Online Master's Degree in Social Work

Master of social work programs expand upon the topics students learn about in a bachelor of social work program. Learners focus more on some of the specialty areas and are taught the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their careers. Students learn best practices for helping clients from a variety of backgrounds and, upon graduation, know what to offer clients, when to offer certain services, and when to refer clients to a different source.

Since there are many areas of social work that individuals can pursue professionally, many programs offer the chance to choose a concentration. By choosing a specialization, students are able to cater their degree to their personal and professional aspirations. Most graduates are prepared to gain licensure in their specific field. Master's students who wish to continue their education can pursue a doctoral social work program, which opens the door to more career options and higher salary opportunities. Online social work programs are an excellent choice for students who need flexibility.

See the 2019 Best Online Master's in Social Work Programs

There are many benefits to earning an online master's in social work. Courses are typically delivered asynchronously, meaning that students are able to work at their own pace to complete their required coursework at times that are most convenient for them. Because online programs are so flexible, online students have the ability to work while going to school. Working while earning an education can help students pay for their tuition.

Because online programs are so flexible, online students have the ability to work while going to school

Many colleges also offer discounted tuition rates to online students. Some schools even offer out-of-state learners resident tuition rates, which are lower than the nonresident rates they would pay if they were traditional, on-campus students from out of state. Online master's in social work programs include internship requirements in addition to the required coursework. For online students, these internships are available at locations in their community.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an MSW Online?

To earn a master's in social work, students must complete their required coursework and a practicum or internship. The curriculum requires students to earn about 60 credits and takes between 1.5 to two years to complete. Once they complete their master's program, graduates are prepared to complete the field experience requirement to earn licensure.

A master of social work degree covers many different topics that will prepare students for several types careers. Most students learn about specialized careers by completing a program concentration.

Example Courses

Geriatric Social Work In this course, students focus on the aging process and special needs that exist for senior citizens. They learn how to communicate with the older population, their families, and caregivers.
Generalist Social Work Practice Methods Students learn about the foundations of social work, including ethical principles, core concepts, and common values. They also learn how to develop relationships with their patients and how to provide quality services.
Social Work Case Management This course teaches generalist social work ideas, and students learn how to collaborate with a team to focus on clients. The course also covers organizational concepts and social work roles.
Child Welfare Issues In this course, students learn about the functions and roles of child welfare workers, including assessment, intervention, engagement, and the ability to place children with the proper families.
Family Therapy Students learn how they can provide social services to families. They are taught different elements of social work, including marriage counseling, general family therapy, and dealing with adoptions and foster family scenarios.
See the 2019 Best Online Master's in Social Work Programs

In social work master's programs, students can often choose a specialization. They usually cover career paths that graduates can pursue, such as the specific skills and knowledge required. Specializations provide students with the chance to cater their degree to their career and personal interests. Below are some of the most common specializations available in social work programs:

Substance Abuse

In this specialization, students learn the skills and knowledge needed to treat and care for patients who struggle with substance abuse issues.

School Social Work

Social work students learn how to work with learners in a school setting. This concentration also covers the different situations they would encounter in their career.

Child Welfare

Students learn about a variety of child welfare issues, including children who have been neglected and abused, adoption cases, and foster care situations.

Medical/Public Health

In this specialization, students learn about different chronic illnesses with which people struggle. They learn the necessary skills to provide counseling to patients and their families.

Mental Health

Prospective social workers learn how to provide a variety of services to patients who struggle with mental illness and about different types of mental illness that exist.

Earning a master's in social work can open a lot of doors to students, including the opportunity to continue their education in a doctoral program. A doctorate typically takes three years to complete, and much of the time is spent researching and writing a dissertation. This research requirement allows students to show what they have learned and often combines practical and learned knowledge. Doctoral degrees can open up career opportunities in the field that are not available to individuals with a master's degree, such as teaching in a college. This degree also helps graduates earn higher salaries.

There are several different career opportunities that individuals with a master's in social work are able to pursue. Graduates with a master's in social work have more career opportunities and are equipped with the education needed to pursue any type of social work licensure. All social work careers have a common goal, and that is to help those in need.

Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and behavioral issues. They help their clients cope with their problems. These professionals work in many settings, including health clinics, hospitals, and human service agencies.

Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers work with children and families to improve their lives in a number of ways. They assist with family therapy, marriage counseling, and child welfare cases, including adoption and foster care situations.

School Social Worker

School social workers support students that are struggling with issues such as bullying. They provide one-on-one counseling and keep parents and teachers updated on the child's progress.

Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers support families and individuals dealing with chronic and acute illnesses. They educate and counsel patients, provide advice to caregivers and family members, and help patients cope with emotional and mental stress related to their illness.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health and substance abuse social workers provide support to individuals struggling with mental and emotional illness as well as individuals who have issues with substance abuse, including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Salaries and Job Outlook for Social Workers

Occupation Minimum Degree Required Employment Annual Mean Wage
Social Worker Master's 682,100 $47,980
Child, Family, and School Social Worker Master's 317,600 $44,380
Healthcare Social Worker Master's 176,500 $54,870
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Master's 123,900 $43,250
Source: BLS, May 2016

Top-Paying Industries for Social Workers

Setting Salary
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $58,490
Local Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals $52,900
Ambulatory Healthcare Services $48,340
State Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals $46,120
Individual and Family Services $40,800
Source: BLS, May 2016

Most social work jobs require licensure, and the requirements are different in each state. In Michigan, licensure is regulated by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. To become a licensed social worker in this state, individuals must have at least a bachelor's in social work from a Council on Social work Education (CSWE)-accredited institution and they must pursue a technician designation.

