Top Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work Programs

By SocialWorkDegreeGuide.com Staff
Last Updated: December 18, 2020

Social workers play an important role in our society. These professionals guide and assist people with various challenges in their day-to-day lives. They offer mental health services, respond to crisis situations in families, and connect people to resources like food stamps and childcare.

Social workers make an annual median salary of $50,470, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, the BLS projects careers in social work to grow 13% between 2019-2029 — much faster than average.

To qualify for jobs in this field, aspiring social workers need to earn a master's of social work (MSW). Students can enroll in either two-year, traditional, on-campus programs, or they can choose a master's in social work online. Distance learning programs usually offer more flexibility and convenience, which allow students to study at their own pace. Online MSW programs can also be a good option for learners with full-time jobs or family responsibilities.

Methodology

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Top Affordable Online Master's in Social Work Programs

1. University of Central Florida

UCF offers two affordable master of social work online programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Degree-seekers who hold non-social work bachelor's degrees can enroll in the 62-credit, part-time program, which is delivered in a three-year cohort format. Students with bachelor of social work degrees from CSWE-accredited programs can qualify for the 32-credit advanced standing track. This option, also delivered in a part-time cohort format, takes 18-24 months to complete.

Both tracks emphasize diverse client populations, family practice, and preventive and therapeutic interventions. Students enroll in one class per term that runs for seven weeks. In addition to online coursework, the curriculum requires a capstone project, a comprehensive exam, and 600 hours of practicum experience. Distance learners may arrange to complete their practicum experiences within an hour's drive of their home communities.

UCF provides online students with online coaches who guide them through the program and keep them on track for graduation.

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2. California State University, San Bernardino

The school of social work at CSUSB offers its pathway distance education program for students seeking online master of social work (MSW) degrees. The university features this full-time three-year program entirely online for degree-seekers who cannot attend campus-based meetings.

The online MSW program, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, prepares graduates for social work licensure in California. Its rigorous curriculum, based on an advanced generalist model, requires 48 credits, a capstone project, a comprehensive exam, and two years of precepted fieldwork.

In their final year, degree-seekers select specializations to work with specific client populations, such as the elderly or adolescents; a field of practice, such as mental health or child welfare; or a social issue, like domestic violence or racism.

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3. Arizona State University

The school of social work at ASU, accredited by the Council of Social Work Education, offers an online master of social work (MSW), which leads to licensure in the state of Arizona. This program does not offer a clinical concentration, but focuses on effective and culturally competent practice across system levels and evidence-based strategies for change.

The 60-credit online MSW program offers coursework in administration; behavioral health; community practice; and policy and services for children, youth, and families. Distance learners typically complete 20 courses over two years, with each course running 7.5 weeks. The program also requires 960 hours of field education at two different internship sites. Its School of Social Work Field Education Office helps students find local placements.

Admission to this social work program requires a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 hours of undergraduate work. An enrollee who does not meet this requirement can apply for the MSW after completing two graduate-level courses with a grade of "B" or better.

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4. University of Texas at Arlington

UTA offers students fully online cohort master of social work (MSW) tracks for advanced standing and standard track enrollees. Depending on the pathway, students can complete their degree requirements in less than two years.

The competitive advanced standing online program accepts a limited number of highly motivated students who hold bachelor of social work degrees. Cohorts begin each fall semester. Classes meet in fast-paced eight-week formats, leading to a degree in 12 months.

The regular online full-time cohort program offers courses in 16-week sessions. Cohorts begin in the fall and spring semesters and typically complete the degree in 26 months. UTA also offers a part-time cohort pathway to the MSW.

The MSW features several concentrations that focus on direct practice. Students can choose specializations to focus on client populations such as the elderly, children, and families, along with focuses in mental health, substance abuse, health, and community and administrative practice areas.

This accredited online program only accepts individuals living in Texas but will admit Texas residents serving in the military or military spouses living outside the state.

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5. New Mexico State University

NMSU, a NASA Space Grant school and Hispanic-serving institution, offers affordable and accessible educational programs. Its fully online master of social work (MSW) program delivers coursework either synchronously or asynchronously. The MSW offers four degree paths:

 

  • Regular Full-Time Track: Two years, 60 credits
  • Regular Part-Time Track: Three years, 60 credits
  • Advanced Standing Full-Time Track: One year, 30 credits
  • Advanced Standing Part-Time Track: Two years, 30 credits

Advanced standing students, who come into the program with bachelor's degrees in social work, and the regular pathway enrollees, who enter from other undergraduate backgrounds, receive training in advanced generalist social work practice with individuals, groups, families, and communities and organizations.

