Best Online Social Work Programs of 2021

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September 13, 2021

Reviewed by Melissa Russiano, LCSW, LISW
With advice from Danica Copp, MSW, LICSW (Massachusetts)/LCSW (Virginia)
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If you're motivated to help others, a bachelor's degree in social work is worth considering. This degree prepares graduates for entry-level social services and administrative positions. Graduates can work at government agencies, schools, hospitals, and substance abuse clinics.

An online bachelor's degree in social work typically provides additional flexibility. Another benefit of online classes is the ability to enroll in top programs regardless of location, rather than limiting your options to local schools.

While employment growth varies by specialization, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 13% job growth for social workers between 2019 and 2029. Read on to learn more about this in-demand field.

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

Students usually earn an online bachelor's degree in social work because they want to make a difference in people's lives. Social workers educate and support community members. Empathy, open communication, active listening, organization, and commitment to advocacy are all important qualities for these professionals.

Students in social work programs learn to identify people and communities who need help. Coursework typically covers assessment, advocacy, and best practices for clinical intervention. A bachelor's degree in social work prepares graduates to work with individuals, groups, and community organizations.

Common concentrations include the following:

Taking classes online requires computer literacy and self-motivation. Asynchronous online programs often feature weekly modules with discussion boards, video chats, presentations, and assignments to upload. Students can easily communicate with their instructors and classmates through email, discussion boards, and shared files.

A bachelor's degree in social work typically requires 120 credits. In addition to coursework, most programs feature fieldwork, which online students can often complete in their local communities or at their current workplace.

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

Social Work Practice

Social work practice courses examine human behavior; social, economic, and cultural institutions; and how each affects the other. This course focuses on fundamental social work methods. Learners practice cross-cultural interviewing and hone their skills in casework, communication, and relationship-building.

Family Social Work

This course track explores how culture, location, and politics affect families, as well as how families impact an individual's life. Degree-seekers study principles of working with families, client assessment, planning and implementation, case management, and program evaluation.

Understanding Diversity

These courses provide an overview of the challenges and complexities regarding human diversity. Students examine privilege, age, economic justice, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and inclusiveness. Learners develop the sensitivity and communication skills they need to connect with diverse people and communities.

Social Work Research

Learners explore the social science research methods needed to conceptualize a problem and design a research strategy. Students learn how to use both qualitative and quantitative research methods and interpret research data.

Public Policies

Public policy courses examine both historical and current influences on local and national social service policies. Students develop practical skills in analyzing and influencing policy process, design, adaptation, and implementation.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

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

What Are Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor's in Social Work Program?

Applicants to online bachelor's programs in social work must fill out an application, submit letters of recommendation, and write a personal essay. However, online programs often offer rolling admissions with nontraditional term start dates, while on-campus programs typically maintain stricter deadlines.

Application

Students must typically complete college applications online. The application form requests applicants' name, address, birthday, Social Security number, interests, hobbies, and family information. Some applications provide space for honors and awards, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and employment history.

Test Scores

Traditional four-year colleges and universities use ACT or SAT test scores to measure students' critical thinking, math, reading, and writing skills. However, online bachelor's programs may waive these requirements. Students who are not native English speakers need to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Letters of Recommendation

Social work programs generally require letters of recommendation attesting to applicants' personal and academic character. You must usually submit at least two letters from teachers, counselors, employers, or mentors who can describe your values, learning style, and leadership ability.

Essays

Your college essay is how administrators get to know you and learn about your goals, what you have to offer, and your expectations. The essay also demonstrates how well you write. Grammar and word choice are essential, so have someone proofread your essay to ensure it is error-free.

Official Transcripts

First-year college students usually need to submit transcripts from their high school. For students with prior college experience, many online programs accept transfer credits as long as they meet specific criteria. For example, regionally accredited colleges typically only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited institutions. Students can order their official transcripts from the registrar's office at their former college.

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

Social work is an in-demand field with an above-average projected growth rate. The job market can be competitive, and many graduates go on to earn a master's degree in order to qualify for advanced roles and clinical careers. However, there are various opportunities for graduates with an online bachelor's degree in social work.

For example, graduates with a bachelor's degree in social work qualify for certain social and community case manager positions. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to grow by 17% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the projected growth rate for all occupations.

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in social work can work in entry-level administrative and nonclinical positions. They can also pursue careers as caseworkers and mental health assistants.

