Social Worker Associate Programs in California

Written by Jack Levinson

shaking hands with fellow social worker

If you’re eager to take the first steps in your social work education but aren’t ready to take on a four year bachelor’s program, getting an Associate Degree of Social Work can be an excellent place to start.

An Associate’s Degree of Social Work will lay the foundations from which you can build a thriving social work career, offering an entry point into the field and a strong basis from which you can continue your education.

There are numerous excellent accredited social work programs in California offering degrees at the associate level, meaning prospective students all over the state should be able to find the opportunity that’s right for them.

So what is an Associate of Social Work degree, and what can recipients do with them? Read on to learn everything you need to know so that you can choose the educational path that’s right for you.

Associates Degrees in Social Work: An Overview

Associate’s degrees are designed for students who have not completed any form of higher education, i.e. bachelor’s degrees. It is intended as a preliminary level of education that can help motivated students build up their foundational knowledge of a given subject, qualifying them for entry-level positions in their chosen field and providing valuable course credits that can be put toward higher degrees in the future.

Associate Social Work programs typically take two years to complete, as opposed to the traditional four years of a bachelor’s program. This can be advantageous for students who aren’t able to take on a full four years of bachelor’s coursework.

Over the course of your Social Work Associate Degree program, you’ll be equipped with the skill and expertise needed to take on supportive roles in social work organizations.

While this degree level alone is not enough to qualify you for California state social work licensure, it will allow you to play an indispensable role assisting licensed practitioners in delivering quality care.

What You’ll Learn in a California Social Work Associate Degree Program

The Social Work Associate Degree curriculum in California can vary depending on the specific program you’re attending, but it will touch upon a variety of key subjects in the social work field. These include:

This framework will give students the foundational knowledge needed to take on assistant and aide roles in social work organizations, as well as potentially guiding students toward the social work specializations they may pursue further into their careers.

Admission Requirements

California social work degree admission requirements will vary by school, but across the board you can expect to be asked for the following:

As you prepare to apply for schools, it’s crucial to look at the exact application requirements of each school on your list, as each school will have its own expectations. Learning what is required of you at the outset of applying will help you tailor your applications to meet each school’s specifications, making you the best candidate possible for your chosen programs.

Associate’s Degree of or Bachelor of Social Work? Deciding Between Educational Paths

Associate’s degrees are intended for students who haven’t yet attended undergraduate programs in any subject. Meanwhile, those who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees also have the opportunity to take on Social Work majors. So what is the difference between these two options, and how can students decide between the two?

First things first: an Associate Degree in Social Work is a two-year program, while a Bachelor of Social Work is a four-year program. This means that for many students, the key difference between the two options is the program duration.

Students who aren’t able to take on the rigorous coursework of a four-year bachelor’s degree can benefit from the more manageable schedule of an associate’s program.

Another key distinction is that a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) will qualify you to apply for Master of Social Work (MSW) programs, continuing on your path to becoming a licensed social worker in California. (In fact, you can hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject to pursue your MSW – a BSW will simply help expedite your academic journey.) One will not be eligible for master’s programs with only an associate’s degree.

That said, it’s often possible for students to put some of the course credits from their associate’s programs toward BSW degrees down the line. This can be a great plan for those who aren’t ready to pursue bachelor’s degrees, as it can help speed up your bachelor’s program once you are ready to take on more academic coursework.

Social Work Associate Programs in CA

The following is a list of affordable social work associate degree programs in California, including on-campus and online, full-time and part-time options to accommodate students with a variety of needs and learning styles. These include offerings at traditional colleges and universities as well as community colleges all over the state.

young man at volunteer event

It’s worth noting that some of the following programs offer degrees in Human Services rather than Social Work. These are similar course offerings to Social Work programs and will render graduates eligible for the same positions in social work organizations.

Take a look at our index of the best social work programs in California below:

Allan Hancock College (Santa Maria, CA)

American River College (Sacramento, CA) – Partial online option available

Bakersfield College (Bakersfield, CA)

Berkeley City College (Berkeley, CA) – Online option available

Cabrillo College (Aptos, CA)

Cañada College (Redwood City, CA)

Cerritos College (Norwalk, CA)

Cerro Coso Community College (Ridgecrest, CA)

Chabot College (Hayward, CA)

City College of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA) – Online option available

Coastline Community College (Fountain Valley, CA)

College of the Redwoods (Eureka, CA) – Online option available

College of the Sequoias (Visalia, CA) – Partially online option available

College of the Siskiyous (Weed, CA)

Columbia College (Sonora, CA)

Contra Costa College (San Pablo, CA)

Cosumnes River College (Sacramento, CA) – Partially online option available

Cuesta College (San Luis Obispo, CA)

Cuyamaca College (El Cajon, CA)

Cypress College (Cypress, CA)

Folsom Lake College (Folsom, CA) – Partially online option available

Fresno City College (Fresno, CA)

Glendale Community College (Glendale, CA)

Las Positas College (Livermore, CA)

Long Beach City College (Long Beach, CA)

Los Angeles City College (Los Angeles, CA) – Partially online option available

Madera Community College (Madera, CA)

Mendocino College (Ukiah, CA)

