Social Work Overview

St. Olaf’s baccalaureate social work program was founded in 1977 and has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since 1990. Graduates in good standing are eligible to take the ASWB social work licensure exam at the baccalaureate level.

Social work is a growing profession, with social workers holding about 607,300 jobs in 2012. U.S. News & World Report, Money Magazine, and Working Woman have listed social work as one of the 25 best jobs for the future. Employment of social workers is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will be due to an increase in demand for health care and social services but will vary by specialty.

Social Work Program Mission

The social work program mission is to prepare liberally educated professional social workers to ethically serve diverse populations and to promote a lifelong commitment to a just global community.

Program Goals

Social Work prepares students:

  1. for generalist practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities of diverse backgrounds;
  2. who understand and appreciate a scientific approach to knowledge building and practice;
  3. who reflect on and are responsible for their own ethical conduct;
  4. for lives of service and leadership in the global community.

St. Olaf Social Work Program Competencies and Practice Behaviors

Educational Policy 2.1.1—Identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.

1. advocate for client access to the services of social work
2. practice personal reflection and self-correction to assure continual professional development
3. attend to professional roles and boundaries
4. demonstrate professional demeanor in behavior, appearance, and communication;
5. demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning
6. use supervision and consultation.

 Educational Policy 2.1.2—Apply social work ethical principles to guide professional practice.

7. recognize differences/boundaries between personal, client, societal and professional values
8. make ethical decisions by applying standards of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics and, as applicable, of the International Federation of Social Workers/International Association of Schools of Social Work Ethics in Social Work, Statement of Principles;
9. recognize and describe ethical dilemmas
10. apply models of ethical decision making

 Educational Policy 2.1.3—Apply critical thinking to inform and communicate professional judgments.

11. distinguish and integrate multiple sources of knowledge, including research-based knowledge, and practice wisdom
12. discern appropriate models of generalist practice
13. demonstrate effective oral communication in working with individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities, and colleagues.
14. demonstrate effective written communication in working with individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities, and colleagues.

 Educational Policy 2.1.4—Engage diversity and difference in practice.

15. describe a particular instance where a the structure and values of one culture oppress/marginalizes a certain population as it enhance’s the power and privilege of its own members
16. gain sufficient self-awareness to challenge one’s personal biases and values in working with diverse groups
17. communicate understanding of the importance of human difference in shaping life experience
18. demonstrate ability to learn from a client who is different from them (in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc) by adapting practice after input from a client

Educational Policy 2.1.5—Advance human rights and social and economic justice.

19. understand the forms and mechanisms of oppression and discrimination;
20. advocate for human rights and social and economic justice
21. engage in practices that advance social and economic justice.

 Educational Policy 2.1.6—Engage in research-informed practice and practice-informed research.

22. examine and apply one’s own developing practice experience to inform scientific inquiry
23. use research evidence to inform practice.

Educational Policy 2.1.7—Apply knowledge of human behavior and the social environment.

24. utilize conceptual frameworks to guide the processes of assessment, intervention, and evaluation
25. critique and apply knowledge to understand person and environment.

Educational Policy 2.1.8—Engage in policy practice to advance social and economic well-being and to deliver effective social work services.

26. analyze, formulate, and advocate for policies that advance social well-being
27. collaborate with colleagues and clients for effective policy action.

Educational Policy 2.1.9—Respond to contexts that shape practice.

28. continuously discover, appraise, and attend to changing locales, populations, scientific and    technological developments, and emerging global trends to provide relevant services
29. provide leadership in promoting sustainable changes in service delivery and practice to improve the quality of social services.

 Educational Policy 2.1.10(a)–(d)—Engage, assess, intervene, and evaluate with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

 Educational Policy 2.1.10(a)—Engagement Social workers:

30. substantively and affectively prepare for action with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities
31. use empathy and other interpersonal skills
32. develop a mutually agreed-on focus of work and desired outcomes.

Educational Policy 2.1.10(b)—Assessment. Social workers:

33. collect, organize, and interpret client data
34. assess client strengths and limitations
35. develop mutually agreed-on intervention goals and objectives
36. select appropriate intervention strategies.

Educational Policy 2.1.10(c)—Intervention. Social workers:

37. initiate actions to achieve organizational goals
38. implement prevention interventions that enhance client capacities
39. help clients resolve problems
40. negotiate, mediate, and advocate for clients
41. facilitate transitions and endings.

Educational Policy 2.1.10(d)—Evaluation. Social workers:

42. critically analyze, monitor, and evaluate interventions.

