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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for social workers will increase by 11% between 2018 and 2028, more than double the average rate of growth for the rest of the economy. In addition, social workers earned a median salary of $50,470 in 2019, roughly $11,000 more per year than the median pay for all other occupations.

While you may qualify for some entry-level roles with just a bachelor's degree, the most lucrative roles often require some form of advanced degree, such as an online master's of social work degree (MSW) or a social work doctorate. According to the National Association of Social Workers, social workers with a graduate degree can earn about $13,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's in social work.

What are the best masters in social work (MSW) programs of 2021? Here are our top 10:

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Rank School Location
1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
2 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
3 University of South Florida-Main Campus Tampa, FL
4 Boston University Boston, MA
5 New Mexico State University-Main Campus Las Cruces, NM
6 Ohio State University-Main Campus Columbus, OH
7 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
8 Arizona State University-Skysong Scottsdale, AZ
9 California State University-San Bernardino San Bernardino, CA
10 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH

This page provides an overview of social work programs, including a ranking of online MSW programs and additional information on social work careers.

Choosing a Master of Social Work program is an important personal decision. Only you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different schools based on your individual educational needs. The following ranked list of universities offer accredited online MSW programs and may serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best master's of social work degree program for you.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Social Work Programs

Many colleges and universities offer online MSW programs, and it can be difficult to know which program is right for you. To assist you in your search, we have compiled this list of the best online MSW programs in the country.

Our ranking includes information like the kind of courses and concentrations offered in these programs, admission requirements, financial aid opportunities, and the type of accreditation that each school or social work program holds. It also indicates whether programs offer their online classes synchronously or asynchronously, making it easier to determine whether you can schedule your coursework around personal or professional obligations.

If you want to learn more about a specific school, try contacting their admissions office directly. Admissions staff can provide more personalized information about whether you qualify for tuition discounts or scholarships, if you need to take certain entrance exams, and what services and support the school provides to students seeking an MSW online.

Is your school on this list? Get the BestColleges ranking seal.

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

University of Central Florida

Orlando, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

UCF's online master's in social work program features seven-week courses that students take one at a time. All learning takes place virtually and students may view lectures and complete assignments on their own time. Students may begin the 62-credit program in the fall, spring, or summer. They take classes in cohorts, allowing them to connect with their fellow learners on a regular basis.

The program takes a social justice approach, focusing on improving the well-being of oppressed and marginalized groups. In addition to online classes, students complete field education internships. All online MSW students pay the same tuition, even if they live out of state. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $487/credit
Credit Requirements: 62 credits
Program Length: 36 months
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

2

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Graduation Rate: 92%

Students interested in earning an online master's in social work at USC can enroll in the department that best suits their needs and interests. They can take coursework through the Departments of Adult Mental Health and Wellness; Children, Youth, and Families; or Social Change and Innovation. The program also offers tracks in military social work and school social work.

MSW students take all their classes online, with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Most learners graduate from the 60-credit program in 2-3 years.

All students must complete at least 1,000 hours of fieldwork before graduation. This requirement includes a mix of virtual and in-person experiences that allow students to learn directly from social work professionals.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,975/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

3

University of South Florida-Main Campus

Tampa, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

USF's online master's in social work program features evening classes that meet twice a week. In addition to their coursework, students complete 12-15 hours of field experiences each week, totaling 900 hours by the time they graduate.

Students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia may complete this MSW program, and all coursework takes place online. The curriculum includes classes in social justice, social welfare policy, and psychopathology. Students also undertake a one-credit capstone project where they apply what they learned in the classroom and while completing field experiences to a social work case.

Application materials include a resume, two essays, and three references. USF's master's in social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $348/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 8 semesters
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

4

Boston University

Boston, MA Graduation Rate: 88%

BU's online master's in social work emphasizes the importance of meeting the needs of at-risk populations through social and economic justice and ethical practices. Students may choose between traditional and human service-focused tracks. Each requires 65 credits and up to 1,200 field experience hours.

Throughout the program, students attend live virtual classroom sessions each week, while also completing 1-2 internships or field experiences at sites close to where they live. Students complete their other online course requirements asynchronously.

