A Bachelor’s in Psychology as Preparation for Graduate Level Social Work

Clinical social is a master’s level profession. If your goal is to have the degree as quickly as you can, you’ll want an undergraduate degree in social work or social welfare — this is the one option that can earn you advanced standing. If your goal is a solid foundation for practice, you can choose from a number of social science and human service disciplines, including psychology.

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Psychology can be a very good option if you don’t have the opportunity to do a CSWE-accredited Bachelor of Social Work program. It can also be an excellent choice if you want the versatility of a non-professional degree at the undergraduate level or if you feel you need more coursework in psychological processes than you could get were you to squeeze your bachelor’s and master’s degrees both into five years. (Graduate level social work programs are varied in their emphasis, but students do sometimes come away feeling they didn’t have as much coursework in psychotherapy as they would have liked.)

An undergraduate psychology degree is not a psychotherapy degree, but it is an opportunity to get a very strong foundation in the bases of human behavior. If you opt for a psychology degree over a BSW, you will spend less time at the undergraduate level learning about social injustices or developing skills as a case worker or advocate. You will have more time to explore cognitive and emotional processes and how they shape behavior.

Another vote for earning an undergraduate psychology degree and a testament to its application as preparation for graduate study in social work is that there are several colleges across the country that offer a dual-degree program leading to a bachelor’s degree in psychology and terminating with a master’s degree in social work. Mercy College in New York is one such college where students, after completing their bachelor’s in Psychology, can finish their master’s in social work within a year.

Coursework Options

Undergraduate psychology is not direct preparation for a licensed profession and does not have a standard program-level accreditation or curriculum. You can expect some core requirements. Depending on the particular school and program you opt for, though, you may have the opportunity to select from almost unlimited electives.

You can use this opportunity to explore areas of interest. Graduate level clinical social workers may focus on health or mental health; some work with individuals with developmental disabilities. You may have the opportunity, as an undergraduate psychology major, to take classes in health psychology as well as in psychopathology. In addition to generalist psychology programs, some schools offer special programs like developmental psychology.

Internship and Research Opportunities

Your undergraduate psychology major may require less time out in the field, working in social service agencies. The Bachelor of Social Work is a professional program that prepares you for licensure (albeit at a lower level) in some states — thus, professional programs must include professional practice. Because undergraduate psychology is not a professional degree, field experience is not universal. Your undergraduate psychology program may require internship or may make it optional. Recognize that graduate social work programs do like to see some related experience. The level of assistance you receive in finding appropriate placements will vary. Some psychology programs have a track record!

If you are interested in research, this is an area where psychology departments often shine.

Future Options

If psychology is what you want to study now and you’re wondering whether you can go on to study social work, the answer is absolutely… provided you are a strong enough candidate academically and otherwise.

You will spend the equivalent of a full two years at the graduate level but you will exit eligible for the same license level that you would if you began with a BSW. You will have a different set of experiences to draw.

And how will you look to the admission committee? Graduate programs in social work often require some behavioral science coursework. Your undergraduate psychology program can allow you to do a good deal more than just get your prerequisites in. There is no degree that guarantees admission, but it can be advantageous to have a degree in a related field. Psychology is indeed that.