Online Master’s in Social Work Programs 2021

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MSW Programs Online

Social workers help individuals and communities cope with diverse issues, such as substance abuse, poverty, and mental health problems. They serve clients in various settings, including hospitals, governmental agencies, and outpatient healthcare services.

An MSW can build upon a bachelors in social work, adding advanced knowledge about human behavior and the social environment. Students learn about social work intervention strategies and the values and standards for professional practice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earn a median annual salary of $51,760. The BLS also projects jobs for social workers to grow 13% between 2019-2029.

This guide ranks the best online social work degrees at the master’s level. It also covers other important information for prospective students, such as common courses and scholarship opportunities for social work students.

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  • How long does it take to become a social worker?

    A four-year bachelor’s degree prepares students for some entry-level social work jobs, but many social work jobs also require a two-year master’s degree.


  • Is a social work degree hard?

    Some students find social work degrees challenging, but learners with strong communication, research, and analytical skills typically do well in master’s in social work programs.


  • What can you do with a master's degree in social work?

    Graduates with a master’s in social work degree can pursue clinical roles, such as mental health or substance abuse counselor, and nonclinical roles, such as policy or research analyst.


  • Can I get a degree in social work online?

    Yes. Many schools offer online social work degrees. In these programs, students typically complete coursework online and practicum requirements locally.


Why Get a Degree in Social Work?

A master’s degree in social work trains professionals to help individuals and communities overcome various challenges. Social workers may support clients with mental health or substance abuse issues, manage community groups, or provide services to children and families in crisis.

Social workers enjoy strong job prospects. For instance, the BLS projects jobs for mental health and substance abuse social workers to grow 17% between 2019-2029. The BLS also projects healthcare social work jobs to grow 14% in the same time period.

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How Much Does a Social Work Degree Cost?

Based on a sampling of master’s in social work programs, students can expect to pay between $420-$1,100 per credit. However, the total cost of a master’s in social work degree varies by factors like school type, prior credits, and delivery format.

Social work master’s programs typically require 30-65 credits depending on enrollees’ educational background. Degree-seekers with a bachelor of social work (BSW) can often enter an MSW program with advanced standing, which allows them to bypass foundational coursework and save money.

Additionally, public schools usually cost less than private schools, and in-state students at public schools typically pay less than out-of-state students. However, many schools offer tuition discounts to online students. Online students may also save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs.

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How Much Do Social Work Majors Make?

Median Annual Wage


Social work salaries vary by factors like location, experience, and role. According to the BLS, social workers make a median annual wage of $51,760. Social workers with the least experience make around $33,020, while experienced social workers with advanced degrees make median salaries around $85,820.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors


Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors make a median annual wage of $47,660, while marriage and family therapists earn a median annual wage of $51,340.

Nonclinical Positions


Social workers can also pursue nonclinical positions, such as research or policy analyst. April 2021 PayScale data shows that these professionals make average salaries of $56,790 and $60,060, respectively.

Courses in Social Work

Curriculum varies for each master’s degree in social work, but most share common characteristics. Master’s in social work programs often offer two tracks: traditional standing and advanced standing.

Traditional standing students complete foundational courses on topics such as human behavior in the social environment, social work practice, and substance use and social work. Advanced standing status typically applies to students who possess a bachelor’s degree in social work, so these students can bypass foundational coursework.

All MSW students typically study topics like assessment and diagnosis, advanced clinical practice, and evaluation in social work practice. Students also need to complete at least 900 hours of field education as part of an accredited program.

Courses vary by program, but the following list outlines classes commonly found in a master’s degree in social work.

Students in this course explore human functioning and development across the lifespan. They study various theoretical frameworks for how biology, psychology, culture, and the social environment shape behavior and identity.

Many MSW programs feature a series of social work practice courses. In these courses, students explore generalist practice theories, interventions, and work settings. Students learn about the processes involved in working with individuals, families, and groups. They may use tools such as case studies and role-playing to explore social work challenges.

