For many students, an online social work degree provides an opportunity to support community members and social programs. This degree qualifies graduates for community and social services careers, including positions in government, food and housing, residential care, and healthcare.
Social work graduates enjoy career flexibility, as they can also pursue careers in mental health, substance abuse, childcare, and education. They can pursue advanced degrees, certification, and licensure to expand their career pathways.
The following page examines online social work degrees in more detail, along with the careers to which they may lead.
Why Earn Your Social Work Degree Online?
Online social work degrees prepare graduates for career opportunities in social work and related fields. Students earning a social work degree online benefit from flexible formats that more readily accommodate working students than on-campus programs. Learners interested in online social work degrees can also choose from top programs throughout the country rather than limiting their search to local schools.
Online social work degree programs allow students to access course lectures and materials anywhere, which lets learners work at their own pace. While some online social work programs hold scheduled class meetings, others provide continual access to course materials.
Earning a social work degree online provides flexibility, allowing students to begin a program on multiple dates throughout the year. By comparison, on-campus programs may only enroll students at the start of the fall semester. Online social work degrees may also offer part-time or accelerated options.
- School Options
Due to relocation restrictions, on-campus students may be limited to local programs. However, online social work degree programs allow prospective learners to attend the top programs in the country regardless of where they live. A degree from these schools can increase earning potential and job opportunities.
Students from across the country — and around the world — enroll in online social work degree programs. These learners bring diverse backgrounds and experiences. As such, students who earn an online degree in social work can benefit from an expansive professional network.
Online social work degrees often incorporate technology into the educational experience. This technology allows students to connect with their fellow classmates and faculty members, providing opportunities to interact and collaborate. Distance learners also benefit from university resources specifically geared toward online programs.
Types of Online Social Work Degrees
Prospective social workers can pursue several different degrees depending on their interests and career objectives. An online social work associate degree can prepare graduates to enter a bachelor's program or pursue support and administrative work immediately after graduation.
The BLS considers a four-year bachelor's the entry-level requirement in this field, and an online bachelor's degree in social work allows graduates to continue their education or find jobs in social work, government, and nonprofit organizations.
Many positions require at least a master's of social work degree. Earning a master's degree in social work online prepares graduates to apply for the clinical social work license or pursue careers in mental health counseling and healthcare social work. The terminal degree in social work is a doctorate, which requires a significant time commitment and can lead to jobs in research and academia.
Associate Degree in Social Work
An associate degree in social work typically requires 60 credits and takes two years to complete. These programs usually cover the fundamentals of the field, emphasizing primary concepts, essential knowledge, and major problems.
This degree also provides learners with professional and educational foundations. Graduates can access entry-level careers as community health workers and social services assistants. They can also use the degree to transfer into a bachelor's program in social work or a related field, which can lead to increased employment opportunities and earning potential.
- Introduction to Psychology
This course covers the leading concepts and theories in psychology and discusses how professionals apply them to various social work cases. Students delve into psychology's history and major developments, often focusing on human behavior and mental health.
This course covers the basic concepts and theories in sociology. Learners discuss how society operates. They study individuals, social groups, and organizations.
- Human Services
This course emphasizes aspects of working with individuals and families in various settings. Covered topics include working with diverse populations, developing self-awareness and self-care methods, and forging and following professional ethics and standards.
- Child Development
This course delves into the various factors that impact child development, including environmental and biological conditions. Students also observe how individuals, families, communities can shape development.
- Addiction Services
This course teaches students about the various forms of addiction and the services available to treat them. Coursework often emphasizes substance and behavioral addictions, along with the development of drugs and treatment methods available in the field.
Bachelor's Degree in Social Work
In most cases, a bachelor's degree in social work requires 120 credits and takes four years to complete.
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in social work qualify for direct service and administrative careers in social work and social service management. They can also pursue a graduate degree and state licensure, which brings them closer to satisfying requirements for clinical careers in the field.
