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A master’s degree in social work can be a way into a career centered around improving the lives of others—or it can be a credential boost, leading to a potential salary increase, for those people already working in the field. But pausing work to go back to school is not an option for everyone and some people may be seeking more flexible ways to get a degree. That’s why Fortune has compiled a directory of more than 150 accredited online master’s degree programs in social work. All of these programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Most online master’s in social work (MSW) programs are a replica of the school’s on-campus program and are typically led by the same professors and faculty. The online learning format enables students to earn their degree while maintaining their personal, family, and employment commitments. Online programs are accredited in the same way as the school’s on-campus program, and most programs on Fortune’s directory don’t require a GRE for application consideration.
Most online MSW programs prepare their students for advanced generalist practice on an individual (micro), community (mezzo), or policy (macro) level. This curriculum prepares students to work with individuals, in schools or other community settings, or to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and work in a clinical setting. Common courses topics include:
In addition to preparing students for advanced generalist practice, some online MSW programs offer dual degree options, as well as a niche or demographic-specific curriculum, so it’s a good idea to check with the schools you’re interested in to see what each program offers.
Students enrolled in an online MSW program must complete a specific number of field hours prior to graduation. That number varies by program, but typically requires around 1,000 hours during the program. Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work who enter the program in advanced standing are required to complete about half the number of hours as students with a bachelor’s degree in any other field—since advanced-standing students have already satisfied their foundational requirements. Some online MSW programs allow students to complete their internship field-hour requirements fully online, while others require some level of in-person attendance at the determined field site. Most programs help students locate a field site for an internship, but it’s important to determine whether the university you’re interested in will help you with placement.
Concentrations and areas of specialization vary across online MSW programs. However, most schools prepare their students for advanced generalist practice upon graduation, with the opportunity to select an area of focus which can include:
Fortune’s directory of online master’s in social work programs provides details on concentrations for each school listed.
Most online MSW programs offer a regular and advanced standing option for entrance into the program. Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work enter the program in advanced standing and can complete their degree in about half the time as compared to regular standing students—and, potentially, even less time if the program offers an accelerated option. It typically takes students two years to complete the regular track degree if they are attending school full-time. Students who enter the program in advanced standing are typically required to complete about half the number of field hours as students with a bachelor’s degree in any other field. This is because advanced-standing students with a bachelor’s degree in social work have already satisfied their foundational requirements during their undergraduate studies.
Admissions requirements vary among online MSW programs, but the most common requirements for application consideration are:
Most online MSW programs don’t require applicants to submit a GRE score, unless the applicant’s GPA for undergraduate or other completed degree is below 3.0, or 2.8, for some programs.
Most online MSW programs don’t require a GRE score for application consideration. In fact, on Fortune’s directory, only three schools may require a GRE score to accompany the application—and even then, this requirement may only apply if the applicant’s GPA during their undergraduate coursework is below than 3.0, or 2.8 for some programs.
While most online MSW programs strive to provide students with the same services they would expect on campus, there are a few things online students should consider. Some programs have required meetings on Zoom or other videoconferencing technology, and course instruction may be offered either a synchronous or asynchronous basis. Time management is essential when completing an online MSW, as students are often working independently on coursework while juggling other responsibilities.
Most online MSW students take out student loans to finance their degree, but there are other options to help lower the cost of the education. It’s important to consider what you plan to do with your degree post-graduation, and to see if your employer provides any financial assistance. Stipends and scholarships are another way to reduce the cost.
Two funding sources most widely used by social workers for loan forgiveness or help lowering their tuition bill are the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment program.
Finally, it’s also a good idea to check the financial aid page on the website of your selected school or contact the financial aid office, as officials can provide advice on applying to both internal scholarships—funds disbursed directly from the school—and external scholarships given by outside organizations.
Beyond a school’s reputation, you should consider your individual needs when choosing an online master’s in social work program; several important ones are outlined below. Some online MSW programs only admit students during fall or summer semester, others offer a few start dates per year, which enables students to enter the program at the best time for them. Determining if the program has any in-person dates required or whether field hours can be completed online will be especially helpful. Knowing if classes are synchronous or asynchronous, and when live meetings are held will also help. Finally, it’s important to consider the curriculum, concentration, internship, and other academic aspects of a program is key to deciding on the best program fit for you
It generally takes students two years to complete an online MSW degree program when attending school full-time, or one year for full-time advanced standing students. Many programs have part-time options available, allowing students to complete the program in three or four years. Finally, some programs offer an accelerated option which allows students to complete their degree in a matter of months.
