Online Social Work Degrees

An online bachelor’s in social work (BSW) program trains students for a range of entry-level employment opportunities in the field, while master’s and doctoral programs prepare graduates for clinical social work. Both online BSW degrees and online master’s in social work (MSW) programs allow students to obtain practical experience through a practicum or internship while they’re in school. Master’s degree holders with at least two years of clinical experience can pursue their state-issued license to practice social work in a clinical setting.

Ideal candidates for an online social work degree are interested in pursuing advocacy on behalf of underrepresented and disadvantaged people. They should be sympathetic and sensitive to the needs of others, with an interest in justice and a desire to make a better world.


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Degrees

Online Social Work Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $6,396 22.76% 2 years $25,400 $33,300 9%
Bachelor's $15,188 9.06% 4 years $33,200 $45,700 5%
Master's $19,529 6.91% 1+ years $42,600 $58,200 4%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Pursuing an online social work degree can be rewarding at any level of study, and MSW programs tend to have the best financial ROI among online social work degrees. While the average degree cost is higher than for associate and bachelor’s programs, MSW graduates stand to earn a higher average salary, with lower unemployment and default rates. Additionally, students enrolled in MSW online programs can gain the professional experience and training needed to qualify for licensing or credentials in their state.

Online Social Work Degrees

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Online Associate’s Degree in Social Work

Most associate programs require a two-year commitment. Graduates can expect to earn an average hourly wage of $14.32 in an entry-level or assistant position.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Principles of Sociology, Interpersonal Communication, Group Dynamics and Counseling, Multicultural Issues, and Psychology

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Social and Human Service Assistant, Community Health Worker, and Childcare Worker

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $14.32 hourly

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    11% increase for Social and Human Service Assistant, 13% increase for Community Health Workers

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

A bachelor’s degree in social work is often required for most positions in the field. BSW graduates have significantly higher earning potential than associate degree-holders, with lower unemployment and student loan default rates. They also have a wider range of career options involving counseling and education. Some bachelor’s degree graduates pursue online MSW programs to advance their career or practice clinical social work.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Social Welfare and Social Work, Policies and Strategies of Community Intervention, Ethnicity, Race and Culture, and Human Behavior Social Environment

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Social Welfare, Human Development/Family Studies, and Sociology

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Social Worker, Substance Abuse Counselor, and Health Educator

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $39,270 annually

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    12% increase for Social Workers, 22% increase for Substance Abuse Counselors, 13% increase for Health Educators

Online Master’s Degree in Social Work

Graduates from online MSW programs are prepared to meet state licensure requirements and may also be eligible to practice clinical social work in their state. Job candidates holding a master’s degree in social work meet the requirements for state licensure and supervised clinical experience. Graduates may also be eligible to pursue additional specialty certifications in the field.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Social Welfare Policy, Human Neuropsychology, Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment, Clinical Practice with Groups, and Mental Health and Social Policy

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Rehabilitation Counselor, School Counselor, and Marriage/Family Therapist

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $53,370 annually

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    9% increase for Rehabilitation Counselors, 8% increase for School Counselors, 19% increase for Marriage/Family Therapists

Online Social Work Degrees
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Social Work Master’s Degree Rankings

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Rank School Name School Logo City Cost Address & Contact Info School Links Acclaim for Online Programs School Description
1

Fordham University

Bronx$$$$$441 E Fordham Rd
Bronx, NY 10458
(718) 817-1000

The online MSW programs at Fordham University are open to students in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. All required coursework and electives are delivered online, with additional required field placements arranged locally in the tri-state area. Students may choose a part-time or full-time study program; the latter option requires two years of study. Students may complete assignments asynchronously through the university’s Blackboard interface.

Master's in social work online students at Fordham must choose a concentration in either clinical practice or leadership and macro practice. Qualifying transfer students and graduates from an accredited bachelor's in social work (BSW) program may be eligible for the online advanced standing option, which features a customized curriculum that can be completed in just one year.

2

California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach$$$$$1250 Bellflower Blvd
Long Beach, CA 90840-0115
(562) 985-4111

CSULB offers online MSW programs that can be taken part-time in just three years. Students complete coursework on Saturdays for three academic years, spanning two summer sessions, using teleconferencing technology and two-way audio and video instruction.

Though students can access Blackboard at their convenience, distance courses are typically delivered synchronously through web conferencing software. In addition to web-based coursework, field experience is also part of the program. CSULB places students in a local intensive experience during their final two years in the program.

