Online Master of Social Work (MSW) programs build on the skills you gained as an undergraduate. Some MSW students follow a degree track that prepares them to work directly with the public in clinical or nonclinical settings, while others focus on community mobilization and social advocacy. In addition to online coursework, MSW programs that lead to state licensure also carry onsite practicum or internship requirements.
2019's Best Accredited Online MSW Programs
University of Southern California
|Los Angeles, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 92%||
The University of Southern California enrolls about 47,000 students on its Los Angeles campus. The school also manages a growing catalog of online degrees, including a master of social work online. The 37-credit degree prepares learners for professional licensure. Learners with a bachelor's in social work enter the program with advanced standing and complete the degree in 12 months.
USC students choose one of the MSW's three areas of study, each with a distinct curriculum. Students who choose the adult mental health wellness curriculum examine the role that neuroscience plays in the mind-brain-body system and the influence of external factors such as family and community. The children, youth, and families curriculum prepares social workers to advocate for students and create programs that support families from diverse backgrounds. The social change and innovation curriculum gives learners the option to explore either evidence-based research to facilitate change in communities or business development to foster corporate responsibility.
Students complete 1,000 hours of field placement in their communities over four semesters. The social work school arranges field experiences to ensure that the practicum sites meet the school's stringent standards and student's career objectives. Faculty deliver the MSW in small seminar-style classes. The MSW's online classroom features live chats, breakout rooms, and document sharing to foster discussions. Admission to the master's in social work online requires school transcripts, a resume, and no GRE.
USC's online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Columbia University in the City of New York
|New York, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 95%||
Columbia University provides learners with an Ivy League college education in New York City. The school of social work stands at the forefront of social work research and practice. Faculty lead their peers in funded research from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. The school continues innovation with a fully online and hybrid master of social work available in all 50 states. The department offers seven programs, including a two-year program, an accelerated one-year advanced standing program for BSW holders, and a three- or four-year extended program for learners who want more flexibility.
The sweeping curriculum offers three concentrations delivered online: advanced clinical social work practice to promote the well-being of individuals and families, social enterprise administration for those pursuing careers in organizational management at governmental or non-governmental agencies, and policy practice for learners interested in policy advocacy and policy analysis.
Within these concentrations, learners further choose one of three online tracks: accelerated policy practice program, dialectical behavior therapy training, or the SEA Management Fellows Program. The program further offers seven fields of practice, including family, youth, and children's services. Students complete 600-1,200 hours of field experience at an agency in the nearest metropolitan area.
Once students enroll in the master's in social work online, they join a cohort of students with whom they study, find support, and network. To get the best of both worlds, online learners may choose to complete their final year of study on the NYC campus. Admission requires school transcripts and a BSW for advanced standing.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
University of South Florida
|Tampa, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
Founded in 1956, the University of South Florida has grown into one of the nation's preeminent research colleges. The school enrolls about 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and online. USF Tampa's graduate programs rank among the best in the nation, according to 2019 rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Faculty offer the master of social work to meet a growing need for skilled clinical social work practitioners.
The MSW with advanced standing enrolls learners with a BSW. The degree trains social workers skilled in working with individuals, families, and groups. Students complete the degree as part of a cohort of peers who study together and support one another. Coursework covers topics such as psychopathology, social work practices with individuals, social work practice with couples and families, and evaluations of clinical practice in diverse settings. Students complete 10-20 field placement hours each week, depending on enrollment status. Learners in the master's in social work online meet by webcam for evening classes held once or twice a week.
Students enroll on a full-time or part-time basis, completing the degrees in three or five semesters, respectively. The program enrolls students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Admission requires a BSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and a minimum B- on undergraduate social work courses. Applicants need no GRE.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the CSWE.
Florida State University
|Tallahassee, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 80%||
Florida State University enrolls 41,000 students in programs administered online and on campuses in Tallahassee and Panama City. The school is one of the top Fulbright Scholar producers in the U.S. FSU was the first college in the U.S. to offer an MSW online. It makes sense, then, that its College of Social Work's graduate program ranks among the best in the nation, according to the U.S. News & World Report.
The master of social work provides learners with an online curriculum that requires limited visits to Tallahassee. Learners with a BSW enroll in the two-year, 39-credit, advanced standing MSW option. Students without a degree in social work complete a three-year, 61-credit social work program online.
The curriculum covers topics such as human behavior and the social environment, psychopathology in clinical practice, social work with groups and communities, and social welfare policies and services. A series of courses in the master's in social work online examines the administrative aspects of social work, covering budgeting and finance in social services and personnel administration.
FSU offers fieldwork opportunities that students complete at sites in multiple states. The fieldwork fulfills requirements for professional licensure. Faculty deliver the program on a part-time basis to accommodate the needs of busy professionals who want to continue to work. Applicants to the advanced standing MSW need a BSW, appropriate GRE scores, and a minimum of 400 hours of field education. Admission to the traditional MSW requires a BSW, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and the GRE.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
|Champaign, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign enrolls 47,000 students from around the world.
The school boasts Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Illinois Online manages a virtual college with 90 programs, including the master of social work. The outreach iMSW enrolls learners with or without a BSW and offers a fully online or blended format.