Students may select from a variety of classes in topics like group therapy, family therapy, LGBTQ+ issues, and the effects of stress and trauma on people's lives. A course on substance abuse disorders helps students understand how to assess and intervene when alcohol or drugs affect individuals and families.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Private
Tuition: $875/credit
Credit Requirements: 65 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0 for advanced standing
Standardized Tests: None required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

5

New Mexico State University-Main Campus

Las Cruces, NM Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 46%

NMSU's online master's in social work program focuses on working with the diverse populations of the Southwest. Students learn about the various cultural, environmental, and social factors that affect quality of life for people throughout the region.

The 60-credit curriculum includes courses in social welfare policy, mental health practice, and advanced family practice. Full-time students can finish the program in two years.

Before graduating, students complete 450 hours of generalist field work and 500 hours of advanced generalist fieldwork. Through these experiences, students learn directly from practicing social workers as they serve individuals, families, and communities. While most field experience involves site-based work, students may be able to complete some of these hours virtually.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $412/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0
Standardized Tests: None required

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

6

Ohio State University-Main Campus

Columbus, OH Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 84%

Ohio State's online master's in social work prepares students to help people address mental health, substance abuse, and family-related challenges. Students leave the program prepared for direct service, advocacy, administrative, and policy roles within agencies and organizations.

This online MSW program delivers all coursework asynchronously, allowing students to complete course requirements largely on their own time. Most students graduate within two years. The program includes 896 hours of fieldwork at sites located close to where students live; students dedicate about 24 hours per week to these activities.

Students may choose from concentrations in aging and health, mental health and substance misuse, and child and youth services.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $765/credit
Credit Requirements: 63 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0 GPA preferred

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

7

University of Arkansas

Fayetteville, AR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 66%

U of A offers a one-year, advanced standing master's in social work program that features online classes. Students move through the 39-credit program in cohorts, allowing them to network and support each other.

Students take part in an internship close to where they live, spending about 22 hours per week learning directly from practicing social work professionals. In some cases, students can complete their internship at their current workplace. Although the program delivers most coursework asynchronously, students must attend a live field seminar every Tuesday evening.

The program prepares learners for leadership roles within organizations that deliver social work and related services. Additionally, many graduates go on to pursue a doctorate in social work. This online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Advanced Standing Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $431/credit
Credit Requirements: 39 credits
Program Length: 1 year
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

8

Arizona State University-Skysong

Scottsdale, AZ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 14%

ASU's online master's in social work program emphasizes social justice and finding the most practical solutions to a variety of social problems. Coursework explores the various administrative, policy, community practice, behavioral health, and family dynamic aspects of social work practice.

Students take 20 total classes, one at a time. Each class lasts 7.5 weeks. Students complete 60 credits before graduating, which usually takes two years. Toward the end of their studies, learners complete an applied project.

In addition to their online courses, students engage in two year-long internships. Through these experiences, they hone their skills while learning from social workers in various settings. Students can secure these internships close to where they live. ASU's online MSW program is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $543/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

9

California State University-San Bernardino

San Bernardino, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 57%

CSUSB offers an online master's in social work focused on preparing students for a variety of social work careers. The program requires 60 credits of coursework and eliminates all on-campus requirements, using a mix of synchronous and asynchronous delivery.

In their final year of the program, students can focus their studies on a specialization, such as a field of practice, social problem, or client population. They then tailor their research project and assignments to their specialization.

In addition to coursework, students take part in a field practicum, field seminar, and field events. These opportunities allow learners to receive guidance from professionals and gain experience addressing the common challenges social workers encounter on a daily basis. This online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $650/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

10

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, OH Graduation Rate: 85%

Students in CWRU's online social work master's degree program learn to become change agents in the field. They may specialize their studies in children, youth, and families; mental health with adults; or community practice for social change.

In addition to coursework, students also complete at least 900 hours of field work. These experiences allow them to develop their clinical skills, learn from social work professionals, and better understand how they can help clients with a variety of challenges.

All classes take place online, with set meeting times that allow students to get to know one another and their instructors. Most full-time students graduate from the 60-credit program in two years. The program also offers a part-time option, which usually requires three years. Students need not pay an application fee to apply.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Science in Social Administration
School Status: Private
Tuition: $1,550/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 2.7

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

11

Rutgers University-New Brunswick

New Brunswick, NJ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

Rutgers offers an online master's in social work designed to meet the needs of self-driven students who want the freedom to complete class requirements largely on their own schedule. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously, although students can interact with instructors through video conferencing and threaded online discussions.

As they take classes, students also complete two field experiences. A generalist field placement requires 11.25 hours per week, while a later clinical experience requires 13.5 hours per week. Each experience enables students to learn directly from established social work practitioners.