3

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland$$$$$10900 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 368-2000

Case Western Reserve offers an MS in social administration almost entirely online. The first provider of social work degrees in the country, Case Western has long been a leader in the field and the school provides a robust online program for distance learners.

All master's in social work online courses are delivered through Moodle's learning management system, and are completed alongside mandatory field work. CWRU’s program is unique in that students are required to apply for the field experience as a condition of their admissions application. Available concentrations include:

  • Community practice for social change
  • Direct practice
  • Children
  • Youth and families
  • Mental health with adults
4

Catholic University of America

Washington$$$$$620 Michigan Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20064
(202) 319-5000

Catholic University of America offers an online clinical MSW. The degree provides both foundational and advanced coursework in the clinical concentration. Here, students have the opportunity to request field placement in a facility of their choice as they work closely with the online MSW programs faculty to satisfy necessary practicum requirements.

CUA emphasizes the importance of field experience in combining theory and evidence-based practice. Additionally, online MSW students are well-prepared for their licensure exam; 95% of CUA students passed the test on their first attempt. Online courses are delivered through Blackboard, with a focus on student-centered learning practices. Distance learners benefit from small class sizes and close mentoring from their online instructors.

5

The University of Tennessee - Knoxville

Knoxville$$$$$527 Andy Holt Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996
(865) 974-1000

The University of Tennessee's MSW provides students with several study paths. Online students may choose from among the full-time program, the advanced standing program or the extended study program. All options combine both asynchronous and synchronous online coursework and a mandatory field experience, though individual schedules and completion-times vary.

Developed to accommodate distance learners, the master's in social work online at UT is taught by the same instructors as on-campus courses and follows the same format as the traditional degree. Online courses are delivered through Blackboard Collaborate, designed to facilitate distance learning through Tennessee's exclusive on-the-go app.

6

Louisiana State University

Baton Rouge$$$$$156 Thomas Boyd Hall
Baton Rouge, LA 70803-2750
(225) 578-3202

LSU’s online MSW is similar to the residential program offered at the school's Baton Rouge campus, but with flexible start dates and programs of study. Online students may study full-time, part-time or pursue the advanced standing track; these can be completed in as little as two years, three years and one year, respectively.

Courses are delivered asynchronously through Moodle, comprising 60 course credit hours and a required field component. Distance learners may enroll in the online MSW in one of six available start dates per academic year, completing modules in seven-week increments. Enrollment in the online MSW is open to students in most states throughout the country, though some restrictions apply.

7

Indiana University-Purdue University - Indianapolis

Indianapolis$$$$$425 University Blvd
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5143
(317) 274-5555

IUPUI offers an online MSW through its IU Online system. Coursework centers on an "advanced generalist" concentration, designed to accommodate a variety of specialties and career opportunities for prospective social workers. Distance learners in the MSW program complete 60 total course credit hours, comprised of 19 courses and two field practicums.

Each course lasts for 11 weeks and can be scheduled as part of a part-time or full-time program; students typically complete the degree in three to five years. IUPUI uses Blackboard Learn to deliver synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Besides the required field practicum, the school's only in-person requirement is a mandatory three-day orientation on campus during the program’s first week.

8

Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond$$$$$910 W Franklin St
Richmond, VA 23284-2512
(804) 828-0100

Virginia Commonwealth University offers an MSW concentrated in clinical social work practice exclusively for distance learners. The program is designed for part-time students, comprising two distinct sections in foundational and concentration courses. Distance learners complete 60 total course credit hours, with required on-site field internships during all four years of the program.

The majority of the degree is offered completely online through assignments in Blackboard. A few on-campus visits are required, however, including an orientation for first-year students and two in-person courses per semester.

9

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Honolulu$$$$$2500 Campus Road, Hawaii Hall
Honolulu, HI 96822-2217
(808) 956-8111

The MSW online programs at UH can be completed in three-years. Coursework is facilitated through the Laulima portal, using interactive TV and other web-conferencing tools. Online students with a BSW may apply for the advanced standing track, which can be completed in as little as one year. The regular program requires two to three years of study.

The program sequence is identical for online and on-campus students, starting with foundational classes and then four semesters of mandatory field experience. Though mostly online, the program requires a combination of distance, hybrid and on-site coursework.

