Though most social worker positions require a bachelor's degree, associate degrees in social work can help you learn more about the field, decide which specialty suits you, and take advantage of networking opportunities among those who have the same goals. Social workers play important roles in human services and social service organizations, as well as working with mental health, substance abuse, children, families, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, public health and more.
Coursework for associate degrees in social work
Pursuing an associate degree in social work will expose you to a wide variety of coursework, including psychology, sociology, values and ethics, community resources, human behavior, social policy, political science, social and economic justice, and more. Some programs encourage internships with social service agencies, which can give you valuable work experience in the field. Taking courses in a foreign language might be helpful as well.
Career options, outlook and salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects higher than average job growth in social work; here are the rates of employment growth forecast from 2010 to 2020:
- Child, family and school social workers: 19.7 percent
- Health care social workers: 33.5 percent
- All other social work positions: 16.2 percent
In 2010, the BLS reported the following mean annual wages for these social work positions:
- Child, family and school social workers: $43,850
- Medical and public health: $49,200
- Mental health and substance abuse: $41,880
- All other social work positions: $52,270
Child, family and school social workers typically enter the workforce with a bachelor's degree, while health care social workers generally have a master's degree, according to the BLS. Those who are looking for work in rural areas or have a background in mental health or gerontology should see the best prospects.
Going further than the associate degree
Many aspiring social workers see their associate degree as a way to earn transfer credits that then can be applied to their bachelor's degree. Earning a bachelor's degree in social work or related fields, such as psychology or sociology, can open the door to many entry-level jobs. A master's degree is a must for those who wish to work in a clinical, health or school setting. For teaching position or research appointments, a doctorate is often required.