The course introduces students to the major categories of disorders outlined in the DSM-5 manual. Students explore how factors such as psychology and the social environment influence diagnosis. Enrollees also learn how social workers use client information and DSM-5 guidelines to develop client assessments and diagnoses.

Certifications and Licensure for Social Work

Social workers can pursue licensure and certification to demonstrate specialized skills and advance their careers. Licensure requirements vary by state, so students should check the requirements in the state where they plan to practice. The following list outlines three certifications for social workers.

Certified Social Work Case Manager


The C-SWCM, issued by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), allows case managers to demonstrate their proficiencies. Candidates need at least 4,500 hours of professional experience, a BSW degree, and a state BSW-level license.

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Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker


NASW offers the C-CYFSW for practitioners focused on providing services to individuals under the age of 18 and their families. Candidates need an accredited BSW, at least 1,500 hours of social work experience, and a state BSW-level license.

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Certified Social Worker in Healthcare


NASW offers C-SWHC for social workers who practice in healthcare environments. Candidates need an accredited MSW degree, at least 3,000 hours of professional experience, and a state MSW-level license.

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Scholarships for Social Work

Scholarships can provide funding for students enrolled in online social work degrees. Unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment, making them ideal forms of financial aid. The following list outlines three scholarship opportunities for master’s in social work students.


  • Phi Alpha Honor Society for Social Work Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Phi Alpha Honor Society offers an MSW scholarship to students who model scholarship, leadership, and service. Candidates must submit an application and provide supporting documents.

    Amount: $1,000-$3,000

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  • Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The NASW foundation offers a scholarship for MSW students committed to working with Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native populations. Candidates must hold NASW membership, possess a minimum 3.0 GPA, and attend (or plan to attend) a CSWE-accredited program.

    Amount: $2,000-$4,000

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  • Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The NASW foundation offers this scholarship for MSW students focused on working with African American communities. Candidates must hold NASW membership, possess a minimum 3.0 GPA, and attend (or plan to attend) a CSWE-accredited MSW program.

    Amount: $4,300

    Explore Here


Online Master’s in Social Work Programs 2021

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  1. University of Nevada, Reno
    Location

    Reno, NV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Online Master of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno provides students with an opportunity to earn the evidence-based knowledge and skills necessary for licensure. Open to applicants with bachelor’s degrees in a wide variety of fields, UNR’s online MSW is structured around advanced generalist practice (AGP), which prepares graduates to meet diverse challenges and collaborate with those in related professions, such as psychology, education, business, medicine and public health. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Students can choose from the Advanced Standing program, which is open to those who already hold a BSW. This 32-credit-hour program allows students to graduate in as little as 15 months. The Traditional program is for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than social work; it requires 62-credit-hours for graduation. Both options are entirely online, but the Traditional program does require a three-day residency at the University of Nevada School of Medicine patient simulation facilities.

    Since this is an AGP program, students will encounter a rigorous curriculum that allows them to cast a wider net when seeking career options. Students will be immersed in a range of competencies that will lead them to demonstrate leadership, engage others in motivational and empowering ways, make informed decisions based on data and research, navigate diverse and ambiguous practice contexts and promote social and economic justice. The broad range of training prepares graduates to move into administration, child welfare, community organization, family services, mental health, schools, private practice and politics, to name a few post graduation possibilities.

  2. Boston University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Boston University School of Social Work offers a Master of Social Work with two options: the Clinical Social Work Major or the Macro Social Work Major. Those who choose the Clinical Social Work track will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to move into clinical settings, including those in hospitals, children’s services and the like. Those who pursue the Macro Social Work track will be prepared to tackle the root causes of today’s social problems, which might lead them to work with non-profit organizations or in politics.