Coursework emphasizes multicultural settings, research, social welfare policy, and working with vulnerable populations. The degree requires 950 practicum hours, comprising 450 hours of foundation fieldwork for two semesters and 500 hours of fieldwork in advanced generalist practice areas for two semesters.

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6. University of South Florida

USF enrolls more than 50,000 students at campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee, and online. The university offers an online master of social work (MSW) program to fulfill the growing need among South Florida residents for skilled clinical practitioners. The MSW curriculum offers an exclusive focus on clinical social work with individuals, families, and small groups.

Distance learners can select a full-time track, which takes four semesters to complete, or a part-time track requiring eight semesters. Applicants to the MSW who have earned bachelor of social work degrees from institutions accredited by the Council on Social Work Education can enter the 35-credit advanced standing track, allowing them to bypass the first semester of foundation courses.

Students who enter the program from non-social work backgrounds must complete 60 credits. All degree-seekers must follow a consecutive instructional sequence, including a capstone course in the final semester.

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7. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

UTRGV, located only 15 miles from the U.S. southern border, has established two online master of social work (MSW) options that emphasize the needs of the Latino communities in the border region.

The master of science in social work with a focus on administration and community practice develops the leadership skills needed to strengthen and improve human services within the Latino community. The master of science in direct practice with Latino individuals, families and groups concentrates on the policies and practices for working with at-risk Latino populations.

The advanced standing MSW accepts graduates from bachelor of social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Applicants must have completed an undergraduate statistics course and earned a minimum 3.2 GPA in all social work classes.

Once enrolled in the advanced standing MSW, distance learners take courses in seven-week blocks to finish all degree requirements in one year. Degree-seekers must also participate in 500 hours of practicum experiences.

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8. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

The master of social work (MSW) at Rutgers offers students a fully online program and a blended track that combines web-based and traditional learning. Both tracks feature an advanced standing option for candidates with bachelor of social work degrees from programs accredited by the Council on School Work Education. Advanced standing enrollees can complete their MSWs in four semesters.

Regular standing students in the fully online program complete three years of study in classes delivered entirely asynchronously, enabling distance learners to proceed at their own pace. This track features two field placements, a generalist experience over three semesters, and an advanced clinical placement for four semesters.

The three-year blended program comprises four initial online semesters, followed by a combination of in-person and online classes in the final year. Students in the blended program choose specialties in clinical social work or management and policy, but online learners can only focus on clinical practice.

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9. Colorado State University

The master of social work (MSW) at CSU offers students a choice of fully online or blended instruction. Applicants with non-social work baccalaureate degrees can enroll in the 60-credit traditional program that requires three years of study. The advanced standing option for graduates with bachelor of social work degrees requires 40 credits, which students typically finish in two years.

The curriculum emphasizes advanced generalist competencies in direct services, community and organizational practice, social policy analysis, and social work research. Degree-seekers can also pursue specialized certifications while earning their MSWs:

  • Advanced clinical behavioral health
  • Conflict resolution and mediation
  • Military and veteran culture
  • Nonprofit administration
  • PreK-12 school social worker

Distance learners must fulfill several prerequisites if they have not completed them in undergraduate training. These courses include 18 credits in social and natural science, including statistics, and nine additional credits in any combination from the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, anthropology, and history.

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10. University of Arkansas

The online, advanced standing master of social work (MSW) degree offered by UA mirrors the on-campus curriculum but does not require any in-person course requirements or campus residencies.

This 39-credit accelerated online MSW program only accepts students who have earned bachelor's degrees in social work from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Each applicant must possess a 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits of their bachelor's program and demonstrate computer literacy through prior coursework.

While the program does not require the GRE for admission, a prospective MSW student must submit three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a social needs essay.

Once accepted into the MSW, distance learners progress through the coursework in cohorts, completing all requirements in a one-year sequence, including a thesis, a comprehensive exam, and a mandatory internship that requires 22 hours per week of field experiences. Students can complete the field experiences in their local communities.

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11. Temple University

Temple, established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1884, has grown into a top-tier public research institution offering over 500 academic programs.

Its affordable master of social work (MSW) program provides students with two online options. The 60-credit, standard-entry MSW option takes two years of full-time enrollment or 3-4 years part time. Prospective students who have earned bachelor of social work degrees within the past five years may qualify for the advanced standing program, enabling them to complete their MSWs in 12 months of full-time enrollment or 18 months part-time.

