Top MSW Online Programs 2021

Written by: Staff
Last Updated: June 15, 2021

Learners interested in pursuing clinical social work positions can earn their master's in social work (MSW) online. While bachelor's in social work (BSW) programs prepare students for entry-level occupations in the field, such as caseworkers or mental health assistants, MSW programs focus on preparing learners to become licensed clinical social workers in clinical settings.

One of the key differences between what graduates can do with an MSW over a BSW is the type of social work they can practice. BSW graduates can pursue social work careers in non-clinical settings, including nonprofit organizations and private social work firms. MSW-educated social workers can earn their license and pursue specialized areas of the field, such as substance abuse counseling and marriage and family therapy.

Enrollees in online MSW programs can earn their degree in about two years of full-time study, with some institutions offering accelerated formats, allowing learners to graduate sooner. Online degrees most commonly follow the same structure as on-campus programs, including the same rigorous course content and program requirements.

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Online Social Work Programs For You

University of Central Florida

Founded as Florida Technological University in Orlando in 1968, UCF today boasts one of the highest enrollments in the United States. The university welcomes close to 70,000 each year.

UCF's online master of social work offers a 62-credit, three-year track for those without a background in social work. Students who earned a bachelor's in social work in the past six years with a minimum 3.3 GPA may select the accelerated track, which takes just 32 credits over four semesters.

Both tracks lead to Florida licensure as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Those in other states should check with their local board for more information. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Prospective students' success coaches advise on any additional requirements.

University of Central Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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University of South Florida

A public university established in Tampa in 1956, USF now serves more than 44,000 students every year.

The university's fully online master of social work offers a 35-credit track for those holding a bachelor's in social work (BSW) and a 60-credit track for those without a BSW. Both tracks require students to complete a field experience (eight credits for BSW-holders and 13 credits for those without a BSW) and a capstone project.

All students take the same courses, including health, illness and disability, social work practice with couples and families, and social welfare policy development and analysis. Non-BSW holders also take a series of foundational courses, such as foundations of social welfare policy and diversity and social justice.

Applicants must submit official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and a personal statement. The program does not require GRE scores, but those scoring at least 144 quantitative and 153 verbal may submit scores for consideration. Applicants with at least one year of professional experience receive preference. The department may request an interview.

University of South Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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University of Southern California

Established in Los Angeles in 1880, making it the oldest private research university in California, USC enrolls more than 48,000 students per year.

Those with a bachelor's in social work can complete USC's online master of social work in just 12 months with 37 credits. Students with a different undergraduate degree must complete 60 credits (16 months full time or 24 months part time). Both tracks balance traditional core competencies with cutting-edge research in neuroscience.

Students may, if desired, choose a specialization in military, school, or medical social work. All students must complete more than 1,000 hours of clinical field placements. Those on the 60-credit track must also participate in a virtual practicum led by an experienced professor and featuring an actor posing as a client.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a GPA of 3.0 or above. They must also submit two letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

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Ohio State University

A "public Ivy," Ohio State was established in Columbus in 1870 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Today, the university welcomes over 61,000 students each year.

Ohio State's online master of social work focuses on three core components: a foundational curriculum, which grounds students in theory and values; an advanced practice portion, which teaches hands-on skills; and a series of field practicums, which blend theory and skills in real-world applications.

The traditional track, for those without a bachelor's in social work, takes two years full time or up to four years part time to complete. Those with a recent bachelor's in social work may choose the advanced-standing track, which takes just one year of full-time or two years of part-time study. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Ohio State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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California State University, San Bernardino

CSUSB, founded in 1965 as a member of the California State University system, currently enrolls more than 19,000 online and campus-based students every year.

The university offers a three-year online master of social work through its Pathway Distance Education Program. All students take the same courses, including human behavior in the social environment: lifespan development, generalist micro practice I and II, and social work research I and II.

Students also choose three elective credits, such as social work intervention with the elderly and their families or public child welfare: policy and practice. All students must complete four fieldwork placements and a research project or thesis.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and a year of full-time experience. Additional materials include an autobiographical statement and three letters of reference.

California State University, San Bernardino is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

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Applying to an MSW Program

Learners exploring online MSW programs should keep in mind that admission requirements vary depending on the school. Most master's-level social work programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in social work from an accredited institution. Many other programs require learners to earn their BSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Generally, enrollees must meet a minimum 3.0 GPA requirement. As part of the admission process, individuals should submit official transcripts, along with a completed application. Some programs might require a specific amount of work experience. Other requirements include GRE scores, prerequisite coursework, a statement of purpose, a current resume or curriculum vitae, and letters of recommendation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you be a therapist with a master's in social work?

Students can explore different pathways toward becoming therapists, such as pursuing a master's program in psychology, counseling, or social work. Some MSW degree-holders pursue licensing opportunities that allow them to practice as therapists working within different facets of care, although many therapists choose to pursue a master's degree in counseling rather than social work.

  • How can you tell if an MSW program is accredited and why is it important?

Specialized programs often feature accreditation from programmatic accrediting bodies. Prospective applicants can usually find information about accreditation directly on the program website, but they can also reach out to a program director or admissions counselor to find out more. Most reputable master's-level social work programs boast accreditation from the CSWE. Accreditation indicates that a program undergoes regular review, adheres to rigorous academic standards, and effectively prepares social workers for their future roles.

  • How long does it take to earn an MSW?

While program length varies by school, students can typically complete their MSW degree within two years. In addition to course requirements, learners in these programs should consider whether their program requires practicum or internship requirements, clinical hours, or special projects. Whether learners enroll part- or full-time also impacts overall program length.

  • What is field work in an MSW?

Online MSW programs require field work in addition to coursework. In online formats, field work requirements can usually be satisfied at a location convenient for the student. These requirements are often supervised and allow learners to demonstrate the skills they develop throughout their curriculum, applying their knowledge in practical settings.