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Online MSW Programs

online msw programs

Those seeking the best opportunities for professional advancement in the world of social work will want to pursue a higher degree. Masters in Social Work Online are an excellent way for busy professionals to enhance their prospects. These Online MSW Programs are rigorous degree programs that prepare master’s students to handle a much wider variety of responsibilities, as well as provide a pathway to learning about areas of specialization, such as child and family social work, mental health or advocacy.

Though going back to school is almost always worth it, there is a substantial financial and time commitment involved. Fortunately, there are many Master of Social Work (MSW) online programs that provide plenty of flexibility to accommodate grad students who might have family or professional obligations in addition to their school responsibilities. This guide focuses on those valuable online MSW programs options, provides a good overview on how to select the best program, what enrolling in one will entail and what kind of professional opportunities graduates can expect.

Featured Online Programs

Best Online MSW Programs

There are plenty of ways for students to decide what are the top online msw programs. Here are some of the factors – job placement and career services, higher graduation rates, strong faculty and staff, accreditation, flexible online options, reasonable admissions rates, ease of completing fieldwork, challenging programs etc. Considering all these, we have created a list of the Best Online MSW Programs:

College Name & Address Tuition Graduation Rate
Ohio State University
190 N. Oval Mall, Columbus, Ohio 43210
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
601 E John Street, Champaign, Illinois 61820
Rutgers University
83 Somerset St, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901
Florida State University
222 S. Copeland Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32306
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan 48824
Indiana University, Bloomington
107 South Indiana Ave., Bloomington, Indiana 47405
Columbia University in the City of New York
West 116 St and Broadway, New York, New York 10027
$47,600 95%
University of Southern California
University Park, Los Angeles, California 90089
Boston University
One Silber Way, Boston, Massachusetts 02215
Case Western Reserve University
10900 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Tulane University of Louisiana
6823 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118
Simmons University
300 The Fenway, Boston, Massachusetts 02115
University of South Florida
4202 East Fowler Ave, Tampa, Florida 33620
University of Denver
2199 S. University Blvd, Denver, Colorado 80208
University of Buffalo
12 Capen Hall, Buffalo, New York 14260
Fordham University
441 E Fordham Rd, Bronx, New York 10458
University of Central Florida
4000 Central Florida Blvd, Orlando, Florida 32816
University of Iowa
101 Jessup Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

Temple University
1801 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
527 Andy Holt Tower, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996
University of Missouri
105 Jesse Hall, Columbia, Missouri 65211
University of Kansas
Strong Hall, 1450 Jayhawk Blvd, Room 230, Lawrence, Kansas 66045
University of Houston
212 E. Cullen Building, Houston, Texas 77204
California State University, San Bernardino
5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino, California 92407
Louisiana State University
One University Place, Shreveport, Louisiana 71115

Source Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Understanding Online MSW Programs

There are several factors to look into that determine which school is the right one for a student’s personal needs and career goals. But before students determine to pursue Online MSW Programs, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the programs and reason why anyone should get an masters in social work online degree. In this section we will walk you through all aspects of masters in social work online programs.

Who should earn an MSW?

A master’s degree is essential for anyone who wishes to move beyond macro-level social work. If a social worker wishes to switch gears and move on to micro-level work, such as helping individuals and small groups (clinical social work), then a master’s degree is required. There’s also the question of licensure; all states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and this almost always requires obtaining a master’s degree. This higher degree also opens opportunities for positions in leadership and administration.


Accreditation is the process by which an independent organization certifies that a school’s curriculum meets a minimum level of quality. Basically, it confirms that a degree from an institution means something. But in addition to schools, specific programs can be accredited as well.

The Council on Social Work Education, or CSWE, is the primary accrediting body for social work programs. Before applying to an online MSW program, future students should make sure the program is accredited by the CSWE. Without this accreditation, the MSW degree will be worth very little, because obtaining licensure will be difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, obtaining financial aid will be hard to do, since most providers will require that recipients attend an accredited program or institution. Read more about CSWE Accredited Social Work Programs. Read about general Accreditation.

Online Options

Most master’s students choose an online academic program for convenience and flexibility. Specifically, distance learning provides several advantages over a traditional on-campus program.