The fully online advanced standing program for BSW holders requires 41 credits and focuses on leadership and change. The curriculum includes courses in advanced policy and advanced methods -- and two courses focused on human behavior in the social environment. The traditional track of this degree requires that non-BSW holders complete many of the same foundational classes and a two-term internship.
Illinois also offers a hybrid clinical iMSW with classes that meet on weekends once a month on the Urbana-Champaign campus. The program offers both advanced standing and traditional tracks that require 44 credits and 72 credits, respectively. In addition to foundational coursework, the advanced clinical iMSW offers concentrations in healthcare, mental health, and children, youth, and family services.
Advanced standing students complete 40 hours of weekly field experience at a site during a 14-week summer internship. Traditional students complete 30-32 hours of field work each week for two consecutive semesters. Admission requires a minimum 3.0 GPA, prerequisite coursework, experience in human services (including as a volunteer), and no GRE.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
|Boston, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 87%||
Boston University enrolls more than 34,000 students on three campuses. The school's more than 300 programs provide learners with ample options to earn a degree from one of New England's best colleges. U.S. News & World Report ranks BU's social work graduate program in the top 5% of 251 programs. The master of social work serves learners anywhere in the country. The MSW offers a curriculum with majors in clinical or macro social work practice. The holistic and integrative curriculum trains social workers equipped to address the needs of diverse and at-risk populations.
One of the best online MSW programs in the nation, the part-time degree offers three tracks. The 65-credit, three-year traditional track requires online foundation and advanced courses, in-person sessions held Sunday or Monday night, and two field internships. The 65-credit, three-year human service experience track enrolls learners with a minimum of two years of experience in human services. This track also requires foundational and advanced coursework, in-person sessions, and a 1,000-hour field internship.
Finally, the advanced standing track enrolls learners with a BSW. Students may apply 22-25 credits of BSW coursework toward the MSW degree and then complete the remaining 40-43 credits and a 1,000-hour field internship.
The online MSW emphasizes ethics and social and economic justice. Students learn from nationally recognized faculty known for their scholarship, research, and work with communities. Admission to the advanced standing track requires a minimum 3.0 GPA; the other two tracks require no minimum cumulative GPA.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Rutgers University-New Brunswick
|New Brunswick, NJ||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 80%||
Rutgers University manages a main campus in New Brunswick and satellites in all 21 counties in New Jersey. The school ranks in the U.S. News & World Report's list of top 25 public colleges in the nation. The school's online learning provides education without borders at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. The fully online master of social work in clinical social work offers attractive features: small class sizes and instruction from internationally recognized researchers and expert clinicians.
Students complete foundational courses in social work practice with individuals and groups, human behavior and the social environment, and social welfare policy and services. All MSW students can apply to a violence against women and children certificate program. The certificate uses four courses already offered in the MSW to empower social workers with the knowledge and skills necessary to help clinically heal women and children affected by trauma.
The four courses cover violence against women and children, violence and abuse in adulthood, working with survivors of abuse and trauma, and an elective that completes the series. Social workers then complete an advanced field placement at an agency that works with women and/or children dealing with violence.
Students in Rutgers' master's degree in social work online complete an internship anywhere in the United States. The school charges the same per-credit tuition regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency. Admission requires a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA, some social work experience, and no GRE.
The online master of social work in clinical social work is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
University of Central Florida
|Orlando, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 70%||
One of the largest colleges in the U.S., the University of Central Florida enrolls about 68,000 students on 12 campuses in central Florida. UCF's mission to enhance access to an affordable, high-quality education propelled UCF to U.S. News & World Report's ranking of the nation's most innovative colleges. About 5,000 learners take advantage of the school's online options -- including the master of social work online. The fully online MSW ranks as the school's second-most popular master's degree.
The degree cultivates well-trained social workers able to advocate for vulnerable populations. The program enrolls learners without a BSW and those with a BSW no more than five years old. The nine-semester program for non-BSW holders requires 62 credits and prepares learners for state licensure. Students in the advanced standing track of the MSW online complete 32 credits over four semesters while enrolled part time.
Foundational coursework covers human behavior in the social environment, social welfare policies and services, and a series of courses in social work practice. The program offers an 18-credit clinical specialization that covers topics such as psychosocial pathology and clinical practice with individual and families. The generalist track requires 400 hours of field experience, and the clinical track requires 600 community-based field hours.
UCF charges the same per-credit tuition regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency. Admission requires a minimum 3.0 GPA for the regular part-time track and a 3.3 GPA for the advanced standing track. Students need no GRE to apply.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
University of Denver
|Denver, CO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 75%||
Founded in 1864, the University of Denver resides in one of the nation's largest cities. The school's many firsts include being one of the first social work schools out West. DU offers more than 120 graduate degrees, many of them designed to accommodate the needs of distance learners. The master of social work builds on social workers' practice, training them to advocate for clients in settings such as public and private agencies and correctional facilities. U.S. News & World Report ranks the program among the nation's top social work programs.
The online degree offers two tracks: a 90-credit traditional track and a 60-credit advanced standing track. Students complete the traditional track in 21-48 months, studying subjects such as clinical social work; power, privilege, and oppression; human behavior in the social environment; and integrated social work practice for social justice.
Students complete the advanced standing track in 18-24 months, studying subjects such as mental health, substance use and trauma, cognitive behavioral therapies, and mental health and healthcare policy. Students in either track choose one of two concentrations: health and wellness or mental health and trauma. Students in either track also complete field experience under the supervision of an adept social worker in their own community.