10

The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa$$$$$739 University Blvd
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0166
(205) 348-6010

Alabama's online MSW features two study tracks: the school offers a 42-credit advanced standing program for students with a BSW, and a 60-credit program for those without a bachelor’s degree. Course work is primarily web-based, delivered through Blackboard. The program does require students to attend intermittent Saturday classes, which are located at regional campuses throughout the state.

Advanced standing students may complete the MSW online programs in as little as three semesters, while the 60-credit program may take full-time students two years to finish. Distance learners in the MSW program may choose from one of two available concentrations:

  • Children, adolescents and their families
  • Adults and their families.
11

Texas State University

San Marcos$$$$$601 University Dr
San Marcos, TX 78666
(512) 245-2111

The online MSW at Texas State University is offered as a part-time program. Students may apply to either the regular or advanced track, comprising 62 and 36 total course credit hours, respectively. Advanced-standing status enrolls students directly into the second-year of the curriculum.

Online coursework is delivered through the TRACS collaborative learning environment. Coursework dovetails with mandatory field practicums, which can be arranged at a facility near your home. As the online MSW is a part-time-only program, it typically takes students between six and 11 semesters to complete the degree, depending on individual requirements and your study track.

12

California State University - Northridge

Northridge$$$$$18111 Nordhoff St
Northridge, CA 91330
(818) 677-1200

The online MSW at Cal State Northridge is a two-year, 60-credit program designed for full-time students. Coursework may be completed entirely online through the Moodle learning management system, and features both asynchronous assignments and pre-planned, weekly synchronous sessions. No on-site visits are required, though students must participate in a field experience during each semester of the program. Upon acceptance into the program, students are interviewed to coordinate placement into a local social work facility to satisfy the MSW online programs requirements.

13

Colorado State University

Fort Collins$$$$$102 Administration Building
Fort Collins, CO 80523-0100
(970) 491-1101

Colorado State University offers a part-time online MSW designed for working professionals. Online MSW students may pursue one of two study tracks: the traditional or advanced standing program. Though most assignments can be completed online through Canvas, students are also required to attend an on-campus orientation and a few face-to-face classes in Fort Collins. This combination of online and on-site coursework helps students build crucial social and interactive skills.

Online MSW students at CSU have the opportunity to select their choice of electives from any course offered by the School of Social Work. Additionally, students are required to complete a field placement experience during each of the three years they're in school.

14

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks$$$$$264 Centennial Drive, Stop 8193
Grand Forks, ND 58202-8193
(800) 225-5863

The online MSW at UND is only available to students holding a bachelor's in social work. Coursework is delivered almost entirely online through Blackboard, which facilitates live-streamed, synchronous classes in the evenings. In addition to online assignments, students are required to attend one on-campus intensive lab session during the first year of the two-year, 36-credit program.

Both the advanced courses and field education in the program are designed to fit an "advanced generalist" concentration, allowing graduates to apply the skills they've learned in the program in a variety of professional specialties and practices. All online UND students are eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of where they live.

15

University of New Hampshire

Durham$$$$$105 Main St., Thompson Hall
Durham, NH 03824-3547
(603) 862-1234

The University of New Hampshire's MSW program allows students to specialize in several concentrations. Options include:

  • Health and mental health
  • Addictions and substance abuse
  • Children
  • Youth and families
  • Disabilities

The program requires students to complete core curriculum and electives, as well as two field internships.

Online courses are delivered asynchronously through multimedia technology in the Canvas learning management system. The degree may be completed in as little as 28 months. By offering "advanced generalist" courses, UNH supports a range of potential field specialties and subspecialties in social work.

16

University of New England

Biddeford$$$$$11 Hills Beach Rd
Biddeford, ME 04005-9599
(207) 283-0171

Students in the University of New England's MSW program can specialize in clinical practice or in one of a variety of macro concentrations. Options include:

  • Aging/gerontology
  • Families and children
  • Medical and public health
  • Substance abuse
  • Social action and community development

Coursework is delivered entirely online, though students must complete a field practicum to satisfy graduation requirements. Both the traditional and advanced tracks use Blackboard to facilitate the program's asynchronous instruction. Students enrolled in the accelerated track can complete their degree in only 16 months.

17

Our Lady of the Lake University

San Antonio$$$$$411 SW 24th St
San Antonio, TX 78207-4689
(210) 434-6711

Our Lady of the Lake University offers two distinct master's in social work programs. The MSW concentration track is tailored to students holding a BSW, while the MSW foundation program is geared towards distance learners with no academic background in social work. The programs can be completed in as little as two and three years, respectively.