The curriculum offers concentrations in clinical practice or macro practice. All online learners must arrange to complete two internships. The first field practicum, taken as part of the foundation coursework, requires a minimum of 400 hours. The second practicum, focused on a concentration, comprises a 600-hour placement.

Its college of public health has developed a dual degree that combines the MSW with a master of public health. The entirely online dual degree takes 3-5 years to complete.

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12. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

UH Mānoa, an indigenous-serving institution recognized for its affordable tuition, offers a convenient hybrid master of social work (MSW) format. The distance education MSW option uses a blended instructional format consisting of online evening classes, interactive television courses, and occasional face-to-face instruction. Students enrolled in the distance education option must attend annual on-campus meetings in Manoa for advising and specialized training.

Distance learners progress through the program in cohorts of fewer than 30 students, finishing all requirements in three years. In addition to the sequenced coursework, the 57-credit MSW curriculum requires 900 hours of field placements over four semesters, including a simultaneous field integration seminar that integrates knowledge and skills learned in the classroom and the field.

This MSW program only admits Hawaii residents. The curriculum prepares students for the national social work master's exam, which leads to state licensure as a clinical social worker.

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13. University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The master of science in social work (MSSW) at UT Knoxville trains graduates for culturally relevant and ethically sound social work practice with diverse and vulnerable populations. The MSSW program, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, offers an online format that delivers courses synchronously at scheduled times, or asynchronously, enabling students to access material at their convenience.

The program offers three instructional pathways:

  • Full-Time Program: 60 credits, two years
  • Part-Time Extended Study Program: 60 credits, 3-4 years, hybrid, some required on-campus classes
  • Advanced Standing Program: 37 credits, one year full-time, two years part-time, for students who have bachelor of social work degrees

Students in all three pathways can choose either the clinical practice or macro practice concentration. The program also features career-enhancing certificates while completing a master of science in social work in forensic social work, gerontology, school social work licensure, or the emerging field of veterinary social work.

Each distance learner in the full-time and extended study programs must complete 1,024 hours in field education. The advanced standing program requires 672 hours.

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14. Texas State University

Texas State, an emerging research and Hispanic-serving institution, currently serves 38,000 students in over 200 academic programs, including a master of social work (MSW) available in campus-based and online formats. The MSW trains graduates to provide direct practice and administrative services to diverse individuals and families across the lifespan.

Online learners can choose from regular and accelerated instructional paths. Bachelor's degree-holders without social work backgrounds can apply for the regular advanced practice leadership track, which requires two years to complete.

Enrollees in this 62-credit option dedicate their first year of coursework to foundational social work knowledge and skills. In the second advanced year, the curriculum emphasizes specialized practice.

Students who hold bachelor of social work degrees from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education can enter the 36-credit advanced practice leadership track, enrolling directly in the advanced year. While both tracks do not require thesis projects, enrollees must complete intensive, supervised agency-based field practice experiences.

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15. Virginia Commonwealth University

The school of social work at VCU, established in 1917, has developed into one of the most comprehensive accredited social work programs in the U.S. Its online master of social work (MSW) program offers several instructional plans of study.

Distance learners may enter the full-time program on a 16-month or 24-month track; a part-time program that takes 3-4 years to complete; or an accelerated, one-year, advanced standing track for candidates who hold bachelor of science in social work degrees.

The MSW program admits students to each track three times a year. Enrollees engage in synchronous classes on a fixed schedule in the evenings to accommodate working students or those completing field experiences during the day. The curriculum allows distance learners to select specializations in administrative or clinical practice.

Coursework reflects principles of human rights, diversity, cultural competence, and ethical practice. Graduates acquire the skills and knowledge to become licensed clinical practitioners in evidence-based and trauma-informed models of intervention.

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16. University of Houston

The UH graduate college of social work, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, offers an online master of social work (MSW) through two pathways. Bachelor's degree-holders from non-social work backgrounds can pursue a 63-credit program, which requires three years to complete.

The 38-credit advanced standing option offers an accelerated two-year pathway to degree completion for students who possess bachelor of social work degrees. Online students choose between clinical and macro practice specializations. Clinical practice coursework prepares graduates to conduct evidence-based interventions for individuals, couples, families, and communities.

Its macro practice specialization trains students for leadership roles in urban settings working with vulnerable populations. All MSW programs require 900 hours of supervised fieldwork. Distance learners work with field coordinators to arrange local placements.

The UH program offers unique opportunities to acquire in-depth and distinctive professional experiences beyond the classroom setting. Students can pursue focused internships and specialized training in areas such as legislation, child welfare, leadership in behavioral health, and trauma education.

