Editor’s Picks: Associate Social Work & Human Services Degrees in California

Written by Sam Medley

badge for top associate degrees in social work in californiaNo matter how strongly you feel called to become a social worker in California, there are a lot of reasons you might not start your journey. Maybe you’ve explored bachelor’s and Master’s Social Work programs, but can’t find one in your budget. Or maybe you’re a parent or working student and time’s just not on your side. You need a program that’s close to home, offers a flexible schedule, and perhaps even has some online options.

Fortunately, California is home to associate degree programs in social work, human services, and other related disciplines — and they’re designed for students just like you.

On our Editor’s Choice list for the best associate degree programs in social work & human services in California, you’ll find:

Students who earn associate degrees in social work or human services typically take two paths.

Path 1: Enrolling in a BSW Program

The first path is transferring to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s in social work (BSW). If you choose this option, many of the classes you took at the associate level may count towards your BSW. Many transfer students only need to take two years of classes at a four-year university. Because associate degrees are often much more inexpensive than bachelor’s degrees, taking this path can be a great way to save money.

listening to university lecture

Transfer policies differ between schools. Fortunately, many of the programs on our list are California Community Colleges with transfer agreements with California State Universities (CSU) and Universities of California (UC). Some even offer associate degrees for transfer (ADT) that are specifically designed for students who want to continue their education. You’ll see two types of transfer degrees on our list:

If you plan on transferring, be sure to consult with your school’s transfer department so you can get the most out of your degree. Keep in mind that even though a program might not offer an AST or AAT, you may still receive transfer credit.

Path 2: Entering the Workforce

If you’re not quite ready to transfer to a four-year program, earning an associate degree in social work or human services can prepare you to enter the workforce. However, an associate degree is seen as an entry-level degree by many employers. That being said, entry-level workers hold vital roles in agencies of all kinds.

With an associate degree in social work and human services, you might become a:

Though each role differs slightly, you’ll likely help clients connect with the resources they need (housing programs, child care, income assistance, etc.), help your colleagues plan events, and assist more senior social workers. There are about 86,000 social workers in California who serve millions of people — professionals at all levels play their part.

Want to explore more options? Check out or list of the most affordable associate degree programs in social work & human services in California and learn more about financial aid.

Our Editor’s Picks for the Top Associate Social Work & Human Services Degrees in California

American River College

Human Services Program
Sacramento, CA
Website

american river college

AA in Human Services (On-campus with some online classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,795
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $23,670

ARC’s human services program prepares students to take on roles in human service agencies of all kinds. While courses like Ethical Issues and Client’s Rights introduce students to the principles of the field, the curriculum also includes classes on skills like individual counseling and group therapy. In their last semester, students get the chance to practice their new knowledge through a human services internship. With degrees and certificates available in multiple social-service-related topics, you can customize your schedule to fit your goals.

Bakersfield College

Behavioral Sciences Department
Bakersfield, CA
Website

bakersfield college

AA in Human Services (On-campus with some online classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,860
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $19,120

While BC’s human service associate degree program teaches students about the theories and techniques behind social service, the broadly-focused curriculum is great for students who aren’t quite ready to specialize. Courses in sociology and psychology provide a foundation of knowledge that can be taken just about anywhere. However, students also take classes on the experiences of diverse groups and the psychological development of people from birth to death. Through a 216-hour fieldwork experience, students get to see these principles in action and hone their skills under the supervision of working professionals.

Cañada College

Redwood City, CA
Website

canada college

AAT in Social Work and Human Services (On-campus)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,724
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $18,116

Situated on a 131-acre campus about halfway between San Francisco and San Jose, Cañada College is a great choice for students looking for an accessible human service degree in the Bay Area. While the core curriculum includes everything from a social work fieldwork experience to classes on statistics and psychology, where this program really shines is its electives. Students can choose from courses on children and families, abnormal psychology, race in society, and more. However, if you’re eyeing a career in advocacy, an AAT in social work isn’t your only option at Cañada. The school is home to many other programs that equip students to help underserved communities in different ways.

Cerritos College

Humanities/ Social Sciences Division
Norwalk, CA
Website

cerritos college

AA in Liberal Arts With an Emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,746
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $22,473

Cerritos College’s social and behavioral sciences programs offer degree options for all types of students. Through the social and behavioral sciences degree program, students learn how to approach today’s biggest social issues through a critical lens. The Chicano and women’s and gender studies programs offer similarly research-focused experience to students who want to apply their passions to more specific areas. However, the mental health worker degree program is built for students who want a more hands-on education. Classes cover topics like psychosocial rehabilitation, abnormal psychology, and the development of healthy therapeutic relationships. This program also includes a fieldwork experience that helps future social workers develop career-ready skills. Like other California Community Colleges, many Cerritos courses qualify for transfer credits at CSU schools, but with five campuses nearby, students here don’t have to travel far.