- Social Policy
This course evaluates how social factors shape and inspire social policies. Students examine factors like economics, politics, and social movements. Coursework also covers cultural, institutional, and ideological considerations.
- Community Organizations
In this course, students learn about historical and contemporary issues surrounding community organizations. Learners evaluate how and why community organizations form, covering topics in public policy and economics and discussing practical applications.
- Understanding Diversity
This course teaches students about the complexities of human diversity and how that diversity contributes to and influences future generations and communities. Learners explore various concepts related to diversity, such as privilege, inclusiveness, community interactions, and human services.
- Social Work With Families
This course examines the principles of working with families and how families can impact the lives of individuals. Students also explore the various factors that influence families, including locations, cultures, structures, and politics.
- Mental Health
This course covers the fundamentals of mental illness, including symptoms, causes, and contexts that impact mental health. Students also observe the risks, health systems, and preventative and treatment efforts associated with mental illness and public health.
Master's Degree in Social Work
A master's degree in social work usually requires 36-45 credits and takes up to two years to complete. Most of the top online master's degrees in social work cover advanced social work practices, deliverance of care, and the advancement of inclusivity and social justice policies.
Graduates qualify for most of the careers and credentials available in this field, including the more in-demand social service management positions and specialized professions like marriage counseling. Graduates can also pursue a doctoral degree or an additional master's degree in a complementary field.
- Health Policy
This course teaches students how different governments and institutions create and roll out healthcare policies and system changes. Learners also explore how economic and social resources are distributed and how politics, laws, and ethics impact health policies.
- Program Evaluation
In this course, students learn how to monitor, maintain, and evaluate health programs and services. They also learn how to make decisions about programs and communicate with the various stakeholders involved.
- Social Work Ethics
This course examines how social workers deal with ethical dilemmas. While they learn how ethics form and come into play, learners also explore how to reason with these scenarios, employ social work values, and make ethical decisions.
- Leadership in Social Work
This course teaches learners how to use progressive leadership in their professions, programs, and communities. Students learn methods for applying ethics in leadership. Learners also examine contemporary skills in leadership positions and how different leadership styles can influence processes and outcomes.
- Chemical Dependency
This course explores how drug and alcohol abuse impacts individuals and communities. Students also learn about the symptoms and patterns of abuse, along with the leading preventative and treatment methods used in various settings and contexts.
Doctoral Degree in Social Work
A doctoral degree in social work typically requires 45-60 credits and takes 4-7 years to complete. Online doctoral programs in social work cover the latest research, theories, and best practices in the field.
Graduates can access the vast majority of positions available to social workers, including counselor and therapist positions that require advanced degrees and licensure, along with postsecondary teaching careers.
- Theory and Clinical Practice
During this course, students observe how the leading theories in the social work field apply to clinical practice. Coursework focuses on how research can contribute to the field and influence contemporary and future practice.
- Applied Social Statistics
Applied social statistics courses provide students with advanced research and data analysis methods and skills. Learners explore how to use social statistics to support their research, analyze imperfect data, and perform statistical inferences and regression analyses.
- Research Into Trauma
This course focuses on the psychological effects of and responses to traumatic experiences in humans. Students learn the history of this research and examine how different types of trauma, systems, and contexts change responses and behaviors in victims.
- Financial Management for Social Change
This course explores how budgets and finances impact social programs and organizations. Students learn how nonprofit organizations and social innovators manage fundraising, budgets, and program design in the face of cutbacks and limited funding.
- Philosophies of Mental Health
This course explores mental health research, delving into the history of mental health scholarship, leading theories, and shifts in the discourse. Students consider how historical research, conflicting information, and scholarship from external fields impact their current understanding of mental health work.
Social Work Concentrations and Specialities
Within their degree in social work, students can often choose a concentration to focus their training in a specific subfield or discipline. Specialization options vary considerably, but the following section covers some possibilities.
- Social Justice and Diversity
Social justice and diversity specializations focus on disenfranchised, marginalized, and underrepresented populations. Students evaluate the community service programs available for different people and consider opportunities for program growth, policy change, and increased social efforts.