OLLU’s online MSW uniquely focuses on preparing students to meet the demand for qualified social workers in the Hispanic community. Online courses are delivered through the university’s exclusive virtual learning system, developed in conjunction with a field education requirement that prepares students for specialized work.

18

Metropolitan State University

Denver$$$$$Speer Blvd and Colfax Ave
Denver, CO 80217-3362
(303) 556-3058

Metropolitan State University of Denver offers an online MSW in a variety of formats. Students may choose either the regular or advanced standing program, and within these tracks are various macro practice concentrations available.

These include:

  • Adult mental health
  • Child welfare
  • Children
  • Youth and families
  • Older adults

Online courses are delivered through Blackboard. Affordability is an important aspect of Metropolitan State's program, and the school provides a workable model for distance students unable to attend classes on campus. The combination of online coursework and field experience prepares students to use their skills in a contemporary social work position.

19

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo$$$$$33701 State Road 52
Saint Leo, FL 33574-6665
(352) 588-8200

Saint Leo University offers an online MSW with a concentration in advanced clinical practice. Though courses are primarily self-guided in Blackboard, distance learners are expected to virtually attend weekly webinars and attend a one-time weekend seminar on campus. Additionally, students should be prepared to complete a field internship during regular daytime business hours as part of their degree requirements.

The MSW is a two-year program for full-time students. An accelerated one-year option is available to students who earned a BSW within the last five years.

20

Washburn University

Topeka$$$$$1700 SW College Avenue
Topeka, KS 66621-0001
(785) 670-1010

Washburn University offers a partially online MSW, combining virtual instruction and hands-on learning for prospective social workers in several specialties. Washburn emphasizes a concentration in clinical practice throughout its MSW program. Additionally, students are expected to complete a field practicum in a local facility.

While many lecture courses in the MSW program are offered online through D2L, instructors emphasize the importance of building interpersonal skills through face-to-face classes, which are also included in the program. Distance learners are supported by a large team of academic advisors and tech services staff, as well as a mobile app that helps them complete assignments on-the-go.

Online Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Ph.D. holders in social work are eligible for senior industry positions. Many doctoral graduates become postsecondary teachers or assume an advanced management role, such as director of social work for a nonprofit or government agency. Those interested in earning a Ph.D. should have a particular career objective in mind.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Advanced Knowledge of Social Work, Applying Action Research, Contemporary Issues in Social Work, History of Social Work Education, and Interprofessional Education in Social Work

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Professor and Human Services Director

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $70,790

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    13% increase for Professors

Online Social Work Choose Your Career

Average Social Work Salaries

$45,500
$42,580
$39,270
$53,370
$40,763

Social Worker

Salary: $45,500
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
12% 649,300 Bachelor's State-specific requirements

Social workers and clinical social workers provide assistance to patients struggling with problems impacting their daily lives. They act as advocates for underprivileged adults, children, or families, and offer help finding housing, applying for food stamps, or adopting a child. Clinical social workers are specially licensed to diagnose and treat mental health issues. Positions in social work are expected to grow; as the baby boomer generation ages, jobs in healthcare are expected to grow particularly quickly. Prospective social workers should be empathetic, and have strong communication, organizational, and problem-solving skills. Obtaining a bachelor’s in social work degree online is sufficient for entry-level jobs in the field. Clinical social workers must have a master’s degree, two years of clinical supervised field experience, and a state-issued license to begin practice.

Health Educator

Salary: $42,580
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
13% 115,700 Bachelor's Dependant on employer requirements

Health educators promote health and wellness knowledge, behavior, and programs aimed to keep individuals and communities healthy. These professionals act as liaisons between healthcare and social services providers and community members by collecting data, disseminating information, and implementing programs designed to promote healthy living. Employment opportunities in this sector are growing as healthcare providers and the general public explore how to reduce medical costs through preventive health and wellness care. BSW degree holders with exceptional analytical and problem-solving abilities are well-suited to this area of social work. Of these candidates, some may choose to specialize in a particular demographic, medical condition, or disability.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Salary: $39,270
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
22% 94,900 Bachelor's Dependant on employer requirements

Substance abuse counselors help those struggling with substance or alcohol addiction, or from related behavioral disorders. Professionals must be compassionate, patient, and have strong communication skills. Jobs in the field are expected to grow as health insurance increasingly includes mental health coverage. While a BSW is generally acceptable for most positions in the field, candidates wanting to counsel patients one-on-one should pursue a graduate degree. Private practice substance abuse counselors are required to be licensed in their state; certification requirements for those operating outside of private practice vary from state to state.