    The curriculum for each option is unique, leading students down a clearly-defined path toward work with either individuals, families and small groups (the Clinical track) or with larger organizations and communities (the Macro track). The Clinical track focuses on differential assessments and interventions with strong emphasis on cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic and family systems. The Macro track focuses on leadership, assessing resources, program design, community analysis and organizational management. Those who stick with the recommended course schedules can complete their program in three years, while those with advanced standing can complete the program within about two years.

    Students in the MSW program can complete their online work at a time convenient for them, though they will have regular due dates to keep them on track with their courses. Though most of the work is asynchronous, students will occasionally have a “Live Classroom” online session, which is held on a Sunday or Monday evening.

    Sixty-five credits are required to graduate from BU’s MSW program. Those with advanced standing will enter the program with 22 credits. The final 43 credits must be earned through Boston University. This online MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  3. Colorado State University
    Location

    Aurora, CO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Colorado State University’s Distance Master of Social Work Program is one of several programs from the College of Health and Human Services that takes flexibility into account. This Distance MSW program is a hybrid, part-time program that combines online courses with two intensive learning weekends on campus each semester. These weekends will take place in the Boulder, Denver or Fort Collins areas, depending upon the cohort with which the student is enrolled. The Distance program, with the same courses and requirements as the on-campus program, is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Students can choose from the 3-year, part-time option or the part-time, advanced standing option. The advanced standing option is designed for those who have earned their BSW within the last seven years. Students will then study for two years to receive their MSW. Students must complete a total of 64 credits for graduation; those with advanced standing will complete between 39 and 42 credits. All work for the MSW must be completed within a ten year period. It’s important to note that the MSW program at Colorado State University does not accept credit for work or life experience.

    Social work students must complete a foundation field placement, which requires 270 hours (about 10 hours per week for two semesters) as well as the concentration field placement, which demands 675 hours (about 12 hours per week for four semesters). Colorado State University works closely with the student to choose appropriate partner organizations at which to complete their field placement requirements.

    Those curious about other options available through the School of Social Work can explore the dual degree option. This program is designed for those who want to earn a Master of Social Work and a Master of Public Health in Global Health and Health Disparities. CSU also offers a variety of graduate certificates to help professionals in the field boost their knowledge and expertise.

  4. University of Utah
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The College of Social Work at the University of Utah offers seven options for those seeking a Master of Social Work degree. Two of those options – the MSW Distance Program in St. George and the MSW DCFS (Child Welfare) Distance Program – are available in a hybrid format for students who need a bit more flexibility in scheduling. Each program requires 60 credits for graduation, which typically takes three years to complete. Students are expected to pursue their education on a full-time basis. Both hybrid programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    For the MSW Distance Program in St. George, students can expect to set aside a few nights each week for classroom study through distance technology, then work in their practicum assignments during the day. All classes are held in the St. George area. Those who have already earned their BSW can opt for advanced standing, which allows them to complete the MSW Distance Program in St. George with only 45 credit hours of study, or about two years. Only health and mental health concentrations are offered in St. George. These concentrations are ideal for those hoping to work in mental health facilities, hospitals and the like.

    The MSW DCFS Distance program allows more flexibility. Students can expect to receive courses on Fridays and Saturdays through the Utah Education Network, as well as engage in traditional classroom study at various sites in Ogden, Cedar City, Richfield, Orem or Logan. This program is specifically designed for employees of the Utah Department of Human Services Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). Child welfare is the only available concentration for this particular program and serves as a boost to the employee who is already working in various capacities in DCFS.

    Students in the College of Social Work, including those seeking a master’s degree, will be assessed a per-credit-hour differential charge, which is in addition to the cost of regular tuition. This is designed to offset the costs of professional education and is used by all professional programs at University of Utah. Tuition rates are subject to change at the start of every summer semester.