Cerro Coso Community College

CC Online Campus
Ridgecrest, CA
Website

cerro coso community college

AS in Human Services (Online or hybrid)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,870
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $21,438

Working and otherwise busy students should look into Cerro Coso’s online human services program. Required classes like Case Management, Computer Literacy, and Introduction to Social Work and Human Services help students develop practical career skills. While this program doesn’t offer any degree specialties, electives like Child Development and Psychology of Substance Abuse help students apply their skills to specific areas of social work. These courses are a mix of live and pre-recorded lectures meaning students get a balance of convenience, support, and interaction.

City College of San Francisco

Behavioral Sciences Department
San Francisco, CA
Website

city college of san francisco

AAT in Social Work (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $3,627
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $27,375

With transfer agreements with CSU, some online classes, and a number of free student resources, City College of San Francisco offers one of the most accessible social work programs in the Bay Area. The core curriculum introduces students to human service techniques and includes classes on psychology, sociology, critical analysis, and behavioral science statistics. With electives covering topics like child development, addiction, and large-scale social issues, students can take their education in just about any direction. However, City College also offers degrees in multiple areas of social justice including a unique cannabis studies program that takes a scientific approach to an emerging and often misunderstood field.

College of San Mateo

Addiction Studies Program
San Mateo, CA
Website

college of san mateo

AA in Addiction Studies (On-campus and online)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,752
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $19,776

Human service degrees aren’t rare at California Community Colleges, but specializations like the addiction studies program at CSM are. Because of the highly-focused curriculum, students have room in their schedules to dive deep into their calling. For instance, the Co-Occurring Disorders course covers the intricate relationship between mental health and substance abuse. In classes like Case Management and Intervention, Treatment, and Recovery, students learn evidence-based techniques for helping people suffering from addiction and their loved ones. And with a two-part field studies seminar and classes on ethics, this program is rooted in preparing students for their careers. This program is also part of CSM’s University Transfer Program. In some cases, students can transfer 60 to 70 units to a CSU school, a UC school, or an independent university.

College of the Sequoias

Social Sciences Division
Visalia, CA
Website

college of the sequoias

AS in Human Services (Social Work) (On-campus and online classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,792
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $17,221

With its skills-based curriculum, the human services program at COS is designed for students looking to jump right into their careers. Over the course of about 34 credit hours, students learn about client interviewing, assessment, running group sessions, and other skills entry-level professionals need to know. From there, they can choose two of 13 electives like Issues in Family Violence or Human Sexuality that prepare them to work in different types of agencies. In each class, students are asked to complete a case vignette in which they identify services, interventions, and ethical principles that might come up in different scenarios. This combined with a fieldwork experience bridges the gap between classroom learning and real-world application.

College of the Siskiyous

Career and Technical Education Program
Weed, CA
Website

college of the siskiyous

AA in Alcohol and Drug/Human Studies (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $3,258
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $23,059

While COS’s human studies program is focused on addiction treatment, it’s designed with multiple types of students in mind. Those who want to enter entry-level recovery support positions can walk away with a firm grasp of the psychophysiological aspects of addiction, evidence-based treatments, and how to serve different populations. By working closely with school counselors, students who want to transfer to four-year universities can figure out which CSU school, UC school, or private college is their best option.

Columbia College

Social and Behavioral Sciences Program
Sonora, CA
Website

columbia college

AAT in Social Work and Human Services (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,915
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $14,616

Columbia College takes the stance that sociology is all about the human experience and the history, institutions, and injustices that shape it. Social work is the field responsible for addressing those issues. For that reason, they’ve developed a social work associate program that covers them all. Economics courses introduce students to policies that create haves and have-nots. Statistics courses teach future professionals how to gather, interpret, and present data about the populations they serve. These classes bolster a core curriculum that teaches fundamental social service techniques and allows students to practice them through a fieldwork experience. As an AAT, this program is designed to help students expand their knowledge by transferring to a CSU school with a similar major.

Contra Costa College

Health and Human Services Department
San Pablo, CA
Website

contra costa college

AA in Health and Human Services (On-campus, online, and hybrid)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,624
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $18,080

Whether you want to transfer to a four-year university in the Bay Area or jump right into the region’s diverse social service workforce, Contra Costa College’s AA in health and human services program can get you started. Core classes cover fundamentals like case management, ethics, and counseling. However, students can get a more in-depth education through electives and certificate programs focused on dual diagnosis, psychosocial rehabilitation, and peer support services (a type of mental health recovery counseling that focuses on overall well-being). Though not required, Contra Costa’s fieldwork program is unique because it has multiple options for students in different specialties. Qualifying San Pablo locals can enroll in this program at 50% of the total cost thanks to the school’s partnership with the San Pablo Economic Development Corporation.