Students participate in live online classes up to four hours a week. The school charges the same tuition regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency. Admission to either track requires a BSW and a minimum 2.5 GPA, with 3.0 preferrable.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
University at Buffalo
|Buffalo, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 75%||
The University of Buffalo ranks in the top 2% of the nation's colleges. UB is a flagship school in the 64-campus State University of New York system, with more than 320 graduate degrees and certificate programs. Students pursue degrees on three distinct campuses and online. BU's online master of social work provides learners with anywhere, anytime social work instruction on a part-time basis. The program's distinctiveness lies in a curriculum that not only emphasizes evidence-based practice, but also incorporates trauma-informed and human rights perspectives.
One of the top social work master's programs online, the degree offers a 60-credit traditional MSW program and a 35-credit advanced standing option. The three-year traditional program examines topics such as social welfare policy and history, evaluation in social work, and scientific methods in social work.
The five-semester advanced standing curriculum examines advanced interventions, perspectives on trauma and human rights, and other advanced topics. Field placement gives learners the opportunity to explore various areas of practice, and online students complete this component in their region. Traditional students can expect to complete 900 hours, while advanced standing students complete 480 hours.
Online learners enjoy priority enrollment for all foundation courses. Faculty deliver the program with both synchronous and asynchronous components. UB offers online MSW learners a lower non-resident tuition rate. Admission to either track requires a bachelor's degree in any major, at least 24 credits in the liberal arts, and a minimum 3.0 GPA.
The online MSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Case Western Reserve University
|Cleveland, OH||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 83%||
Case Western Reserve University enrolls about 11,000 students, the majority of whom pursue graduate degrees and professional credentials. The school receives many accolades for quality and value. Among them, the U.S. News and World Report ranks CWRU's graduate social work program in the top 10 among 250 contenders. CWRU's 60-credit master of science in social administration (MSSA) offers three tracks learners complete over eight semesters: children, youth, and families; community practice for social change; and mental health with adults.
Students complete generalist courses between semesters one and four, covering topics such as human development, individual and family practice, and research and theories of oppression. Across semesters five to eight, learners complete courses in their area of specialization. Faculty also teach a 36-credit advanced standing track that enrolls learners with a BSW. Many MSSA students complete up to 12 hours of field experience at their place of employment.
Employers and state licensing boards recognize the MSSA as the equivalent of one of the nation's accredited online MSW programs. The MSSA's special features include classrooms with an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio -- one of the lowest in the nation -- and more than 1,000 field education sites throughout the United States. The school's writing center provides learners with in-person and online consultants. In addition to affordable tuition, 90% of online MSSA students benefit from program scholarships. Admission requires neither a social work background nor the GRE. CWRU offers the program in all 50 states.
The online MSSA is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
|Bronx, NY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 79%||
A prestigious private college based in New York City, Fordham hosts one of the country's top online MSW programs. The program offers four areas of focus: individuals and families, organizations and communities, evaluation, and policy practice and advocacy. Students can design their own curriculum to include courses from multiple focus areas. Fordham's MSW program emphasizes field education, and all students complete practicum hours at an approved social work agency within their community.
Fordham offers multiple study plans to fit various student backgrounds. The traditional online MSW requires no background in social work; applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in any subject from an accredited school. This program includes 66 credits of social work courses, which full-time students typically complete in 24 months. Part-time learners generally require 32 months, and students who pursue accelerated studies can graduate in as few as 16 months.
Students who hold a bachelor's in social work or who have completed coursework as part of another master's program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education can enter Fordham's advanced standing online MSW program. This advanced track skips introductory coursework, enabling students to graduate in as few as eight months of full-time study or 16 months of part-time study. Candidates for the advanced track should contact program advisers to determine credit equivalencies and total degree completion time.
Ohio State University
|Columbus, OH||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 83%||
One of the largest colleges in the country, Ohio State serves more than 60,000 students from its campus in Columbus and through distance education programs. Students pursuing Ohio State's master's in social work online gain skills in direct service, advocacy, community change, administrative practice, and policy reform.
The school makes the program available in traditional and accelerated formats. Online learners can concentrate in child and youth services or in mental health and substance misuse. All distance learners pay the same affordable tuition rate, regardless of state residency -- making Ohio State's online MSW a cost-effective choice for social workers throughout the country. However, out-of-state students pay a slightly higher distance education fee.
Students who earned a bachelor's in social work within the past five years can apply for the advanced standing alternative program, which requires three semesters of full-time study. Applicants without a social work background can apply to the traditional program, which full-time students typically complete in two years. The accelerated program comprises 43 credits, while the traditional program requires 63 credits.
Both tracks deliver coursework asynchronously, so students can complete class requirements at their convenience. Ohio State offers optional live class sessions, but students unable to attend these sessions can access video recordings. All students complete multiple field education courses, which provide opportunities to apply knowledge to social work practice in an approved setting.
University of Houston
|Houston, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
UH is a major public college and offers one of the top accredited online MSW programs in Texas. Distance learners can pursue professional specialization areas in clinical practice or macro practice. The clinical specialization explores theories and methods of counseling, training students to promote emotional and cognitive well-being. The macro specialization focuses on administrative and leadership practices for social services agencies in urban settings and prepares students to meet the needs of diverse client populations.