A majority of online MSW programs on Fortune’s directory don’t require applicants to submit a a GRE score for consideration. Some programs will allow a GRE score to be submitted with a student’s application if their GPA is below the school’s determined criteria, while others won’t review them for any reason during the application process. It’s a good idea to check with the university you’re interested in before investing the time and money required to study for and complete the standardized exam.
Most online MSW programs prepare their students for advanced generalist practice upon graduation, with the opportunity to select an area of focus which allows students to work with a specific community, or in a setting they are called to serve—such as working with rural populations or in a school with children. Many programs also allow students to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), which prepares students to work in a clinical setting.
The cost of an online MSW varies tremendously between schools, so it’s important to identify your educational goals. Some programs offer one fixed tuition cost for all online students, while others have different costs for in-state versus out-of-state students. Depending on the program, advanced standing students can pay close to about half of the tuition cost since they have satisfied their foundational education requirements.
Students enrolled in an online MSW program must complete a specific number of field hours to graduate, and that number varies by program and a student’s prior experience. In general, the requirement is typically around 1,000 hours, or around 500 for advanced standing students. Some online MSW programs allow students to complete their internship field-hour requirements fully online, while others require some level of in-person attendance at the determined field site. Most programs help students secure a placement with a field site, but it is important to determine whether the university you’re interested in will help you with placement—and the types of internship opportunities available.
While most online MSW programs can be completed online, some schools do require a level of in-person participation on campus for orientation, or community building and skill development. These immersive experiences may be either an appealing aspect of an online program—or a potential drawback. In-person requirements can be as few as three days per year, but it’s a good idea to check with the university you’re interested in to determine if the program has any in-person requirements. Finally, if location does matter to you, consult the following:
Licensure requirements for social workers differ by state, and some states offer one type of licensure but not another, so it is crucial to identify the requirements of the state where you’ll pursue opportunities as a social worker after graduation. Many online MSW programs prepare students to sit for the licensure exam upon successful completion of the degree requirements, but again, this offering varies by program. Graduates can work in numerous social work settings with an MSW, but those who plan to practice in a clinical setting must become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). The Association of Social Work Boards provides details on each state’s licensure requirements and fees.
The average salary for a social worker in the U.S. is $58,185 per year as of April 2023. Earning a master’s degree in social work increases earnings potential by enabling those people who hold the advanced degree to move into higher-paying positions in management. Graduates with an MSW can become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), which has a much higher earnings potential. Upon completing the field hour requirements and graduating with an MSW degree, graduates also have the option to open a private practice—where earnings can exceed the average social worker’s salary by close to double. The National Association of Social Work (NASW) features an updated list of job openings for social workers which notes specifics on salary expectations.
It generally takes students two years to complete an online MSW degree program, or one year for advanced standing students. Many programs also offer part-time options which allow students to complete the degree in a longer timeframe that suits their lifestyle and educational goals. Most part-time program options can be stretched out over three or four years.
The cost of an online MSW varies tremendously depending on the school. Many online MSW degree programs on Fortune’s directory cost less than $40,000, though some programs come in close to half or double that amount. The cost of an online MSW program is significantly less for students with a bachelor’s degree in social work who enter the program in advanced standing—that’s because those students have already satisfied their foundational requirements.
No, most online MSW programs don’t require a GRE score for application consideration. In fact, only three programs on Fortune’s directory have some sort of GRE requirement that typically hinges on whether an applicant’s GPA during their undergraduate coursework was less than 2.8, or 3.0 for some programs.
Yes, you can study for an online MSW without a bachelor’s degree in social work. To do so, you will enter the program in what is referred to as the standard or regular track. Without a prior educational background in social work, it typically takes students two years to complete the degree when attending school full-time. Most students enter an online MSW program in standard or regular standing, since many people have bachelor’s degrees in fields outside of social work.
Career prospects for those people entering the field of social work are growing rapidly. The outlook for jobs in this field is projected to increase 9% by 2031, a rate which is faster than average, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.