To enter the field of social work, you’ll need a college education. What’s less certain is how you earn your degree – on campus or online. While you can certainly earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from a respected school online, there are plenty of benefits to getting your education the traditional way, through face-to-face courses on the campuses of prestigious schools.
If you’ve weighed the options and decided that an on-campus program is the right choice for you, you’re in the right place. Our list of the top 10 residential bachelor’s in social work degree programs will tell you the most important information you need to know about taking traditional courses at some of the best undergraduate social work schools in the nation.
1. University of California – Berkeley
The University of California – Berkeley isn’t just the number-one undergraduate social work program in the country, as ranked by USA Today . The university as a whole also happens to be the top public school in America, according to U.S. News & World Report – and that’s not all. The school has earned recognition for its innovative approach to education, and its social work degree programs are considered among the best worldwide.
Undergraduate social work students at the prestigious University of California’s Berkeley campus are part of the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, the same branch of the university that offers top-ranked master’s degree programs. The Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare degree program is a joint effort, with undergraduate students studying at the same school as their graduate counterparts but under the jurisdiction of the undergraduate College of Letters and Science. The program has a long and prestigious history, dating back to 1942, and emphasizes the broad knowledge base that comes from a liberal arts education. Residence requirements – referring to taking courses on campus – apply to UC Berkeley undergraduate social work students, as they do to all students in the College of Letters and Science.
Besides completing non-program coursework – including classes in subjects like reading, writing, logic, philosophy, language, literature, science and history – students develop a strong background in social science, social work and related studies. Required core courses include:
- Social welfare policy
- Social work practice
- Social work as a profession
- Current topics in social welfare.
Courses in psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science and a variety of secondary social science departments supplement these courses and allow students to customize their education.
Because so many UC Berkeley students want to major in social welfare, the school recommends declaring the major as early as possible – and no later than the end of sophomore year – to make sure you’re accepted into this in-demand degree program.
Location: Berkeley, California
Enrollment: 27,126 undergraduate students
Tuition: $13,432 in-state; $38,140 out-of-state
2. New York University
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The undergraduate program at the NYU Silver School of Social Work , accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, has earned second-in-the-nation status, according to USA Today. The Bachelor of Science in Social Work professional program splits coursework evenly between liberal arts core classes and social work major courses, so students end up with both a breadth and depth of knowledge. Residence requirements apply, but features like on-site experience and individual attention in courses make for a rich on-campus experience.
If you can’t wait to start making a difference, this program is an excellent choice for you. NYU social work students get plenty of real-world experience even as undergraduates. Field experience requirements add up to more than 600 hours of hands-on supervised practice, offering students in the bachelor’s degree program “the kind of social work experience usually found only at the graduate level.” Additionally, the program features small class sizes that allow for personal attention throughout the student’s undergraduate education.
Besides attaining on-site professional experience, students will complete coursework in subjects like social work practice, research methodology, social welfare programs and policies and human behavior in the social environment. The school’s focus on research and clinical practice as well as a liberal arts background prepares students not only to begin entry-level social work jobs, but also to understand the complexities of today’s social problems and the process of solving them. The coursework and field experience requirements are so extensive that many graduates go on to earn their master’s degree in just one additional year of study. Even those who don’t seek an advanced degree have plenty of professional training to make a great start in their social work careers.
Location: New York, New York
Enrollment: 24,985 undergraduate students
3. Rutgers University
If your interest in a social work career stems from a desire to help marginalized groups like the poor, oppressed and at-risk, why not choose a school that focuses on working with these populations specifically? Rutgers School of Social Work at Rutgers, the State
University of New Jersey, is one such school. The school’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Work program takes a generalist approach to social work education to prepare graduates for a wide range of career opportunities in the field. However, it includes coursework that focuses in on institutional and interpersonal oppression and working with specific high-risk populations.
Students at Rutgers bachelor’s in social work program begin with introductory courses in social work, social welfare policy, research, human sexuality and generalist practice. Throughout their studies, they progress to more advanced work in social welfare services, global health, child welfare services, human behavior in social environments, generalist practice and professional development.
