By Staff Writer
Last updated: February 1, 2021
Social workers take on very important roles in our society, giving people the tools and guidance they need to overcome life's challenges. Social workers work with disenfranchised people, veterans, the poor, and individuals with addiction and substance abuse issues, to name a few examples.
Social work is a growing profession. The number of social workers could increase by 13% from 2019-29, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, the BLS projects the number of community and social service specialists in general could grow by 14% in that same time period.
In order to become a social worker, individuals need a bachelor of social work (BSW) and a master of social work (MSW). Some people stick with a bachelor's degree if they want to find a job within the profession but not work as a licensed social worker.
Additionally, many students prefer an online social work degree which gives learners the flexibility that traditional programs cannot. While bachelor's degrees typically take four years to complete, an online bachelor's degree in social work allows students to finish more quickly or enroll part-time and study at their own pace. Online master's degrees — which traditionally take two years for completion — allow this same independence for distance learners.
Best Online Master of Social Work Programs
Based in Orlando, UCF's master of social work (MSW) program offers 2-3-year tracks with full-time or part-time enrollment. The university also features one-year advanced standing options for learners who possess a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree.
The curriculum takes a generalist approach and centers on critical thinking, empirically based practice, and ethical services. Social work course delivery allows for entirely online distance learning, but enrollees may need to complete some prerequisites and electives on campus. On-site fieldwork requires 400-600 hours at social services agencies.
Applicants must submit transcripts demonstrating a "C" or higher in humanities, physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and social sciences. Additional requirements include a resume, video essay, professional statement, academic writing sample, and three recommendation letters. Fully online students receive a reduction in fees.
UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the MSW program holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Ohio State's online master of social work (MSW) program offers a three-part curriculum encompassing foundational learning, mentored field practicums, and applied advanced practice. The online social work degree includes coursework in writing for agency practice; AIDS: facts and issues; and human trafficking: domestic and global perspectives.
Admission requires a bachelor's degree or higher with a 3.0 GPA from an accredited school and transcripts indicating 15 quarter or 10 semester hours in social sciences. Applicants with a lower GPA may qualify for provisional admission. A candidate holding a bachelor of social work with a "B" in social work courses and a 3.0 GPA can apply to the advanced standing program, which full-time students can complete in one year. The College of Social Work offers several scholarships.
Located in Columbus, Ohio State holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
The online master of social work (MSW) program at Tallahassee-based FSU features two options for distance learners: a three-year traditional program for students with a bachelor's degree in any field and a two-year advanced standing program for those with an in-person or online bachelor's degree in social work.
This format, designed for working professionals studying anywhere in the country, offers flexibility and part-time learning. Field placements qualify graduates to pursue clinical social work licensure. Traditional online students come to campus for two weekend skill-building sessions.
In addition to a bachelor's degree, each online applicant needs a 3.0 GPA in all undergraduate coursework taken after the first 60 hours or a master's degree. Advanced standing requires a bachelor of social work degree with at least 400 hours of field experience.
FSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the online social work degree is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Located in Tampa, USF offers an online master of social work (MSW) program that students can complete full or part time and includes field experiences at social services agencies. Admission criteria for the 60-credit program include 12 credits of liberal arts prerequisite classes, with three credits of human biology and three credits of social and behavioral sciences.
USF prefers applicants with one year of graduate-level social service experience in a supervised practicum, job, or volunteer position. Candidates with a bachelor of social work degree can apply for the 35-credit advanced standing program.
Course topics cover pathophysiology; special welfare policy development and analysis; and social work practice with individuals, groups, and couples and families. Each enrollee completes a capstone project during their final semester.
USF holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Boasting a 92% graduation rate, U-M offers several online programs, including a part-time master of social work (MSW). The 45-credit curriculum focuses on interpersonal practice, integrated health, mental health, and substance abuse. Graduates qualify to apply for a clinical social worker license.
Distance learners complete their coursework online, attend one weekend course on campus, and log their clinical field placement hours in their home communities. Online formats include synchronous and asynchronous delivery.
Students gain admission with advanced standing status if they hold a bachelor of social work degree with a GPA of 3.5 or higher, or as MasterTrack admittees after completing certificates in social work: practice, policy, and research. Other paths to admission include U-M's sociology and social work and human services and social work partnerships.
