Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs of 2021

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By Doug Wintemute

Published on July 27, 2021

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With advice from Social Work program graduate, Sue English

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Social workers provide support and counseling within the most essential social service fields. While prospective students can access social work careers through various pathways, a master's in social work (MSW) offers perhaps the most effective route. Graduates with an online master's degree in social work can make a difference in their community while benefiting from a strong career outlook.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 13% growth for social service occupations between 2019 and 2029, more than three times faster than the rate for all occupations. To make the most of an MSW program, however, learners should know more about the degree and their career options. We've also included a ranking of the best online MSW programs in the country.

What are the Best Online Master's in Social Work (MSW) Programs of 2021? Here are our top 10:

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#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
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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Social Work Programs

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University of Central Florida View School Profile Orlando, FL

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

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University of Southern California View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

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

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Request more information about this program.

University of South Florida-Main Campus View School Profile Tampa, FL

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

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Request more information about this program.

Boston University View School Profile Boston, MA

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

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Request more information about this program.

New Mexico State University-Main Campus View School Profile Las Cruces, NM

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.

Ohio State University-Main Campus View School Profile Columbus, OH

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

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Request more information about this program.

University of Arkansas View School Profile Fayetteville, AR

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

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Request more information about this program.

Arizona State University-Skysong View School Profile Scottsdale, AZ

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.

California State University-San Bernardino View School Profile San Bernardino, CA

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.

Case Western Reserve University View School Profile Cleveland, OH

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

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Rutgers University-New Brunswick View School Profile New Brunswick, NJ

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.

Fordham University View School Profile Bronx, NY

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

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Request more information about this program.

The University of Alabama View School Profile Tuscaloosa, AL

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.

University of North Dakota View School Profile Grand Forks, ND

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.

Texas A & M University-Commerce View School Profile Commerce, TX

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.

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

A master's in social work typically requires 36-60 credits and takes students two years to complete, though different scheduling and delivery options may increase or decrease that time. The degree combines theoretical, policy, and clinical training, and students explore societal issues, such as addiction, mental health, poverty, and child services.

The degree combines theoretical, policy, and clinical training, and students explore societal issues like addiction, mental health, poverty, and children services.

Online MSW programs may offer two major tracks: macro and clinical social work. In graduate social work programs, macro social work concentrations often prepare students for leadership positions in policy and program development. Clinical social work, conversely, equips learners with the skills and credentials needed to diagnose and treat various mental and behavioral disorders.

In some MSW online programs, students can specialize even further, choosing concentrations in areas like children and families, behavioral health, substance abuse, and human service management. Each of these tracks provides students with focused training and may help qualify them for specialized credentials after graduation.

Prospective social workers pursue careers in the field for many reasons, but most are compassionate and possess strong emotional and communication skills. In addition to online classes, students may need to complete onsite clinical requirements.

Admission Requirements for Online Master's in Social Work Programs

Prospective social work students must meet typical graduate admission requirements, including a bachelor's degree and letters of recommendation. Some programs require a social work or psychology degree, but most simply recommend or prefer relevant training.

Additionally, some programs may prefer applicants with professional experience, such as employment in a social work or human services field. Prospective students may also need a 2.5-3.0 minimum GPA.

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Advice from a Social Work Program Graduate

Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC, is a licensed family therapist and owner of English Meadows Counseling Services in Naperville, IL. She specializes in trauma, self-esteem issues, and mood disorders. She has worked in detox centers, residential facilities, and inpatient/outpatient treatment centers. She is currently in private practice.

She is passionate about empowering individuals to see their full potential and create the life and relationships they know they want and deserve.

What made you decide to pursue a master's in social work?

At the point where my kids were all school-aged, I decided to return to work. I had a BA in teaching and was researching other helping professions that would be a better fit for my current passions. I enjoyed multiple volunteer opportunities throughout the course of my life, including volunteering in nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospitals, and schools.

A master's in social work provides multiple career options to work in these settings and support diverse and vulnerable populations.

What advice would you give students considering pursuing a master's in social work?

Research specific careers in social work so you can narrow down the classes that would be beneficial to support your endeavors. Talk with social workers in different settings to get a feel for the type of work you would be doing and if you feel it would be a rewarding field for you.

How did you choose a master's in social work program? What factors did you consider?

I was deciding between a master's in counseling or master's in social work. I felt there were more opportunities available through a social work program. Once I narrowed down my decision, I found that a local college, Aurora University, was well-known for its social work programs and gave great support in matching students to valuable internships.

What advice would you give a student trying to determine which master's in social work program to pursue

Once you learn about the different populations you can serve with a social work degree, figure out a niche that feels right to you. Whether you want to work in a hospital, work with the gerontology population, support students in school systems, advocate through government agencies, or provide resources to vulnerable populations, there is something that will spark your interests within this vast field.