  5. Rutgers University
    Location

    New Brunswick, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Master of Social Work program through Rutgers University’s School of Social Work is available in both the traditional classroom setting and online. Those who choose to pursue the MSW online can choose from a fully online program and or the blended format, which allows for most work to be completed online and is complemented by some classroom work. There is also the Intensive Weekend option, designed for those who are working full-time while pursuing their MSW. No matter the format, students pursuing the MSW can choose between concentrations in Clinical Social Work or Management and Policy. All programs offer the advanced standing option for students who already have a BSW. All programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    The online program is delivered in asynchronous format, though regular deadlines and due dates will be imposed. Thirty credits of professional foundational coursework are required before students can choose a concentration. Both concentrations require two advanced practice method courses (six credits) as well as advanced field instruction (six credits). Foundation field placement requires about 11.25 hours per week for three semesters, while the concentration field placement takes 13.5 hours per week over the course of four semesters. Advanced placement students will complete their field placement over the span of four semesters. MSW students can expect to be in school for three years, while those with advanced standing will have two years of study.

    Rutgers University defines Clinical Social Work on a broader spectrum than simply working in an office or agency setting. Graduates of this concentration might work with those in hospice care or the prison system, for example. Graduates of the Management and Policy concentration have gone on to careers in non-profit agencies, hospitals, clinics, state and federal government, and corporations or businesses. Distance learning students might be able to take their career even further through the Violence Against Women and Children Certificate program, offered only to those who choose the 100% online option.

  6. University of New England
    Location

    Biddeford, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Master of Social Work through University of New England Online is offered entirely online, with no on-campus requirements. The program, offered through the College of Graduate & Professional Studies and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, allows students to enter the traditional track or through advanced standing. Those who enter through advanced standing might complete the program in as little as 16 months. Students can pursue specializations in Clinical Practice, which allows them to focus on individuals, families and groups; Community Practice, which allows them to move into administration, policy development, supervision, political advocacy and the like; or Integrated Practice, which combines elements of Community and Clinical Practice.

    Those who enter the traditional track can expect three start dates throughout the year. Students will take 20 courses and complete two field placements, for a total of 64 required credits for graduation. The accelerated option allows students to complete all required work within three years. Those in the advanced standing track will enter the program with a BSW (which must have been earned within the past seven years) and will be required to complete 35 credits to receive their MSW. Those credits will be earned through 10 courses and one field practicum. Those who choose the accelerated option can graduate in just over one year. Students do not need to take the GRE to apply to either program; however, a 3.0 cumulative GPA in undergraduate studies is strongly preferred.

    University of New England offers a robust online department so its student services are designed with the distance learner in mind. A few great options available to online students include Blackboard tutorials and technical support, library resources, counseling and academic support, writing services and the Student Success Portal.

  7. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The MSW Direct Online Program, offered through the School of Social Work at Indiana University, prepares students to move into a wide variety of social work careers. The program takes students through three levels of study, starting with foundation courses. These courses are designed to provide an in-depth generalist overview and create a firm stepping stone for concentration courses. Concentration courses dive deeper into certain aspects of social work, with courses such as Community and Global Theory and Practice and Executive Leadership Practice.

    The third level of study is the practice area, which includes the required field practicum. Students at this level will choose 15 credits of electives in Special Practice areas. Potential areas of study include Children, Youth and Families, Health, Mental Health and Addictions, School Social Work, and Leadership. Students who enter with advanced standing (having earned a BSW within five years of application to the MSW program) do not need to take foundation courses – they will jump in at the concentration level and thus complete their degree within two years, not the typical three.

    Graduate tests are not required to enter the MSW program. Credits that students have earned in a behavioral science field might be transferable, depending upon the concentration – the transfer can include up to one three-credit-hour course. The course must not be older than five years at the time of transfer, and must be in graduate studies, but not conferred as part of a graduate degree. Students interested in financial aid can apply for a limited number of scholarships offered through the School of Social Work.

