Top Online Social Work Degree Programs

By Staff Writer
Last updated: October 5, 2020

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.

Methodology

View our ranking methodology here.

 

Best Online Master of Social Work Programs 2020


1. Florida State University

Degree-seekers who want to earn an online social work degree can enroll in the online master of social work program at FSU. The curriculum focuses on a clinical approach to social work and prepares learners for licensure after graduation. Degree-seekers complete their coursework online, along with two mandatory on-campus skill-building sessions. The on-campus weekend requirements allow learners to connect with other students and instructors.

Students typically take about three years to complete the online degree, satisfying 61 credits of coursework and two social work field placements. Courses last 16 weeks, with learners usually completing two courses each semester.

Each candidate must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution. Prospective students do not need to complete their undergraduate degree in the social work discipline or provide GRE scores for admission. Instead, an applicant should provide a statement of purpose, a resume, and official transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 minimum GPA. BSW degree-holders can enroll in the school's advanced standing MSW.


2. Columbia University

Columbia allows students to earn their master's in social work degree online. While on-campus learners complete their field requirements at organizations in the New York City metropolitan area, the university arranges placements for online students in their own communities. 

Degree-seekers enrolled in the online program complete all of their coursework online with no on-campus visits required. Online learners pay around $1,450 per credit for tuition. Students pursuing the full-time, two-year or advanced standing program options complete 3-4 courses each term, spending about 6-8 hours each week on their coursework. 

Part-time students in the reduced or extended residency programs usually enroll in two courses each term and spend 4-6 hours a week completing their work.

Applicants can consider two-year, advanced standing, extended, or reduced residency formats, depending on their scheduling needs. Each prospective student must provide a completed application to their chosen program and pay the associated $75 fee.


3. Tennessee State University

TSU offers one of the best online social work programs in the country. The master of social work program prepares degree-seekers for advanced generalist social work practice. The program builds on the knowledge, skills, values, and roles that learners develop during their undergraduate degree program.

The 30-credit curriculum explores social welfare policy and services, social justice and equity for multicultural populations, and human behavior in the social environment. The program encourages interdisciplinary collaboration and enhances students' abilities to address issues of social and economic justice with oppressed populations. 

Along with the required coursework, degree-seekers must complete internships, including a 400-hour experiential learning internship focused on generalist social work, and a 500-hour concentration internship focused on advanced generalist social work practice. Coursework helps learners develop more theoretical and methodological knowledge.


4. New Mexico State University

NMSU, as one of the best online schools for social work students, offers an online master of social work. The program offers an entirely online format and a hybrid option. An enrollee can earn a certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or graduate certificate in social work at NMSU.

Master's students can pursue a regular or advanced standing format. Learners who hold a bachelor of social work degree from Council on Social Work Education-accredited programs can enroll in the advanced standing master's program to complete 30 credits of coursework in just over one year. 

Degree-seekers who enroll in the regular master's program complete 60 credits of coursework, which typically takes about two years. NMSU delivers online courses in synchronous and asynchronous formats, with most of the program following a synchronous structure. Enrollees enjoy affordable tuition rates of around $400 per credit or $250 per credit for active-duty military students.


5. University of Central Florida

Students at UCF can pursue an online social work degree to prepare for advanced generalist social work careers. The online MSW features affordable tuition rates of about $487 per credit. Degree-seekers focus on helping vulnerable populations, including those with mental health, addiction, or homelessness issues.

Boasting accreditation from the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE), the master's program features seven-week course terms and requires learners to complete 62 credits of coursework. The curriculum spans nine semesters, including clinical components and field placement requirements.

Degree-seekers who do not hold a bachelor of social work degree can enroll in the part-time track, satisfying the standard 62 credits of coursework in a three-year cohort model. An enrollee with a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program and a minimum 3.3 GPA can enroll in the part-time advanced standing track to complete 32 credits of work in a four-semester cohort model.


6. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Learners who want to earn online a master's degree in social work can pursue an MSW at UTRGV. This program emphasizes administration and community practice through an advanced standing model. Degree-seekers enjoy affordable tuition costs of around $444 per credit.

Enrollees develop the advanced skills they need to improve human services within the Latino community, along with clinical and macro assessment abilities. Each MSW student learns to work within diverse populations, gaining professional experience during a 500-hour practicum component in a field setting of their choice.

Graduates can sit for licensing exams to earn the licensed master social worker credential. The rigorous curriculum explores advanced social work practice with organizations, along with advanced policy analysis and development.


