Options for Students Without CSWE Accredited Bachelor’s Degrees
It used to be that a lot of jurisdictions would license social workers who had bachelor's degrees from programs that weren't accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The degree didn't necessarily have to be in social work per se -- it could be in a closely related field. We're moving away from that. Most states now require CSWE accreditation for licensing (or, in the case of foreign degrees, CSWE equivalency).
Social work master’s programs will often accept students whose degrees aren’t in social work or even social services.
So what do you do if you have a bachelor’s degree from a program that didn't have CSWE accreditation – or a degree in some other related field? You'll want to get to know the licensing board of your own state and any state you are considering moving to. The state's practice law is very important. Some states don’t license baccalaureate social workers. Many have exceptions to mandatory licensing. They may, for example, state that social workers at governmental agencies are exempt. Sometimes even nonprofits have exemption. On the one hand, no one would suggest that you pursue a degree from anything other than a CSWE-accredited program and expect to practice as a social worker. On the other hand, if you do have one of those degrees -- and particularly if you have experience in human services -- you may still find a position.
A few jurisdictions license social work associates. Having two years of education in the social services is generally adequate. Having four years won't necessarily get you a higher credential, but it may look good to employers. If you can't find a job in the social work arena, you may still find one as a social services worker. And while you're working (and drawing a salary) you can think about your next step.
Pursuing a CSWE Accredited Master's Program
The best option is often to pursue a master's degree from a CSWE-accredited institution. A master's degree has its advantages even for a professional who’s already licensed. It generally allows social workers to practice at a higher level than they could with a bachelor's. Social workers with a master's degree and (paid) post-master experience often have the opportunity to become mental health practitioners.
The state's social work practice law is very important when deciding on an educational path.
And for those not interested in clinical work? Masters programs offer social workers the opportunity to specialize in other areas, including macro social work. The National Association of Social Workers notes that candidates with graduate degrees are often preferred for administrative positions.
Will a CSWE-accredited master's program accept a student who doesn't have a Bachelor of Social Work? Absolutely! Social work master’s programs will accept students whose degrees aren’t in social work or even social services. All that is required, degree-wise, is that the institution itself has regional accreditation. This is per CSWE standards. However, both private and public universities -- reputable ones -- generally have regional accreditation. Many schools that we think of as career-focused have regional accreditation as well.
If your undergraduate program didn't have CSWE accreditation, you do lose out on advanced placement opportunities. However, you can still be a very attractive candidate in the eyes of the admission committee. Social work programs typically place less weight on academic accolades than psychology programs do; what they tend to value very highly is real world experience in the helping professions!
If you don’t have experience, you may do well to work for a while and then apply. And when you do enroll? Having strong background knowledge can make the classes seem easier -- and the fieldwork less stressful. Some universities do offer most of the social work curriculum online. There is often an option to be full- or part-time.
A CSWE accredited graduate degree can take you a long way toward meeting the license requirements of any state.
Featured Online Programs
Click Here to find additional CSWE Accredited Master's in Social Work Programs in the CSWE Directory of Accredited Programs.