Though the Rutgers undergraduate social work degree is a residential program, the school allows for some flexibility by offering the major at its Newark and Camden campuses as well as its main New Brunswick campus. At every campus, the school guarantees the same quality education that landed it 28 th on U.S. News & World Report ’s list of the top public schools and 3 rd on USA Today’s rankings of the best bachelor’s in social work programs in the country. The major has become so popular that Rutgers regularly has significantly more applicants than there are spots in the degree program, so interested students must apply as soon as they complete their prerequisite courses and must stand out from the competition.
Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Enrollment: 34,544 undergraduate students
Tuition: $14,131 in-state; $29,521 out-of-state
4. Fordham University
New York City happens to be home to a second school that ranks among the top ten bachelor’s in social work programs. Fordham University, a private institution rated among the best national universities by U.S. News & World Report , is also home to the fourth best undergrad social work program in America, according to USA Today.
Students in Fordham’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Work degree program are also part of the Graduate School of Social Service. After completing their first two years of undergraduate studies, including prerequisite courses, students accepted into the major will begin a two-year plan of study that encompasses all of their social work courses plus extensive field experience.
Fordham allows for both full-time and part-time study options, but students must complete their coursework within two years. The school offers undergraduate social work courses at both the Lincoln Center campus in New York City and the Westchester campus in West Harrison.
During their studies, Fordham undergraduate social work students take eight core courses in subjects such as human rights and social justice, human behavior in social environments, research in social work practice, social welfare policy and generalist social work practice. Students learn how to work with groups, families and individuals through their classroom studies. Then they put their knowledge to the test in the real world as part of the program’s field education requirement.
Students engage in 570 to 600 hours of supervised practice in the setting of a social services agency. As seniors, students also take part in an Integrative Seminar, a small learning community that meets regularly throughout the year to help students integrate and apply the skills they learn in the classroom to real-life social work situations. Upon graduation, students have both the academic knowledge and professional training they need to begin a fulfilling career or start a graduate school program like Fordham’s with Advanced Standing status.
Location: New York, New York
Enrollment: 8,633 undergraduate students
5. Adelphi University
Do you want an education from a school that’s not afraid to innovate and change with the times? How about one where service learning experiences let you see firsthand what it’s like to work in the field? Adelphi University, ranked fifth on USA Today’s list of the best bachelor’s in social work programs, has granted Bachelor of Social Work degrees for more than 50 years. However, its commitment to offering an innovative curriculum means that the school adds and changes classes whenever necessary so students can learn the information they need for today’s social work careers.
Undergraduate students at the Adelphi University School of Social Work begin their social work studies in their junior years, after completing their general education and liberal arts requirements. They take courses in generalist social work practice and intervention, social services for children, case management, issues in social welfare, human behavior theory, human rights and social work research. To better prepare students for the interdisciplinary demands of a modern social work career, the school launched innovative new courses like Writing for the Helping Professions to Address Social Issues and the Science of Social Issues. Students can also choose to pursue an optional minor or concentration in child development and family studies .
Service learning is a big part of the Adelphi University social work curriculum. Junior BSW students attain 300 hours of supervised field education experience working with various populations, service delivery systems and social work methods. Seniors complete an additional 400 hours of field experience, in which they apply the skills they learn in the classroom to working with individuals and groups in a real-world capacity. Upon graduation, students have the professional training to join the workforce right away, but they can also apply for Advanced Standing in Adelphi University’s MSW program.
Location: Garden City, New York
Enrollment: 5,071 undergraduate students
6. University of Wisconsin—Madison
Not all social work and social welfare programs cover the same material. That’s why the University of Wisconsin—Madison’s School of Social Work offers two separate undergraduate degree programs, the Bachelor of Social Work and the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Social Welfare. Both programs begin with a liberal arts background and delve into an understanding of today’s social welfare problems.
The BSW program is a professional program that prepares students for generalist careers in the field of social work, or for advanced studies in social work specializations. Students take courses in social welfare policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, statistics, research and the social sciences. Seniors complete more than 250 hours of field experience each semester in settings like community agencies, mental health agencies, county agencies, criminal justice institutions, child welfare services and services assisting older adults. By the end of their education, students learn to act ethically and professionally, to engage diversity and to assess, intervene and evaluate practice with the individuals and groups they serve.
Unlike the BSW program, the social welfare major isn’t focused on developing students’ generalist social work skills. Instead, it covers today’s most important social problems and the economic, social and political contexts through which people view social welfare. Students in this program take some of the same courses as their peers in the BSW program, including social policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, research, statistics and social sciences. They also take electives in social welfare specifically. While there are no field experience requirements for this degree path, the school advises students to gain relevant experience on their own through volunteer opportunities.