Merced College (Merced, CA)

Merritt College (Oakland, CA)

Mira Costa College (Oceanside, CA)

Modesto Junior College (Modesto, CA)

Monterey Peninsula College (Monterey, CA)

Moreno Valley College (Moreno Valley, CA)

Mount Saint Mary’s University (Los Angeles, CA) – Online option available

Napa Valley College (Napa, CA)

Orange Coast College (Costa Mesa, CA)

Palomar College (San Marcos, CA)

Rio Hondo College (Whittier, CA)

Riverside City College (Riverside, CA)

Sacramento City College (Sacramento, CA) – Partial online option available

Saddleback College (Mission Viejo, CA) – Online option available

San Bernadino Valley College (San Bernadino, CA)

San Diego City College (San Diego, CA)

Santa Ana College (Santa Ana, CA)

Santa Rosa Junior College (Santa Rosa, CA)

Solano Community College (Fairfield, CA)

Southwestern College (Chula Vista, CA)

Ventura College (Ventura, CA)

Woodland Community College (Woodland, CA) – Online option available

Yuba College (Marysville, CA)

As you can see, the state of California offers a nearly unrivaled number of social work associate degree programs, making it possible for students to pursue the next steps in their career path no matter where in the state they’re located.

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Career Opportunities with an Associate of Social Work Degree in California

An Associate’s Degree in Social Work will qualify you for entry-level positions in social work organizations. These roles are not eligible for the full responsibilities of licensed social workers, meaning you are unlikely to be in a position to provide direct services to clients. However, you will be able to provide direct support to those who do, making their work significantly easier and helping your organization run more efficiently overall.

If you wish to get started quickly in a role in which you can support individuals and families in need, an Associate of Social Work degree will allow you to do so.

Some of the top job titles for those who hold Associate of Social Work degrees include (but are not limited to) the following:

These roles offer terrific ways for aspiring social workers to gain an on-the-ground understanding of a social worker’s responsibilities, as well as helping motivated individuals determine which social work focus area they’d like to pursue in the long term.

Social Work Degree Salary in California

California is one of the nation’s top employers of social workers, ranking as the #1 employer of school social workers, mental health social workers, and other social workers outside of the healthcare profession. This makes it an especially attractive place for incoming social workers to lay down their career foundations.

Salaries for social workers in California also tend to exceed national averages, sometimes by a significant margin. It’s worth noting that this is oftentimes in proportion to the state’s high cost of living. Still, this can be a motivating factor for prospective social work students who are still figuring out where they’d like to practice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following median annual salaries for social workers in the four primary areas of the field:

As you review these figures, keep in mind that the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not sort data according to employees’ education level – all are encompassed under a single job category. This means that those in entry-level positions are likely to earn on the lower side of the salary spectrum among social workers, while those with higher qualifications and more experience are likely to earn more. This can give those who hold Social Work Associate’s Degrees an incentive to return to higher education and possibly pursue licensure down the line.

California Social Work Degree Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report job outlook by state, but national job growth projections for social workers are quite promising.

The BLS projects a job growth rate of 7% for social workers over the next ten years, exceeding national averages in many other fields.

This means that those who pursue social work degrees at any level can expect to find plentiful job opportunities once they enter the social work field. This goes to show that if you’re looking to start a career as a social worker, you’ve picked an excellent moment to make your dreams a reality.

All data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2023 report, accessed July 2024.


Do I need a license to become a social worker in California?

The only social workers who are required to be licensed in California are those who are performing clinical social work, e.g. counseling and therapy services. In order to hold such a role, one must be certified as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which requires applicants to hold Master of Social Work degrees. Those hoping for higher-level responsibilities in social work organizations will also benefit from obtaining their MSWs, while those with BSWs and even Associate’s Degrees are qualified for entry-level social work positions.

Am I able to use my Associate of Social Work course credits as transfer credits later on in my education?

Most of the time, yes. If you plan on pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work degree down the line, chances are that you’ll be able to put some of your associate’s credits toward your bachelor’s degree. This system of social work degree transfer credits in California can make getting an Associate of Social Work a compelling choice for prospective students, as it carries the potential of reducing your requirements while getting a bachelor’s degree.

I already hold a bachelor’s degree. Do I qualify for an Associate Degree of Social Work?

No. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject, you are eligible to apply for a Master of Social Work (MSW), which takes the same amount of time to complete as an associate’s program. Because an associate’s degree is a lesser degree to a bachelor’s, this means it will not make sense for you to complete an associate’s program.

Is there financial aid for social work programs in California?

Yes. Most schools offer their own financial aid packages to help students take on the high cost of schooling. There are also many independent social work scholarships in California that applicants can apply to directly for additional sources of funding. Many of these programs’ applications are due around the same time as your program applications, so it’s imperative to track them down early into the application process. For our complete guide to scholarships, grants, and academic fellowships for social workers in California, visit our guide here.

Is it possible to enroll in part-time social work programs in California?

Yes. There are many part-time programs designed to allow students to maintain outside responsibilities, such as employment or family obligations. These programs reduce each semester’s coursework but extend the overall duration of the program, meaning students taking part-time courses should assume their program will last two to three years total.