Flexible learning

Because the MSW is a graduate level degree, it’s common for students to have concurrent professional and family obligations. Therefore, the convenience of fitting coursework into an already busy schedule makes an online program perfect for the typical student. Instead of attending class at a specific time of day, online learning often lets master’s students “attend” class on their own schedule. In courses where students must be present online at a certain time, they can sign onto video chat, discussion rooms, streaming video and other formats that allow them to communicate with professors and peers in real time.

Moving not necessary

Some travel is needed to complete fieldwork portions of the curriculum. But this travel is limited, thanks to the fact that MSW students can arrange to complete their fieldwork requirements at approved locations close to home. In most online programs, students do not have to live close to campus to attend the MSW program. This saves time and money, and prevents disrupting the student’s already existing personal and professional life.


One good reason to earn an online master’s degree in social work is the chance to specialize – something that is not often offered with the bachelor’s program. Commonly available areas of specialization include:

  • Advanced Clinical Practice
  • Military Social Work
  • School Social Work
  • Children and Families
  • Social Work in Healthcare

Curriculum and Coursework in Online MSW Programs

Even though the faculty and program administrators can customize the curriculum of their MSW online program, there will usually be some similarities in the types of courses available to students. These courses will cover largely the same concepts, but have different names. Below are a few that a student can expect to take during the course of the MSW online program.

Social Work Mental Health PracticeAdvanced Social Work PracticeHuman Behavior and the Social EnvironmentSocial Policy, Analysis and PracticeField Practicum
Students will learn about providing social work services within the mental health treatment setting.A second year course, this class teaches MSW students how to apply theoretical principles to practical issues in client systems.One of the core courses of any MSW program, this class teaches basic knowledge about human behavior at the individual and group levels.A broad overview of how the field works, including policy making, funding and analysis of social programs.Students will work at an assigned and approved social services organization in either a clinical or macro practice while under the supervision of a qualified field instructor.

Admission Requirements for Online MSW Programs

Each school reserves the right to set their own admissions standards, but most requirements include possession of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a minimum GPA and completion of a number of prerequisite courses before applying or before beginning master’s level social work courses. Some schools may also have standardized testing requirements, such as GRE or GMAT test scores.

Timeline for graduation from Online MSW Programs

Incoming master’s students who already have some experience in the field should expect to complete their online MSW degree in about 35 credit hours; those with little to no training in social work might need to complete up to 60 credit hours. Overall, most MSW students will spend about two years earning their degree. Students with advanced standing (due to having a bachelor’s degree in social work or enrollment in an accelerated program) may be able to reduce this time to as little as one year. In addition to the credit hour requirement, MSW students will also need to complete up to 1,000 hours of fieldwork before graduation.

Fieldwork Requirement for Online MSW Programs

Even for students who enter with advanced standing, licensure and graduation from an accredited MSW program will require completion of about 900 hours of fieldwork at an approved site. Many of these acceptable sites are located near the school, but online students can work with program administrators to find locations closer to home.

Online MSW Programs No GRE

Online Masters Programs play an important role in providing the lift for careers. Social Work professionals who want to see their careers grow or are looking to become social work professionals choose online MSW programs. But in today’s world, universities have strict admission requirements. This is especially true for masters in social work online programs. Most universities want to see a GRE test score along with the applications. Luckily, some universities do not need a GRE score for their online MSW programs. Here are a few online MSW programs no GRE programs:

California State University, Northridge

Case Western Reserve University

Boston University

1 Year MSW Programs Online

In today’s busy world, time is short, and tasks are long. Professionals that already have a job and a career are busy as well. Given all this, most people don’t want to spend many years trying to get an online MSW degree. Some universities will let students graduate from MSW online programs in 1-year. Here is a list of universities that offer 1 year MSW programs online:

Capella University

Walden University

How to Pay for Online MSW Programs

For most online MSW students, the primary sources of financial aid will be scholarships, grants and loans. Scholarships and grants, while technically two different things, are very similar in practice in that they are usually awarded based on academic merit or financial need (or sometimes both). These are the best forms of financial aid because they do not need to be paid back. Scholarships tend to be offered by colleges, universities and charitable organizations, while grants can come from the same institutions, as well as the state and federal government.

