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By pursuing a social worker degree online, you open the doors to a growing career field that's focused on helping others. While social workers do not typically earn top salaries, professionals in the field are in high demand, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 11% growth in the field over the coming years.
Social workers assist people in a variety of ways. For example, they help others cope with the challenges of addiction, mental illness, poverty, domestic violence, and criminal issues. It's an extremely rewarding field that's best suited for individuals who care about others and have a talent for connecting with people. As a social worker, you can make a real difference in the lives of others.
What are the best social work programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:
|1||University of Utah||Salt Lake City, UT|
|2||University of North Dakota||Grand Forks, ND|
|3||Spring Arbor University||Spring Arbor, MI|
|4||Northwestern State University of Louisiana||Natchitoches, LA|
|5||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA|
|6||Bemidji State University||Bemidji, MN|
|7||Aurora University||Aurora, IL|
|8||The University of Tennessee, Knoxville||Knoxville, TN|
|9||Touro University Worldwide||Los Alamitos, CA|
|10||Brescia University||Owensboro, KY|
- WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A SOCIAL WORK DEGREE?
Graduates of social work programs assist people facing various life challenges, including homelessness, addiction, mental illness, poverty, and domestic violence. Read more here..
- HOW TO GET A DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK
To earn a degree in social work, students must have an interest in helping others. Once admitted, students must meet all graduation requirements, which may include an internship or practicum component. Read more here..
- CAN YOU BE A COUNSELOR WITH A SOCIAL WORK DEGREE?
Yes. Social workers can work as substance abuse counselors, group counselors, residential counselors, family counselors, or school counselors. Read more here..
- WHAT IS A BACHELOR'S DEGREE IN SOCIAL WORK?
A bachelor's degree in social work provides students with fundamental human service and behavior skills. Graduates can go on to pursue graduate studies in social work or pursue entry-level careers in the field. Read more here..
- HOW MUCH DOES A SOCIAL WORK DEGREE COST?
The cost of a social work program depends on a number of factors, including residency status. On average, online students can expect to pay between $160 and $650 per credit. Read more here..
Choosing a Program
As you complete your social worker degree online, you learn a wide range of tools and techniques that are invaluable while working in the field. In most cases, students take courses focusing on interpersonal and intercultural communication, cultural anthropology, human growth and development, sociology, and psychology. After that, they engage in more program-focused coursework like child welfare studies, community mental health, social welfare, and research methods.
Most social work programs involve an internship or field practicum component, during which you work in real-world settings and learn from experienced professionals in the field. This may include spending time at a public health clinic, mental health facility, courthouse, school, or senior center.
Bachelor's of social worker programs online increasingly emphasize how best to communicate and work with individuals and families from diverse cultures and backgrounds. To that end, it's important for students entering the field to absorb as much as possible about topics such as cultural diversity, environmental sustainability, and social policy -- and how they impact people and communities.
Accredited Online Bachelor's in Social Work Degrees
University of Utah
|Salt Lake City, UT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 70%||
The University of Utah is a top research university and the Beehive State's flagship public institution. More than 30,000 students enroll each year, and the U boasts an impressive 89% freshman retention rate. Several university departments offer flexible online courses and degrees, including the college of social work.
Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the U's online bachelor's in social work requires 48 credits of core courses, including an in-person internship. Areas of study include social diversity and cultural understanding, the developmental impact of child abuse, and social work research and evaluation.
At the time of program application, prospective students must have completed all general education requirements with a minimum 2.35 GPA.
University of North Dakota
|Grand Forks, ND||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
The University of North Dakota was founded in 1883, six years before the state itself was established. Today, this high-activity research institution enrolls more than 13,000 students each year. UND offers an on-campus and online bachelor's degree in social work accredited by the CSWE.
This highly respected program covers key concepts in social work research, social policy, and human behavior in the social environment. Students participate in synchronous classes, several campus visits, and a supervised field internship. Graduates are prepared for generalist social work practice with individuals, families, communities, and organizations.
Admission requirements vary by student status. Freshmen applicants must hold a minimum 2.75 high school GPA and minimum 22 ACT/1100 SAT. Transfer students must demonstrate a minimum 2.0 GPA on college coursework.
