Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs

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 MSW Programs

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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.

Explore Requirements by State

Clinical social workers must have a license to work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Nonclinical social workers must also obtain a license or certificate in most states. Licensed social workers usually need a master’s degree and at least two years of supervised, post-graduate work experience. State licensure boards ultimately determine who is eligible to become a licensed social worker, and consequently, the criteria for clinical and nonclinical positions vary from state to state. This directory allows you to browse the licensing and certification criteria for social workers across the country. To learn more, visit the state pages linked below.

Choose Your State Below

Read more about these online social work programs that are prominently featured on our site. Find information regarding accreditation, cost, admissions requirements, degrees offered, and program overviews to help you find the right online social work degree program for you.

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:

  • Flexibility: Students can juggle personal and professional responsibilities. Household, family, and job-related commitments can be fulfilled while students complete online courses on their schedule.
  • Cost: 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.
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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.

1. University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida‘s MSW program prepares students to practice as social workers within Florida. Students can attend classes online or in person. The field education office connects students to internships.

Students with a BSW earned in the last six years can take advantage of an advanced standing option, while students with another undergraduate degree enter a traditional track. Learners can attend on a part- or full-time basis.

Applicants must have a C or higher in at least one course in the humanities, physical/biological sciences, mathematics, and social sciences. They must also have at least a 3.0 in their last 60 credit hours, or a 3.3 for the advanced standing option.

The program requires 62 credit hours for traditional students and 32 for advanced standing students. Tuition is $487.45 per hour for all enrollees.

2. University of South Florida

The University of South Florida offers both an advanced standing and a traditional option for its online MSW program. The traditional option requires 60 credits, and the advanced standing option requires 35 credits. Advanced standing students must have earned a BSW within the last five years, have at least a B- in all social work classes, and meet other requirements.

Applicants need previous coursework in the liberal arts, a personal statement and essay, three references, and a 3.0 GPA in either undergraduate or graduate coursework. The program recommends but does not require at least one year of work experience in social services.

Students may attend part or full time and may earn a concurrent degree in related fields, such as public health.

Students must complete a practicum in the field (eight for advanced standing students, 13 for all others) and maintain at least a B- grade average. Florida residents pay $431.43 per credit hour, and non-residents pay $877.17.

3. University of Southern California

The University of Southern California‘s online MSW requires 37 units for advanced standing students with a BSW and 42 units for other students. A full-time student can complete the advanced standing course in one year. Classes meet weekly, and fieldwork includes in-person and virtual experience, with a 1,000 hours of fieldwork.

While the program is accredited, it prepares students for the Association of Social Work Boards examination rather than for licensure for a specific state. Aspiring students should confirm the program’s eligibility with the state licensing board where they wish to practice.

Students can pursue tracks in adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; social change and innovation; military social work; school social work; or medical social work.

Applicants are assigned an admission counselor when they express interest in the program. The program recommends but does not require at least one year of experience in social work. Tuition is $2,045 per credit.

4. Tulane University of Louisiana

Tulane University of Louisiana‘s online MSW emphasizes culturally relevant social work practice (CRSWP), to teach students how to deliver culturally competent care. Students may also pursue certification in either disaster and collective trauma or in mental health, addiction, and family.

Applicants must have a BA or BS in the liberal arts and evidence of a strong undergraduate performance for at least their junior and senior years or in graduate studies, or employer recommendations.

Tuition is $1,180 per credit hour. Traditional students must have 60 credits to graduate and can complete the program in 16 months, while advanced standing students (with a BSW earned in the last five years) can graduate in 12 months with 48 credits. Students must complete at least 900 hours of fieldwork.

5. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Through the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley online MSW program, students can select a concentration in direct micro practice with Latino individuals, families, and groups or a macro practice in community practice and administration.Students can also earn a graduate certificate in sustainable community health promotion in social work without taking additional classes. The accelerated online program is entirely online and asynchronous, while the traditional program is a hybrid format with some synchronous online classes.

Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA. For the advanced standing 33-credit program, students must have a BSW with at least a 3.2 GPA in social work courses. The program for traditional students requires 63 credit hours. Both categories of students must complete 900 hours of fieldwork. Tuition is $444.44 per credit hour.

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.

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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.