Students may also opt to take part in a violence against women and children certificate program, which includes a series of specialized courses for learners who wish to focus on this area in their careers.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $900/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

12

Fordham University

Bronx, NY Graduation Rate: 83%

Online master's in social work students at Fordham learn the skills and concepts they need to serve as highly effective professionals at government agencies, schools, community organizations, and other service-oriented settings.

The program's curriculum splits into two sections. The first focuses on theory and practice, while the second features advanced integrated practice courses. In this second section, students may choose to concentrate their studies on individuals and families, organizations and community, evaluation, or policy practice and advocacy.

Students may begin their coursework in January, May, or September. Full-time students typically complete the program in 16 months, while part-time students take 24-36 months to graduate. Fordham's online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Online Master of Social Work
School Status: Private
Tuition: $963/credit
Credit Requirements: 66 credits
Program Length: 16 months
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

13

The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

UA offers a primarily online master's in social work program that explores key issues in social welfare policy, human behavior in social environments, and evaluation research. While students take all their courses online, the program also requires in-person skills labs on select Saturdays and a field experience.

Learners may choose from two concentrations. The children, adolescents, and their families option focuses on the needs of clients in mental health and child welfare settings. Students learn skills that prepare them for leadership roles in agencies providing substance abuse treatment, child welfare, mental and behavioral health, and family services. Alternatively, the adults and their families concentration prepares students to serve in adult mental health and geriatric service environments.

New students can join a cohort in June or August each year. UA's master's in social work program dates back to 1965 and holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Social Work, Primarily Online
School Status: Public
Tuition: $420/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

14

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 55%

Students pursuing UND's online master's in social work explore subjects like advanced generalist practice with individuals, families, and treatment groups. They also learn about human behavior in social environments and the impact of social policy on the social work field.

The program encourages students to get involved with Phi Alpha — a social work honor society that provides networking opportunities throughout the year. Students may begin the program in the fall, spring, or summer terms. UND's MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Social Work, Online (Distance) Foundation
School Status: Public
Tuition: $625/credit
Credit Requirements: 60 credits
Program Length: 3 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

15

Texas A & M University-Commerce

Commerce, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 40%

TAMUC recently began offering its master's in social work online. The program takes an advanced generalist approach that prepares students for careers as licensed master social workers.

The 48-credit curriculum includes a course on social justice for oppressed populations. Students explore how social work can improve the lives of people from various backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, many of whom are dealing with the effects of historical marginalization. The program offers field placement opportunities at hundreds of agencies and organizations.

Students may enroll full time or part time. By the time they finish the program, participants should possess the skills and knowledge needed to serve as skilled administrators, program managers, researchers, and clinical practitioners.


Program Snapshot

Program Name: Master of Social Work
School Status: Public
Tuition: $405/credit in-state; $814/credit out-of-state (while taking eight credits per semester)
Credit Requirements: 48 credits
Program Length: 2 years
Format: Online
Instruction Style: Synchronous and asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: Minimum 3.0
Standardized Tests: GRE (if GPA is below 3.0)

Contact the School

Request more information about this program.

Should I Get a Master's in Social Work?

This page offers a wealth of resources for students hoping to earn an online master's degree in social work, including information on admission standards, curricula, and licensure requirements in each state.


Social Work Careers

Students who graduate with an online and accredited master's of social work degree enjoy a wide variety of professional opportunities. This page will help you better understand the many career paths available within the field of social work.

ARE ONLINE MSW PROGRAMS ACCREDITED?

The Council on Social Work Education is the only accrediting body for online MSW programs. The council accredits many schools. Read more here..

HOW LONG DOES AN MSW ONLINE TAKE TO COMPLETE?

The amount of time it takes to earn an online MSW varies by school. Some offer accelerated programs that students can complete in one year, while others use a synchronous cohort format that can take up to four years. Read more here..

CAN YOU GET YOUR MASTER'S IN SOCIAL WORK ONLINE?

There are many MSW programs available online. Some programs are taught through a cohort format, while others are designed for asynchronous learners. Read more here..

HOW TO GET A DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK ONLINE

Common MSW prerequisites include a bachelor's degree and one or more years of field experience. For more accurate information, students should check an individual school's application requirements. Read more here..

WHERE CAN I GET A DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK ONLINE?