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17. University of North Dakota

Established in 1883, six years before North Dakota gained statehood, UND boasts a student population of over 13,500 in nine academic divisions. Nationally recognized for its distance learning programs, UND offers an affordable online master of social work (MSW) program that charges the same tuition rate to in-state and out-of-state students. The MSW curriculum, designed for students who work full time, features convenient live web courses in the evenings.

Distance learners choose from two instructional models. The online distance concentration, intended for students who hold bachelor of social work degrees, takes only one year to complete. This accelerated 36-credit program offers an advanced standing track, allowing enrollees to bypass foundational coursework. The online pathway requires one on-campus visit.

The second option, a 60-credit online distance track, admits students with non-social work undergraduate degrees. This program may take three or more years to complete, including its two required campus sessions. The MSW requires a 500-hour field experience, which distance learners can complete in their own communities.

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18. Fordham University

As the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the northeastern U.S., Fordham enrolls close to 17,000 students in nine schools. The university's "future-focused, skills-based" online master of social work (MSW) offers two distinct degree paths.

The 66-credit traditional online MSW for students who hold bachelor's degrees in non-social work majors includes generalist and advanced direct practice coursework. Distance learners can complete this degree path in as little as 16 months of full time enrollment or between 24-32 months part time.

Students who enter the program with bachelor of social work degrees or one year of master's-level social work credits can apply for the advanced standing online MSW. In this 33-credit accelerated option, learners enter directly into advanced direct-practice courses, completing their degrees in as little as eight months full time or 16 months part time.

Distance learners in both tracks work with academic advisors to develop customized coursework exploring individuals and families, organizations and community, evaluation, and policy practice and advocacy.

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19. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

IUPUI, established in 1969 through the merger between Indiana University Indianapolis and Purdue University, offers over 200 degrees, including a top-ranked fully online master of social work (MSW) direct program. This affordable MSW, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, features two available pathways.

The regular standing program admits candidates who possess bachelor's degrees in non-social work fields. Distance learners in this option must complete foundational coursework, followed by a concentration in clinical and community practice.

Students who hold bachelor of social work degrees can pursue the accelerated advanced standing program, beginning their studies in concentration coursework. The concentration in clinical and community practice prepares learners for professional roles in practice and administrative areas, integrating micro-to-macro services.

The MSW program offers enrollees the option to acquire graduate certificates in e-social work while earning their master's degrees. As the first of its kind in the nation, this certificate trains social workers in telebehavioral health practice to reach underserved client populations.

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20. Boston University

The affordable master of social work (MSW) at BU, fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, offers three part-time online instructional plans.

 

  • A 65-Credit Traditional Track: Open to applicants with non-social work bachelor's degrees, this track comprises nine semesters over three years. Students engage in online foundation and advanced courses through weekly live sessions. Each enrollee must complete two internships totaling 1,200 hours.
  • A 65-Credit Human Service Experience Track: Candidates with at least two years of full-time human services experience may apply. This track offers the same degree as the traditional pathway, but each learner completes one advanced, 1,000-hour internship.
  • A 43-Credit Advanced Standing Track: Open to students who have earned bachelor of social work degrees from accredited programs within six years of entry in the MSW, this pathway comprises six semesters over two years. Each enrollee participates in online advanced courses and weekly live sessions, along with one advanced internship comprising 1,000 hours.

All three tracks deliver courses asynchronously, except for the weekly live sessions held on Sunday or Monday evenings. Degree-seekers progress through the curriculum sequentially, with classes lasting seven weeks.

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21. University of South Dakota

The online master of social work (MSW) program at USD prepares its graduates to provide clinical and administrative services to meet the needs of diverse communities in South Dakota and the surrounding region. Students with non-social work baccalaureates must each complete a 60-credit regular standing track that features a foundation and concentration curriculum.

Candidates with bachelor of social degrees work from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education can enroll directly in the 36-credit advanced standing concentration. Applicants to the online MSW must meet the following requirements:

  • Appropriate bachelor's degree for regular standing or advanced standing
  • A cumulative GPA of 3.0
  • Three reference letters
  • 3-5-page academic paper and a statement of purpose
  • Cover letter and resume

USD joins 10 other universities participating in the Path to Licensure program. Students accepted into this initiative automatically qualify for the national master's-level social work exam for clinical practice.

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22. Winthrop University

Winthrop, founded in South Carolina in 1886, has grown into a comprehensive public institution providing graduate and undergraduate programs in arts and sciences, education, business administration, and visual and performing arts.