Each track requires four specialization courses that build advanced knowledge for professional practice. The MSW program requires 63 credits, including a 16-credit foundation experience that prepares students for advanced work. Focusing on social and economic justice, the foundation experience spans two semesters and includes courses such as policy in the social environment and human diversity and development.
UH delivers courses synchronously and asynchronously, so some courses require live meetings at scheduled times throughout the week. UH uses a cohort model, and students complete most courses with a group of peers. Full-time students typically earn the degree in three years. However, students who hold a bachelor's in social work can often graduate in 2-2.5 years. All students complete at least 900 hours of supervised fieldwork at an approved social work agency in their community.
The University of Alabama
|Tuscaloosa, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
Based in Tuscaloosa, UA is the largest college in Alabama, enrolling more than 38,000 students. The school's MSW online program requires 42-60 credits and offers three completion options.
BSW holders can pursue a one-year, advanced standing program. Full-time students without a BSW typically graduate in two years, and part-time learners generally require at least three years. The advanced standing track requires 42 credits, which students typically complete in three semesters, and offers start dates in June and January. The conventional program requires 60 credits and offers start dates in June and August.
All online MSW students pursue a concentration in either adults and their families or children, adolescents, and their families. The adult concentration trains learners to serve geriatric and adult mental health populations, while the children and adolescents concentration prepares graduates for work in mental health and child welfare settings. Students can also complete an emphasis in program planning and agency administration, which includes electives in topics such as program development and service planning.
While distance learners complete most course requirements online, students must visit campus for occasional skills labs. UA typically holds lab sessions on Saturdays to accommodate working professionals. Students must also attend a campus orientation session before beginning classes. Learners complete two days of fieldwork each week at a local social services agency. Advanced standing candidates complete 500 hours of fieldwork, while students in the traditional track complete 1,000 hours.
The University of Texas at Arlington
|Arlington, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Located between Dallas and Fort Worth, UTA offers a master's degree in social work online. The program includes professional concentration options in direct practice in aging, direct practice with children and families, and direct practice in mental health and substance abuse. The program requires 61 credits divided between a 26-credit professional foundation core and a 35-credit advanced curriculum. The foundation core covers topics including research methods, social policy, and diverse populations, while the advanced curriculum includes concentration courses.
UTA offers full-time, part-time, and accelerated options. Advanced standing students with a social work bachelor's can complete the accelerated pathway in as few as 12 months. The advanced track skips most of the professional foundation curriculum, and the accelerated pathway includes eight-week courses. The standard full-time program includes 16-week courses and takes 16-26 months to complete. Part-time students may require three years to complete the curriculum.
The regular program offers start dates in the fall and spring. While the school offers these courses fully online, admission to UTA's social work program is only open to Texas residents. Military and National Guard personnel who are also Texas residents can enroll regardless of current location, though service members stationed outside of Texas must work closely with program coordinators to determine appropriate field placements.
California State University-Northridge
|Northridge, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 51%||
Located near Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, CSUN offers one of California's top master's in social work online programs. Designed for working professionals, the fully online program requires no campus sessions. Unlike many social work programs, CSUN's program offers a generalized curriculum with no concentration tracks.
Students prepare to work in social service agencies at all levels, including with individuals, families, and communities and in policy making. The program uses a cohort model, so students complete most courses in a prescribed sequence. Coursework covers topics including advanced social work practice with urban families, urban social policy and advocacy, and advanced social work practice in urban communities.
CSUN delivers online courses asynchronously, with almost no required class meetings. Most courses hold optional live meetings each week, typically in the evenings. Students unable to attend live sessions can view recordings. The social work program requires weekly field classes, which last one hour and are scheduled based on individual student needs.
The program includes a fieldwork practicum; instead of choosing their own placement agency, students intern at a different agency for each of the two years of fieldwork. Students may not perform their first year of fieldwork at their current place of employment. CSUN attempts to place interns with agencies unrelated to the student's prior experience.
San Jose State University
|San Jose, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
SJSU is the oldest public college on the West Coast and one of the oldest colleges in California. The school's online/hybrid MSW program emphasizes transcultural social work practice, training students to work with disenfranchised communities and groups. The program focuses on cultural knowledge; cultural competence; power, privilege, and oppression; positionality and self-reflexivity; and respectful partnership.
Students complete the two-year MSW program on a part-time schedule. Learners take two courses per semester and devote 16 hours per week to a field placement. SJSU delivers coursework synchronously and asynchronously, with live virtual class sessions typically held on weekday evenings. Students must attend one mandatory orientation session prior to the program's state date. Held on the SJSU main campus, this introductory session may last up to five days.
Students take generalist courses before beginning an advanced curriculum that emphasizes transcultural multisystems practice. Students choose a professional concentration area: health and mental health or children, youth, and families. Students in the cohort program complete most foundational coursework with a group of peers. The MSW program offers courses that last 3-11 weeks. Currently, SJSU only accepts California residents, as students must complete practicum work in the state.
|Boston, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
A private college based in Boston, Simmons enrolls more than 4,900 students in women's undergraduate programs and co-ed graduate programs. The school offers a master's in social work online program that provides flexibility for working professionals. The program boasts five start dates per year and full-time, part-time, and accelerated enrollment options.
