Choosing the Best Online Social Work Degree Program for You
Our online social work degree guide was curated to help students discover and research the best online social work programs for them. Whether you are an undergraduate student, looking for a career change, or already in the field of social work, we have guides on part- and full-time MSW programs, advanced standing, clinical specializations, DSW programs and more.
OnlineMSWPrograms.com includes information on graduate level degrees in social work including: admissions requirements, example coursework, class structures, field placement supports, class size and financial aid. All of the schools listed on OnlineMSWPrograms.com are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) -- ensuring that we’re providing valuable online social work programs to you.
Featured CSWE-Accredited Online Social Work Degree Programs
Things to Consider in Choosing Your Top Online Social Work Program
Enrollment and Admissions Options
Online Field Placement Support
Tuition and Financial Aid
CSWE Accreditation for the Online MSW Degree Program
All accredited online social work degrees must meet the same CSWE accreditation standards as campus-based counterparts. This may help to relay the value in an online MSW program. Not every online MSW program will be accredited by the CSWE. Some programs may forego accreditation or are in the process of obtaining this recognition. CSWE accredited social work programs are rooted in competency-based education that includes:
Demonstrating ethical and professional behavior
Engaging in diversity and differences in practice
Advancing human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice
Engaging in practice-informed research, research-informed practice, and policy practice
Engaging with, assessing, intervening, and evaluating practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communications.
The CSWE also evaluates an MSW program’s mission and goals, different social work practice curriculum and implicit curriculum including diversity, student development and participation and faculty and administrative structure.
Enrollment and Admissions Options for MSW Online Programs
There are a number of enrollment options for online MSW degrees: part-time, full-time, advanced standing and traditional standing. The time to complete can be combined with the type of program (advanced, traditional) to create more pathways to earning your online MSW degree.
Part-Time Online MSW
Traditional part-time programs can take two-and-a-half to four years to complete depending on the structure of the curriculum, while advanced standing programs are typically one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years. The majority of part-time programs still use the cohort model; students simply take fewer courses per session or semester.
Full-Time Online MSW
A full-time online master’s in social work program typically takes approximately two years to complete for traditional standing students and one full year (three semesters) to complete for advanced standing students.
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Is a Full-Time or Part-Time MSW Degree Best for Me?
A full-time degree could be valuable for students who have the time to make their MSW program their full-time job and are looking to get their MSW as quickly as possible. It requires handling a full class load and pursuing field education experiences. A part-time time degree could be best for students who are planning to work a full-time job while they attend school.
Advanced Standing Online MSW
For students who earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a CSWE-accredited undergraduate program, some graduate schools offer an online master of social work program that waives the first year of classes, which are also known as foundation classes at many institutions.
Traditional Online MSW
For students who have not pursued a BSW typically enroll in traditional pathways to earning their online master of social work degree. Traditional online MSW programs will most likely provide curriculum with foundational coursework into specialized classes, focusing on social work practice.
Earn Your Master of Social Work Online from Fordham University
Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
Top-ranked graduate school of social work by U.S. News & World Report (2018)
In addition to the different delivery methods described above, online MSW programs have different class structures. Prospective social work students should understand these differences when researching valuable online social work programs, since they impact how and when you may attend class.
Cohort Model Structure
The majority of online MSW programs use a cohort model where students are accepted into a specific group of students that proceed through the program together. Schools that employ the cohort model typically have a set schedule of courses that must be followed in a specific order. Programs that use a cohort model may still allow students to take elective courses, but they are typically taken during specific semesters. Cohort models are valuable for students who want to develop relationships with their classmates — a student’s cohort can become their professional network and support group.
Flexible Course Scheduling Structure
MSW online programs with flexible course scheduling allow students to choose courses. Individual courses may still have prerequisites, but there is no set structure where students must take a specific number of courses per session or semester. Schools with this format usually set a limit on the number of years during which students must complete the degree program and graduate. Flexible scheduling structures are valuable for students who wish to vary their course load from semester to semester depending on how much time they have to pursue their degree.
Is a Cohort or a Flexible Course Scheduling Model Best For Me?
A cohort model is best for students who are looking for consistency with their classmates. It ensures you will be around familiar faces and encourages collaboration with your cohort throughout your time in the program. One advantage of flexible scheduling, however, is that it’s a best option for students who need to vary their courses semester to semester depending on how much time they have to pursue their MSW degree.