Clinical positions require a master's degree in social work. Some online programs offer accelerated options that allow graduates with an online bachelor's degree in social work to earn their master's degree in about one year.

Licensure requirements vary by state. However, all states mandate licensure for clinical social workers, and most require a license or certification for nonclinical social workers.

Wages vary by occupation. For example, according to the BLS, social and community service occupations paid a median annual wage of $47,520 in 2020 and managers in this field earned a median annual salary of $69,600 that year. However, keep in mind that salaries could be considerably lower in some regions.

Find out where an online bachelor's in social work can take you. Learn more about social work careers here.

Career Paths

Case Manager

Social services case managers implement behavioral, support, and rehabilitation services and ensure clients engage in resources, services, and activities that benefit them. They help clients set goals and suggest treatment options. Case managers also participate in staff meetings and update case files.

Average Annual Salary: $39,580

Counselor

Counselors evaluate clients' psychological and physical health. They develop, recommend, and review treatment goals. They also assist clients with developing skills to modify their behavior and identify situations that interfere with their recovery. Additionally, counselors refer clients to other resources, services, and support groups. A master's degree will be required to provide direct clinical care.

Median Annual Salary: $47,660

Social Worker

Social workers with a bachelor's degree often focus on policy, program development, and services. They advocate for community resources like food stamps, childcare, and healthcare. Additionally, they work with groups and individuals to help clients adjust to change and challenges, including health issues, divorce, and unemployment. Clinical social workers need a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $51,760

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists evaluate probationers and parolees to determine rehabilitation avenues. They interview their clients and clients' friends and relatives to assess progress. These professionals also provide resources, write reports, maintain case files, perform drug tests, complete prehearing investigations, and testify in court.

Median Annual Salary: $55,690

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers typically work with the community and stakeholders to identify needs for programs and services. They also plan and manage outreach activities and write proposals for social services funding. These administrators analyze data to determine program effectiveness, then suggest and implement improvements. Social and community service managers may need a master's degree for some roles.

Median Annual Salary: $69,600

Social Work Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Graduates with an online bachelor's degree in social work often begin their career in administration and return to school to complete a graduate degree. Clinical positions require a master's degree focused on clinical assessment and management skills in a specific area.

A master's degree in social work can help professionals advance into clinical work as child and family social workers, school social workers, healthcare social workers, and upper-level administrators. These professionals also need state licensure.

Licenses and Certifications

Social work licensure comes from the state. All clinical social workers must hold a license in the state where they practice.

Additionally, many states require nonclinical social workers to maintain licensure. The Association of Social Work Boards provides information about the entry-level licensed baccalaureate social worker (LBSW) credential. Some states may not require clinical work experience to become an LBSW.

How Do I Choose an Online Bachelor's in Social Work Program?

Cost

The average online bachelor's degree in social work costs $36,000-$60,000. Online learners typically pay tuition on a per-credit basis and must factor in indirect expenses like books, technology fees, and other course materials that can add costs. However, online programs generally include lower direct expenses than on-campus programs.

Program Format

Synchronous and asynchronous online learning both allow students to attend class from anywhere. Synchronous courses simulate campus structure with dedicated meeting times and daily assignments. On the other hand, asynchronous programs provide more flexibility for students, with assignments that learners can complete around their schedule.

Location

Students pursuing an online bachelor's degree in social work have flexibility in where they attend school. However, learners might want to choose a school close to home if their program includes on-campus requirements. Similarly, there may be more internship and work-study opportunities closer to campus.

Accreditation

There are two types of institutional accreditation: national and regional. National accreditation is generally considered less prestigious than regional accreditation. Do not attend a school that is not regionally accredited, as you may struggle to get financial aid or transfer credits. Your chosen social work program should also hold programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.

Student Support

Depending on what the school offers, distance learners may access advising, career services, tutoring, and alumni connections online. Internships and mentorships may be available, as well. These services can provide crucial support throughout your degree.

Advice from a Social Work Program Graduate

Danica (Da-NEE-Ka) Copp is a master’s level social worker licensed independently in both Massachusetts, where she is originally from, and Virginia, where she now lives.

Danica has over 25 years of clinical experience in many roles and settings: residential care; emergency psychiatric screenings; home, office, and video-based psychotherapy and psycho-education; directing a private foster care agency; managing care for mental health; and school-based threat assessments. Currently, she provides psychotherapy both privately and through TalkSpace. She has also launched a coaching program for parents of teenagers to teach them to successfully launch their teenagers to adulthood.