Loans are the next primary financial option. While private loans are always available for consideration, most master’s students will want to apply for state or federal school loans. These tend to have more favorable terms than most private loans, such as deferred payments or low interest.

Regardless of how a graduate student seeks to pay for the MSW degree, there are two things they need to keep in mind. First, they need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ® ). This is required for anyone seeking not just federal financial aid, but state and school based financial aid as well. And in some cases, scholarship organizations require the FAFSA  ® (especially those that are need-based).

Second, MSW students must ensure their school is accredited. Almost all forms of financial aid, especially government-based aid, will require attendance at an accredited school. To find out if a particular school is accredited, students can go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Post secondary Institutions and look for their school. Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Education itself doesn’t accredit schools but does recognize independent organizations that provide accreditation of schools and programs.

Scholarships for Online MSW Program Students

Paying for online masters programs can get very expensive. Online MSW programs are also not inexpensive. The tuition fee can get expensive. Luckily there are scholarships available for online MSW program students. It is important to note that these scholarships may not fully pay the entire tuition fee, but they reduce the burden. Here are a few scholarships for which online MSW program students can apply for.

Licensing Requirements for Online MSW Program Graduates

Most graduates of an MSW degree program will probably seek licensure after graduation. While the exact eligibility requirements vary by state, students can expect to possess the following elements for licensure:

  • Be of a certain minimum age, usually 21.
  • Possess sound moral character as defined by the state’s licensing authority.
  • Complete a licensure registration application and pay the requisite fee.
  • Possess a master’s degree in social work from an accredited or state-recognized institution.
  • Pass an examination, such as the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
  • Complete the required number of hours of supervised post-graduate clinical experience.

Almost all jurisdictions will require licensed social workers to take continuing education courses for license renewal. However, each state will have its own requirements as to the number of hours needed and the types of courses licensees should take. For example, some states require 20 hours each year while others require 25 hours every other year. States may also require a certain number of the continuing education hours to be in ethics. Then there’s the fact that states differ in how they define an “hour”, such as a clock hour or a contact hour. To learn more, students should visit their state licensing board.

Careers & Salaries for Online MSW Program Graduates

Social workers often find jobs through online job listings, but networking can boost their chances of finding a job that suits them perfectly. A good networking strategy includes joining a professional organization, such as the National Association of Social Workers or contacting alumni through the school’s alumni association. Another strategy is to apply for post-graduate fellowships. They provide decent pay, give valuable experience and allow graduates to establish connections that can be beneficial for years to come.

When most people think of a social worker, they think of professionals who help individuals, families or groups of individuals work through a specific problem, such as abuse, academic struggles, addiction or mental health issues. These are commonly referred to as micro-level and mezzo-level social workers. But there are also social workers who focus their time at the macro level. These include public policy, administrative and research social workers. These types of social workers look at the “big picture” and try to help society through programs and policies that affect large groups of people.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook from 2016 to 2026 is very promising for social workers, with an anticipated growth of 16 percent. This is more than double the national average for all occupations of 7 percent.

What kind of salary can social workers expect to make after they graduate? Though pay depends greatly upon where a person works, their geographical location, total amount of experience and specializations, among other factors, the following table provides a rough idea of what to expect:

Social Worker Type10th percentile 25th percentile50th percentile75th percentile90th percentile
Child, family and school social worker$28,520$35,070$44,380$58,050$75,940
Healthcare social worker$33,260$42,510$54,870$67,850$81,560
Mental health and substance abuse social worker$27,230$33,610$43,250$57,930$76,020
Social workers, all other$34,640$44,360$61,980$76,970$86,760

Source: BLS (OES)

Resources for Online MSW Program Students

Students chose online MSW programs to grow careers. But it is also important to network with other social work professionals, organizations, and associations. By getting involved with the organizations, students can interact with other professionals to help students keep up with ongoing changes in the field and open up many career opportunities. Here are some resources that will help online MSW program students:

Reviewing the basics of graduate-level social work programs, as this guide has detailed, is just the beginning. It’s important to continue researching the best online MSW degree programs, tips for the most affordable programs, and ways to ensure a school is offering accredited programs. To learn more about these topics, check out these other resource guides on social work:

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