Social work is a noble profession in which trained and experienced professionals devote themselves to helping vulnerable communities and people handle the tough challenges they deal with every day. This practice-based profession promotes development, social change, cohesion, and community empowerment.
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Those who earn a master of social work program are bound to become state-licensed social workers who are qualified to work in different sectors including education, government, nonprofit administration, human resources, and research.
Most MSW programs today are delivered online, making it ideal for those who wish to further their mastery of social welfare at their own pace. Through the online master of social work, generalist social workers can now continue their master’s degree while juggling family life and career.
Here are your best options! Use these quick links to navigate our list with ease:
- Indiana University
- The University of Arkansas
- The University at Buffalo (SUNY)
- Rutgers University
- Columbia University
- The University of Southern California
- The University of Houston
- Florida State University
- The University of South Florida
- Arizona State University
With an Online Master of Social Work, professionals become qualified for higher-level duties associated with the field. As this calling requires in-depth education and training, the additional credentials that a Social Work graduate students earn will work to their advantage.
Here are the features of the best online MSW programs that made it to our list:
- Offered fully as a distance learning program or in blended or hybrid format, allowing graduate students to attend their classes and complete the program conveniently,
- Features the academic courses that ensure the graduate’s competence in the field of Social Work, while also inculcating the values and attributes of leadership, communication, management, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills,
- Utilizes an effective Learning Management System for easy coursework and study resource access,
- Taught by Social Work professors who themselves are social workers who hold terminal degrees with impressive credentials, or have contributed immensely to the field,
- Provides opportunities for federal financial assistance to qualified online MSW students,
- Earned appropriate accreditation from the country’s leading academic agencies safeguarding the quality of online instruction at the master’s level, particularly in Social Work and related fields.
Visit our Methodology page and read our ranking processes and standards.
The 10 Best Online Master of Social Work Graduate School
Students interested in pursuing their master’s degree in social work can take advantage of what Indiana University has to offer. The online MSW program of IU includes solid foundation coursework in human behavior, social and economic justice, social policy, human rights, and social work in community practice, societies, and organizations.
Online students can also explore other specialized fields of practice in this online master of social work program like e-social work, military social work, mental health, addiction, or telebehavioral health social work.
This CSWE accredited program (Council on Social Work Education) also offers the “advanced standing track” program with a focus on Special Practice Areas in Social Work. This specialized track prepares online MSW program students for work in several areas.
Through this online master’s degree, you can secure jobs in a variety of practice settings, including nursing homes, mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, family services agencies, employee assistance programs, child welfare agencies, and community service agencies. You can also have careers as a:
- Geriatric Case Manager
- Family Service Worker
- Child Protective Services CPS) Social Worker
- Foster Care Social Worker
- Youth Services Specialist
- Adult Mental Health and Protective Services Agent
- Developmental Disabilities Specialist
- Alcohol and Substance Abuse Social Workers
- Clinical social workers
- Hospital Social Workers
Did you know?
Indiana University is the oldest university-affiliated social work school in the entire US. The school has also produced thousands of online students who are now working as social workers. This online program is also top-ranked by the US News and World Report.
Known for providing the best graduate educational programs, Indiana University is committed to giving personal support and helpful information to online students as they explore the program and start the whole admissions process.
The University of Arkansas
This is a one-year, 39-credit-hour master of social work program offered by the University of Arkansas, in combination with the Fulbright Arts/Sciences Colleges (UArk Online) that gives its students the chance to learn anywhere they are and still attend its campus flagship online.
The master’s in social work offers programs similar to what is offered on campus, only, the classes are conducted online. Even the orientations are done online. This is extremely helpful and practical especially among working professionals as they are no longer required to visit the school.
Like any social work program, this curriculum gives students the opportunity to gain practice in the field via internships that the school will arrange within the vicinity of the student’s location. These internships are arranged and monitored by the University of Arkansas School of Social Work faculty to guarantee the best learning experience for all its students.