7. Appalachian State University

Degree-seekers looking for the best online social work programs can consider Appalachian's MSW degree. Enrollees enjoy affordable tuition rates of about $266 per credit for in-state students and $925 per credit for out-of-state students. The unique program follows a part-time format with hybrid delivery, combining on-campus and online requirements.

Degree-seekers can choose concentrations in individuals and families or community and organizational practice. Appalachian's MSW graduates go on to work in child and family service agencies, domestic violence programs, substance abuse programs, schools, group homes, and more.

Learners interested in pursuing advanced direct and clinical practice can benefit from enrolling in the individuals and families concentration. The community and organizational practice concentration best serves enrollees who want to focus on social problems and social change within communities and organizations at an advanced practice level.

A candidate with a BSW from a Council for Social Work Education-accredited school can apply for advanced standing enrollment.


8. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

A student considering the best online schools for social work can pursue a fully online master of social work program at IUPUI. The degree includes foundational coursework in human rights, diversity, and social justice, along with exploring specialized topics like mental health, military social work, and addictions. 

Enrollees build the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue careers as foster care social workers, alcohol and drug abuse specialists, and family service workers, among other specialized roles in the field. The 60-credit curriculum comprises 30 credits of social work core courses and 30 credits of special practice areas courses. 

Enrollees can also pursue elective courses in e-social work practice with groups, telebehavioral health social work practice with individuals, and military social work. 

Each applicant to the MSW program must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and provide transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a current resume.


9. University of South Florida

USF offers an online social work degree for master's students. The online MSW follows a cohort model, allowing learners to build relationships with the same group of students through sequenced coursework. Degree-seekers participate in live online learning experiences during this unique program.

Learners prepare for leadership roles in clinical practice by building a solid foundation of social work values, ethics, and professional standards. Degree-seekers complete 60 credits of coursework, along with 12-15 hours of field experiences each week, amounting to 900 total hours at the end of the program.

The curriculum explores diversity and social justice, foundations of social welfare and policy, and social work practice with individuals. Each applicant to the online MSW must hold a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA from a regionally accredited institution, a graduate degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA or higher, or the equivalent to a bachelor's or graduate degree from a foreign institution.


10. Michigan State University

Located in East Lansing, MSU offers a master's in social work online degree. MSW students can pursue concentrations in clinical social work or organization and community leadership. During the clinical social work concentration, learners focus on micro-level interventions for groups, families, and individuals. Organization and community leadership students explore macro-level interventions to work with organizations and communities.

The first half of the program focuses on providing degree-seekers with a generalist foundation of social work skills and knowledge, while the second half explores concentration areas. MSW enrollees can consider several program formats, but students interested in online learning can enroll in the statewide blended program to combine online learning with videoconferencing and face-to-face instruction. 

The 57-credit blended program typically takes degree-seekers about three years to complete. Eligible applicants must live at least 30 miles from campus, and out-of-state students must reside at least 50 miles from the Michigan border.


11. University of Alaska Anchorage

Students interested in online social work programs can enroll in the master of social work program at UAA. Its unique program addresses social and health issues in Alaska to prepare enrollees for advanced generalist social work careers.

Learners must reside in Alaska to enroll in the program. Degree-seekers can complete their requirements in 2-4 years with regular enrollment or 1-2 years for advanced standing learners with a bachelor of social work degree. The advanced generalist curriculum model focuses on remote, small metropolitan, and rural community needs in Alaska.

The curriculum comprises foundational courses and concentration courses focused on advanced generalist practice. Learners explore five course sequences in social work practice, human behavior in the social environment, policy, research, and field practicum.

Each MSW applicant must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 minimum GPA. A prospective student must provide a professional resume, personal statement, writing sample, three letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.


12. University of Southern California

USC, as one of the best online schools for social work students, features an online master of social work accredited by the Council for Social Work Education. The MSW offers part-time and full-time enrollment options, depending on students' scheduling needs. The program prepares degree-seekers to pursue the licensed clinical social worker credential after graduation.

Learners enjoy the ability to tailor their program to their specific career goals and interests by focusing on social change and innovation, adult mental health and wellness, or children, youth, and families. Degree-seekers who already hold a bachelor of social work degree can consider enrolling in the advanced standing online MSW, enabling them to earn their degree in as little as 12 months by completing 37 credits of coursework.

Degree-seekers enrolled in the regular MSW program complete 60 credits of coursework, typically taking them about 16 months to complete. Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and does not need to provide GRE scores for admission.