Besides taking sixth place on USA Today’s list of the best social work majors in America, the University of Wisconsin—Madison is tied for 11 th place among the top public schools and 41 st among national universities, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report .
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Enrollment: 31,289 undergraduate students
Tuition: $10,415 in-state; $29,665 out-of-state
7. University of Washington
Since 1934, students at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work have enjoyed an innovative education and plenty of advanced research opportunities at the school’s downtown Seattle campus. The school’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare degree prepares undergraduate students for careers as social work practitioners.
Students take courses such as introduction to social work, human behavior in the social environment, community service learning, cultural diversity, social welfare policy, social welfare research and social welfare practice. They also gain hands-on experience through a practicum course that includes 480 hours supervised work with social service agencies. By the time they graduate, students have the thorough knowledge of social problems, policies and practice interventions necessary to start entry-level jobs in generalist practice.
The University of Washington placed seventh on USA Today’s list of the best undergraduate social work programs in America. It also tied for 16 th place on U.S. News & World Report ’s list of the top public schools and 52 nd among the best national universities.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Enrollment: 30,672 undergraduate students
Tuition: $12,394 in-state; $33,513 out-of-state
8. Syracuse University
At Syracuse University, the School of Social Work is part of the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics. Upon completing a generalist practice program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, undergraduates earn their Bachelor of Science in Social Work .
An undergraduate social work education from Syracuse University includes a focus on five distinct professional foundation areas:
- Social welfare policy and services
- Social work practice
- Human behavior in the social environment
- Field practicum
Syracuse allows students to begin their social work education early. As freshmen, students have the opportunity to take an introduction to social work course that offers an overview of professional social work practice. Seniors get to put their academic lessons to the test when they gain real-world social work experience through field instruction . During the course of a yearlong, 500-hour internship, students gain supervised experience in practicing social work “at the micro, mezzo and macro levels” – in other words, working with individual clients, mid-sized groups and large-scale communities.
Besides landing a spot among USA Today’s top 10 undergraduate social work programs, the school ranks among the best value schools in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report .
Location: Syracuse, New York
Enrollment: 15,224 undergraduate students
9. University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas—Austin isn’t just one of the best schools in the country for a bachelor’s degree in social work – it’s also among the biggest colleges nationwide. The undergraduate social work program alone has 300 students enrolled, though class sizes typically range from 30 to 50 students.
Undergrads in the University of Texas—Austin’s School of Social Work start their college careers as pre-social work majors . Once they complete required courses in both social work and liberal arts, they can apply to become social work majors and begin taking the upper-level social work courses that prepare them for professional practice. The curriculum of the University of Texas—Austin’s BSW program focuses on developing a wide range of skills, such as:
- Case management
- Community organizing
- Community outreach
- Crisis intervention
- Problem solving
- Program evaluation
- Research Networking
- Service planning
Field experience is also a big part of the BSW program. Students spend 480 hours gaining work experience during a supervised internship program at a social services agency.
Location: Austin, Texas
Enrollment: 39,523 undergraduate students
Tuition: $9,830 in-state; $34,836 out-of-state
10. University of Georgia
Rounding out the top 10 bachelor’s in social work programs in the nation is the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia. The school’s Baccalaureate of Science in Social Work is a professional program that trains students in the values and principles of social work, teaches them to analyze social policies and prepares them to work with clients that range from individuals to large communities. Graduates have gone on to be generalist social work practitioners in state-sponsored, nonprofit and private settings.
Required coursework includes general practice social work, human behavior, social work research, current issues in social work and social welfare policy and services. Seniors complete a 560-hour internship to get hands-on experience in a field agency.
Social work isn’t the only area where the University of Georgia excels. The school as a whole has earned rankings among the top public schools, best national universities and best college for veterans from U.S. News & World Report .
Location: Athens, Georgia
Enrollment: 26,882 undergraduate students
Tuition: $11,622 in-state; $29,832 out-of-state
Many of these schools have residence requirements that mandate students to take a minimum number of on-campus classes. A number of top 10 undergrad social work schools also require hundreds of hours of on-site field placement work. Each school landed a spot on USA Today’s list of the top ranked colleges for a major in social work . College rankings from U.S. News & World Report provided additional information.
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