Program highlights of this advanced standing MSW:
- Student groups provide ample networking opportunities and peer support
- Core courses are designed in a way students complete and work on them independently
- Students are allowed internships in their present workplaces (with restrictions)
- This is a good program development course in preparation for a Ph.D. degree
- The school conducts a live virtual internship Field Seminar every Tuesday night.
- This is a CSWE accredited program and needs a year-long internship (22 hours per week)
Did you know?
The University of Arkansas is recognized by the Higher Learning Commission. The school is also noted as being one of the top public research universities in the US. Its Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is the biggest and most diverse academic unit, with more than 30 research centers and academic programs, and 19 departments, including the School of Social Work.
The University at Buffalo (SUNY)
While most online MSW programs are offered full-time, the University at Buffalo’s is only offered part-time. Still, this is one of New York’s best online MSW programs available. This CSWE-accredited program has two options: the traditional MSW programs and the advanced standing MSW programs.
Traditional MSW Online Program:
- This is for students holding a bachelor’s degree in any undergraduate major.
- 60 credits, 900 total field placement hours (420 hours foundation placement and 480 hours advanced placement)
- This is only offered part-time. Thus, it takes at least 3 years to complete the whole program.
Advanced Standing MSW Online Program
- Open for students holding a bachelor’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program.
- 35 credits, 480 total field placement hours
- This is only offered part-time. Therefore, it takes 1.5 years to finish the program.
The courses have a mix of asynchronous (independent) and synchronous (virtual live sessions) components. The synchronous classes are usually conducted during weeknight evenings and focus on foundation courses.
As for the program’s field education, you can complete your field education in person at an organization or agency near where you live. You must be active in planning and identifying your field placement as well, including:
- Completing the placement over the course of two semesters;
- Dedicating at least 15 hours each week;
- Completing the placement during weekday daytime working hours.
Because of the consistency and time needed for field placements, try not to have plans of relocating throughout the whole duration of your study.
Did you know?
Students enrolled in online programs at the University at Buffalo are given lower tuition rates and financial aid. However, online MSW program students should take all the coursework full online for them to qualify for the reduced rates. Those who register for a hybrid or seated course are charged the full on-campus tuition for all courses that semester.
In just two to three years, the online master of social work students can finish this program, including valuable field education. This online MSW degree is offered 100% online and provides the same education and sense of community as the campus-based traditional MSW program by Rutgers University.
In this online master’s degree, students will have the same engaging content and lessons taught and delivered by the same accomplished faculty from the school’s social work programs. What differs though is that as an online student, you will connect with your classmates, professors, and peers, or submit your tasks virtually through modules, online learning discussions, or interactive quizzes and readings.
In this program, students can choose either the three-year part-time option or the two-year full-time option. Each program has 60 credits, while students in the Advanced Standing Program have to complete 39 units.
Like many MSW programs, the classes are delivered asynchronously. Meaning that you are no longer required to attend fixed times. Instead, you are required to complete assignments and self-directed tasks with regular scheduled due dates and interact with your classmates and professors through web-based technologies and virtual discussions.
Once you are admitted to the online MSW program of Rutgers, you can apply for any one of the two available specialized certificates the school offers: the Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) Certificate Program, and the Latine/o/x Initiatives for Services, Training, and Assessment (LISTA) program.
Through these specializations, you can earn a certificate alongside your master’s degree that customizes your MSW education to your professional interests.
Did you know?
Rutgers University’s faculty members have worked alongside nationally recognized researchers in the field of non-profit and clinical social work and public administration.
Aside from the Clinical Social Work concentration, students can also go for the Management and Policy Program, as well as other options for certificate programs, global studies, or areas of emphasis.
At Columbia University, MSW online students access world-class education and the best New York City connections. The school is bent not only on giving students the academic and classroom knowledge they need, but also the social connections they deserve.
As students in MSW programs, students are allowed to join events sponsored by influential scholars, or make research with the school’s more than 16 research programs and centers, and even join in almost 30 student caucuses regardless of where they are in the United States.