13. University of South Dakota

USD offers an online social work degree for master's students. The online MSW prepares learners to pursue careers as competent, ethical social workers who serve diverse communities. Degree-seekers focus on delivering therapeutic and clinical services, along with reviewing organizational planning, social policy analysis, and community development.

Enrollees who do not hold a bachelor's degree from accredited social work programs must complete the traditional MSW program. These students must each satisfy 60 credits of coursework. Learners who hold BSWs can enroll in the advanced standing master's program, requiring 36 credits rather than 60.

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from a regionally accredited institution and submit official transcripts. An advanced standing candidate should hold a Council on Social Work Education-accredited BSW. 


14. Indiana University Bloomington

IU features a master's in social work online program for degree-seekers interested in pursuing advanced generalist social work careers after graduation. The entirely online program comprises 60 credits of coursework. Degree-seekers enjoy affordable tuition rates of about $585 per credit for in-state students and $716 per credit for out-of-state enrollees.

The curriculum explores social justice, human rights, and social work practice in organizations, communities, and societies. Boasting accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education, the rigorous program prepares learners to pursue careers in hospitals, community mental health agencies, nursing homes, and more.

Of the required 60 credits, each student completes 30 credits of social work core courses and 30 credits of special practice areas courses. A prospective enrollee must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Each candidate must provide official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a current resume, and a writing sample.


15. Simmons University

Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Simmons offers one of the top online social work programs for master's students. The online MSW emphasizes multicultural perspectives and social justice values, preparing degree-seekers for advanced generalist practice roles in various clinical settings.

Once learners complete their foundation courses, they can focus on the advanced clinical curriculum. During this portion, degree-seekers can choose specializations, which allow them to shape their curriculum to meet their specific career goals and interests. Specialization options include child and family, trauma and interpersonal violence, mental health and addictions, or health and aging. 

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Degree-seekers who hold a bachelor of social work degree from Council on Social Work Education-accredited programs can pursue the advanced standing format.


16. Washburn University

Students exploring online schools for social work can consider enrolling in Washburn's master of social work degree. More than half of the required courses for MSW students feature a flexible online option, but learners must complete clinical courses and electives on-campus. 

Degree-seekers who hold a bachelor's degree in disciplines other than social work can enroll in the regular program. These students typically earn their degree within two years if they enroll full-time and four years if they pursue part-time enrollment. An enrollee with a bachelor of social work degree can follow the advanced standing format on a part-time or full-time basis. Full-time advanced standing students can earn their degree in as little as 11 months.

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 minimum GPA and submit a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and transcripts.


17. University of North Dakota

Online social work degree programs prepare learners for generalist and advanced generalist social work careers. UND offers a flexible online master of social work degree tailored to students who work full-time. The online concentration is available to learners who hold a bachelor of social work degree from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program. Candidates who hold a bachelor's degree in disciplines other than social work can pursue the online foundation format.

Throughout the program, learners develop event planning, crisis intervention, case management, and psychotherapy skills. The rigorous curriculum explores advanced generalist practice with treatment groups, human behavior in the social environment, and advanced generalist practice with individuals. 

A student in the online foundation program must complete 60 credits of coursework, leading to a program length of about three years, while online concentration students complete 36 credits, taking 1-2 years to graduate. Each candidate must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution, meeting the 2.75 minimum GPA requirement.


18. University of Northern Iowa

Master's in social work online programs prepare degree-seekers with the skills and knowledge needed to pursue advanced social work practice with a generalist perspective. Students enrolled in the master of social work at UNI focus on understanding multicultural sensitivity, social and economic justice, and human rights.

Degree-seekers can tailor their curriculums to align with their interests and career goals by pursuing the trauma-informed care specialization. This option exposes learners to the different approaches for treating complex and acute forms of psychological trauma. The trauma-informed care specialization is the only one of its kind in the Midwest.

Learners enjoy access to instructors with experience across many social work settings. During the program, degree-seekers take part in internships within different agencies, helping them enhance their professional leadership skills. An enrollee with a bachelor of social work degree from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program can pursue the advanced standing option to earn their graduate degree more quickly.


19. Louisiana State University

The online master of social work program at LSU is one of the best online social work programs in the nation. The degree prepares students to focus on helping individuals, families, and communities with substance abuse treatment, child welfare, and other issues affecting society.

Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the master's program boasts affordable tuition costs of $539 per credit hour. During the first year, degree-seekers focus on a generalist approach, reviewing key concepts of social work and completing internships. The second year presents learners with a specialist approach, reviewing topics of treatment and theory through electives, internships, and a thesis or non-thesis exit requirement.