What were some of the most interesting courses you took in your program?

Practice programming classes were beneficial to take alongside working at an internship. Being able to apply what you are currently learning and having a group setting to share and process with was very rewarding.

Medical social work and surveys of substance abuse classes were insightful and determined further interests to pursue within the field. Psychopharmacology classes were a little challenging but useful if you are working in medical social work.

How has your degree helped you with your career goals?

My MSW opened the door to work in crisis stabilization units, residential treatment facilities, and detox centers. I eventually developed the experience and confidence to open up my own private practice as an individual and family therapist.

Is there anything else students should know about pursuing a master's in social work?

Internships are a great way to gain experience in the field and can provide a foot in the door when it comes time to apply for positions.

A master's in social work, along with a certain amount of supervision hours, work in the field, and passing a licensure exam, can provide the opportunity to work in private practice.

The training and skills obtained through a social work program benefit the community in which you work and provide a lot of insight into your own life to continually address your own relationships, health, and needs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Social Work Program?

Each program offers a unique curriculum, and students can customize their training through electives and concentrations. Nevertheless, many top MSW programs offer similar core courses, including the following options.

Public Health Policy

This course explores the many government policies and programs that impact social workers. Students examine institutions and processes that create policies, financial and legal considerations, and ways in which policies can support or hinder different demographics.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse courses teach students about addiction issues related to social work, including intervention, assessment, and diagnosis procedures. They learn about the conditions and factors that lead to addiction, along with some of the best treatment and management methods and programs available.

Social Justice

Social justice courses teach students to think more critically about inequity. They examine some of the most underrepresented and oppressed demographics and look at the policies in place to protect or support these groups. They also learn ways to improve programs and opportunities.

Professional Ethics

This course explores some of the major ethical dilemmas and issues in the social work field. Students learn professional standards and values used by social workers and the code of ethics they try to follow. Students also learn how to use ethics to analyze and solve problems.

Community Organizing

This course covers community organization and management skills used by professionals. Students may examine advocacy efforts, policy analysis, and nonprofit management. They also learn how to communicate with and motivate groups, how to accommodate and serve, and how to lead.

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What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Social Work Degree?

The need for social services in areas like healthcare and education continues to grow. Master's degree-holders qualify for some of the best positions in social work.

The BLS projects the addition of nearly 350,000 social service and community jobs between 2019 and 2029, and the top 10% of social workers earn a median annual wage of $85,820.

Discover some of the possibilities of an online master's in social work. Learn more about social work careers.

Child and Family Social Workers

These social workers help children and families in challenging and vulnerable situations. They assist them in locating services and applying for various forms of assistance, and they may provide support and intervention services when needed.

School Social Workers

These social workers help children in schools to overcome social, behavioral, and academic challenges. They often work with families, teachers, and guidance counselors to find necessary information and develop support programs.

Healthcare Social Workers

These social workers help patients and their families in various ways, such as coping with medical diagnoses, integrating back into society, and dealing with changes to emotional and mental health.

Substance Abuse Social Workers

These social workers assist patients with various mental health and addiction issues. They help clients develop management and coping programs and point them in the direction of appropriate services and medical professionals.

Social and Community Services Manager

These managers supervise social service organizations and develop and manage the programs they offer. They may focus on specialized demographics or specific activities, such as fundraising, advocacy, and policy change. According to the BLS, 29% of these professionals work in individual and family services, 12% work in religious services, and 11% work in nursing care facilities.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Social Work Programs

How long does it take to get an MSW?

Most students complete an online master's in social work in approximately two years. Asynchronous online coursework and accelerated programs may allow for faster completion times. Conversely, part-time programs give working professionals the opportunity to earn their degrees at a slower pace.

Is a master's in social work worth it

Social work master's programs provide access to promising career options that offer personal and professional rewards. According to the BLS, social workers earn median annual salaries of $51,760, more than $11,000 higher than the median wage for all occupations.

What are some MSW concentrations?

Depending on the program, students may choose from concentrations like clinical social work. They can also choose field specializations, such as child and family, healthcare, and addiction social work.

What can you do with an online master's in social work?

With a master's degree in social work, graduates can access most social work careers, becoming child and family, mental health, school, and healthcare social workers. They can also take on management roles as social and community service managers.

As master's degree programs have grown in popularity, graduate student loan debt has increased substantially. An MBA can open the door to many high-paying jobs in the business field. Learn about the best MBA jobs in 2021, from accountant to product marketing manager. This landing page acts as an introduction and overview of online college planning resources for students.

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