The MSW program features a clinical focus, preparing students for direct social work practice in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, and court clinics. Students choose from four program tracks: child and family, trauma and interpersonal violence, health and aging, and mental health and addictions. Students can also design an individualized curriculum based on their professional interests and aspirations.
The MSW curriculum comprises 65 credits, including 24 credits of foundation courses, 12 credits of advanced courses, 12 credits of advanced clinical courses, and 17 credits of field education. Courses cover topics including narrative approaches to social work practice, cognitive behavioral approaches and treatment, human sexuality and social work practice, and dynamics of racism and oppression.
Simmons delivers coursework synchronously and asynchronously, through methods including weekly live class sessions and recorded lectures. Students complete a substantial fieldwork component, with a network of placement sites available throughout the country. Accelerated full-time students can complete the program in as few as four terms, while part-time learners often require up to eight terms.
Tulane University of Louisiana
|New Orleans, LA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 83%||
A prestigious private college based in New Orleans, Tulane offers one of the top accredited online MSW programs in the country. The MSW program takes a "clinical-community" approach to social work, emphasizing relationship-centered practice, community-based knowledge, and social and economic justice.
The program offers part-time, full-time, and advanced standing enrollment options. Traditional full-time students can graduate in as few as 16 months, while part-time students often require up to 32 months. Full-time advanced standing students -- who need a bachelor of social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education within the last five years -- can complete the degree in as few as 12 months.
The program includes courses in various clinical and theoretical topics, including social work history and policy, theories of human behavior, community organization and policy advocacy, and program evaluation. Students complete at least 948 hours of social work field education at an approved social services agency. Students typically spend three days each week on fieldwork. Full-time students usually devote about 24 hours per week to fieldwork, while part-time students dedicate about 12 hours each week.
Tulane also offers online graduate certificates in disaster and collective trauma and in mental health, addictions, and the family -- both of which students can earn concurrently with the MSW.
Michigan State University
|East Lansing, MI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 79%||
A public college based in East Lansing, MSU offers a master's in social work online. Students can concentrate in clinical social work or organization and community leadership. MSU provides two program formats (both of which feature part-time enrollment): statewide blended and weekend.
The statewide blended format requires students to live at least 30 miles from MSU's Flint and East Lansing campuses and, if residing out of state, no more than 50 miles from the Michigan border. Statewide blended students participate in one live online class session per month and must attend summer sessions at the East Lansing campus each August. Weekend students must reside in Michigan or within 50 miles of the Michigan border. These students complete classwork online but attend monthly in-person class sessions at the East Lansing campus.
The MSW program requires 57 credits, and most students graduate in three years. During the second and third years of the program, students complete at least 960 hours of professional fieldwork in an approved social service setting. With program approval, students already employed in the field can complete two semesters of fieldwork at their place of employment.
Students who hold a bachelor's in social work can pursue the advanced standing track, which follows the same curriculum model as the statewide blended program but requires only 38 credits and 600 field hours, which take two years to complete.
California State University-San Bernardino
|San Bernardino, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
Located in California's Inland Empire region, CSUSB offers a three-year, part-time online MSW program designed for working professionals. The curriculum includes foundation courses, concentration courses, electives, and fieldwork. Students typically complete fieldwork at two different agencies, corresponding with the foundation and advanced sections of the program. Fieldwork placements vary widely and often include organizations focusing on child welfare, medical social work, adult protective services, and forensic social work.
During the final year of the program, students choose a concentration area. Concentrations may address a specific social issue, such as homelessness or domestic violence, or client population, such as immigrants or rural populations. Through their concentration, students focus their studies on an area of personal or professional interest and customize the degree to their career goals.
Applicants do not need a bachelor's degree in social work, but the university prefers a background in the behavioral or social sciences. Applicants should have completed coursework related to social research methods, human behavior, and human physiology. While CSUSB offers all coursework online, social work students must attend a two-day, on-campus orientation at the beginning of the program. Due to fieldwork restrictions, all program applicants must reside in California.
Appalachian State University
|Boone, NC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
A major public college located in Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students. The school's hybrid MSW program features two professional concentration options: individuals and families (which focuses on direct clinical practice) and community and organizational practice (which emphasizes management and social change at the community and organizational levels).
Appalachian offers traditional and advanced standing enrollment options. The traditional pathway, for applicants without a bachelor's in social work, requires 60 credit hours and takes two years to complete. The advanced standing pathway, for applicants with a bachelor's in social work, requires 33 credit hours and takes about two years to complete. The MSW program uses a hybrid format that combines online learning with occasional evening sessions on campus.
The traditional program pathway includes 30 credit hours of foundation courses, 24 hours of concentration classes, and six hours of electives. Foundation courses provide an overview of social work practices, covering topics such as human behavior, social work research, and social welfare policy analysis and practice. Concentration courses build advanced knowledge in a focus area. For example, the organizational practice concentration covers topics including advanced policy practice, advanced social work assessment, and program development and evaluation.
MSW students complete a field practicum and seminar, which requires placement with an authorized social services agency. In addition to supervised work with the agency, students participate in seminar meetings during which they analyze their fieldwork in the context of program concepts.
|Bloomington, IN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 77%||
Serving more than 43,000 students, IU Bloomington is the largest public college in Indiana and one of the largest in the Midwest. The school offers both a traditional MSW online program and an advanced standing program for students with a bachelor's in social work earned within the past five years. Full-time students can complete the traditional program in two years or the advanced standing program in about one year. Part-time students can take up to five years to complete their degree.