Median Annual Salary: $67,150
- Children and Families
This specialization emphasizes social work involving children and families. Students observe how situations, settings, and cultures impact outcomes, interventions, and treatment methods. They also examine the leading research, community organizations, and policy development in the field.
Median Annual Salary: $47,390
Rehabilitation concentrations prepare students to work with clients with disabilities, disorders, and diseases. Learners study rehabilitation agencies and services, case management practices, and leading research in the field.
Median Annual Salary: $35,950
- School Counseling
In this concentration, learners study child development, treatment methods, and rehabilitation opportunities. Graduates can pursue child, school, and career counselor positions.
Median Annual Salary: $57,040
Gerontology concentrations focus on the elderly, the aging population, and the effects of this population shift on communities. Students explore the leading gerontological research, healthcare services, and government policies for the elderly. Graduates qualify for many social work and counseling careers, including positions in residential care and rehabilitation counseling facilities.
Median Annual Salary: $67,150
Social Work Licensure and Certification
All states mandate that clinical social workers must earn licensure, and many also require other types of social workers to hold a license. The state in which a social worker practices issues these licenses, and requirements vary.
For example, to earn a clinical social work license, applicants in most states must earn a master's in social work from an accredited program, complete two years of supervised work experience, and pass a clinical exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
By contrast, certifications are largely optional credentials that allow professionals to demonstrate advanced skills in a particular area. Certifications typically require several years of work experience, educational experience, and passing scores on an examination.
Social Work Licensure
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker
These social workers must earn a license through a state-level social work licensing board. Specific requirements vary by state, but most require a master's degree in social work, two years of clinical work experience, and passing scores on a licensing examination. Some states may also require specific coursework.
- Licensed Social Worker
These social workers must receive a license from their state social work licensing board. Requirements vary by state, but most require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in social work and work experience. Applicants must also pass a licensing examination. Some states may provide a provisional license while social workers complete these requirements.
- Licensed Bachelor's Social Worker
States award this license to professionals with a bachelor's degree in social work from an accredited program. Candidates must also pass an ASWB exam.
- Licensed Master's Social Worker
These social workers need a master's degree in social work and must pass the ASWB master's exam. This license may also require additional education in topics not covered during an MSW program. Specific requirements vary by state.
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed independent clinical social workers must hold a master's degree in social work from an accredited program, meet state-determined work experience requirements, and pass an examination. This license is issued by state boards, and requirements vary by state.
Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials
- Certified Social Work Case Manager
Certified social work case managers must have a bachelor's degree in social work, at least three years of post-bachelor's professional experience, and a current bachelor's-level social worker license. Applicants who have passed ASWB's bachelor's exam can also apply for this credential.
- Certified Advanced Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker
To earn this certification, applicants must have a master's degree in social work, two years of work experience, 20 contact hours of continuing professional education, and a current MSW-level state license.
- Certified Clinical Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs Social Worker
Applicants must have an MSW, two years of experience working with substance use disorders, 180 contact hours of professional continuing education, and a current state clinical social work license.
- Clinical Social Worker in Gerontology
Clinical social workers seeking a gerontology credential must have a master's degree in social work, two years of work experience with aging populations, 30 contact hours of professional education, and a current state-issued clinical social work license.
- Certified School Social Work Specialist
Certified school social work specialists must hold a master's degree in social work from an accredited program, have two years of work experience as a school social worker, and hold either an MSW-level state social work license or a current exam-based social work license issued by the state.
- Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker
Applicants must hold a master's degree in social work. They must also have two years of relevant work experience, 20 contact hours in hospice and palliative care, and a current state social work license.
Career and Salary Outlook for Social Work Graduates
Graduates pursuing social work careers can look forward to a positive job outlook. The BLS projects 13% job growth for social workers between 2019 and 2029. Some subfields, such as mental health social work, enjoy even higher projected growth rates.