To become a licensed bachelor social worker, individuals must have a bachelor's in social work, 4,000 hours of supervised field experience, and they must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) bachelor's exam. In most states, to be a licensed master's clinical social worker, graduates must poccess LMSW licensure and earn clinical licensure as well. This usually requires social workers to pass an additional exam.

There are two different types of accreditation: regional and national. The most notable difference between regionally and nationally accredited institutions is that the credits that are earned from a regionally accredited program are much more widely accepted. Regional accreditation is also considered to be more prestigious, because institutions with this accreditation tend to focus more on academics.

The CSWE is the national association that represents social work education. The association promotes quality social work education and offers various opportunities for professional development and leadership. Licensing requirements, graduate school admissions, and employers in the social work field require that students complete their degree at a CSWE-accredited institution. There are several online programs that are accredited by the CSWE.

Joining a professional organization is a great way for social work students to develop professionally. Many organizations host training seminars and other events that allow members to network and learn new techniques and skills. These organizations offer a lot of different resources and benefits to members.

International Federation of Social Workers

The International Federation of Social Workers consists of more than three million social workers and represents 120 social work associations. The organization emphasizes the importance of the profession and promotes social justice around the world.

School Social Work Association of America

The SSWA is an organization that uplifts school social workers by promoting their profession and focusing on continuing education to help improve their skills to provide the best support to students.

National Association of Social Workers

The NASW encompasses more than 120,000 members and is the largest membership organization of social work in the world.

Society for Social Work and Research

The Society for Social Work and Research is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving and broadening research and strengthening the support that is given to social workers.

National Association of Black Social Workers

The National Association of Black Social Workers represents African-American professionals and students. The organization promotes social justice and human development within the black community.

There are many different scholarship options for students pursuing their master of social work degree. Scholarships each have their own set of criteria that students must meet. Learners will find that some scholarships are only offered to those pursuing a social work career or degree, while others have more broad requirements.

MSW Scholarships

Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship $2,000 to $4,000

Who Can Apply: The Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship is awarded to 10 master of social work students each year. Candidates must be committed to working with American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations. View Scholarship

Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW Scholarship $4,150 to $5,500

Who Can Apply: The Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW scholarship is awarded students pursuing a master's in social work who have an interest or experience with health/mental health practice, and they must also be committed to working with members of the African-American community. View Scholarship

The National Association of Black Social Workers Scholarships Varies

Who Can Apply: The National Association of Black Social Workers has several scholarship opportunities for members. Candidates must be enrolled in a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate social work program. View Scholarship

American Indian Education Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The American Indian Education Program awards scholarships to master's of social work students who belong to a federally recognized tribe. Candidates must have a 2.0 minimum GPA and be a junior or senior. View Scholarship

The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans $20,000 to $25,000

Who Can Apply: The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans offers partial support to students who are completing their social work education. To be considered, candidates must be naturalized, have their green card, or be first generation citizens in the United States. View Scholarship

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Scholarship Funds $8,000

Who Can Apply: The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Scholarship Funds are offered to Jewish college students who are studying full-time and pursuing careers in the helping professions. Students who receive the scholarships are often from the Chicago area. View Scholarship

The Freemont Foundation Scholarship Program Varies

Who Can Apply: The Freemont Foundation Scholarship Program is offered to high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students who plan on attending a historically black college or university and pursuing a career in the helping professions. View Scholarship

The Elizabeth J. Davis Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: The Elizabeth J. Davis Scholarship is available to undergraduate and graduate students in Vermont studying medical social work, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, or nursing. View Scholarship

The Melanie Foundation Scholarship $2,500

Who Can Apply: The Melanie Foundation Scholarship is awarded to students pursuing their master's or doctoral degree in the mental health field. Candidates must be involved in volunteer, research, and extracurricular activities. View Scholarship

The Senior Care Scholarship $3,000

Who Can Apply: The Senior Care Scholarship is awarded to students interested in the gerontology field. Students must be enrolled in associate, bachelor's, or graduate-level programs in nursing, medical, or social work and plan to pursue a career working with senior citizens. View Scholarship
  • American Clinical Social Work Association The American Clinical Social Work Association is a resource that exists online to serve as a place for social work students and professionals to connect with one another to share ideas and network. The site posts trends in the industry and relevant news stories.
  • Clinical Social Work Association The Clinical Social Work Association strives to inform students and professionals in the clinical social work field about best practices and the latest trends in the to ensure they are always working at their highest capacity.
  • American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry AAGP is a national association that represents and serves members in the field of geriatric psychiatry. Member benefits include networking and collaboration opportunities, access to the members-only website, free educational publications, and discounts on annual meetings.
  • The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children APSAC works to improve society's response to the abuse and neglect of children by promoting approaches to the identification, intervention, treatment, and prevention of child maltreatment. Membership benefits include networking and education opportunities, access to publication and resources, and discounts on clinics.
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