The 61-credit curriculum includes three sections of coursework, which students complete in sequence: foundation, concentration, and focus area. The 16-credit foundation core introduces key topics for social work practice, including generalist theory and practice, introduction to research, and social policy analysis and practice.
The 15-credit concentration section includes intermediate courses such as assessment in mental health and addictions and executive leadership practice. The concentration section also includes the first of three supervised practicum experiences in a social services setting. Advanced standing students do not complete the foundation section or the first practicum experience.
The advanced focus area section provides specialized knowledge in mental health and addictions, preparing students to devise support, prevention, and intervention strategies for clients. The 30-credit section includes coursework in practice evaluation and mental health and addictions practice. The focus area section also includes the final two practicum components, which require 640 hours of fieldwork at an approved agency.
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville
|Knoxville, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 70%||
Established in 1794, the The University of Tennessee-Knoxville educates learners on a 910-acre campus and online. UTK manages a strong graduate program comprised of about 530 plans of study. The master of science in social work offers an online format to accommodate busy schedules. The program, established as an online option 10 years ago, offers full-time and part-time enrollment and advanced standing.
The advanced standing program requires 37 credits that students complete in 12-24 months, depending on enrollment status. The full program requires 60 credits that students complete in two years of full-time enrollment. The curriculum includes courses in social work research, an introduction to direct social work practice, cognitive behavior therapy, and psychopathology and social work practice.
Students choose one of two concentrations: organizational leadership or evidenced-based interpersonal practice. Students in one of the nation's top online MSW programs further specialize with a certificate in one of four areas: gerontology, trauma, veterinary social work, and school social work licensure. Advanced standing students complete one, 672-hour field placement; the full program requires two field placements. The school offers field experiences at one of about 400 partnering organizations.
Faculty teach the program using synchronous and asynchronous modes of delivery. Admission to the advanced standing program requires a BSW or BSSW with a minimum 3.0 GPA; the full program requires a minimum 2.7 GPA.
The online MSSW is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
You May Also Like These Online College Rankings
- 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 schools 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?
MSW 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 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.
Interview with Susan Youngsteadt
Susan Youngsteadt graduated from NCSU with a master's of social work in 2016. She has over six years of experience working with youth and adults in various agency settings. She is a licensed clinical social worker associate and currently practices as a family-centered treatment (FCT) therapist for a private community mental health agency in Raleigh, NC.
Susan also holds a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and a certificate in nonprofit studies/management. She is currently a member of the SAFEchild Young Ambassadors in Raleigh and works with a local chapter of Safe Families for Children.
- Why did you choose a degree in social work? Was this something that always interested you?
For me, I always knew I wanted to work with families. I can specifically remember writing a poem in ninth grade English class about wanting to become a marriage and family therapist. Now, my specific job title and end goal may have shifted slightly over the years (I do not have my LMFT), but I still work with families and truly enjoy it. I plan to work with children, adolescents, and families in some format for the foreseeable future.
My parents were both registered nurses when they met. My mother and father instilled in me a desire to help others and to give back. My parents always gave more than they took and made it a point to instill these values into me growing up. I was also blessed with the opportunity to have a high school guidance counselor who made a tremendous impact on my life. She was part of my inspiration to pursue a degree in social work and work with adolescents.
I did not always know I needed to have a degree in social work to do the type of work I wanted to do. In my undergraduate program, my advisor explored options with me and provided me with the information on how obtaining a master's of social work (MSW) would allow me to have broad options when working with children and families, as well as be able to provide therapy in a clinical setting. I obtained a nonprofit management studies minor from North Carolina State University as well and knew social work would allow me to pursue that passion of mine also.
- What are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your MSW program that apply to your job on a day-to-day basis?
This is a tough question. Thinking back to my time in my MSW program, the first skill that comes to mind is humility. I learned how to admit I did not know everything and I needed to work together with other people to achieve the same goal, helping others.
I learned how to give myself a break. I have always been someone who found school important and dedicated a lot of time to academic performance. My MSW program taught me to place more value on the learning experience and to know my personal limits. I would exhaust myself and then be unable to give my best to certain parts of the program. I gained the skill of validation and affirmation when working with others. We focused a lot on active listening skills, which is crucial in the field of social work, where many individuals simply want to be heard.
On a day-to-day basis, I would have to say the skills of validation, active listening, affirmation, normalizing thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and asking open-ended (instead of close-ended) questions were all gained from my time in my MSW program and the internship experiences.
Making connections also stands out as a crucial skill. Networking is KEY in the field of social work. We all have similar goals, with a root in wanting to support others in our community. Working together and getting to know people in other agencies and positions has been hands-down one of the most important skills I gained. I learned how to search for resources in my community. Or, in other words, I learned how to do more than simply google something and hope I found the answer I needed.
- You earned an undergraduate degree in psychology. Do you think it's necessary for MSW students to have this kind of background going into their master's programs?
I chose to earn a degree in psychology because the human mind has always fascinated me. I do feel this undergraduate degree, along with a minor in social work, was helpful for me going into a master's program for social work. Do I feel it is necessary? No. In my cohort, there were individuals with a variety of backgrounds, all with so much to offer. We had people with backgrounds in business, sociology, communication, etc. All of these backgrounds have something to bring to the table in the field of social work.
