University

A very highly regarded master of science in social work can be earned at Arizona State University. This is one of the most diverse and biggest social work schools in the US, and it is accredited by the CSWE. All of the professors in this online program are noted experts in health and behavioral health, child welfare, community practice and global social work.

In addition to your required classes, you also will do 960 hours of social work, hands on clinical work in your area. You will work with the school’s field education office to locate an appropriate site in your area.

Your required classes are:

  • Social Policy and Services
  • Macro Human Behavior and Social Environment
  • Macro Social Work Practice
  • Foundation Practice I
  • Research Methods in Social Work
  • Assessment of Mental Disorders
  • Advanced Social Work Practice I-III
  • Policy Practice

Doctorate in Social Work

For those who are very experienced social workers and have their master’s degree, you may want to conduct advanced social work research and contribute new knowledge to the field.Those highly qualified professionals may consider earning their doctoral degree in social work. You also should earn your doctoral DSW degree if you wish to be a professor or social work researcher.

You should plan for the program to take three to five years, and you will likely need to complete 45-50 credit hours. Some of the most common types of classes include data analysis, social work history, theories of clinical practice, behavioral theory and methods of inquiry.

Licensing and Certification

After you have earned your social work degree, you will be required to have a license to practice social work for your state. Also, if you are a clinical social worker, you also must be licensed. However, note that some US states may exempt clinical social workers who are employed in government agencies.

Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires you to have a master’s degree, and at least two years of clinical work experience after you graduate. After you have completed this experience, you must pass your clinical examination for licensure.

For more information about the licensing requirements for your state, refer to the Association of Social Work Boards website.


As you are evaluating different social work programs, we advise you to pay attention to the accreditation of both the university and the social work program. We recommend that the university be accredited by one of the regional accreditation agencies recognized by the Department of Education:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

In addition, we recommend that your social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). For you to obtain your social worker license in your state, you generally will need to be a graduate of a program accredited by the CSWE.


Becoming a social worker professional is a very exciting and rewarding profession. How high you go in the field largely depends upon your level of education and skills that you master throughout your social work career.