Cosumnes River College

Health and Human Services Division
Sacramento, CA
Website

cosumnes river college

AA in Human Services, General (On-campus and online classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,795
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $23,670

The human services program at CRC focuses on preparing students to enter the workforce. Along with teaching skills like interviewing and counseling, the curriculum also includes classes like Employment Skills in Human Services that center on the legal and ethical sides of the field. But what sets this program apart is the faculty’s commitment to keeping it up-to-date and relevant. The Topics in Human Services course changes each semester and covers issues not fully taught in other courses. And in the Independent Studies class, students get to work on individual and group projects focused on their interests.

Cuesta College

Addiction Studies, Social Work, and Human Services Department
San Luis Obispa, CA
Website

cuesta college

AA in Human Services (On-campus and online classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,682
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $19,187

Students in Cuesta College’s AA in human services program have three concentrations to choose from: addiction studies, parenting education and family coaching, and paraprofessional counseling. Each track introduces students to techniques they’ll use to serve their chosen client base as well as theories they can use to develop their skills throughout their careers. While the AA program is for students who want to start working after graduation, the AAT program prepares students to transfer to a four-year university. AAT students take some of the same classes, but they also study sociology, statistics, and other fundamental subjects that count for lower-division credit at CSU schools. With social justice, addiction studies, and public policy degrees to choose from, there’s something for future advocates of all kinds at Cuesta College.

Cuyamaca College

Behavioral and Social Sciences Pathway
El Cajon, CA
Website

cuyamaca college

AA in Social Work (On-campus and online classes)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,680
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $20,920

Cuyamaca College’s broad approach to social work education helps students discover their calling. In the Social Work Fields of Service class, they learn about different types of social work and the role each professional plays. Other courses help them develop the critical thinking and practical skills they need to help clients through poverty, mental health issues, discrimination, and other life-changing issues. To tie it all together, students are asked to volunteer at a local service agency and see first-hand how working professionals make differences in people’s lives and their communities.

Folsom Lake College

Social Work/Human Services Program
Folsom, CA
Website

folsom lake college

AA in Social Work/Human Services, General (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,795
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $23,670

Whether you enroll in FLC’s AA or AAT social work program, you’ll get a multidisciplinary education in the human experience. Along with taking classes on vital social work skills like case management and interviewing, students can also take cross-cultural psychology, economics, and statistics. And with an impressive list of electives, they get the opportunity to explore specialties like forensic social work, child welfare, and social justice advocacy. This well-rounded program can help you figure out what path is right for you.

Fresno City College

Psychology, Sociology, and Human Services Department
Fresno, CA
Website

fresno city college

AS in Human Services (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,662
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $19,366

Fresno City College is one the few associate social work programs on this list to offer multiple degree specializations. The first is the alcohol and drug abuse counseling option. This pathway introduces students to addiction intervention strategies and the laws and ethics involved. Electives like Abuse Within the Family and Abnormal Psychology dive deeper into social and psychological factors behind substance abuse. The second specialization option is pre-social work. On this more broadly-focused path, students learn about strategies and theories they can use in any kind of agency. Both programs include a fieldwork experience. However, students who plan on earning a bachelor’s in social work may also want to investigate the AAT program which includes classes designed specifically to meet CSU curriculum standards.

Long Beach City College

Social Work Department
Long Beach, CA
Website

long beach city college

AA in Social Work (On-campus, online, and hybrid classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $3,112
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $23,692

Made up of nine core classes, Long Beach City College’s associate social work program is one of the most comprehensive in the state. As students explore specialities like victimology and gerontology, they learn specific techniques used by professionals in various types of agencies. However, with classes like Conflict Resolution and Stress, Change, and Managing Roles, students also learn skills they can use to help just about any community. As part of the school’s CTE initiative, this program can prepare students to enter the field immediately after graduation or continue their education at a four-year university.

Madera Community College

People and Society Pathway
Madera, CA
Website

madera community college

AAT in Social Work and Human Services (On-campus)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,668
Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time Out-of-state Students: $21,866

Students who want to transfer to a four-year college from Madera Community College have a lot of options. While the school has transfer agreements with six UC campuses, it also provides a curriculum designed to meet credit requirements at all UC and CSU schools, as well. For Madera’s social work students, that means taking classes like Intro to Social Welfare and Fundamentals of Interviewing and Counseling to develop a fundamental yet highly flexible skillset. Through the school’s dedicated Transfer Center, students can get in contact with representatives from different schools, attend workshops, and meet with counselors so they’re fully prepared for their next step.

Mendocino College

Human Services Department
Ukiah, CA
Website

mendocino college

Human Services Paraprofessional AS (On-campus with some online classes available)

Also offers:

Total Estimated Tuition for Full-time In-state Students: $2,846
Total Estimated Tuition for