I honestly believe that if all MSWs had the same background with regards to undergraduate education, we would not be as diverse and would put ourselves in a situation where we all thought the same. We need different perspectives, pulling from a variety of academic fields.
I do believe having an understanding of the needs within your community, a desire to help others, and a willingness to learn and serve others is key to obtaining an MSW. Many individuals who I have had the opportunity or pleasure to work with or attend school with had an experience in their childhood or adulthood that led them to pursue social work.
- What are some of the greatest challenges you face in your practice? What advice would you give to students considering this line of work?
In my current role, I practice as a family-centered treatment (FCT) clinician at a private community mental health agency. This would be considered clinical, direct-practice work, where I see families and individuals face-to-face and provide therapeutic services.
Some of the greatest challenges I face in my current practice include having a solid work/life balance and healthy boundaries when it comes to work. My current position is considered 24/7 crisis, meaning if one of the families on my caseload is experiencing a crisis, they are able to reach out to me anytime for support.
Now, that does not mean that I absolutely, 100% must answer. Everyone understands us clinicians have personal lives. We utilize a phone tree and have an emergency crisis plan in place for these situations. However, we are expected to do our due diligence in making ourselves available to a family when a crisis occurs. So, in a sense, I am always "on."
I have found it challenging to turn my work "off" when I get home in the evenings or on weekends, when I always feel as though there is something I could be doing or a family may call needing assistance. Over time, I have become more comfortable with placing firm boundaries on myself for when I need to put work away and be present in my personal life, along with placing boundaries with families that I serve. This includes providing families with a good crisis plan for if I am unavailable to respond to the family right away.
These boundaries include putting my phone down and not feeling obligated to answer every work-related email the minute it comes through. It is a challenge not to feel responsible for doing everything you can to help your families out, which can truly impact your personal life if good boundaries aren't in place.
Advice I would give to students considering clinical work — I would suggest exploring setting boundaries within yourself for work life and personal life. You can do this by exploring how you set boundaries now with your friends and family, etc. I would also suggest exploring what you are capable and willing to do when working with families [and] being honest with yourself. Are you willing to work on weekends, take calls later in the evening, potentially move your schedule around at the last minute?
Being transparent and honest with yourself and what you are willing to do when working with families can be a tremendous help when looking for clinical positions right out of an MSW program. Make sure to ask about work/life balance in job interviews with enhanced or crisis service positions.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree? Did you feel fully prepared when making the transition from school into practice?
I completed my degree in May of 2016. During the last few months of our graduate program, we were encouraged to begin the job search. Advisors and professors alike would provide feedback on resumes [and] cover letters and field questions on job postings. We were also encouraged to reach out to the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) staff, specifically the individual who provided resume assistance. She was a HUGE help in feeling prepared for the job search.
The job search was somewhat confusing as I, personally, was not sure on the exact path I wanted to take right out of school. I knew I simply needed a job. I wanted to work with children and families, but wasn't sure if I wanted to work in a private or public setting, in clinical versus more macro, etc. The job search proved overwhelming at first, but once I was able to sit back and truly think about what I wanted to do and what would make me happy, then it felt much easier to look for certain positions in the area.
When making the transition into practicing in a full-time job, I can say it was not an easy transition for me. I initially struggled to find my groove and a schedule I was comfortable with. I went straight into my master's program from undergrad, so I had been in school for six years. No longer having class or a paper due was unusual to me and took longer to get used to than I would have anticipated. I feel that continuing to work all throughout my undergraduate and graduate programs did help in feeling less of the impact in working full time.
- What additional advice would you give to prospective MSW students?
Have a support system or begin the process of solidifying your support system. MSW programs involve a lot of self-reflection and introspective work. You will learn a lot about yourself as well as others in your cohort/classes. You will study tough but relevant topics that can weigh you down and overwhelm you. Developing a good self-care routine is also highly recommended. You will need to take care of yourself.
I know, for me, I wanted to give everything I had to my MSW program. My cohort playfully turned the MSW acronym into standing for "Must Save World." This rang very true for me. I was constantly on the go, working and going to school while completing my internship. Developing a self-care routine where I replenished myself allowed me to give more to my program and the agency I partnered with.
It can be anything from weekly nights with your friends, reading a good book, hot baths with candles, a glass of wine or two, whatever works for YOU. This is also a great piece of advice that will follow you into the professional field once you complete your MSW program.
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.