Spring Arbor University
|Spring Arbor, MI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
Spring Arbor University is a Christ-centered, private, liberal arts university where 92% of students report positive outcomes after graduation. The university catalog boasts more than 70 undergraduate majors and graduate options. Fourteen of these programs offer online completion, including the bachelor's in social work.
The 124-credit degree, accredited by the CSWE, prepares students to provide social work services to individuals, families, organizations, and communities. Core courses include racial and ethnic relations, statistics for the behavioral sciences, and social welfare policies. Students must complete a minimum of 400 internship hours.
Admission to the social work major requires ACT/SAT scores of 20 or 940, respectively, a minimum 2.5 GPA for transfer students, and a personal interview.
Northwestern State University of Louisiana
|Natchitoches, LA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
Originally established in 1884 as a two-year teachers college, Northwestern State University of Louisiana boasts the state's oldest continually occupied site for higher education. Today, NSU enrolls approximately 11,000 students, 40% of whom study exclusively online through Louisiana's first and largest electronic campus, eNSU.
Among eNSU's flexible program options is an online bachelor's degree in social work, which prepares graduates for immediate entry into several social work and human services careers. The 120-credit curriculum consists of general education, core courses, and in-person field placement. The program delivers coursework asynchronously, and all online students pay a flat tuition rate.
Applicants must submit official transcripts and SAT/ACT scores.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Liberty University is a private Christian institution headquartered on a 7,000-acre campus in Lynchburg, Virginia. The university offers more than 400 online programs to a global student population of 79,000. Among Liberty's extensive offerings is an online bachelor's degree in social work.
The 120-credit program takes 3.5 years on average, although Liberty allows students to transfer in up to 75% of the total curriculum. Students complete courses in human behavior, sociology, and social welfare policy in an online asynchronous format. Local field placements and a five-day on-campus intensive are required.
Undergraduate applicants must fill out a high school self-certification form and mail in official transcripts. A minimum 2.0 GPA is required for admission in good standing.
Bemidji State University
|Bemidji, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 46%||
Located in the Northwoods region of Minnesota, Bemidji State University is a public institution serving approximately 5,400 students. BSU offers more than 65 academic and pre-professional programs for undergraduates, including an on-campus and online bachelor's in social work.
Using a cohort model, BSU allows groups of students to progress through the 69-credit major together, completing courses in interpersonal relations, family dynamics, and social work practice. While most classes are held online, students must attend 3-4 on-campus sessions each semester. A 480-hour social service internship is also required.
Prior to admission to the social work program, students must complete approximately 30 credits of general education coursework with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0. An essay, statement interest, and two professional references are required for admission.
|Aurora, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
Aurora University is a private, nonprofit institution serving approximately 6,000 students. Through AU Online, the university offers 13 flexible programs designed for adult distance learners with prior college coursework and relevant life experience.
Depending on the number of eligible transfer credits, students can earn their CSWE-accredited online bachelor's degree in social work in 2-4 years. The 120-credit curriculum requires 40 credits of major courses, including social work research, social welfare institutions and policies, and field instruction.
Admission to the school of social work requires at least 60 credits of college coursework with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants must provide a resume demonstrating relevant experience, a personal statement, and official transcripts.
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
|Knoxville, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
Approximately 30,000 students attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville each year, choosing from more than 360 undergraduate and 530 graduate programs. In addition to on-campus programs, UT Knoxville also offers hybrid and online options, including a bachelor's in social work, the first program of its kind in the state.
Social work students complete coursework both synchronously and asynchronously. Available courses include adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed care, understanding diversity in a global society, and forensic social work. Students must participate in a supervised field placement.
Admission to this program is limited to transfer students with 60 credits of prior college coursework and a completed associate degree. A minimum 2.5 GPA is required.
Touro University Worldwide
|Los Alamitos, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
The Touro College and University System encompasses several Jewish-sponsored, nonprofit institutions of higher education. Touro University Worldwide is the global branch of this network, offering 100% online degrees designed with working professionals in mind. Among its offerings is an online bachelor's degree in social work.
