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Should I Major in Behavioral Science for a Social Work Career?

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In addition to providing services or therapy, social workers often become involved in efforts to change social conditions, such as poverty. Much of social work is related to helping people with behavior-related issues. However, the primary focus of social work is to encourage individuals to deal with problems by using their personal resources and developing or improving self-management strategies. Social workers may have different degrees.

Degree Requirements Vary

The National Association of Social Workers recommends a degree in social work for anyone planning a social work career. A bachelor's degree is the minimum entry-level requirement. Social workers who provide therapy must have a master's degree, while a doctorate is usually required for research or to teach at the university level. Licensing requirements for social workers vary by state and specialty. Clinical social workers, for example, must be licensed in all states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The social worker's degree, however, does not usually affect licensing status.

More Than a Degree

Educational and licensing requirements for social workers also differ according to whether they provide direct services or therapy for mental health issues. Clinical social workers, for example, must have a master's degree in social work as well as 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience after they graduate, according to the BLS. In addition, clinical social workers must be licensed in all states and cannot sit for the licensing examination until they have completed their supervised clinical experience.

Behavioral Science Degrees

A behavioral science degree may be acceptable in some states for social workers. The BLS notes that, although a degree in social work is the most common educational credential, degrees in related fields, such as psychology or sociology, may be acceptable to some employers. Pennsylvania State University reports that a degree in applied behavioral science is meant to prepare students for human service careers, including human resources and social work. Penn State's applied behavioral sciences degree offers two options: social and human services and interdisciplinary social science. Either is meant to prepare a student for direct service careers, such as social work.

Do Your Research

Each academic institution may offer different courses for degrees in social work and behavioral science. At Texas State University, for example, the bachelor's degree in social work includes courses in psychology, history, math, English, social work, philosophy, sociology, biology, political science, biostatistics and clinical practice. The behavioral sciences degree at the University of Michigan Dearborn also includes psychology and sociology, as well as human development, anthropology, social organization/social structure, normal/abnormal personality and societal issues. Since state requirements vary, check with the licensing board in your state to determine whether a degree in behavioral science is acceptable for a social worker.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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