Additionally, social work graduates with advanced training can pursue careers in counseling, most of which offer high salaries and projected growth rate. The table below covers careers available to social work graduates.
Social Work Careers
- Social Workers
Social workers help community members manage and overcome a variety of issues. Licensed clinical social workers provide psychological assistance to clients. These professionals may specialize in specific populations and industries, such as healthcare and school social work.
Social workers typically need a bachelor's degree, whereas clinical social workers need a master's degree, experience, and state licensure.
- Social Service Managers
Social service managers develop and oversee programs and organizations that help communities. These professionals can specialize in certain demographics, such as working with children, the elderly, and the impoverished.
Social service managers typically need a bachelor's degree.
- School Counselors
School counselors help students and children overcome challenges in school. They may also work with parents and teachers to develop success plans and support students in their pursuit of higher education.
School counselors need a master's degree and state licensure.
- Marriage and Family Counselors
Marriage and family counselors help people manage and overcome problems at home and within their relationships. They use therapeutic and counseling skills to support their clients.
Marriage and family counselors need a master's degree and state licensure.
- Mental Health Counselors
Mental health counselors support people who suffer from disorders and diseases, including addiction. They provide clients with coping strategies, psychological assessments, and treatment plans.
Mental health counselors need a bachelor's degree at minimum, although some positions require a master's degree and state licensure.
Interview With A Social Work Major
Joy Acaso is a licensed clinical social worker. She owns a private practice, where she specializes in the treatment of depression and anxiety in women. She also offers online coaching services to parents as a parent-child relationship specialist. She has been a social worker since 2006. Acaso lives with her husband and two kids in Miami, Florida.
- What types of job skills are necessary for a career in social work?
It's a must that a person in this field develops effective interviewing skills and resourcefulness.
- How did your clinical internship help prepare you for your job?
I was assigned to a community center for my clinical internship. I was under the direct supervision of one of the top professors in the program. She designed the program herself. This particular internship allowed me to serve a diverse population. I was able to apply skills I'd learned in school.
- What was the job search like after graduating?
I actually saw an ad posted inside our department building regarding a position for an MSW at a community center. I called and scheduled an interview.
- What tips can graduates keep in mind when applying and interviewing for a job?
Decide which population you want to work with, or you can ask yourself which population you would rather not work with. You don't want to end up doing a job that you never really wanted in the first place.
When interviewing for a job, ensure that you research the company and the position you are applying for so that you can prepare well. Ask a friend to do a mock interview with you if you aren't comfortable with interviews.
I have been an interviewer in the past and I understand how much interviewers depend on reading a candidate's energy and vibe. In other words, let them feel your passion and enthusiasm. Communicate these through your answers.
- How important are advanced credentials in the field of social work?
Depending on the lifestyle that you want to build for yourself, you can choose to go as far as getting your LCSW. It gives you the flexibility to work in different areas like hospitals, administration, management, opening up your private practice, and even further studies.
- How important is networking in this field, and what is the best way to stay connected with other social workers in your community?
It is important to network. If you happen to work for a company who sponsors or organizes special functions for social workers, you should attend. Be open to attending events both in person and virtually.
- How do you stay up to date with the latest research in trends in the world of social work?
When I worked as a dialysis social worker, I became a member of a local nephrology social work chapter. That helped me tremendously in my profession as well as in my personal growth. Nowadays, I read the news or scholarly articles.
- What advice would you give to undergraduate students considering a graduate degree in social work?
You won't regret it! It will open up so many opportunities for you. You will learn valuable skills as a grad student. Today, I have a private practice and I specialize in treating depression and anxiety in women. I also have an online service for coaching parents. I've done projects with different companies. The sky's the limit.
Scholarships for Social Work Majors
Social work majors can pursue financial aid from the government, schools, and local and national organizations. Many of these opportunities are scholarships, which encourage diverse students to pursue social work by alleviating some of the financial burden of their education. The following section covers some of the best scholarships available to prospective social workers.