In some university classes, you may enter a lecture hall or a classroom with close to 30 students. When enrolling in an online MSW program, the attention between faculty and student may be a concern. Larger online classes, or more than 15 students may be difficult for individuals to effectively collaborate or interact with their classmates and instructor. Smaller class sizes, or less than 15 students, may better provide value to students and faculty with an even playing field for conversations, interactions and collaborations.
Instruction Methods in Online MSW Programs
There are generally two types of instruction methods for online MSW programs: synchronous and asynchronous. In other words, live and not live, respectively. Each type adds their own value to the MSW program.
Online courses with synchronous instruction require students to log in and attend classes at specific times. Classes are conducted in real time where students watch lectures and can interact with instructors and classmates, where a webcam is often recommended. Typically, class times are set before the course starts and are included in the syllabus. Programs with synchronous instruction could be valuable for students who want a classroom environment, but who cannot attend a traditional on-campus experience.
Online courses with asynchronous instruction does not require students to attend classes in real time. Instead, students can log in and view lectures or other class materials at times that are convenient for them. Classes with asynchronous instruction still have deadlines for assignments and tests that students must meet in order to pass. Programs with asynchronous instruction are ideal for students who do not have set schedules and need the flexibility to view lecture materials at times that work best for them.
Is Synchronous or Asynchronous Instruction Best for Me?
Synchronous is optimal for students looking for the closest replica to the traditional classroom experience. Students have the best opportunity to ask questions and receive answers immediately from the professor. It also serves as a form of benchmarking to make sure students are on pace. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, is best for students who require more flexibility with their schedule and thrive on independence.
Some quality online MSW programs may incorporate both synchronous and asynchronous learning, giving students the opportunity to work with classmates and independently. Independent of the type of instruction method used, most online programs utilize an online environment or course management system where students can find course information, view lectures and submit assignments. In addition, students interact with classmates and teachers through forums and discussion boards.
Social work internships, sometimes referred to as field education, is an important component of all online MSW programs. During field education work, students are placed at a local health services agency where they will work closely with field instructors who mentor them on the practical applications of social work.
Social work internships provide students with valuable opportunities to apply their classroom education to real-world situations in a controlled and supervised environment. All field instructors are required to have earned an MSW and typically have at least two years of experience post-graduation.
Some examples of local agencies may include:
Addiction treatment centers
Mental health facilities
Family counseling centers
Medical care facilities
Students enrolled in an online masters in social work program must complete a required number of field education hours in order to graduate:
Traditional Students: Range from 900 to 1,200 hours depending on the school
Advanced Standing Students: Range from 450 to 1,000 hours
Online MSW programs typically have set semesters when students complete their field education requirements, which vary depending on the length. The number of hours students spend in field education per week depends also on whether they are enrolled in a full-time or part-time MSW program:
Full-Time Students: 16 to 20 hours per week to meet the requirements during their two-year degree program
Part-Time Students: Part-time programs tend to be longer, so there may be more time for students to complete the requirement -- at least one day per week at an agency during semesters where they take field education classes
Field education hours were last updated 7/2019. Check with your university for more current information as hours by program may differ.
Affordable online MSW programs may depend on a variety of factors. Does the university offer the same tuition for in-state and out-of-state students? Is the program highly reputable? Does the online MSW program offer financial aid for specific students? When researching the best online MSW program for you, consider these factors and contact the universities directly to find out their tuition and financial aid options.
Affordable MSW programs are at the discretion of the prospective MSW student. However, there are universities who offer scholarship opportunities and financial aid guidance for their online students. Graduate students can still receive financial aid by filling out their FAFSA or applying for private loans.
The field of social work is broad and encompasses many different levels of interaction with individuals and communities. As such, many online social work programs offer concentrations for students to focus their education on. Some programs that you find on OnlineMSWPrograms.com may include concentrations in:
Children, Youth and Family
Mental Health and Adults
Community Organization, Planning and Administration
With your focus on a concentration for your MSW program, you may be able to pursue careers directly within that field. In order to become a clinical social worker, you should have a master’s degree and two years of experience in a supervised setting. After your experience, you may apply for state licensure to practice within your chosen field.
If you decide to pursue a social work career in schools, you may also follow the steps above, but pursue licensure/certification in your state of practice for school social workers.
The average salary for social workers was $49,470 - according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2018. BLS further projects the social worker job outlook to grow 16 percent from 2016 - 2026 due to a possible increase in demand for healthcare and social services.