Winthrop offers a fully online master of social work (MSW) program that emphasizes a unique empowering practice approach. This method trains social workers to address the impact of personal, structural, and societal systems of power on vulnerable populations.

The MSW enrolls students in two tracks. The 60-credit traditional program option, designed for students who enter with non-social work degrees, requires three years to complete. The 39-credit advanced standing option, for bachelor of social work degree-holders, takes two years or less to finish all degree requirements.

Both tracks deliver courses asynchronously, enabling students to access courses throughout the day or night. All distance learners must complete field placements. Each traditional standing student completes a one-term generalist internship, followed by a two-term specialized internship placement. The advanced standing track only requires a two-term specialized internship.

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23. University of Maine

The online master of social work (MSW) program at UMaine only admits applicants who live in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This affordable MSW, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, meets licensure criteria in Maine.

Students who enter with accredited bachelor of social work degrees can enroll in the 46-credit advanced standing track that takes two years to complete, including 500 hours of field placement. Candidates who possess non-social work bachelor's degrees can pursue the 63-credit regular-standing track, which typically takes three years and 900 hours of field experience.

Both tracks employ a cohort model that places students in sequential courses and field placements. While most courses run asynchronously without scheduled meetings, some classes incorporate synchronous components at fixed times. For example, students attend field seminar classes with other members of their cohort. Enrollees also must attend in-person meetings with their cohort twice each semester at the Orono campus.

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24. Montclair State University

New Jersey's Montclair State University has earned a reputation for affordable undergraduate and graduate degrees, promoting educational success for students, regardless of ethnic or economic background. The online master of social work (MSW) program reflects this orientation, preparing graduates for social work practice with diverse populations, including vulnerable children, adolescents, and their families.

The 60-credit MSW, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, uses a full-time cohort model. During the first year, each distance learner completes coursework in generalist practice and participates in a supervised field placement approximately 15 hours per week. In the second year, degree-seekers take courses in advanced specialized practice with children, youth, and families, along with a related field experience for 21 hours per week.

A 33-credit advanced standing option for students with bachelor of social work degrees places students directly in the advanced specialized practice courses. This track requires only three semesters to complete, which includes a minimum of 1,000 hours of field experience.

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25. University of Alaska Anchorage

The University of Alaska Anchorage offers an online master of social work (MSW) program that can be completed within two to four years. This advanced generalist program prepares graduates for multiple roles and responsibilities across various settings and practice levels in social work. While the program is offered online, students who enroll must physically reside in the state.

The program includes foundation curriculum and advanced generalist practice concentration curriculum. Students learn about social work practice, policy, human behavior in the social environment, and research in the field. MSW students also complete two year-long field practicum placements.

MSW program applicants with a BSW from an accredited school can apply for advanced placement and complete the program in under two years. Those applying to the school's MSW/MPH dual degree program must meet admission requirements to both programs and apply separately to each. Application materials include a resume, personal statement, writing sample, official transcripts, and three letters of reference.

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Applying to an Affordable Online Master's in Social Work Program

Although each school sets different admissions requirements for online social work degree master's programs, all applicants should at least possess a bachelor's degree. Some schools consider prospective students without undergraduate degrees in social work, while others prefer candidates with a social work background. Candidates usually need to possess minimum undergraduate GPA requirements, which might range from 2.5-3.2.

Prospective students usually submit several additional materials to supplement their application form. This might include their undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. They also typically submit standardized test scores, such as the GRE or MAT. If prospective students want to boost their application, they could volunteer at a social work agency. However, volunteer work usually isn't a requirement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What social work specializations are available for a masters degree online?

    Online MSW programs offer several concentration options for students interested in a specific area within the field. Many fall under the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) 16 categories of social work, including child welfare, mental health and substance abuse, justice and corrections, and administration and management.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Accrediting agencies evaluate schools and programs to ensure that they provide a quality education to students, and relevant preparation to succeed in their careers. Aspiring social workers also need an accredited degree to qualify for licensure. Look for online social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

  • Is an online masters in social work degree a good degree?

    An accredited online MSW program certainly counts as a solid degree for anyone who wants to become a social worker. People in this profession need licensure in order to legally practice, and a master's degree in social work is necessary to earn that qualification. Moreover an accredited online MSW degree holds as much value as a traditional, on-campus degree.

  • What can I do with a MSW degree?

    Many MSW graduates go on to become social workers. They can specialize in many areas, including working with children, veterans, families, and the criminal justice system. MSW graduates can also go on to work as social work administrators, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselors, social work policy analysts, college professors, and community service managers.

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