School Counselor

Salary: $53,370
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
8% 273,400 Masters State-issued credentials required

School counselors help students succeed by assessing their abilities and goals and developing their social and academic skills. Professionals may choose to specialize in elementary, secondary, or postsecondary education counseling services. Online MSW students interested in this field are required to have 1-2 years of classroom experience and must undergo a criminal background check as part of the credentialing process. School counseling candidates should have highly developed communication skills and should be familiar with various learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. An online MSW and state-issued credentials are required.

Rehabilitation Counselor

Salary: $40,763
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
9% 120,100 Masters Dependant on position

Rehabilitation counselors help people living with disabilities overcome and lead productive lives. These professionals are typically well-versed in the core psychological and social adjustments generally needed among clients with disabilities; they may specialize in newly or temporarily disabled patients or provide youth or senior care. Though most jobs require a graduate degree, there are a variety of job opportunities available due to the opportunity for diversity and variety within the industry. Rehabilitation counseling is well suited to candidates with a compassionate, patient manner and acute listening and interpersonal skills. While some employers may accept a bachelor’s degree, an online MSW is typically the minimum education requirement in the field.

Online Social Work Professional Requirements

Most states require non-clinical social workers to obtain certification, and all states require clinical social workers to have a license to practice in their state; specific rules and regulations vary between states. The Association of Social Work Boards oversees four categories of social work exams for licensure: bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist, and clinical. Each test was developed by licensed professionals according to a universal set of qualifiers spanning a variety of practical applications and settings in social work. Prospective licensees should consult the ASWB for state credentialing information.

Bachelor's Social Work Exam

The bachelor’s exam comprises four major subject areas of social work: (1) human development, diversity and behavior in the environment; (2) assessment; (3) direct and indirect practice and professional relationships; (4) values and ethics. The structure of this exam is designed to test the candidate’s general knowledge of broad social work concepts, along with professional competencies and knowledge, and skills and abilities statements (KSAs). The test focuses on acute development of introductory concepts and assessment techniques.

Is it required?

Requirements vary by state

How long will it take?

Candidates have four hours to complete the test

Master's Social Work Exam

The master’s in social work exam tests the candidate’s broad understanding of social work concepts, professional competencies and knowledge, and KSAs. The exam for master’s students is organized into similar categories as the bachelor’s exam (human development, diversity and behavior in the environment, assessment and intervention planning, direct and indirect practice and professional relationships, and values and ethics) though this test requires a rigorous understanding of treatment and intervention in action and direct practice techniques.

Is it required?

Requirements vary by state

How long will it take?

Candidates have four hours to complete the test

Advanced Generalist Exam

The broadest test, the advanced generalist exam features categories similar to the bachelor’s and master’s exams, but with a primary focus on professional relationships, values, and ethics. Additionally, the exam does not explore any one speciality in the field deeply, but instead tests the candidate’s general knowledge of human development, diversity and behavior in the environment, micro assessment and planning, micro practice and social work relationships, and macro practice. The advanced generalist exam is intended for candidates aspiring to obtain licensure in their state for a niche or entry-level job in social work. This credential may qualify candidates for employment in a range of professional settings.

Is it required?

Requirements vary by state

How long will it take?

Candidates have four hours to complete the test

Clinical Exam

Clinical social workers are responsible for using advanced diagnostic and treatment methods, and the clinical exam helps evaluate the candidate’s acute abilities in assessment, diagnosis and treatment planning, psychotherapy, clinical interventions, and case management. The exam also tests human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment (exploring the entire lifecycle) as well as professional ethics and values, including potential conflicts that may arise in this area.

Is it required?

Requirements vary by state

How long will it take?

Candidates have four hours to complete the test

Advanced Practice Specialty and Professional Social Work Credentials

Speciality credentials are available in a variety of areas to social workers who have already obtained state licensure and are otherwise qualified to legally practice social work. Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials (APSC) are aimed at social workers in individual areas of expertise, including treating a particular demographic (e.g. military, youth, and families) or providing specialized health care (e.g. addictions or hospice and palliative social work services). Other professional social work credentials such as the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) and the Diplomate of Clinical Social Work (DCSW) are exclusive to those who are members of the NASW. Speciality credentials vary according to state licensure laws and regulations.

Is it required?

Requirements vary by state

How long will it take?

Exam availability and times vary