Over the past year or so, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of us to think more deeply about how we spend our time and the career path that we have chosen. It introduced them to the benefits of remote working for some people, whereas for others, it triggered a strong desire to work in a field that enables them to help other people. Of course, there are many options for altruistic jobs, including becoming a doctor, nurse, teacher, or therapist. However, one role you might like to consider is becoming a social worker.
Being a social worker means dedicating yourself to improving the lives of others and working in the role you need first to gain a social work degree. It is possible to do a master’s in social work, however for most people, the best qualification, to begin with, is a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). This enables you to qualify more quickly and get started on your chosen career path, helping those in need sooner.
This article will go into a bit more detail about what being a social worker involves and then dive into a BSW curriculum online. It will also cover the skills you will need to succeed on the course, some of the benefits of having a social work degree, and how to go about applying for one of these programs. Hopefully, by the end you will feel a lot more knowledgeable about the qualification!
An overview of social work
As a social worker, you will strive every day to help the most vulnerable in society deal with the wide range of problems they may face. This makes it an extremely varied field because you could work with children, the elderly, those who are unemployed, disabled, prisoners, those with mental or physical health issues, and many others. Likewise, the type of setting you can work in is equally varied, from schools, prisons, and hospitals to specialist centers, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
The specific tasks and responsibilities you have will vary depending on where you work and your people. For example, you could find yourself helping those living in poverty access resources such as food stamps and housing, assisting people to cope with big life changes such as divorce or terminal illess, or responding to emergency situations such as child abuse and natural disasters, or mental health crises.
Some specialist centers you could work at include those set up to help people who suffer from addictions and those designed to help people fleeing domestic violence. You could also work to help refugees settle into their new communities or children to settle into foster homes.
Another big aspect of social work is advocacy. You are there to be a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves due to oppression or discrimination. This could be on an individual level by advocating for those directly in your care or on a larger scale by raising awareness among the public and lawmakers about critical issues. This means that by doing a BSW online and qualifying as a social worker, you have the chance to help people individually and make meaningful changes in society as a whole.
The curriculum of a social work degree
Since social work is such a varied field, the curriculum you study on a BSW online or other social work degree will be equally diverse. You will take a selection of academic modules on different topics, some of which will be mandatory and others that you will be able to choose from a list of electives. This gives you some flexibility to tailor the program to suit your personal interests. The exact modules you will have available will depend on the individual course you choose; however, you can expect to cover at least some of the following topics:
- Introduction to Social Work
- Introduction to Economics
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
- Racial and Ethnic Relations
- Social Welfare Policies
- Policy Reform
- State and Local Government
- Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families
- Social Work Practice with Groups
- Basic Skills for Social Work Practice
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment
- Policy and Advocacy
- Diversity and Multiculturalism
- Interviewing and Research Design
- Domestic Violence
- Drug and Alcohol Treatment in Social Work
- Social Work in the Military
Each module will be taught using a mixture of learning methods such as lectures, seminars, tutorials, group work, reading, interactive exercises, and written assignments. Toward the end of your BSW online, you might also have to complete an independent research project and write a lengthy dissertation. This will be on a topic of your choice (though your college must approve it) and gives you the chance to focus on an area of social work that matches your personal interests and career aspirations. Take your time choosing, because you will be spending quite a lot of time on the topic and investigating it deeply.
Social work is a vocational subject, and as such, your degree will also involve completing a certain number of hours on placements. Those taking their BSW online will still be done in person but will be arranged at a suitable location close to where you live. Again, it is best to choose a setting that matches your passions and career goals for you to get the most benefit. If you are not sure exactly what job role you want to have after graduating, you could always try out a couple of different placements to help you narrow it down.
Fieldwork is a fantastic opportunity to put what you have learned into practice and get firsthand experience of what being a social worker is actually like. Don’t worry if this sounds daunting, as you’ll be working under the supervision of a qualified expert who can offer you valuable advice and feedback. It can also be a great way to expand your professional network, ready for when you are applying for jobs or need references.