U-M is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and programmatically accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Illinois' master of social work (MSW) outreach program offers tracks for students with or without a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree. A blended course format features online classes and in-person weekends on the Champaign campus once a month. Learners can choose among concentrations in advocacy, youth and family services, healthcare, mental health, and school social work.
The 44-72 credit curriculum includes human behavior and the social environment; inequalities in a diverse society; and managing human services organizations. Enrollees also participate in field practicums and seminars.
Applicants must submit evidence of a BSW or bachelor's degree (depending on the program track); a minimum 3.0 GPA or higher for the last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework; and 20 hours of biological sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and humanities.
Illinois is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and the MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
UA features its master of social work (MSW) as a primarily online program with virtual classes, in-person skills labs, and a field placement. Advanced standing students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree enter the 42-credit track, while all others follow the 60-credit course. Concentrations include adults and their families; and children, adolescents, and their families.
Admission requires a BSW for advanced standing or a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA for the last 60 hours of study. Applicants with lower GPAs can take an admissions test and complete 12 MSW program credits with a 3.0 GPA. Advanced standing candidates also need to have graduated from accredited programs and earned a "B" average in social work courses.
Tuscaloosa-based UA holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers offers an online master of social work (MSW) program designed for self-directed learners. The three-year curriculum features asynchronous course delivery, web-based faculty interaction, and field placement at local social service agencies.
A four-semester advanced standing track serves students who possess a bachelor's degree in social work. An enrollee can opt for a certificate in aging and health; addiction counseling; violence against women and children; promoting child and adolescent well-being; or Latina/o initiatives for service, training, and assessment.
In addition to a bachelor's degree, each applicant needs a 3.0 GPA or higher and to have completed an undergraduate introductory statistics course. Online learners pay the same tuition regardless of residency. The School of Social Work offers merit- and need-based scholarships.
Rutgers holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Appalachian's hybrid, advanced-standing master of social work (MSW) prepares graduates for management and supervisory roles. Students complete the part-time program's 33 credits in two years, choosing from two concentrations: individuals and families or community and organization practice. Appalachian's instruction format combines online coursework and in-person evening classes.
Admission requires a bachelor of social work (BSW) from an accredited program earned within the past seven years, a resume, a personal statement, and three references. Each applicant also needs a 3.2 GPA — those with lower GPAs must submit GRE scores.
Candidates without a BSW can apply for the 60-credit program, which includes additional foundation courses in human behavior and the social environment; foundations of social work research; and social welfare policy analysis and practice.
Boone, North Carolina's Appalachian is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The MSW program holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Located in San Marcos, Texas State provides options for online master of social work (MSW) students, including full- or part-time enrollment and regular or advanced standing tracks. The 36-62-credit program focuses on preparing leadership, integrated practice, and administration with an emphasis on diverse and underserved populations.
The curriculum includes human behavior in local and global social environments; advanced social policy and social justice; and advanced program planning and grant-based resource development, along with on-site practicums and fieldwork.
A regular-track applicant who does not hold a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree needs a bachelor's with a 3.0 GPA in any field from a regionally accredited school. Candidates with an accredited BSW who demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA may apply for the advanced standing track.
Texas State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and the MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Columbia's online campus offers a master of social work (MSW) degree with several options for distance learners. Students can finish the regular program in two years of full-time study, the advanced standing or transfer track in one year, the extended pathway in 3-4 years, and a reduced residency plan in three years. Admission requirements depend on each applicant's prior education and experience.
Online learners do not need to visit campus and can complete their fieldwork in their nearby communities. Available concentrations encompass advanced clinical practice, policy practice, and social enterprise administration. Fields of study include family youth; children's services; and health, mental health, and disabilities. Course delivery follows a live, synchronous format.
As one of the top online schools for social work, Columbia reports a 96% graduation rate and regional accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
The master of social work (MSW) degree at CSUSB prepares advanced generalist leaders and emphasizes micro and macro practice. The micro coursework focuses on promoting change and well-being in individuals, while the macro curriculum centers on organizations, communities, and policy. Admitted students can select between two program models: a two-year, intensive option that does not allow for full-time employment, and a three-year, slower-paced track.
Each MSW enrollee completes 60 credits, 1,080 hours of supervised agency placements in students' local areas, and a culminating research project in the field.
