Online Master’s in Social Work Degree Guide

Written by Natasha Lynn Albatrosov, Rankings Team

Last Updated: March 2023

Does the sight of injustice or a community in need speak to you? A career in social work may be your calling. However, finding the right online master of social work (MSW) program can challenge even the most capable students.

Dive into the details of online MSW programs, including how to apply, what you can expect to learn, popular career choices, and salary projections.

Online Master’s in Social Work Degree Overview

An MSW program prepares learners for careers that empower individuals and groups to manage personal and community issues. This program, designed for individuals who wish to pursue a career within a helping profession, typically takes about two years to complete.

Learning objectives include gaining an understanding of social service programs, social theory, and public policy. Clinical practicums and fieldwork commonly accompany MSW programs, as real-world experiences with clients can prepare students for licensure. Most states require at least 900 hours of supervised fieldwork before licensure eligibility.

Getting licensure allows states to recognize degree-holders as knowledgeable professionals who have demonstrated the necessary skills and expertise for serving communities.

Featured Online Social Work Degrees

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Accreditation for Online Master’s in Social Work Programs

Exact job outlooks in social work vary depending on a graduate’s specialization. The field of education needs more child, family, and school social workers due to increased school enrollments. Additionally, an aging population means employment in healthcare could grow by 20% over the next several years. With a graduate degree in social work, working professionals can also earn a license and become clinical social workers who diagnose mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Many other occupations in social work offer fulfilling and stable employment.

This guide features the nation’s best master’s in social work (MSW) online degrees. To determine the best online degrees, we compared graduation rates, academics, affordability of tuition, and the availability of online programs. Keep reading to learn what it takes to earn a master’s in social work online and how to access helpful resources and scholarships.

Social Work Programs for You

Accreditation demonstrates the validity and quality of online degree programs via specific agencies. Within the social work arena, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) governs the accreditation process. The CSWE ensures excellence by creating the standards by which sound MSW programs operate.

Choosing an accredited online MSW program matters. Credits from unaccredited institutions may not transfer to accredited universities and can cause ineligibility for licensure.

Earning a Master of Social Work Online

Earning an MSW online involves discipline and dedication, plus initial research to ensure a proper educational fit. Students can determine whether a specific program meets their needs by comparing and contrasting course formats, structures, and pacing.

Choosing between fully online and hybrid course formats is a major consideration. Unlike fully online courses, the hybrid format offers a partial online setting, while keeping the in-person experience for testing, group projects, and fieldwork. You should be aware that even fully online programs require in-person fieldwork, typically near a student’s home.

Course structures, such as asynchronous and synchronous, provide different learning environments. Asynchronous classes do not have a specific time frame requirement to attend a lecture, whereas synchronous classes contain mandatory login times.

Pacing options can affect the length of time needed to finish the online MSW program. A full-time student may complete their program within two years, while a part-time student may take up to four years to finish their coursework.

Advantages of Earning a Master’s in Social Work Online

Online MSN degrees hold several advantage over the traditional in-person learning format. The following factors demonstrate the edge that online programs provide:

Students can juggle personal and professional responsibilities. Household, family, and job-related commitments can be fulfilled while students complete online courses on their schedule.
Online MSW students can experience savings. Without expenses associated with transportation and campus-based housing, students can enjoy substantial cost reductions.
Career and salary potential
Earning an online MSW degree provides stronger opportunities than the bachelor of social work (BSW). Clinical positions, as opposed to entry-level jobs, and higher median salaries often result from earning an MSW.

The Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs

We use a data-driven methodology to determine the best social work programs based on four primary factors: academic quality, overall cost, reputation, and accessibility.

The Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs of 2023

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How to Apply to an Online Master of Social Work Program

Common admission requirements for an MSW program involve basic documents such as an online application, transcripts, and test scores. Additional materials can include letters of recommendation from professors or employers and a personal statement or essay.

Financing an MSW program can be challenging, given the expenses of courses and materials. Scholarships and financial aid may be options to help offset those costs. Social work scholarships are ideal because they do not require repayment. However, students must meet eligibility requirements to receive these funds.

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

With a master’s degree in social work, you can pursue a career as a licensed master social worker (LMSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Graduates are eligible to sit for the Association of Social Work Boards exam to receive licensure. As an LMSW or LCSW, you will be able to provide individual one-on-one psychotherapy, deliver clinical services, or hold a management or supervisory position in social work.

MSW graduates can expect a host of career opportunities in areas such as schools, hospitals, law enforcement, or state agencies. Specific job titles can include school counselor, crisis intervention specialist, mental health social worker, and addiction therapy counselor.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), average annual social worker salaries can range from $36,520 to $82,840, with a median wage of $50,390.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online MSW Programs?

Is a BSW required to earn an MSW?

MSW programs typically prefer students to hold a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily a BSW. Earning a bachelor’s from an accredited college fulfills the degree requirement regardless of the major.

Are online MSW programs respected?

Online MSW programs are respectable options. Accredited distance-learning programs have the same coursework and fieldwork requirements as traditional degree programs.

What can you do with an MSW vs. a BSW?

A BSW allows for beginner placements within social work settings, whereas an MSW permits professionals to hold clinical positions within the same environment.

What is the salary range for a social worker?

According to the BLS, a social worker’s salary range as of May 2021 can start at $36,520. The highest 10 percent earned more than $82,840. Social workers earned a median wage of $50,390.

Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.