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Can a Felon Get a Degree in Social Work?

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Felons typically find that most things are challenging when they return to society, especially finding a job. Much of society seems to turn its back on felons, and opportunities are difficult to come by.

Often, felons must look at a different career path, including returning to school for additional education. While serving their sentence and paying for their crime, some felons might consider a career making a difference for those who have problems with their living situation or who are suffering from mental health issues. They could explore a career in social work.

This blog post will address whether or not a felon can get a degree in social work.

  • What is Social Work?
  • Getting a Social Work Degree
  • How Much Does Someone with a Social Work Degree Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is Social Work?

A social worker helps people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. A social worker helps with a wide range of situations, depending on their position. A child and family social worker offers protection for children and supports families needing assistance. A clinical social worker diagnoses and treats mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

A social worker typically does the following:

  • Identifies people in need of help
  • Assesses a client’s needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine his or her goals
  • Helps clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Refers people to and advocates for community resources such as food stamps, childcare help, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Responds to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follows up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Maintains case files and records
  • Develops and locates programs and services to ensure that a client’s basic needs are being met
  • Provides counseling services

There are many skills to become a successful social worker, including:

  • Communication skills to discuss challenges in clients’ lives
  • Emotional skills like patience, compassion, and empathy to work with people who are in stressful situations
  • Interpersonal skills to be able to work with different types of people
  • Organizational skills to help and manage multiple clients and assist with their paperwork
  • Problem-solving skills to develop practical and innovative solutions to their clients’ problems

Getting a Social Work Degree

Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and two years of experience in a supervised clinical setting after completing their degree. Clinical social workers must also be licensed by their state.

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level positions. A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork.

Clinical positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes two years to complete. MSW programs prepare students for work in a specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills. All programs require students to complete a supervised internship.

In 2017, there were more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Two years of supervised training and experience after obtaining a master’s degree are typically required for clinical social workers.

All states also require clinical social workers to be licensed. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.

Licensing requirements vary by state, so those interested should contact their state licensure board through the Association of Social Work Boards.

How Much Does Someone with a Social Work Degree Earn?

Social workers held about 682,100 jobs in 2016. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for positions that require a social work degree is $46,890.

Overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster average for all occupations. Increased demand for healthcare and social services will elevate the demand for social workers, but growth will vary by specialization.

Experience and area of the country will also influence the salary a social worker receives. Those with a social work degree working on the East or West coast will typically earn more than ones employed elsewhere in the country.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon can pursue any degree he or she wants. Although 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, there is no standard policy regarding a background check. Any felon that wants to get a degree can find a college that will accept him or her. The challenge is in becoming licensed and obtaining a job after graduating.

While licensing regulations vary from one state to another, most states will consider candidates with a criminal record depending on the seriousness of the crime and the length of time since the offense was committed. Candidates are considered on a case-by-case basis.

It is important to be honest in filling out an application for licensure or for a job. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable. It is a crime to falsify any application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful in obtaining a degree in social work, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already viewed with negative perceptions of being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a degree in social work and beginning a new career. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is challenging, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to get a degree in social work. Giving him or herself the best chance for success by having his or her record expunged and being persistent in pursuing a degree could make a critical difference.

Having support from family or friends could also make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Are you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a degree in social work with a felony? What was that like for them, and how did they achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

1 thought on “Can a Felon Get a Degree in Social Work?”

  1. I have a friend who has their bachelors degree in social work. They were charged with armed robbery 15 years ago. They want to help people from making the same mistakes they made and social work has given them a way to change their life around by helping other people. In NJ robbery cannot be expunged , is it possible they can become licensed with such a serious offense and find work in social work by serving others ?


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