Skills you need to succeed on a BSW online program
To do well on your BSW online, firstly you will need a strong motivation to help others. Social work is all about giving back to your community, so it’s best suited to those who are compassionate, empathetic, and eager to fight for social justice. This will ensure that you are proactive in helping those in your care and always put your heart and soul into your work and studies.
In addition, there are a number of other critical skills you will need as a BSW online student and later a professional social worker. These include:
- Communication – you will be working with a very wide range of people who have varying levels of communication ability, and for instance, might have to explain complex legal topics to people with no background knowledge of them.
- Patience – sometimes, people will be reluctant to open up to you or will find it hard to trust you, so you will need to take the time to build connections.
- Organization – social workers usually handle many different cases at once, and you will need to be able to keep track of all the tasks, deadlines, and paperwork for each.
- Problem-solving – every case you work on will be unique, so you will need to be able to come up with creative solutions to the different problems your clients are facing.
- Emotional resilience – it is important to be aware that social work can be a challenging job. Cases will not always work out the way you want them to, and you might be exposed to upsetting situations. As such, you need to draw a clear boundary between your work life and your home life to protect your own mental health and well-being.
- Integrity – as a social worker you will be a key member of the community, so you must conduct yourself with professionalism, for example, by always being honest and respecting privacy and confidentiality
When it comes to college-level study more generally, the best advice for success is to attend all your classes (whether in person or virtually for a BSW online), take an active role in discussions, and make effective notes during your lectures. Work on your writing and research skills, keep your notes well organized, and always start your assignments well before the deadline. It can be helpful to try and figure out how you learn best and lean into that – revising material regularly rather than cramming it in the night before a test is a good place to start.
Remember that you can always ask your professors for help or advice when you need it, for example if you do not understand something about a topic. Lastly, take good care of your mental and physical health, because this has a huge impact on your cognitive abilities.
The benefits of having a Bachelor of Social Work degree
Completing a BSW online can bring you many different benefits. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that it enables you to begin a career that will make a genuine difference in people’s lives and the wider community. This can lead to high levels of job satisfaction and personal fulfillment, which is enough of a reason to enroll. Having a job with a sense of purpose is a key way to boost our happiness, health, and even longevity, and a BSW online could be the ideal route for you to achieve this.
Beyond that, social work is a very stable industry in which to be employed. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the job outlook for social workers will grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average across all occupations. This means that graduating from a BSW online can earn you high levels of employability, job security, and financial stability.
Applying for a BSW online
If reading this has inspired you to enroll on a BSW online or other social work degree, the first step is to start researching the different available programs. Some of the factors you want to consider when looking at the courses include:
- Whether you want to study full time or part time
- What the entry requirements are, and whether you either already meet them or will be able to meet them
- The specific module list offered and whether it aligns with your personal interests and career goals
- How much help there is when it comes to finding placements for your fieldwork, and how many hours you are required to complete
- Whether the program has any relevant accreditation
- What the reputation of the course and the wider college is
- The percentage of students who graduate and go on to jobs as social workers
- The location of the college (for campus programs)
- The support services offered by the college (this is especially important for those wanting to take their BSW online)
If you have any questions, you cannot find the answers to, you can always talk to the admissions tutors for the courses that you are interested in. Once you have narrowed down your selection to two or three programs, you can then begin putting together your applications. It is a good idea to apply for more than one course, just in case you do not get accepted on one of them.
When it comes to the application itself, this usually involves submitting a form, your resume, a few academic or professional references, and proof of your existing qualifications. Most colleges will also ask you to write a personal essay about why you want to do a BSW online and become a social worker. This is a key part of the process, so think carefully about what you write and check it for errors before submitting. You want to make sure that your passion for social work and helping others shines through, as well as your ability to succeed on the program. One tip is to try and do some relevant volunteering before you apply for a BSW online, as proof of your dedication. Good luck!