This online degree has three major focuses: policy practice, social enterprise administration, and advanced clinical practice.
Columbia University introduces the PROP Framework, a guiding principle of the MSW program and the School of Social Work as a whole. This framework addresses the ways that Power, Race, Oppression, and Privilege shape the world and how people respond to it. The main purpose of this is based in helping students in diverse communities understand that white supremacy and anti-Black racism are endemic in institutions and systems.
Through this, students are taught to become more mindful and self-aware social workers who are empowered to question oppressive ideas and instead make meaningful changes.
Did you know?
This online degree is where research and clinical practice go together, where every evidence-based decision is balanced according to one’s needs, and where a wide range of perspectives converge together and solve challenging social justice problems.
Graduates from Columbia University earn a median salary that is 8% higher than the overall figure of social workers.
The University of Southern California
This online social work program is designed to prepare students to deliver positive changes to someone, in the community or macro practice, and the society in general. For years, alumni of USC’s MSW program have made a huge difference in their social work practice worldwide across different fields including family counseling, mental health care, and community and military advocacy.
The program has two options: the traditional program and the advanced standing program.
The traditional program has 60 units and can be taken full-time or part-time. This option is for those with undergraduate degrees that are not related to social work.
Advanced standing students are qualified for this option if they have a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited university. This can also be taken full-time or part-time.
The program has seven core courses, three elective courses, and field education for the Adult Mental Health and Wellness Curriculum.
Adult Mental Health and Wellness: This focuses on human behavior theories. Students under this curriculum can consider roles in neuroscience as this heavily relates to the mind-brain-body system, family, culture, and community.
Children, Youth, and Families: In this curriculum, social workers are prepared to become advocates for youth and children in a social environment. They live and organize service programs supporting families of different backgrounds.
Social Change and Innovation: This curriculum focuses on innovations and social change in a global context. You will explore evidence-based practice and research in community or business development by selecting classes that focus on either field of study.
Did you know?
USC’s MSW program not only prepares students with critical thinking skills but also crucial hands-on experience in handling today’s social work ch challenges. Students are required to spend more than 1,000 hours in field education, either in:
- Virtual Field Practicum: This is an online group session that gives you a clinical simulation of real-life scenarios. This practicum is required only for students in the traditional program.
- Community-Based Field Placement: This is a hands-on, in-person training where you will handle real clients. A supervisory practitioner is present for guidance.
The online Master of Social Work program of USC is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The program also prepares you to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker after meeting the school’s graduation criteria.
The University of Houston
Students in UH’s online MSW program use innovative technology in establishing a wide network of learning, and later develop support with fellow students and class instructors. Although this program is designed with flexibility, the rules for tasks, assignments, and learning activities are strictly implemented.
This is a 16-semester credit hour program that is offered across two semesters, including the fieldwork. The core courses revolve around content in general practice in social work and emphasize political, social and economic justice. In this pass/fail course, students are also introduced to the profession and the Graduate College of Social Work.
This MSW program also requires students to finish at least 900 hours of field education. These field placements are good learning opportunities for students as they offer them hands-on and real-life social work practice experience under the direct supervision of a professional social worker.
Did you know?
The University of Houston is a member of NC-SARA (National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) and has an outstanding online education agreement with a majority of the states. Before you apply for the social work program online, verify first if your state is listed.
At present, the online MSW program of UH only accepts students residing in the US. Outsiders are not accepted except for students on a US Military Base.
Florida State University
The online master of social work degree of Florida State University has two program options: the three-year traditional MSW program for students who have a bachelor’s degree in another area, and the 2-year advanced standing social work program for those who already have a bachelor’s in social work.
This program has a Clinical Social Work Practice concentration offered in a part-time online format. Students who need flexible scheduling can take advantage of this offering since the program uses asynchronous instructions.