Many colleges have online schools that offer online social work programs. For more accurate information, students should check if their chosen school offers this degree. Read more here..

Choosing a Program

WILL AN ONLINE MSW PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED?

An MSW degree opens the door to many different careers, depending on a student's area of specialization. According to CSWE, some of the most popular degree concentrations for MSW students include clinical practice for children and families, mental health, administration, and community development. Other specialization options focus on areas like trauma, disabilities, and veteran services.

WILL AN ONLINE MSW PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Master's in Social Work online programs provide a convenient, flexible alternative to brick-and-mortar learning. Students can access course materials, complete assignments, take exams, and communicate with their professors on their own time and from the comfort of their homes. Current software also allows learners to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device with internet capabilities. Students with other important commitments — such as childcare duties or full-time employment — can contact faculty to arrange internships or practicum experiences.

ARE THERE INTERNSHIPS AVAILABLE FOR REAL WORK EXPERIENCE WHILE YOU EARN YOUR DEGREE?

The majority of online MSW programs feature extensive hands-on learning components as part of the curricula. Some students fulfill these requirements by completing a set number of onsite hours as part of a practicum course, while others sign up for workplace-based internships. In either case, students should devote at least 15 hours per week for at least two semesters. The best programs work with students to find practicum and internship options that closely match their career goals.

WILL IT GET ME THE JOB?

An MSW can serve as an important step toward a rewarding career in social work — but the work does not end there. In addition to a master's degree, job candidates must complete at least two years of post-graduate employment in order to qualify for many social work positions. Additionally, states hold specific licensure and/or certification requirements for most clinical and nonclinical social workers. The top-ranked online MSW programs help students prepare for these post-education demands by providing career counseling, one-on-one adviser meetings, and other support services and resources.

Choosing a master's program represents an important personal decision. You should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different schools for social workers based on your individual educational needs and goals. The following ranked list of schools — all of which offer masters in social work degrees — can serve as a helpful starting point in your search for finding the best online MSW programs.

Accreditation for Online MSW Programs

A school's accreditation status may affect a student's ability to transfer credits, continue their graduate study at another institution, and find a job. Regional and national accreditation serve as seals of approval, indicating that a program meets certain academic standards. Regionally accredited colleges undergo evaluation by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Alternatively, national accreditation is given by CHEA-approved agencies. Nationally accredited schools typically focus on technical, vocational, or distance education; hold religious affiliations; or operate as for-profit institutions. Requirements for national accreditation also tend to be less standardized. Regional accreditation is more popular and more important for students interested in earning an MSW. For social work programs, CSWE stands as the only field-specific accrediting agency.

Online MSW programs accredited by CSWE rank as the best programs in the field, and the CSWE's Commission on Accreditation serves as the only accrediting agency for social work education that holds recognition from CHEA. CSWE-accredited programs must pass a stringent evaluation process, ensuring that they meet professional preparation standards and provide students with an education that adequately prepares them to join the workforce.

CSWE members include faculty, students, practitioners, programs, and agencies in the field of social work education. In addition to its accrediting work, CSWE offers a list of accredited online MSW programs, training opportunities, and a regularly published academic journal. These resources help accomplish CSWE's mission to lead a professional workforce capable of improving the well-being of individuals, families, and the community at large.

  • Avoid Degree Mills: Degree mills operate as questionable institutions that promise quick and easy degrees with little effort on the part of students. CSWE accreditation ensures the legitimacy of an online MSW program.
  • Signal of Quality to Employers: As part of the screening process, employers look for signs that a job candidate qualifies for a position. Online accredited MSW programs let employers know your training meets professional standards for the workplace.
  • Standard Curriculum: A standard curriculum consists of a set of coursework that all programs typically require. Although no standard curriculum exists for online MSW programs, CSWE accreditation ensures that a program teaches specific core competencies related to social work.
  • Meets Licensing Requirements: Social work careers often require individuals to earn professional licensure. CSWE-accredited online MSW programs meet the education and training requirements set by most states for social work licenses, allowing students to obtain their license after graduation.
  • Is up to Policy Standards: Quality social work programs adhere to the educational policy and accreditation standards promoted by the Commission on Educational Policy. If a program receives accreditation from CSWE, you can rest assured that it meets these standards.

What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Social Work Program?

Online MSW programs offer many advantages for students interested in advancing their studies in the field of social work. Earning a master's in social work online can provide a path toward professional licensure and open doors for career advancement.