Full-time students can finish their degree in 3.5 years, completing 120 credits through flexible, eight-week courses. The social work core requires courses in ethics and social policy, child welfare services, and human behavior. Prior to graduation, students must participate in a field experience and complete a capstone course.
High school graduates, those who have completed the GED, and college transfer students in good standing, are eligible for admission to TUW.
|Owensboro, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
Brescia University is a private, Catholic liberal arts university founded on the principle of personal and social transformation through education. More than half of the school's 1,000 students attend classes on campus in Owensboro, Kentucky, but BU also provides several degrees in an entirely online format.
The CSWE-accredited online bachelor's in social work offers five start dates each year. Students must satisfy general education requirements and complete 42 credits in the social work core, including social issues in diversity, the social aspects of aging, and ethical considerations in the human services field. Two on-site field practicums are required, totaling 450 clock hours.
BU accepts online applications on a rolling basis. First-time college students must submit high school transcripts.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Social Work Program?
The vast majority of bachelor of social work online degree programs prepare graduates for entry-level positions in the field as residential counselors, group home workers, and mental health assistants. While certain details will vary depending on specific schools, this guide is a good starting point to help you find the social worker degree online program that best suits you.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Bachelor's in Social Work
|Concentration||Description||Careers This Concentration Prepares For|
|Generalist Social Work||The generalist track is the most common option within social worker programs online for the undergraduate level. By teaching students the fundamental theories and practices in the field, this track lays the foundation for further education and research and provides graduates with the flexibility to pursue a wide range of careers.||Mental health assistant, program coordinator, case worker, group counselor|
|Minority Group Service||Students with an interest in the health of minority groups may choose to pursue coursework that allows them specifically cater to the needs of underserved populations. This social worker degree online LGBT persons and those within an ethnic or racial group. Students focus on community organization and diversity challenges in the United States.||LGBT health associate, community organizer, latino health advocate|
|Family and Aging||In family and aging social worker programs online, students focus on family dynamics and the challenges of the aged, preparing for careers in nursing homes or as child welfare specialists. They are also prepared to tackle issues of violence within the family, particularly as it affects women, children, and mental health.||Group home worker, family counselor, women's health promoter|
Curriculum for an Online Bachelor's in Social Work
Most social work programs online teach students to become generalists, thereby preparing them for entry-level positions or more specialized training through graduate programs. Nuances between programs exist based on the school's history, location, and influence of instructors who teach there. Below are some sample courses that provides a broad overview of what you can generally expect from this type of degree.
- Human Behavior & the Social Environment
This introductory course is common among social worker degree online programs. Providing a broad understanding of human developmental stages and the connection between human growth and the environment, this course prepares students for general entry-level work in the field as school counselors or case work assistants.
- Cultural Diversity
This course provides students with a general understanding of the history and challenges of oppressed people in the United States. By delving into their own ethnic and cultural heritage and looking at other minority groups, students begin to prepare for work with diverse populations as advocates and educators for a diverse approach to social work and community care.
- Death & Dying
This class focuses on the complex and various aspects of individual responses and cultural beliefs towards death and dying. It provides future social workers, particularly those who want to work with the aged, with some fundamental tools to help individuals deal with their mortality. They also learn to help grieving families heal after the loss of a loved one.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Social Work?
Online colleges for social work require students to earn at least 120 credit hours to graduate. This usually takes four years of full-time enrollment. Students who have previous college credits can complete their bachelor's in social work in about two years. Some online programs exclusively provide a degree completion track and require applicants to have at least 60 hours worth of college experience before they can enroll in the program.
Other factors that affect length are whether or not a program adheres to a cohort or individual learning model. Most programs have aspects of both in their curriculum. Cohort learning usually means distance learners advance through a linear degree plan with a group of peers, enabling them to build relationships and support each other during the learning process. This also means that certain classes are only available during certain semesters, which can be challenging for online students with full-time jobs or other obligations. An asynchronous, individual program allows the most flexibility and can be completed quickly.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Social Work Degrees
National accreditation is the most popular and comes from either the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the United States Department of Education (DOE). Regional accreditation is the highest available from of accreditation. It ensures a school meets the educational requirements of the state or group-of-states within that particular area, a marker that almost all employers look for. There are six agencies recognized by CHEA and USDE as having the power to grant this designation. Fully accredited online schools for social work should have approval from the Council of Social Work Education, a private body that creates academic and professional standards of education in this field and ensures that programs meet certain standards. You should look for a program that has all three forms of accreditation.