Students are no longer required to go online at a specified time just to attend classes. Instead, they are just provided a deadline to comply with the assignments and tasks. They can just log in and check the lectures at any time.
This MSW program is accredited by CSWE (Council on Social Work Education) and helps all students in preparation for the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) clinical exams. These exams are required to become a full-fledged licensed clinical social worker.
Through asynchronous instruction, students can take two curriculum courses each semester. However, students in the traditional master of social work program need to attend the two-weekend skill-building sessions on campus. These sessions, however, are not required for those enrolled in the advanced standing program.
Did you know?
Another amazing thing about this online MSW program is that FSU has school social workers and MSW advisors who can guide students during the application. These people can chat and guide you through the whole admission process so you won’t end up doubting about moving forward with your master’s program.
The University of South Florida
This online social work program is designed to heed the constant need for skilled clinical social work practitioners in the region, specifically for advanced social work practice. The program revolves around the center of information relevant to social work practice and then followed by an advanced study to prepare social workers for clinical practice with small groups, families, and individuals.
This online MSW program uses a cohort model, allowing students to build relationships and connect with their instructors and fellow classmates through sequenced course work. They can download the course content online and also join in the program’s face-to-face classes with the faculty.
The USF Online MSW degree is designed to bring out the best in a professional social worker who exudes professional values, exhibits ethical practice, and practices the value in clinical social work. Thus, before one can join in this evidence-based practice, they should meet the requirements below:
- Students are expected to attend the face-to-face weekly virtual classes every night
- Full-time students are required 20 hours per week in field placement; while 10 hours for part-timers. All students must also complete at least four of the weekly required hours during usual business hours.
- For full-time students, you are discouraged to have a full-time job because of the demands of the program.
Did you know?
All online USF programs are authorized in all 50 states, including Columbia District. For non-Florida residents, it’s best to contact first your state’s licensing agency just to make sure that this program will meet the professional licensure requirements of your state.
The University of South Florida, to date, has fourteen schools and colleges offering more than 175 certificate and academic programs, both on-campus and online.
Arizona State University
This master’s of social work online, with a concentration in Advanced Generalist studies, is ideal for professionals seeking to learn to be effective and culturally competent in their practices and strategies in the field of social work through evidence-based practice and research.
The program covers a wide range of social issues and concerns and provides students the proper training and knowledge on how to assess problems and solutions efficiently, and what actions they can make relative to advanced social work.
This program feature classes in macro practice and human behavior and the social environment, diversity and oppression in a social work contact, and social policy and services, just to name a few.
This is a fully online program and is delivered by experienced faculty in a challenging but vibrant learning environment. Students complete this program with a hands-on experience through field educational programs in their respective regions.
Did you know?
Aside from the two-year Advanced Generalist program, ASU online also offers the Advanced Standing Program option, although this is an in-person program. The school is also launching its fully synchronous MSW online program for Fall 2022. Through this live online class, students can join regularly scheduled classes in real-time while learning virtually anywhere in the US.
About The Social Work Practice
Social work is an ethical practice that also involves the understanding of human behavior, human development, and economic, cultural, and social interactions and institutions.
Social workers practice in different settings, all united in their common advocacy to help and improve the lives of people, families, societies, or groups. They work with institutions and families in providing and advancing some of these social impacts:
- Civil Rights
- Unemployment Insurance
- Disability Pay
- Workers’ Compensation
- Reduced Mental Health Stigma
- Medicaid and Medicare
- Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
Social workers have a bachelor’s degree under their belt before they enter the field. While most of them enter the profession because they want to help the community, many pursue a master of social work program for better career opportunities and higher pay.
A master of social work (MSW program) offers better opportunities in direct practice. This also gives way to becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). With a master’s degree in social work, you get to enter a more competitive job market, and you are open to more lucrative positions and opportunities for advancement.
The country’s Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that a professional social worker with a master’s degree earns more than 25% more than those holding a bachelor’s degree. This also gives you the edge especially when you apply for supervisory positions, and also helps you become an efficient leader in the field of social work.
