Is the social work major right for you?

If you are a Western Carolina student with an undeclared major and have an interest in serving others, have you considered a career in social work? WCU has nationally accredited programs in social work at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

“Our bachelor’s program currently has about 210 majors,” said Dr. Patricia Morse, the social work department head and graduate program director, “and our master’s program has 65 students.”

Social work is a popular and rapidly growing field. According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work is actually one of the fastest growing careers in the United States.

In addition to the liberal studies program, undergraduate students will take 60 additional hours in social work courses and complete an internship.

“The bachelor’s program prepares social workers for what is called a generalist level of practice,” said Morse, “so that they can have the knowledge, skills and values to work in a variety of social service agencies.”

She continued, “Students can take classes in direct practice, community practice, diversity, research and electives to go into child welfare, addiction, international social work, and social work with children, families, or older adults. As you can see, there are a variety of social work classes we offer.”

The possibilities for a social work degree seem endless. Graduates can work in schools, hospitals, mental health facilities and group homes, among many others. Areas in social work include counseling, school behavioral or attendance issues, hospital discharge planning, and social policy. Many social workers also interact with the healthcare, juvenile justice or mental health systems.

“In addition to child welfare issues related to child abuse and neglect, foster care, or private and public adoption,” said Morse, “social workers often work in schools. Most of the schools in Jackson County have a school social worker, who is responsible for counseling students with issues outside the classroom, or for dealing with trauma whenever there is an incident in the school.

“Many graduates of the BSW program also become qualified mental health professionals,” Morse added. “They can be involved in group counseling and individual counseling with patients with mental health concerns. In military social work, graduates can do family, child, individual or trauma counseling related to death and dying in the military.”

 All undergraduate students will have a hands-on opportunity to work in the field of their choice. In their last semester, they complete an internship.

Morse explained, “We have a director of field education who works with the students to help them discern what areas of interest they have. Then, they go to interviews to see if they are accepted to that agency. In the undergraduate program, students intern in a social work agency for four days a week, and on the fifth day, they come here for a seminar in the morning, which helps them integrate the classroom into their field experience.”

After graduation, many students continue into a graduate program. In order to be licensed clinical social worker or to work independently, students must receive a master’s degree in social work.

“Our master’s program is very competitive here,” said Morse. “Every year, we might have 120 applicants, but we can only accept 30 students.”

WCU offers three levels of the master’s program: advanced standing, full-time and part-time. Advanced standing allows students with excellent scores and references to complete the program in just a summer, fall and spring. Full-time students should finish in two years, and part-time students graduate in either three or four years, depending on how they sequence their courses.

“Graduate students complete two field placements,” Morse said. “One is in the second semester of their first year. The second is their concentration internship, which is done in both the fall and spring of their second year. They can work in various child development agencies, schools, mental health facilities, substance abuse treatment programs or with more macro-level practice dealing with sustainable agricultural or food security programs.”

However, WCU graduates do not just find amazing internships. They excel in the job market, too. According to Morse, all of WCU’s social work graduate students are employed before they graduate with their master’s or within three months of graduation.

“The ability to do so many different things in the field is what makes it so great,” said Morse. “If you want to do counseling and clinical work, you can do it. If you want to do research, you can do it. If you want to be a policy maker, we have graduates who are in D.C. working in policy. We have students all over the place, and they have done all sorts of wonderful, interesting things.”

About her own experience in social work, Morse said, “I have worked as a social worker for over 30 years. I have been an educator, a researcher working with at-risk populations and an administrator. It’s been a great career choice. I have not regretted one minute, one hour or one day of it.”

Sophomore Chelsea White said about the department, “The faculty has been incredibly inviting and inspiring. I decided to pursue social work because it acknowledges literally every aspect of life for every individual. Everyone benefits from the work social workers do. They influence public policies, education, mental health, physical health, addictions, children, the elderly, women, men, minorities, universities, students and faculty-everything.”

If you are interested in majoring in social work, please contact the Department of Social Work at 828-227-7112 or email Dr. Morse at