LICENSES A MASTER'S IN SOCIAL WORK PREPARES STUDENTS TO PURSUE

  • LCSW

    Licensed clinical social workers provide professional services to clients in a clinical setting. Requirements for this license differ from state to state but usually include an MSW, a passing score on a standard exam, and at least two years of supervised professional experience.

  • LMSW

    Licensed master social workers handle case management, provide consultations, work with public organizations, and focus on administrative work rather than clinical work. State requirements vary but generally include an MSW, a passing score on a standard exam, and a minimum number of post-graduate work hours.

  • Licensed Master Social Work - Advanced Generalist

    In some states, this credential serves as the highest level of licensure for nonclinical social workers. To earn this credential, social workers must first graduate from an accredited MSW program, pass an Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) advanced generalist exam, and complete any additional state requirements. They must then document two years of supervised experience working as a nonclinical social worker.

  • Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker

    Similar to the advanced generalist licensure, this credential serves as the highest qualification a nonclinical social worker can receive in select states. Candidates must complete an accredited MSW program, pass their advanced generalist ASWB exam, and complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience.

Concentrations Offered For an Online Master's Degree in Social Work

Students in online MSW programs can often pursue a concentration. Concentrations allow learners to customize and narrow their education to focus on a specific subject in the field. In addition to more thoroughly preparing students to work with specific populations — such as families or the elderly — choosing a concentration can also help graduates stand out from their peers while looking for work.

Concentration Description Careers This Concentration Prepares For
Healthcare Social Work Students pursuing this concentration study the cultural and social aspects of health and illness, health beliefs and behavior, and the impact of illness on patients and their families. Social workers in clinics and hospitals
Social Policy and Advocacy Participants investigate the history, development, and philosophy of the social welfare system in the U.S., studying poverty, hunger, oppression, disability, homelessness, and unemployment. Leadership positions as professional community organizers, policy analysts, lobbyists, and legislative advocacy staff
Gerontology and Aging In addition to exploring the psychology of aging, this concentration addresses how to care for the elderly. Students learn to identify, coordinate, and connect clients with appropriate physical, emotional, and mental health services. Social workers in clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, eldercare facilities, and hospices
Clinical Social Work This concentration prepares graduates to serve in clinical social work settings, diagnosing and treating mental, behavioral, and physical health disorders. Students explore various mental health issues and disorders, such as bipolar disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders. Social workers in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, eldercare facilities, schools, and private practice settings
Family Social Work Graduates pursuing this concentration prepare to work with couples or families suffering from various conflicts or difficulties, such as divorce, separation, job loss, abuse, adoption, physical or mental illness, and death. Classes may also cover working with more specific groups, such as military families, couples, or children. Social workers in private practice, community centers, rehabilitation centers, adoption agencies, VA clinics, eldercare facilities, and government agencies
Forensic Social Work This concentration teaches students how to provide social work services in the context of the law and legal systems. Students learn to serve adult or juvenile clients and defendants in the criminal justice system, working with people involved in legal disputes related to child abuse, spousal abuse, custody issues, and child neglect. Social workers in children and family agencies, the court system, mental health facilities, prisons, correctional facilities, juvenile detention centers, and rehabilitation clinics

CURRICULUM FOR AN ONLINE MASTER'S DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK

Although advanced classes and concentrations vary from program to program, students complete many of the same foundational courses in accredited online MSW programs, including the classes listed below.

  • Diversity and Social Justice: This course covers multiculturalism, social justice, and human diversity, improving the ability of students to sensitively work with individuals and groups who typically suffer from oppression. The skills gained in this course prepare students for careers as community outreach workers.
  • Psychopathology: Coursework in this class focuses on the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. Students learn to conduct psychosocial assessments, formulate diagnostic impressions in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and recommend appropriate treatments. These advanced skills prepare students for private practice in clinical settings.
  • Social Policy Analysis and Practice: In this course, students explore historical and contemporary social policy trends and their impact on individuals, families, and communities. Using theoretical frameworks, learners examine specific social policies, such as those related to child welfare, disability support, and human rights.
  • Social Work with Diverse Populations: Participants in this class learn to successfully and appropriately work with diverse communities. Students read about various power structures related to gender, race, sexual orientation, religious background, and class, as well as how these power structures affect intervention. Coursework also encourages students to examine and discuss their own identities.
  • Child Welfare: In this class, students investigate various child welfare services, including adoption, foster care, and child protection. In addition to learning how to assess children and families for signs of maltreatment, learners cover case planning; models of treatment; and issues related to mental health, substance abuse, legal issues, and disabilities.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO EARN A MASTER'S IN SOCIAL WORK ONLINE?