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

At age 16, my family became a “child specific foster family” for a child my mother worked with. I had always wanted to help people. Watching what his social worker did for him created my interest in social work.

What did you like about your BSW program?

I loved that a BSW program is hands-on in learning about populations and working with people. It was so much more than just “book knowledge” with the required volunteer practicums.

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

Absolutely do it! This is a very marketable degree. You will learn about justice issues, underserved populations, and how to make a difference in the world. You will be inspired but you will also have skills to pursue other careers.

How was your job experience after graduating with a BSW (before pursuing an MSW)?

My initial job post BSW graduation was at the New England Center for Autism (now the New England Center for Children). I was a behavioral teacher/case manager for adolescent boys with severe behavior challenges and little communication skills. This was in the early 1990s and we were learning about using applied behavior analysis with these children on the autism spectrum. My second job was with adolescents in group homes due to behavior or family issues. I was the house manager of five girls and rapidly promoted to the program coordinator supervising five house managers. I loved the experience I gained prior to returning to school for my master’s degree.

Why did you decide to go back to school for an MSW?

I had maxed out my career and salary options without a master’s degree. It was necessary to continue to grow my career.

Would you recommend students pursue an MSW, or is a BSW enough for the field?

It would depend upon what you are interested in pursuing. There is a point where you will max out with only a bachelor’s degree.

Does someone with a bachelor's degree in social work have to become a social worker?

Absolutely not! I think a social work bachelor’s degree is an excellent degree for any career: politics, law, medicine, etc.

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

I always tell prospective students that a social work degree is so much more useful than a psychology or sociology bachelor’s degree. Social work teaches interpersonal and communication skills in addition to theory. Having both the NASW and CSWE to protect the education and career of social workers is also a huge benefit.

2021 Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

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University of North Dakota true View School Profile Grand Forks, ND

UND offers a bachelor's in social work that students can complete online or on campus. This program helps prepare students for state exams to get bachelor's-level licenses.

Admission requirements for first-year students include a minimum 2.75 GPA. The program's curriculum includes 120 credits of coursework. Notable courses include social work research, social policy, and human behavior and the social environment. All students complete field experience before graduating.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per credit: $376 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online or On Campus
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Spring Arbor University true View School Profile Spring Arbor, MI

SAU — based in Michigan — offers an online bachelor's in social work that can be completed online without ever visiting campus. The program provides additional flexibility by delivering all coursework asynchronously.

Admission requirements include transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, a writing sample, and a minimum 2.5 GPA. Students must complete 40 credits of general education and liberal arts courses before being admitted into the social work program.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per credit: $598 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
University of Louisville true View School Profile Louisville, KY

UofL offers an online bachelor's in social work. Students must complete a practicum at an approved location in their community. The program accepts up to 60 transfer credits of community college coursework and up to 90 transfer credits from an accredited four-year college.

First-time students must complete an application and submit their high school transcripts. UofL requires a minimum GPA of 2.5. Transfer students also must submit their college transcripts. Students do not need to submit letters of recommendation if they meet minimum admission requirements.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per credit: $508 per credit ($250 per credit for active-duty members of the military)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Liberty University true View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

Liberty in Lynchburg, Virginia, offers a bachelor's in social work that takes place 100% online, with the exception of a single virtual intensive. Electronic textbooks are included in the cost of the program. Incoming students can transfer in up to 90 credits. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Applicants must submit college transcripts (if applicable), proof of English proficiency, and a high school self-certification form. Liberty requires a 2.0 minimum GPA for admission in good standing.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per credit: $390 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Aurora University true View School Profile Aurora, IL

AU — based in Aurora, Illinois — offers an online bachelor's in social work that helps establish a foundation for students who want to pursue a career in this field. Students can opt to complete a child welfare track. In doing so, they earn certification related to child and adolescent needs and strengths and child endangerment risk assessment protocols.

Admission requirements include official college transcripts, a resume showing at least two years of work/relevant experience or military service, and a personal statement. Students without an associate degree or 60 college credits must submit proof of a high school or GED diploma.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per credit: $425 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Indiana Wesleyan University-National & Global View School Profile Marion, IN

IWU is based in Marion, Indiana. The university offers a bachelor's degree completion program in social work that can be completed online. While earning their online bachelor's in social work, students learn how to assist clients in difficult situations. In addition to online coursework, participants complete a weekly field placement in their local communities.