- Complete List of CSWE Accredited Online MSW Programs
CSWE Accredited Schools State Full-
Arizona State University AZ BOTH NO ASYNCHRONOUS Boise State University ID BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS Boston University MA PART YES ASYNCHRONOUS California State University, Northridge CA FULL NO BOTH California State University, San Bernardino CA PART NO ASYNCHRONOUS Campbellsville University KY BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS Case Western Reserve University OH BOTH YES SYNCHRONOUS Catholic University of America DC PART NO ASYNCHRONOUS Columbia University in the City of New York NY BOTH YES SYNCHRONOUS Delaware State University DE BOTH YES SYNCHRONOUS Edinboro University of Pennsylvania PA FULL YES SYNCHRONOUS Florida State University FL PART YES ASYNCHRONOUS Fordham University NY BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS Humboldt State University CA PART YES SYNCHRONOUS Indiana University IN BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS Louisiana State University LA BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS Metropolitan State University of Denver CO BOTH NO BOTH Morgan State University MD FULL NO BOTH Our Lady of the Lake University TX BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS Portland State University OR PART NO BOTH Rutgers University-New Brunswick NJ PART NO ASYNCHRONOUS Salisbury University MD PART YES ASYNCHRONOUS San Jose State University CA PART NO BOTH Simmons College MA FULL YES SYNCHRONOUS Temple University PA PART NO BOTH Texas State University TX BOTH YES SYNCHRONOUS The University of Tennessee-Knoxville TN BOTH YES BOTH The University of Texas at Arlington TX BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley TX BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS University at Buffalo NY PART YES BOTH University of Alaska Anchorage AK BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS University of Arkansas AR FULL YES ASYNCHRONOUS University of Arkansas at Little Rock AR PART NO BOTH University of Central Florida FL BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS University of Denver CO BOTH NO SYNCHRONOUS University of Houston TX PART YES ASYNCHRONOUS University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign IL BOTH YES BOTH University of Iowa IA PART YES BOTH University of Louisville KY BOTH YES BOTH University of Missouri-Columbia MO BOTH YES ASYNCHRONOUS University of Nevada-Reno NV BOTH YES BOTH University of New England ME FULL YES ASYNCHRONOUS University of New Hampshire NH BOTH NO ASYNCHRONOUS University of North Dakota ND FULL YES SYNCHRONOUS University of South Florida FL BOTH YES BOTH University of Southern California CA PART YES SYNCHRONOUS Walden University MN FULL YES ASYNCHRONOUS Western Kentucky University KY PART YES BOTH Western New Mexico University NM BOTH YES SYNCHRONOUS Widener University PA PART NO ASYNCHRONOUS
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 Online MSW 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|
According to the data above, an entry-level social worker with an MSW can expect to earn around $8,000 more than someone with a BSW during the first five years of their career. After 10 years of professional experience, social workers with an MSW outearn their BSW-holding counterparts by about $11,000.
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.
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||$40,366|
|Clinical Social Workers||$52,815|
|Medical Social Worker||$51,779|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$38,447|
|Social Service Specialist||$35,012|
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.
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 $64,000, and this number increases to $77,000 for professionals with 20 or more years of experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Popular Online Social Work Degrees
A Comprehensive Guide to an Online Social Work Degree
The Best Online Bachelor's in Social Work
Social Work Resources
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Best Online MSW Programs of 2018
Rank School Location 1 Boston University Boston, MA 2 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX 3 Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY 4 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 5 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 6 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ 7 University of South Florida Tampa, FL 8 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL 9 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL 10 Arizona State University-Skysong Scottsdale, AZ 11 California State University-Northridge Northridge, CA 12 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL 13 Fordham University Bronx, NY 14 University of Denver Denver, CO 15 University of Houston Houston, TX 16 University of Louisville Louisville, KY 17 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR 18 California State University-San Bernardino San Bernardino, CA 19 Temple University Philadelphia, PA 20 Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 21 Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN 22 University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY 23 The University of Texas at Arlington Arlington, TX 24 Simmons College Boston, MA 25 San Jose State University San Jose, CA
- Best Online MSW Programs of 2017
Rank School Location 1 Columbia University in the City of New York New York, NY 2 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 3 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 4 Boston University Boston, MA 5 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL 6 Fordham University Bronx, NY 7 University of Denver Denver, CO 8 University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY 9 Ohio State University Columbus, OH 10 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ 11 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 12 Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 13 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville, TN 14 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA 15 California State University-Northridge Northridge, CA 16 University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, HI 17 Simmons College Boston, MA 18 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA 19 Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO 20 Catholic University of America Washington, DC 21 Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN 22 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO 23 University of Louisville Louisville, KY 24 Salisbury University Salisbury, MD 25 The University of Texas at Arlington Arlington, TX
- Best Online MSW Programs of 2016
Rank School Location 1 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 2 Fordham University Bronx, NY 3 California State University Long Beach, CA 4 Catholic University of America Washington, DC 5 The University of Tennessee - Knoxville Knoxville, TN 6 Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 7 University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, HI 8 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA 9 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 10 Colorado State University - Colorado Springs Fort Collins, CO 11 Indiana State University - Purdue University - Indianapolis, IN Indianapolis, IN 12 California State University - Northridge Northridge, CA 13 University of New Hampshire Durham, NH 14 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 15 Texas State University San Marcos, TX 16 University of New England Biddeford, ME 17 Our Lady of the Lake University San Antonio, TX 18 Metropolitan State University of Denver Denver, CO 19 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL
- Best Online MSW Programs of 2015
Rank School Location 1 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 2 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH 3 Fordham University Bronx, NY 4 University of Tennessee Knoxville, TN 5 Lousiana State University - Agricultural & Mechanical College Baton Rouge, LA 6 Catholic University of America Washington, DC 7 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 8 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA 9 Colorado State University Fort Collins CO 10 University of New Hampshire Durham NH 11 Texas State University San Marcos, TX 12 California State University - Northridge Northridge, CA 13 University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, HI 14 Indiana University-Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 15 University of New England Biddeford, ME