The Social Work major is a department within the College of Health and Behavioral Studies.

Admission and Progression Standards

Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.

Description of Major

The Social Work Program prepares students to become generalist Social Workers who are committed to strengthening community life for diverse individuals, families and organizations while promoting social justice through advocacy and action. The Social Work Program emphasizes the development of professional ethics and competence, equipping graduates with the knowledge, values and skills to work effectively in a broad spectrum of social service settings that address poverty, multiple forms of oppression, social injustice, and other human rights violations. The program also prepares students for graduate study in social work.

In addition to lecture and class discussion, the social work program utilizes a variety of teaching strategies, including case-based and experiential approaches to enhance learning. Students are exposed to issues and organizations at local, state, and national levels, though policy forums, conferences, interviews, and service-learning. All majors use the interviewing labs for case simulations and interviewing to develop their practice skills. The department offers minors in Family Studies, Gerontology, and Nonprofit Studies. The Social Work program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

More About the Field 

Social work is a challenging and rewarding profession committed to making a difference by helping to empower people and affecting change at the community and societal level to enhance the well-being of all people. Although there are similarities between social work and other helping professions such as psychology and counseling, social work is distinct in its interdisciplinary knowledge base and its focus on the person-in-environment.

The social work profession spans a wide range of practice areas including child and family services, substance abuse, elder/care/gerontology, immigration, domestic violence, medical services, schools, military services, mental health, homelessness, forensics and unemployment, to name a few. Social workers also have a commitment to be educated about social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or experession, age, marital status, political belief, religion, immigration status, and mental or physical disability.

Social workers use numerous skills in their involvement with individuals, families, small groups, communities, and organizations. These skills include: advocacy, case management, assessment/analysis, communication, interviewing, community outreach, crisis intervention, intake/referral, intervention, networking, policy analysis, problem solving, program development, evaluation, recording/writing, relationship/interpersonal, research, service provision, and team/group/collaboration skills.


The Bachelor of Social Work degree (BSW) is a generalist degree that provides the student with entry-level skills for a variety of human services endeavors. The BSW degree equips students with skills in helping people reach their potential in their environment. This may be done through direct services or by working to change or improve social conditions. BSW students who seek specialization with populations or field of practice should consider continuing their education in an MSW program.

Complementary Majors and Minors 

The BSW is a generalist degree that will provide entry‑level skills for a wide variety of social and human service endeavors. You may want to add breadth and/or depth to your liberal arts/general education foundation. Sociology, Economics and Political Science are excellent for gaining more depth in policy areas. Philosophy courses can increase insight into ethical questions. Social and cultural issues are addressed in Sociology and Anthropology courses, while Sociology and Psychology deal with human behavior. Geography courses can help you better understand global issues and concerns. Language skills, especially Spanish, can add to your marketability.

Another rationale for elective course selection is to learn more about a specific area. For example, minors are available in Conflict Analysis and Intervention, Criminal Justice, Family Studies, Gerontology, Nonprofit Studies, Public Policy and Administration, Exceptional Education Non-Teaching, Substance Abuse Prevention, Urban and Regional Studies, and Women's Studies. Minors are also available in Africana Studies, American Studies, Asian Studies, Humanitarian Affairs, Latin American Studies, Middle Eastern Communities and Migrations, and Russian Studies, any of which would serve to broaden your world view.

Characteristics of Successful Students

Characteristics include: commitment to social and economic justice; willingness to embrace diversity and increase self-awareness; willingness to critique one's communication and interviewing skills; motivation to develop and practice of intervention techniques and strategies; identification with values of the profession; and a desire to help others.


Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.

  • Adult Probation Officer
  • Benefits Specialist
  • Case Manager
  • Casework Supervisor
  • Child Advocate
  • Child Welfare Worker
  • Clergy
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Community Organizer
  • Community Services Board Director
  • Community Social Worker
  • Community Volunteer Coordinator
  • Consumer Advocate
  • Correctional Case Manager
  • Criminologist
  • Direct Service Coordinator
  • Eligibility Worker
  • Employment Specialist
  • Family Caseworker
  • Family Service Worker
  • FEMA Applicant Assistance Officer
  • Foster Care / Adoption Agent
  • Geriatric Social Worker
  • Hospice Director
  • Housing Advocate
  • Industrial Social Worker
  • Juvenile Probation Counselor
  • Learning Center Director
  • Medical Social Worker
  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Outcomes and Research Coordinator
  • Outreach Coordinator
  • Patient Advocate
  • Prevention Specialist
  • Probation/ Parole Officer
  • Psychiatric Social Worker
  • Public Health Social Worker
  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Researcher
  • Residential Counselor
  • Residential Foster Parent
  • School Social Worker
  • Services Coordinator
  • Social Group Worker
  • Social Welfare Administrator
  • Social Work Educator
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
  • Youth Service Coordinator

Who Employs Graduates?

Adoption Agencies, Advocacy Groups, Area Agencies on Aging, Child & Adult Day Care Centers, Child Welfare Agencies, Colleges and Universities, Community Development Settings, Community Mental Health Centers, Correctional Institutions, Court Systems, Developmental Disabilities Services, Domestic Violence Program, Drug and Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities, Early Intervention Programs, Employee Assistance Programs, Family Preservation Agencies, Family Service Agencies, Federal & State Government Agencies, Foster Care Agencies and Group Homes, Head Start Centers , HIV/AIDS Centers, Home Health Agencies, Homeless Shelters, Hospitals, International Aid Organizations, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts, Legal Services Agencies, Non-Profit Agencies, Nursing Homes, Police Departments, Probation Departments, Political Parties, Public and Private School Systems, Refugee Relief Organizations, Religious Service Organizations, Residential Treatment Facilities, Retirement Communities, Senior Centers, Social Services Agencies, Victim Services Centers, Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Internships and Experiential Opportunities 

The field practicum is an important part of social work education. During the senior year the student works alongside agency professionals four days a week for an entire semester. Supervision is provided by a selected agency staff member and faculty field instructor. The student completes at least 472 hours of directed field practice. Opportunities are available in rural and urban areas in Virginia and Washington, DC, as well as internationally in Dominica and El Salvador. Practicum settings include juvenile and adult corrections, family and children services, social services, mental health services, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and spouse abuse services.

View our list of  internship coordinators for each major.

Career Profiles 

Social Workers
Child, Family and School Social Workers
Healthcare Social Workers
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers
Social Work Teachers, Postsecondary 

CSWE Accredited MSW Programs 

Additional Resources to Research Careers
  • Handshake: view new internships and jobs that employers are looking to hire JMU students from your major 
  • Career Outcomes: see where alumni worked or studied right after graduating.
  • GoinGlobal: learn more about employment opportunities overseas as well as H1B visa information for international Dukes pursuing jobs in the U.S.
  • O*NET: browse occupational profiles to learn about thousands of different careers, pulling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 
  • CareerOneStop: explore thousands of different careers by looking at career profiles 
  • Utilize the LinkedIn Alumni tool to see what others have done with their majors and what their career paths look like. Reach out to alumni via LinkedIn and conduct an informational interview.

© University Career Center, James Madison University

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from the JMU University Career Center. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to career@jmu.edu

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