The most popular accreditation for nonprofit colleges and universities is at the national level and comes from either the DOE or the CHEA. The DOE recognizes seven regional accreditation organizations, while the CHEA only recognizes six. DOE approval is more important, though you should look for a social work degree online program that has both. For a list of accredited colleges and universities, see the DOE's and CHEA's websites.
Employment Outlook for Bachelor's in Social Work Graduates
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree from an accredited online schools for social work is a requirement for most entry-level positions in the field. This is because a bachelor's degree prepares individuals for the challenges and opportunities of serving as a social worker, case manager, substance abuse counselor, or a related professional.
All states also require social workers to be licensed and licensure is typically an option restricted to those who have completed a relevant four-year degree. As a result, individuals who have achieved an associate degree will not be able to practice in the field.
Bachelor's in Social Work Salary
While entry-level salaries for those who have received a degree from one of the online colleges for social work tend to be comparatively low, more experience translates to higher salaries. Consider the data below on median salaries for social workers and related professions from Payscale.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)||Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)||Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$39,490||$35,590||$40,940||$47,960|
|Child Life Specialist||$43,600||$40,700||$45,660||$71,040|
|Mental Health Case Manager||$38,300||$34,230||$40,030||$48,980|
|School Social Worker||$48,890||$43,750||$50,090||$61,860|
Bachelor's in Social Work Careers
Although most graduates of social worker degree online programs go on to become social workers, many other career options are also available. A common thread among all careers in the field is the fact that successful professionals are personable, excellent communicators, and willing and able to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds and facing many a diverse set of life challenges. Below are five of the most common careers in this field:
- Social Worker: The most common career path for those who take part in social worker programs online, these professionals work with individuals and families in a variety of settings. Social workers typically have strong communication skills and an ability to connect and build trust with others. Professionals in this field regularly handle large caseloads, making good time management skills a must.
- Substance Abuse Counselor: These professionals focus on addressing the needs of individuals dealing with drug and alcohol use and abuse. Their work may take place in group settings or through one-on-one meetings with clients, and they're often contracted by businesses and nonprofit organizations to assist employees. Many substance abuse counselors emphasize prevention and can recognize common signs of abuse in both children and adults.
- Child Life Specialist: Most often found in hospitals and other healthcare settings, child life specialists work with children who have serious medical conditions. These professionals help families cope with illness from a psychological, emotional, and physical perspective. Stress reduction, counseling, and care coordination are key components of child life specialists' work.
- Mental Health Case Manager: These professionals develop and implement care plans for individuals with mental illnesses, often coordinating these plans with doctors, home care providers, and family members. They also conduct regular check-ins with their clients to ensure that they remain on track with their care.
- School Social Worker: Typically focused on K-12 education settings, school social workers observe students and determine if they may be dealing with mental, emotional, or social challenges. If so, they work with teachers and parents to help students address these issues in positive ways.
|Position||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$39,490||22%|
|Child Life Specialist||$43,600||7%|
|Mental Health Case Manager||$38,300||18%|
|School Social Worker||$48,890||11%|
Source: PayScale (salary) / Bureau of Labor Statistics (growth)
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW): With more than 132,000 members, NASW is the largest professional organization in the social work field. The group offers professional development opportunities and advocates for sound public policies at the federal level.
- American Case Management Association (ACMA): ACMA offers professional development opportunities, networking, and advocacy related to laws and policies that impact the practice of case management across various fields.
- The Network for Social Work Management: This international association aims to strengthen the field of social work by providing a platform for its members to communicate, network, and share best practices.
Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Social Work Program
When searching through the various bachelor of social work online degree programs available, one of your concerns may be how you will pay for your education. Fortunately, a variety of resources are available, including scholarships and federal student aid. All students, regardless of their financial circumstances, should take the time to fill out a FAFSA form to find out if they are eligible for grants, subsidized loans, or work-study programs that can help fund their studies.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that 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 college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are 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.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.