MSW online programs vary in length and typically require students to complete approximately 60 credits. At some schools, students who already hold a bachelor of social work (BSW) may qualify for advanced standing, allowing them to earn an MSW in less time by waiving some foundational courses. With advanced standing, students may only need to earn 30 credits to complete their MSW online program. Part-time students may take 2-4 years to earn the same number of credits as full-time learners.

Some schools use individually paced programming, while others feature a cohort learning format. In a cohort, students begin the program at the same time, progress through classes together, and graduate as a group. Potential advantages of the cohort model while pursuing a master's in social work online include a fixed schedule, more opportunities for teamwork, and guaranteed enrollment in classes.

Employment Outlook for Master Social Work Graduates

A recent survey by CSWE uncovered a significant difference in the job placement rates of candidates with a BSW and those with an MSW. As shown in the table below, master's graduates also fared much better financially compared to students who only hold an undergraduate degree.

JOB PLACEMENT: BACHELOR'S VS. MASTER'S

Earning an advanced degree requires a significant commitment of time, energy, and money; however, this investment usually pays off in the long run. Online MSW programs qualify graduates for a greater number of jobs, many of which boast higher pay. For those interested in pursuing clinical social work, a master's degree serves as an important step because all states require clinical social workers to hold at least an MSW. Social workers who want to find positions at substance abuse clinics, mental health facilities, or schools should plan on earning a master's degree.

Alternatively, individuals interested in nonclinical social work jobs, such as case management or eldercare, may only need a BSW. For these social workers, earning a master's degree — even from one of the cheapest online MSW programs — may feel unnecessary. However, regardless of an individual's career path, earning an MSW degree online tends to lead to higher average pay. Anyone hoping to advance their career or earning potential should consider earning an MSW.

BACHELOR'S VS. MASTER'S IN SOCIAL WORK SALARY

Degree Level Median Salary for Entry-Level Median Salary for Mid-Career Median Salary for Experienced Median Salary for Late Career
BSW $35,237 $40,237 $42,355 $48,834
MSW $43,392 $47,676 $53,408 $60,440

Source: PayScale

According to the data above, an entry-level social worker with an MSW can expect to earn around $7,000 more than someone with a BSW during the first couple of years. After 10 years of professional experience, social workers with an MSW outearn their BSW-holding counterparts by about $8,000.

Pursuing an MSW benefits many individuals planning to dedicate their careers to social work. However, financial reasons often prevent students from returning to school after earning a bachelor's degree. Many of these individuals represent prime candidates for master's in social work online programs. The virtual format allows them to advance their education and complete coursework while continuing to work a part- or full-time job.

CAREER OPPORTUNITIES

When it comes to career opportunities, completing an online MSW program can provide graduates with more choices. Because most states require social workers to hold a master's degree and all states require clinical social workers to earn a graduate diploma, an MSW serves as an important qualification to secure a good social work job. Healthcare facilities, government agencies, and schools typically hire graduates of master's in social work programs.

Child and Family Social Workers — These social workers aid vulnerable families and help ensure that children live in safe, healthy environments conducive to positive growth and development. They often help individual households obtain food stamps and other financial support services and may facilitate the removal of children from neglectful or harmful homes.

Clinical Social Workers — As licensed clinical professionals, these social workers often diagnose mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. They may also work with their clients to explore treatment options. In addition to individuals, these workers often provide therapy for couples, families, and groups. Clinical social workers may maintain a private practice or collaborate with others in a group practice setting.

Medical Social Workers — Medical social workers provide a general support system for clients in hospitals or other clinical settings. They help complete administrative tasks; interview patients to create a medical history; and guide clients through decision making related to their care, finances, and emotional health. They may also help with basic but essential tasks like transportation to and from care centers.

Substance Abuse Counselors — Substance abuse counselors help people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. In addition to providing individual or group counseling services, they evaluate clients and create individualized recovery plans. As part of these plan, counselors connect clients with outside resources, such as medical providers and therapists, food stamp programs, and unemployment services.