 Definition of Generalist Practice

Generalist practice is multilevel intervention with clients (individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities) of diverse backgrounds. It uses the social systems framework, planned change process, empowerment perspective and strengths-based approach to practice. It is grounded in the liberal arts, scientifically informed and ethical.


High-quality individualized advising is a strength of the program. Any student interested in working with people in relation to their social environment is welcome to talk with faculty about course and career options. Liberal education is at the heart of the Social Work major, and all courses available at St. Olaf can contribute to the preparation of excellent social workers and other professionals.

Admission to the Program

To prepare for social work, students take courses in psychology, sociology, and biology. Study of social and cultural diversity, especially relative to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, and geographic location, is required. Students in good standing who have completed prerequisite courses make application to the program and are formally notified of admission during the junior year (see the St. Olaf College Academic Catalog and Social Work Program Manual). The program welcomes transfer students who come into the program prior to the beginning of the junior year and is pleased to include non-traditional students returning to college. Students are expected to maintain a G.P.A. of 2.0 and receive grades of “C” or higher in major courses to remain in the program.

Field Education

A required field practicum (400 hours minimum) is completed in one full-time block placement in the fall semester of the senior year. This valuable preparatory experience with clients may be in the Twin Cities, other communities close to campus, or at a greater distance by individual arrangement.

Celebration of Diversity

Social workers are diverse themselves and serve diverse clients, so the program actively seeks and encourages students from diverse backgrounds to consider a Social Work major. Social Work faculty and staff encourage diversity at St. Olaf and in the program by working with Admissions, Student Support Services, Upward Bound, Multicultural Affairs, Gay, Lesbian, or Whatever (GLOW!), and the International and Off-Campus Studies department. The program does not discriminate on the basis of age, class, color, culture, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, political ideology, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.

International Study Opportunities

Diverse global traditions, histories, and methods of helping are increasingly crucial for social workers to understand and apply. Graduates from the St. Olaf Social Work Program work both domestically and internationally with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Content on international social welfare and social work is integrated throughout the social work courses. Social Work majors can conveniently schedule Interim courses abroad in any department; the program offers Social Realities of South Africa every other January. In order to study abroad for a semester, students need to plan early and carefully. Of particular interest to majors with Spanish language is the spring semester program Social Work in a Latin American Context which meets junior level requirements for the social work major. Students can arrange for independent study or academic internships abroad with sufficient planning.

Special Student Scholarships, Awards, and Activities

Social Work students are eligible to apply for two scholarships. The Amy Jahren Scholarship is provided to a candidate who “demonstrates through course selection, internship choices, participation in off-campus study, independent study, research or tutorial topics, and/or volunteer work an interest in and dedication to a career of serving others.” The Amanda Kimer Memorial Scholarship is awarded to students who demonstrate particular interest in working with oppressed communities, especially communities of color. These awards are part of the financial aid package for the students selected.

The Amanda Kimer Award for Excellence in Social Work is given yearly to a senior major who best exemplifies the hard work, passion to serve others, and sense of humor possessed by Amanda Kimer, a Social Work major who died during her junior year in 1996.

Serving Our Society (SOS) is the student organization for majors and others interested in social work and family studies. The club sponsors volunteer activities and programs of general interest during the school year. During Social Work Month in March, they co-sponsor Social Work Career Night with the program and the Piper Center for Vocation and Career. Alumni/ae living nearby return to campus to describe where their majors in social work have led them.

Each year, students have the opportunity to attend the Day at the Capitol, an advocacy and education day sponsored by NASW Minnesota Chapter.

Social work seniors participate in a Senior Reflection Retreat each Spring, planned by social work faculty, with funding from the Kimer Endowment.

Closely Related Areas of Interdisciplinary Study

American Studies

Asian Studies

Family Studies

Latin American Studies

Race and Ethnic Studies

Management Studies

Women’s and Gender Studies

Where Graduates are Working and Studying

Graduates from the Social Work program are generalist practitioners in varied settings, among them:
  • schools
  • hospitals, hospices, nursing homes
  • domestic violence programs
  • community based agencies
  • homeless shelters
  • family service and adoption agencies
  • senior centers
  • public financial and social services
  • residential care centers

They are employed as case managers, program directors, supervisors, and child care specialists. They also enter voluntary service programs — the Peace Corps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and AmeriCorps are common choices.

Approximately 25% of students attend graduate school within three years of graduation. These include programs in social work, ministry, public policy, special education, and law. Those with a B.A. in social work and a G.P.A. of 3.0 are generally eligible to apply for advanced standing in graduate schools of social work.