The 60-credit curriculum typically takes degree-seekers about two years to complete. Learners who enroll in the advanced standing program can complete their program requirements in as little as 9-12 months.


20. Delaware State University

DSU offers one of the best online schools for social work, boasting the only MSW program in Delaware. The program emphasizes experiential learning, requiring degree-seekers to complete two student-selected internships. Graduates can sit for licensing exams required by their home state.

Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), this MSW focuses on advanced generalist practice, preparing degree-seekers to work with families, groups, organizations, communities, and individuals. Program graduates commonly find work in metropolitan, suburban, and rural communities.

An applicant who holds a bachelor of social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program can apply up to 28 credits to the requirements for the MSW degree. Learners must maintain 3.0 or higher GPAs for each course. 

The curriculum explores theories of personality and adult psychopathology, advanced generalist practice in a public health context, and practice and program evaluation for the advanced practitioner.


21. University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Master's students can earn an online social work degree at UT Knoxville through hybrid delivery. The university's college of social work offers a master of science in social work through a flexible online format that features the same rigorous curriculum and esteemed instructors as the on-campus option. 

Fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the MSW offers concentrations in evidence-based interpersonal practice or organizational leadership. Online learners experience synchronous and asynchronous learning approaches during the curriculum by participating in real-time interactive video conferences and completing other coursework on their own schedule. 

Degree-seekers enjoy fully online course requirements and complete internships at nearby locations. The program follows a cohort format, maintaining a course sequence that allows learners to begin and end their program with the same group of students. 

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a 2.7 minimum GPA.


22. University at Buffalo

UB allows learners to earn their master's in social work online. The part-time, online MSW emphasizes evidence-based practice and integrates perspectives of human rights and trauma-informed practice. Fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the master's program offers a traditional option and an advanced standing option.

The traditional MSW requires learners to complete 60 credits of coursework. Candidates who hold a bachelor of social work degree can enroll in the advanced standing program, requiring them to satisfy 35 credits of coursework. Students in the advanced standing program typically graduate within 1.5 years, while learners in the traditional program take closer to three years to earn their degree.

The curriculum explores scientific methods in social work, theories of organizational behavior and development, and diversity and oppression. Each prospective student must provide three letters of recommendation, a personal statement essay, and transcripts.


23. University of Houston

At UH, learners can enroll in the online master of social work program to prepare for work with individuals, groups, communities, and families. Enrollees participate in a cohort model to begin and end their degree with the same group of students. During the program, degree-seekers complete mainly synchronous coursework, following firm deadlines and due dates.

Learners begin their program with 16 credit hours of foundation courses. The program emphasizes a generalist practice approach, focusing on political, social, and economic justice. Degree-seekers must complete at least 900 hours of fieldwork. For their field requirements, online students work closely with field education office staff to find qualified agencies in their area. All online students take part in supervised experiences with master social workers.

Social work students can specialize in health and behavioral health, social work practice with Latinos, political social work, and individualized specialization.


24. Boise State University

Boise State, as one of the best online schools for social work, offers enrollees a master's degree in the field. Learners enrolled in the online master of social work program enjoy access to fully online coursework, providing them with a flexible learning environment. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program emphasizes the promotion of equality and social justice, teaching students policy, clinical, and organizational skills.

In addition to the online coursework, degree-seekers fulfill fieldwork requirements by participating in internships in their area. The online program prepares degree-seekers for advanced generalist practice social work careers.

An applicant who holds a bachelor of social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program can apply for the advanced standing master's program. Each candidate must also hold a 3.0 minimum GPA, possess prior social service practice experience, and submit a personal essay and letters of recommendation with their transcripts.


25. Tarleton State University

Learners can pursue an online social work degree at Tarleton. The online master of social work offers a foundation program option for enrollees with a bachelor's degree in disciplines other than social work, along with an advanced standing program for students who hold a bachelor of social work degree.

The advanced standing program requires learners to complete 32 credit hours of coursework, while students in the foundation program must satisfy 64 credit hours. Learners can further specialize their degree by choosing from concentrations in community organization, research, and advocacy; or multicultural practice with children and families.

The curriculum explores foundations of community and organization practice, human behavior in the social environment, and social policy and policy analysis. Each applicant must submit transcripts demonstrating a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, along with GRE or GMAT scores.


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
    • Aging
    • Child Welfare
    • Developmental Disabilities
    • Healthcare
    • 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
    • Politics
    • Public Welfare
    • Research
    • 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.

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