Social Service Specialists — These professionals perform many functions for social service organizations. They may work with children, the elderly, or those with disabilities, helping clients access the services they need. Social service specialists may evaluate and connect clients with outside services, explain eligibility requirements, provide therapy, conduct health screenings, and organize workshops and drug prevention programs.

Position Median Annual Salary
Child and Family Social Worker $41,520
Clinical Social Workers $56,350
Medical Social Worker $54,210
Substance Abuse Counselor $39,500
Social Service Specialist $35,730

Source: PayScale

Professional Organizations

Recent graduates of online MSW programs and seasoned professional alike should consider joining a professional organization. Most of these organizations offer members benefits that include access to print and digital publications, discounts on insurance, licensure exam prep, training courses, and continuing education opportunities. Professional organizations also help recent graduates find jobs — members typically enjoy access to career centers, job boards, and networking opportunities like conferences and workshops.

Continuing Education

License Renewal

In order to keep practicing legally, social workers in all states must renew their state licensure regularly. Although these requirements vary from state to state, social workers typically need to renew their license every two years and complete a minimum number of continuing education hours during that time.

In California, for example, social workers must finish 18 hours of continuing education during their first two years of practice; after these first two years, social workers must then complete at least 36 hours of continuing education every two years to renew their license.

Additionally, some states require that a certain number continuing education hours relate to law and ethics, or, depending on the type of license, topics like HIV/AIDs, marriage and family therapy, child abuse assessment and reporting, or alcoholism and substance dependency. Social workers can usually renew their licenses online or with a paper-based application.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Social workers interested in pursuing academic, research, or high-level social work positions should consider earning a doctorate degree in social work. Two types of doctorates exist in this field: a Ph.D. in social work and a doctor of social work (D.S.W.). Although sometimes similar, these degrees often differ in that a Ph.D. prepares social workers to enter research or teaching positions, while a D.S.W. prepares graduates to assume high-level practice, applied research, or administrative positions. Most schools offer one degree or the other.

D.S.W. graduates enter careers as senior social workers, human services directors, nonprofit executives, and clinical directors, while those who hold a Ph.D. in social work qualify to work as university professors and researchers. A doctorate in social work can also lead to higher pay. Those who hold a Ph.D. in social work earn an average annual salary of $68,000.

Social Work Certifications

Becoming certified can help graduates of online MSW programs qualify for more prestigious and higher-paying positions. Additionally, earning certification allows social workers to better tailor their expertise to whichever subfield of social work best matches their career goals, helping professionals improve their practice and make an even greater difference in the lives of their clients. The list below describes popular certifications offered by NASW.

Certified Social Work Case Manager

Case managers help their clients navigate the social services system. This certification recognizes case managers dedicated to providing a particularly high standard of care. To earn this certification, social workers must hold a bachelor's degree or higher, possess a state license or a passing score on the ASWB exam, and complete at least three years of paid work providing case management services.

Qualified Clinical Social Worker

This certification recognizes clinical social workers who demonstrate expertise in "the art and science of 'being with people' in their struggles," and who meet national standards related to professional quality. Applicants must hold an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program, complete 30 contact hours of post-degree continuing professional education specific to clinical social work, demonstrate three years of experience working in mental health assessment and treatment, and hold an active license.

Certified School Social Work Specialist

This certification acknowledges school social workers who stand as experts in their field. To qualify, social workers must possess an MSW from an accredited program; demonstrate two years of school social work experience; and hold either a master's-level licensure or an exam-based certification, registration, or licensure supplied through their state office.

Certified Social Worker in Health Care

Social workers who work in healthcare settings and provide quality social work services can apply for this certification. Applicants must hold a master's degree and two years of professional experience working with people who suffer from a physical or medical ailment. Applicants must also possess state licensure or a state-issued certification, licensure, or registration.

Social Worker in Gerontology

Gerontology social workers help the aging and elderly. Applicants for this certification must hold a BSW from an accredited program, three years of relevant professional experience, 20 contact hours of continuing education or proof of an academic concentration in gerontology, and a form of qualifying licensure.

Financing Your Online Master's Degree

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered by the U.S. government. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations and companies offer private grants and scholarships. Check out the collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, and many overlooked financing options exist that you can use to reduce your student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the FAFSA represents a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on this process and answers several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE COLLEGE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, although this hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide a more affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships targeting women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs represent flexible and affordable options for single parents interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

U.S. military personnel can access millions of dollars in financial aid, but much of this goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.