Skip to content

Social Work Major Guide for 2015-2016

What is Social Work

Social workers are professionals who work to empower individuals, assist at-risk populations, and affect social change. The profession’s fundamental mission addresses serving people who need assistance and making social institutions more responsive to human needs. What distinguishes social work from other helping professions is this focus on reciprocal relationships between persons and their environments and the strong commitment to social and economic justice. Social workers are problem-solvers who are able to intervene in multiple-level systems and perform various professional roles in today’s changing global world. These actions are guided by a knowledge base, code of ethics, and professional values.

Social workers are educated and trained to make a positive impact in often-difficult situations. Social workers help people overcome problems such as situational crises in daily living, loss, poverty, mental illness, child abuse and neglect, economic uncertainty, homelessness, and drug abuse. They work with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities to identify and address these problems. Advocacy is a prominent professional role that is expected of social workers. This practice role normally includes working with clients, be it with an individual, group, or community, to systematically address decisions and policies that are unjust and agencies and organizations that are unresponsive. Social workers intervene to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and all forms of social injustice.

Career Opportunities in Social Work

For sheer variety, few occupations can match social work. There is a broad range of opportunities and settings. Social workers are found in public agencies, private businesses, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, mental health centers, family service agencies, residential treatment facilities, police departments, the military, research centers, and other interesting workplaces. They work with special populations of people, such as in aging, immigration, juvenile services and probation, child welfare, developmental disabilities, criminal justice, and public welfare, to name a few.

There is great demand for practitioners who have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited program in social work. In a recent UT BSSW alumni survey, respondents indicated employment as a social worker was found on average in less than two (2) months after graduation.  After receiving their baccalaureate degree, many students continue with their education in graduate programs in social work.

Salary Trends in Social Work

A professional social worker must have a degree in social work from a college or a university program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The undergraduate degree is the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW or BSSW). The BSSW degree at UT is accredited by CSWE. The employment of social workers is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The median annual wage for social workers (including those with an MSW or MSSW degree) was $44,200 in May 2012 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

High School Preparation

It is recommended that students follow the standard college preparation track available in their high school with some electives in social and behavioral sciences as well as course work that addresses human diversity and intercultural and international topics. Also highly recommended is intense study in a foreign language, preferably Spanish. Volunteer work in social service agencies and organizations would be beneficial in this major.

How to Major in Social Work

Students may declare social work as their major when starting at the University or by contacting the BSSW Program Office at (865) 974-3352. Any student at the University may enroll in lower-division social work courses (SW 200  or 207 – Introduction to Social Work and SW 250 – Social Welfare) and some upper-division social work courses (with consent of the instructor). Students admitted to the university may request a faculty advisor from the College of Social Work. Progression of students in the Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW) program to courses numbered 312 and above is competitive and is based on capacity. Factors considered include overall grade point average, performance in selected lower-division courses, and personal qualifications deemed acceptable for entrance into the professional practice of social work. Students with an intent to enroll in SOWK 312 in the fall semester must complete and submit the BSSW Progression Application Packet by February 1. Students with an intent to enroll in SOWK 312 in the spring semester must complete and submit the BSSW Progression Application Packet by September 1. These minimum standards for consideration do not guarantee enrollment in SOWK 312 and progression to upper-division status within the college. The final decision for enrollment in SOWK 312 and progression to upper-division status resides with the department head or designee. Students in the college are encouraged to participate in community service and/or volunteer activities at a social service agency in advance of upper-division social work coursework. Students are advised that several field placement agencies and licensing boards require successfully passing a criminal background check. These progression requirements are identified in the University of Tennessee Undergraduate Catalog (

Requirements for Social Work

Students must complete 45 credit hours of required social work courses.
SW 200 – Introduction to Social Work (3)
SW 207 –  Honors: Introduction to Social Work (3)
SW 250 – Social Welfare (3)
SW 312 – Interviewing Skills and the Helping Relationship in Social Work Practice (3)
SW 313 – Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families (3)
SW 314 – Human Behavior and the Social Environment (3)
SW 315 – Social Work Practice with Groups, Organizations, and Communities (3)
SW 316 – Understanding Diversity in a Global Society (3)
SW 317 – Honors: Human Behavior in the Social Environment (3)
SW 318 – Honors: Understanding Diversity in a Global Society (3)
SW 380 – Field Practice in Social Work I (3)
SW 410 – Social Work Research (3)
SW 416 – Social Welfare Policies and Issues (3)
SW 417 –  Honors: Social Work Research (3
SW 460 – Integrative Seminar (3)
SW 467 – Honors:  Integrative Seminar (3)
SW 480 – Field Practice  in Social Work II (6)
SW 481 – Field Practice  in Social Work III (6)
SW 483 – Social Work Field Practice (12)


Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

The curriculum combines classroom experience and agency-based field placements. Students have two educationally directed field placements for a total of 600 clock hours in an agency setting. Placements provide extensive and challenging opportunities for students to apply the lessons of the classroom. Students may begin field placement in the spring term of their junior year or the summer session after and complete 120 hours during the semester.  The senior placement is more intensive, with the student in placement for 16-20 hours per week for two semesters or 35 hours per week for one semester.  Students are supervised by professional social workers in the agency and monitored by a faculty member who also facilitates a weekly field seminar.

The field seminar, held concurrently with the field placement, provides a vehicle for students to engage in a dynamic, interactive exchange designed to facilitate the integration of classroom learning with the knowledge and experience gained in field. A variety of field sites are available including: schools, mental health centers, hospitals, family service agencies, probation and parole, nursing homes, residential programs for youth, and refugee resettlement programs.

Social work majors with a cumulative GPA of 3.50 or higher may enroll in the social work honors concentration.  By taking honors versions of several social work courses, high-achieving honors students have the opportunity to engage in creative activities and projects while earning their BSSW with honors degree.

Highlights of Social Work

Students in the major are participants in a unique, challenging, and meaningful learning experience that includes:

  • development and use of critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills
  • skills labs and active-learning in the classroom
  • 600 hours of field practice (internships)
  • student organizations that contribute to the community
  • a competency-based curriculum
  • development of a portfolio that demonstrates competency attainment
  • opportunity for certification in child welfare
  • preparation for social work licensure
  • a sense of community between students and faculty
  • opportunity for honors-level work including the development and presentation of a research project

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

Students majoring in social work have many opportunities to experience and explore different cultures.  In addition to those opportunities available through the University’s Study Abroad Program, International House and related activities on campus, students in the College of Social Work are encouraged to study abroad for a semester.

The College of Social Work has relationships with many international universities that facilitate students completing General Education courses as well as social work courses and field practice in foreign countries.  Such opportunities and relationships increase students’ understanding of diversity and international issues while remaining on their path toward graduation.   Study abroad opportunities in the junior and senior years are determined by degree requirements.   Students are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the Director of Field and International Education (865-974-8984) as soon as possible.

Those students who are unable to study abroad during their academic careers have opportunities to work with international exchange students visiting the College of Social Work and complete field placements at agencies serving international clients.

Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, go to

For More Information

BSSW Program
University of Tennessee
College of Social Work
Physical Address: 2438 Dunford Hall
Mailing Address:  303 Henson Hall
Knoxville, TN  37996-3333
(865) 974-3352



The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.

Report an accessibility barrier