Admission requirements to the program include college transcripts and prior completion of at least 45 transferable credits from a regionally accredited university or from an institution accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost-per-credit: $426 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Troy University View School Profile Troy, AL

Troy, located in Alabama, offers an online bachelor's degree that can provide students with the skills they need to become proactive social work professionals. The program includes a 400-hour supervised practicum.

Troy maintains different admission requirements for first-time students, transfer students, and military members. First-time students must submit proof of a high school or GED diploma. In most cases, they must also submit ACT or SAT scores. Transfer students must submit official college transcripts demonstrating a minimum 2.0 GPA. Military members must provide proof of their military status.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost-per-credit: $388 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online or On Campus
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Millersville University of Pennsylvania View School Profile Millersville, PA

Millersville is based in Pennsylvania and oversees an online degree completion program in social work. This program is designed for adults who already hold an associate degree in social or human services.

Before enrolling in the program, Millersville expects students to have completed previous coursework in sociology of the family, state and local government, general psychology, human biology, and the social environment. The program's curriculum follows standards established by the Council on Social Work Education.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost-per-credit: $319 per credit (in state); $804 per credit (out of state)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission of Higher Education
Northern Arizona University View School Profile Flagstaff, AZ

NAU offers an online bachelor's in social work that helps prepare students to become licensed generalist social workers in several states. Graduates may work to help people who are dealing with substance misuse, homelessness, child abuse, and domestic violence.

Applicants must submit high school transcripts and official test scores. Transfer students must submit college transcripts. Once accepted, learners can complete most of the program's 120-credit curriculum asynchronously.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost-per-credit: $455 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Huntington University View School Profile Huntington, IN

Based in Indiana, HU offers an online bachelor's in social work that is designed to help working professionals finish their degrees. The program is broken into five-week courses that can accommodate students with busy schedules.

Prospective students must fill out an application form and submit transcripts. ACT and SAT scores are optional. Students who don't want to submit test scores must complete a supplemental application. Letters of recommendation are also optional.

School/Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost-per-credit: $402 per credit
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 128 credits
  • Format: Online
  • School Status: Private
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

Is a bachelor's in social work worth it? true

A bachelor's degree is the first step to a career in social work. Graduates often work while they complete their master's degree and gain licensure to further their career. Additionally, a bachelor's degree in social work opens doors to administrative careers, community advocacy, counseling, and individual and family health services.

What can I do with a bachelor's in social work? true

A bachelor's degree in social work prepares graduates for nonclinical social work in entry-level administrative positions. They can also pursue careers as caseworkers, counselors, social workers, and mental health assistants.

Are social workers in high demand? true

The BLS projects 13% job growth for social workers between 2019 and 2029. Specifically, during that period, the BLS projects 12% growth for child, family, and school social workers; 14% growth for healthcare social workers; and 17% growth for substance abuse social workers.

How much money can I make with a bachelor's in social work?

Salary potential depends on education, licensure, experience, and location. According to the BLS, community and social services occupations paid a median annual salary of $47,520 in 2020. Graduates with a bachelor's degree in social work are qualified for several of those positions.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a bachelor's in social work?

According to the BLS, social and community service managers earned a median annual salary of $69,600 in 2020. Individuals with only a bachelor's degree may need professional experience to qualify for these roles.

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Reviewed by:

Melissa Russiano is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice that has organically developed into a specialty helping working professionals. Russiano has a proven track record helping professionals avoid burnout in a unique way that holds clinicians accountable through laughter, tears, blunt (yet very supportive) feedback and quirky analogies that are grounded in solid theoretical research. Russiano practices solely in a virtual setting in the states of California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. In addition, Russiano is a professor at Simmons University online, imparting her experiences and knowledge in the field to graduate social work students.

Learn how a master’s degree in social work can elevate your career. Discover program options, career opportunities, and salary potential. Social workers strive for social change and development. They help empower the people they work with to build stronger communities. They often work with individuals who are vulnerable, including those living in poverty. Social workers can make an impact by advocating for civil and disability rights, providing mental health support, and preventing child abuse. According […] Pursue educational leadership through an advanced degree in social studies. Take the first step toward a career by earning an online master's in social studies.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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