Top Reasons Why Social Work is a Good Program Choice
For many, the desire to help and work with other people is innate in nature to them. That’s one of the reasons why the field of social work is growing by the day. Here are the other underlying reasons why this career is worth it.
It is all about people.
Social work is primarily about helping people hurdle the many life challenges they hurdle. From addiction to poverty, disability, and unemployment, to drug abuse, mental health and so many more, social work puts a solid emphasis on equality and social justice.
Social work is also for training people and cooperating with them in a bid to improve their living environments and develop better living conditions. Professional social workers are trained to help members of the community in developing new skills and improving the existing ones, which later sways the mindset of people and inspires them to lead a life proactively.
Social workers are always in demand.
The demand for social work professionals is growing the job market. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2021, the US had more than 708,100 social workers. This number is expected to skyrocket to 9% by 2031. This same trend is also noticeable in Europe. It was noted that the social and human work sector represented 10%-19% of the total employment in European countries like Finland, Denmark, Germany, and France.
Social work careers were also some of the most stable careers during the 2008 financial crisis, and in fact, remained in high demand despite the recession. The major reasons behind these are:
- A constant increase in the aging population
- Increase in life expectancy
- Increase in illnesses and diseases that people suffer as they slowly age
Social Work has various specializations.
Social work is divided into 3 main categories, each needed specific skills, and degrees. These categories are clinical social work, practice social work, and macro social work.
Clinical Social Work:
- Needs a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) since the field calls for more advanced techniques and knowledge.
- You need thousands of hours of supervised experience before you are qualified to obtain a license.
- You can diagnose or treat mental illness, as well as addiction and substance abuse.
Direct Practice Social Work:
- You can practice in the field with just a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW).
- You will directly work with communities and people, families and children, in different fields such as education, child safety, healthcare, and many more.
Macro Social Work:
- You cannot directly work with vulnerable people.
- You will work with the government sector and other private and public institutions to implement new programs or change policies.
A Bachelor’s in Social Work is not necessarily required for a master’s.
You read it right! A Bachelor’s in Social Work is not a prerequisite when applying for a master’s degree in social work. For as long as you hold any bachelor’s degree from an accredited higher education institution, you are qualified to apply for a master’s in social work degree.
While every college or university has different admission requirements, below are the most common ones:
- A bachelor’s degree from a duly accredited institution
- Minimum Grade Point Average (GPA), independently determined by each school
- Proof of English proficiency (IELTS, TOEFL) for non-native speakers
- Professional and personal references
- Application Essay
- GRE Scores
- Transfer credits
A Master’s in Social Work degree can be completed in just two years.
Whether it’s an online master’s in social work degree or the traditional campus-based program, this graduate degree normally takes 2 years to complete. Some can even be reduced to 1 year, especially if you already have a bachelor’s in social work, of which you will apply for advanced standing.
Career Opportunities for Master of Social Work Degree Holders
Students who complete an online MSW program are bound to secure gratifying social work employment opportunities. Here are the most rewarding professions you can get after finishing your master’s degree in social work.
Psychiatric Social Workers/Clinical Social Workers
A lot of MSW graduates prefer going into clinical social work. This means they will have direct clinical practice with their clients. Also called Mental Health Social Workers, clinical social workers provide counseling and psychotherapy services in treating mental health illnesses and disorders.
Mental health workers also assist clients in dealing with their trauma, grief, and relationship problems. In a clinical setting, they are the ones that work directly with patients. Some of the common duties include diagnosing the presence of disorders, mental health issue assessments, and planning effective treatment plans.
Clinical social workers may also be considered substance abuse social workers because they are in charge of developing a recovery plan to achieve better results. Thus, these social workers are expected to have impeccable communication skills. They should also have the best training in mental health, a keen knowledge of social service resources, and a wide understanding of the public health system.
