By Staff Writer
Last Updated: June 2020
Can you become a social worker online? Are there online schools for social work? Many learners wonder how to become a social worker online. Students can pursue online social work degrees while still tending to personal and professional responsibilities. Online social work programs provide learners with the skills and tools needed to provide support to those with issues in their daily lives and make referrals to appropriate services.
Graduates who earned their social work diploma online commonly work in local, state, and federal governments, nonprofit organizations, social services agencies, and community-based care centers. A graduate who earned a master's in social work online may consider opening a private practice or working in an academic setting. Online social work degrees provide flexibility without sacrificing academic rigor, ensuring that learners acquire the competencies needed to act as advocates and practitioners in the field.
Undergraduate Degree in Social Work
An online bachelor's degree in social work typically requires four years of full-time study and serves as the base requirement for most jobs in the field. When pursuing a social services degree online, students often take courses in social policies and program analysis, current topics in social work practice, social policy analysis and advocacy, and human behavior in the social environment. Enrollees can also choose electives to focus on particular areas of the field.
Learners participate in a series of field practicums to gain hands-on skills and meet supervised hours requirements. Upon graduating and earning licensure, these professionals work as caseworkers, family service managers, rehabilitation specialists, and mental health assistants, among other roles. Individuals who want to provide therapeutic services in one-on-one or group settings must progress to master of social work programs.
Graduate Degree in Social Work
Master's in social work online programs take 1-2 years to complete, depending on past education and enrollment type. Part-time learners usually need three years to graduate. General course topics include social work research methods, health policy and systems, advanced social work practice with groups, and program management and development practice. Many schools also provide concentrations in areas of children and families, schools, or mental health.
Aside from classes, degree-seekers undertake several internships to meet supervisory requirements. Required hours typically vary by state mandates. Most employers prefer or require candidates to possess master's-level education. Master's in social work online degrees also allow graduates to compete for roles such as clinical social worker, school counselor, social services manager, and social work educator.
Required Licensing and Certifications for Social Work
Each state sets distinct licensure and certification requirements, with some overlap. Any social worker practicing in a clinical role must be licensed, regardless of where they live. Many states also require nonclinical social workers to hold licensure or certification. To become a licensed clinical social worker, an applicant must possess a master's in social work and at least two years of postgraduate supervised clinical experience.
To receive licensure, each social worker must complete an application, pay an application fee, provide evidence of completed requirements, and pass a national clinical exam. Some areas may also require a state-specific examination.
Careers and Outlook for Social Workers
Social workers play vital roles in society and can find meaningful jobs in many industries and settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for social workers will grow 11% between 2018 and 2028. These professionals earned a median annual salary of $50,470 in 2019, while those in the top 10% of workers brought home a median wage exceeding $82,540 in the same period.
- Child, Family, and School Social Worker: These professionals focus on improving the lives of children at home and in school. They work with families to address and resolve issues, provide support and counseling to students, and often work in areas of foster care and adoption to ensure children live in safe homes.
- Healthcare Social Worker: Often based in hospitals and long-term care facilities, healthcare social workers support patients and their families to address the emotional, mental, and psychological implications of dealing with disease or illness. They provide therapy, educate family members, offer referrals, and ensure clients can access necessary healthcare services.
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: These workers provide services to those with substance abuse or mental health concerns. They work with clients to develop treatment plans, provide one-on-one and group counseling services, make referrals, and offer case management and advocacy services.
- Community Social Worker: Community social workers serve individual neighborhoods and groups to assess the needs of the area and advocate for access to those services. They may offer training programs, create referral programs, or arrange community organizing programs.