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How Long Does Social Worker Schooling Take?

by Erica Loop

If you enjoy helping others with life challenges, a service position as a social worker is a career to consider. Between the years 2010 and 2020 social work jobs are expected to grow by 25 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Getting the proper schooling to become a social worker requires a minimum of a four-year undergraduate degree, and possibly an additional master's degree.

Licensing

Not every social work school program will qualify you to become a licensed social worker. While some two-year associate degree programs offer social work courses, these won't give you the educational experience to sit for your state's licensing exam. According to the Association of Social Work Boards, a bachelor's degree is the minimum level of education for gaining licensure. Additionally, the specific undergraduate institution that you choose must have accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) for you to become a licensed social worker.

Bachelor's Degree

An entry-level social work job, such as a case manager or home visitor, requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree. The CSWE notes that, as of the summer of 2013, 489 accredited undergraduate social work schools offer programs in the U.S. Most bachelor's programs in social work take at least four years -- similar to other undergraduate degrees -- to complete. The exact amount of time undergraduate social work schooling takes depends on how many credits you take per semester and if you attend school on a full- or part-time basis. Additionally, some social work schools don't admit undergraduates until they are upper-level students. For example, the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work only allows juniors and seniors into their program. Complete all of your general education and prerequisite courses before beginning the higher-level social work classes.

Master's Degree

Although continuing school beyond a bachelor's degree takes extra time, a graduate program in social work often means advancing your career and opening up more job opportunities. Not every master's of social work (MSW) program requires applicants to have a bachelor's in social work as well. That said, you must have an undergraduate degree in a related area -- such as education or human development -- prior to admissions to an MSW program. After graduating with a bachelor's degree, students who wish to start a master's program must typically take another two years of schooling. If you have a BSW, some schools will grant you advanced standing, shortening the duration of the graduate program. For example, the University of Denver's MSW degree offers an advanced standing option for BSW's, making the graduate course of study one full academic year or three -- fall, winter and spring -- semesters.

Additional Schooling

Some social work specializations may require additional schooling beyond the typical bachelor's or master's course work. This may include internship credits or supervised practical training that comes as part of an academic program. For example, becoming a certified school social worker specialist, according to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), requires a master's degree plus at least two years of documented supervised experience working in a school social work setting. Another advanced practice option that some social work students consider is working as a college professor or going into academic research. These types of careers typically require a doctorate degree. This may take, depending on the specific school and your full- or part-time options, between two and four years to complete. For example, New York University's doctoral program is a two-year full-time, four-year part-time degree.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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