Hospital Social Workers/Hospice Social Workers
These social workers are the ones that provide support to patients with terminal or chronic illnesses. They work directly with patients and make sure that they receive proper care. Hospice workers also assist with decision-making and help facilitate efficient communication with medical providers.
Hospice social workers are very strong advocates for patient rights. They are the best source of comfort in extremely difficult moments in their patients’ lives. These social workers usually work in interdisciplinary teams with other professionals in the health care industry within emergency rooms, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.
Substance Abuse Social Workers/Addiction Counselors
With a master of social work, you can also become a substance abuse social worker or addiction counselor, working with people suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, and other dangerous substances, through individual and group psychotherapy.
Because substance abuse is considered one of the toughest addictions to treat, this field is considered one of the most in-demand fields of social work. But the crucial role of helping abusers recover and slowly change their lives is very rewarding.
Substance abuse counselors can secure jobs in non-profit organizations, rehabilitation facilities, and correctional facilities, and can also do private practices.
Prison and Justice Social Worker
This is another lucrative career for master of social work degree holders. The justice system is in constant need of social workers in prisons, jails, and probation. In prisons and jails, criminal justice social workers coordinate or facilitate therapeutic groups, complete assessments, and intakes, or oversee and deliver different counseling services.
They are also the ones that come up with occupations and educational programs and help inmates qualified for parole draft a plan on how they can successfully reenter the community. In most cases, probation officers have a bachelor’s degree in social work. But, social workers can still work in the criminal justice system along with probation and police officers in helping paroles live a productive and crime-free life.
Gerontological Social Workers
The need for gerontological social workers is growing as our population ages. These social workers work with the elderly and the aging in senior and assisted living communities, rehab facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and private practice.
The elderly usually have specific mental and physical health needs that trained gerontological social workers can provide, making sure that these needs are addressed in different settings. In the mental health field, these social workers are also the ones that mediate issues between the elderly and their families. If there is proof of elderly abuse, gerontological social workers can intervene.
Social Justice Advocates
Social workers can also work as activists, justice advocates, or community organizers in voluntary or paid roles. They can work in different types of organizations like government agencies, advocacy organizations, and community organizations.
They can work either in the US or overseas and play crucial roles in bridging micro and macro practice– two of the most critical components in social work. These social workers may also stand up for the vulnerable population like the elderly, the differently-abled, immigrants, low-income people of color, or human trafficking victims.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you earn a Master’s in Social Work?
Numerous institutions offer educational programs in Social Work. This simply means that there is a growing demand for social workers in various fields. While anybody with a minimum degree can practice social work, all states require every LCSW to have a master of social work degree.
Is accreditation important in a Master of Social Work?
The master of social work program you should choose has to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. All fifty states require every social worker to be a graduate from a CSWE-accredited program before they are allowed to take the exam and later involve in social work practice.
For a school to obtain accreditation, a school has to go through stringent processes including meeting specific benchmarks, site visits, self-studies, and Council on Accreditation reviews.
What are the types of online MSW programs?
The degree concentration you will enroll in will depend on your needs and goals. There are different MSW degrees you can pursue, including:
- Accelerated Programs
- Dual Programs
- Advanced Standing Program
- Traditional Program
Are MSW programs the best choice for you?
Being a social worker will most likely require you to work full time. As far as time is concerned, careers in social work are very demanding. This might be one reason why a master’s in social work is not yet in your immediate plans.
But thankfully, there are online courses that offer master of social work programs that provide you with the flexibility you need.
According to the BLS profile for social workers, the jobs in this field are projected to increase by 9% between 2021 and 2031, which faster than average. Since the demand for social workers is constantly increasing, so is the number of students enrolling in the program.
What’s great about a master’s online program is that it is more affordable than its contemporary on-campus program since you will no longer have to pay for transportation, board, and even childcare costs. An online MSW program can therefore maximize your degree’s return on financial investment and time very quickly.
To stand out among the rest, and to qualify for better career opportunities, earn a master of social work.