  8. San Jose State University
    Location

    San Jose, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The School of Social Work at San Jose State University offers the Master of Social Work in both traditional and an online/hybrid format. The online program is designed for students to work on their studies continuously, part-time, for two years. Coursework is entirely online, but students will have to complete 16 hours per week of a field practicum. The program is just like the one presented on campus; the in-person program was founded in 1969, while the online option was founded in 2016. Both are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Those in the online program can expect to complete their work asynchronously, though some synchronous meetings will be required; these are usually scheduled for evenings, keeping in mind the busy schedule of most graduate students. Each course might take anywhere from three to eleven weeks, while the field internships attached to those classes can take as long as 24 weeks. Given the very tight scheduling of the online program, it is vitally important that students speak with their academic advisor on a regular basis to stay on track for graduation within the two-year time frame.

    All MSW programs at SJSU focus on Concentration of Transcultural Multi-Systems Practice. Online students can pursue more in-depth studies in the areas of children, youth and families and health/mental health. It’s important to note that some specializations, such as the aging concentration and the Title IV-E Child Welfare Program, are available on campus only.

    To graduate, students must complete 60 hours, with a 3.0 GPA or better (up to 12 of those may be transfer credits), complete all required courses, meet the school’s writing competency requirement and finish all degree requirements within seven years of the date of admission.

  9. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Location

    Champaign, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    After offering the MSW program on campus for over 40 years, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign now offers the iMSW program. This program is fully online, so as to meet the needs of busy social work practitioners as they continue work in their home communities. For even more convenience, those in the iMSW program can opt for a “return to employment field placement,” which allows them to complete their field experience hours at their current workplace. All requirements of the iMSW program are identical to what students will encounter in the on-campus program. Both programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Those in the iMSW program can choose from two concentrations: Advanced Clinical or Leadership and Social Change. Those in the Advanced Clinical track will further specialize by choosing a focus area. These include Mental Health, Health Care or Children, Youth and Family Services. Both concentrations require students to complete between 64 and 72 hours, including field education. Those who enter in advanced standing will complete 44 hours and a one-semester internship, thus shaving one year off the usual three-year commitment.

    The Advanced Clinical track is a hybrid program in which students complete their coursework online but also attend face-to-face weekend sessions on campus. Students can expect to be on campus either four Saturdays or two Saturday-Sunday sessions. The program prepares students for advanced clinical social work in hospitals, schools, adoption agencies and mental health facilities. Those who choose the Leadership and Social Change concentration can complete their work entirely online, with no on campus requirements. Students pursuing this concentration will be prepared to work in human services, policy advocacy and other macro areas of practice.

    The School of Social Work does offer opportunities to apply for scholarships, grants, stipends and other financial aid, but such assistance is currently available only to students attending on campus.

  10. Texas State University
    Location

    San Marcos, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The Master of Social Work at Texas State University is offered either in the traditional format or entirely online. This program offers a concentration in Advanced Practice Leadership (APL), which prepares students with both micro and macro skills in the field, thus allowing them to move into either clinical practice or administrative work. Created with a liberal arts perspective in mind and designed to allow for state licensure, the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Those who hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than social work can enter the foundation track, which requires 62 hours of study to complete. Those who have earned a BSW within the past ten years can opt for the advanced standing track, which requires completion of 36 hours to graduate. Online students can choose between full-time, which consists of three courses each semester or part-time, with two courses each semester.

    The social work program at TSU offers numerous elective courses that can help students build a more unique body of knowledge. A sampling of potential courses includes Adventure Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice; Spirituality in Social Work Practice; Hip Hop and Social Justice for Individual and Community Change; and Helping Troops Transition Back to Their Families and Communities: The Invisible Wounds of War.

    It is important to note that students from Pennsylvania or Delaware are not allowed to enroll for online programs at Texas State University; furthermore, Kentucky, New York and Washington D.C. do not authorize students to enroll in online programs that require a practicum or internship. Students who live in these areas cannot complete the online MSW at TSU at this time. Students who live in the state of Florida can pursue an online program but are responsible for finding their own practicum provider in their home area.

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