An applicant must possess a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA from an accredited school and coursework in behavioral and social sciences. Each candidate must also have a year of paid or volunteer social work experience.
CSUSB holds accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC) and programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
At Philadelphia-based Penn, students graduate at a rate of 95%, and its online doctorate in clinical social work (DSW) ranks among the best in the field. Targeted to working professionals, the 2-3-year online social work degree program balances evening synchronous coursework delivery with two five-day campus immersions.
The program prepares graduates for teaching careers, along with work combining social work practice and education. Course topics include foundational clinical theory; trauma-informed interventions; teaching social work practice; family and couples therapy; and a dissertation seminar series.
Each applicant needs a master of social work (MSW) from an accredited program and three years of post-MSW practice experience. Submission requirements include a writing sample, an application essay, and three reference letters. The program considers transfer credits at the doctoral level.
Penn is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) recently voted to pilot a DSW accreditation process.
UWF's master of social work (MSW) program offers two study plans based on students' prior education. The clinically focused curriculum blends flexible online learning with internships. Coursework includes human behavior in the social environment; social service policy; human diversity and social justice; and social work research.
Advanced standing students, who enter the program with a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree, earn 30 credits of clinical coursework. Enrollees without a BSW must complete 60 credits in foundational and clinical courses. In addition to a bachelor's or a BSW degree, applicants must provide evidence of a minimum 3.0 GPA or GRE or MAT scores. Advanced standing students submit copies of their final field evaluations.
Located in Pensacola, UWF holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and programmatic accreditation from the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).
USC online offers a doctor of social work (DSW) that trains students for careers in advanced practice for social change and innovation with a focus on underserved populations. The scholar/practitioner-based curriculum requires completion of 42 credits with a nine-semester standard track or a seven-semester accelerated track.
Both pathways include a capstone project during the final three semesters. Course topics cover innovative design, leadership and management, decision-making, and communication.
Each candidate must hold a master of social work (MSW) from an accredited program with five years of post-MSW experience in social work. All applicants must submit transcripts, a statement of purpose, a writing sample, a resume, and three letters of recommendation. Instruction takes place completely online, with no required visits to USC's Los Angeles campus or other in-person sites.
USC is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).
Applying to an Online Social Work Degree Program
Online bachelor's in social work require incoming students to possess high school diplomas, although some accept applicants with a GED diploma or associate degree, as well. Prospective students should submit transcripts showing passing grades, and they usually need to submit SAT or ACT scores, as well.
For master's degree applicants, schools require a bachelor's degree. While some programs prefer students with a BSW, some also consider applicants with a degree in another field. However, these students may need to take additional introductory classes.
Typically, MSW candidates should also submit transcripts with high GPAs, GRE or MAT scores, recommendation letters, and personal essays. Some schools include an interview in the admission process. Individuals applying to MSW programs do not need licensure; they earn this credential after graduating.
Frequently Asked Questions
What social work specializations are available?
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) lists 16 specializations. These include:
- Administration and Management
- Advocacy and Community Organization
- Child Welfare
- Developmental Disabilities
- International Social Work
- Justice and Corrections
- Mental Health and Clinical Social Work
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Work
- Occupational and Employee Assistance Program Social Work
- Policy and Planning
- Public Welfare
- School Social Work
What degree do you need to be a social worker?
In order to become a licensed clinical social worker, you need a master's in social work. That said, a bachelor of social work can prepare students for entry-level jobs in the field. Professionals with a bachelor's degree can find jobs in administrative office positions or as case workers and mental health assistants.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
When beginning a degree, it's important to know you will receive a quality education that adequately prepares you for your career. This is where accreditation comes into play. Accreditation is the system that evaluates higher education institutions and academic programs. Look for programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Remember, if your program does not hold accreditation, you will not qualify for licensure.
What can I do with a bachelor's in social work?
Many people consider a bachelor of social work as a stepping-stone to earning a master's degree and social work licensure, but BSW graduates can also go directly into a career, as well. Many become case workers, probation officers, and community outreach workers. Several others find entry-level administrative jobs within the social work or community service industries.
What is a mandated reporter?
A mandated reporter must report child abuse or neglect to law enforcement. This legal obligation counts even when mandated reporters suspect child abuse but do not witness it directly. Social workers take on this role as part of their job.