Both social work degrees allow an individual to become a practitioner in the field of social work. However, the BSW is the less advanced and credentialed of the two degrees.

Licensing with a BSW or MSW

Social Work is a regulated industry. For this reason, a sizeable number of professionals in the field of social work take appropriate state licensure exams to become licensed social workers (LCSW). Requirements for licensure vary state-by-state. For example, while all states allow MSWs can apply for licensure, not all BSWs are eligible; many states require social workers to earn an MSW first. In states that allow for a licensed BSW, degree holders are still limited in the duties they can fulfill. The majority of healthcare agencies and other organizations seek the MSW for employment. Moreover, anyone wanting to go into private practice must first obtain the MSW, then pursue additional hours of supervised training in the field before being allowed to hang a shingle on the door.

BSW vs. MSW salary

Another point of difference between the BSW and the MSW is salary. According to the National Association of Social Workers, MSWs typically earn higher wages than BSW degree holders. For this reason, the BSW is best for entry-level positions in social work.

Why earn a BSW?

For the purposes of career advancement and salary opportunities, many individuals prefer to earn an MSW degree. That said, BSWs who choose to continue their educations and go on to complete the MSW are advantaged in some ways. First off, BSW holders can move through the MSW more quickly by applying for advanced standing. Unlike traditional MSWs, advanced standing programs can be completed in as little as one year. These programs allow BSWs to receive credit for prior coursework and fieldwork. Therefore, they can move quickly towards meeting the requirements for graduation. Additionally, many MSW programs favor admitting a BSW over a candidate who has no prior social work education. BSWs demonstrate a readiness and preparedness for graduate social work study that other BA or BS applicants can’t.

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.