Online Master’s of Social Work Programs

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Careers & Salaries with a Graduate Degree in Social Work

While baccalaureate social work programs are designed to provide general skills, a Master of Social Work (MSW) program is your route to specialization and/or clinical work. Career opportunities tend to be limited for social workers who stop at the baccalaureate level, with most healthcare, school and even administrative jobs requiring a graduate education. Many credentials, like the Clinical Social Worker in Gerontology, even require it. Whether you’re looking for career advancement, a salary increase, paving the way for an advanced degree or changing careers, pursuing an online MSW is all but a necessity. Read on to learn about the top programs and what to expect during and after an online MSW program.

Best Online Master’s in Social Work

Rank School Location
1 University of Nevada, Reno Reno, NV
2 Boston University Boston, MA
3 Colorado State University Aurora, CO
4 University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT
5 Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ
6 University of New England Biddeford, ME
7 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
8 San Jose State University San Jose, CA
9 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
10 Texas State University San Marcos, TX
Advertisement AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Best Online Master’s in Social Work

Several colleges across the country now offer accredited online MSW programs, which means prospective students have a lot of options. To help you find the right school and program we’ve carefully analyzed data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the U.S. Department of Education and individual universities’ published materials to come up with a list of the top 50 online MSW degrees. Find out which colleges made the list and why and get more information on the programs that meet your specific goals and interests.


  • METHODOLOGY

    Methodology:

    • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
    • Offers at least one masters-level program in Social Work
    • At least some portion of coursework may be taken via distance education

    Ranking Metrics:

    • Number of specializations available in Social Work from the institution
    • Availability of internship, work experience, and/or practicum opportunities
    • Delivery method (fully online vs. online-campus hybrid)
    • Availability of academic and/or career counseling services
    • Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
    • Average 3-year student loan default rate
    • Tuition (determined by tuition costs to complete the program for in-state students, not including additional fees)

    PBV* is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.Data Sources

    • Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information. Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017
    • In addition, we use the Department of Education Federal Student Aid office’s (Link: https://www2.ed.gov/offices/OSFAP/defaultmanagement/cdr.html#table) data on 3-Year Student Default Rates. The most recent release date is September 2017.
    • Finally, additional data regarding delivery method and cost information has been verified on the institutions websites as of April 2018.


  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.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Social Work Program?

To know what to expect from an online MSW, it’s helpful to remember the acquired competencies of a BSW program. According to standards developed by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), these are to:

  • Show professionalism and be ethical
  • Realize the effects of diversity on individuals’ experiences
  • Promote human rights and social justice
  • Draw on research to inform practice
  • Understand the links between policy and the practice of social work
  • Be able to assess and intervene with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities

An MSW builds upon this generalist base and readies the student for specialized practice by integrating classroom learning and field work. Most colleges offer different concentrations but the five most common areas for graduate programs are in gerontology, school social work, addictions, child welfare and nonprofit management, according to CSWE’s 2016 annual survey. Mental health/clinical is also a common concentration area, particularly for those working towards clinical licensure. Here’s a brief overview of each:

Gerontology specialists learn how to work with older people, often in nursing homes, but also in hospitals and clinics. If you choose to pursue this concentration, you’ll take courses that explore topics such as adult psychosocial development and the effect of changing roles within a family later in life; social programs for the elderly, including social security and Medicare; and intervention strategies in areas such as guardianship, advance directives and elder abuse.

School social work specialists prepare to work, as the name suggests, in schools — not just with children, but also with parents, teachers and administrators. Coursework in this concentration explores child mental health and the services available to these demographic groups. Students may also take classes on how to support families who have children with disabilities or macro-level classes on education policy.

Addictions specialists learn how to counsel people with addictions, typically alcohol and drug abuse problems. Students pursuing this concentration will likely take pharmacology coursework so they can understand the biological forces behind addiction. But they’ll also study the intersection of substance abuse and mental health disorders, as well as services available to those with substance abuse issues.

Child welfare specialists study how to serve adolescents and their families. Students in this concentration will learn about social services and policies for minors, including juvenile justice and child protective services; and intervention strategies that help youth develop social skills, proper values and ethical behavior. Some students choose to further specialize in child development or adolescent development to understand the biological, interpersonal and psychological changes that correspond with each phase of development.

Nonprofit management specialists typically gear up to work in nonclinical settings. In this concentration, students study community organization and advocacy as well as public policy. In addition, they’ll become skilled at procuring funding via grants and project proposals.

Mental health specialists are trained in overall mental health, substance abuse and trauma in order to conduct and carry out crisis assessment and intervention. These professionals use their skills and knowledge to create treatment methods to increase an individual’s functional capacity. They may also work to improve local or regional systems or programs that address mental illness. Students who pursue this concentration are likely to find careers in a variety of mental health settings such as clinical practice, community health centers or even in policy and research.

Although the above are the most common social work specializations, there are many more. Often, mental health and substance abuse is combined into a single concentration, and it’s important to note that most states require additional licensure and internship work or supervised clinical hours for this specialty. Advocacy and social justice is another common specialization; it can lead to positions as a lobbyist, community organizer or analyst. Lastly, there’s military social work, which involves working with active duty members and veterans experiencing psychological issues as they face deployment or reintegration to civilian life, respectively.

However, regardless of the specialization, there are some courses that are foundational to any online MSW program. But before exploring these, it’s helpful to first understand the structure of the MSW.

The standard MSW is typically 60 credits, so completing the program will take about two years of full-time study or up to four years of part-time study. However, enrollees who already hold a BSW can often start an MSW with “advanced standing.” This status allows students to opt out of certain courses – usually with the university’s review and approval – and earn their master’s more quickly.

In practice, that means students entering an MSW program without a BSW (but with a baccalaureate in another field) spend their first year doing coursework that’s typically found in the tail-end of a BSW program — courses with titles like Generalist Practice, Social Welfare Policy and Social Work Ethics — along with classes in their concentration and plenty of fieldwork. To break these down further:

  • generalist practice course provides a theoretical framework for working with clients, exploring issues of accountability as well as philosophical imperatives behind intervention.
  • policy course gives students insight into the American approach to social welfare and the provision of services, both in a historical context and in modern practice. After all, social workers need a strong understanding of the public and private resources their clients can draw upon for support and assistance.
  • Working with individuals requires balancing privacy concerns with a need to ensure client safety, which may be mutually exclusive, as in the case with suicidal patients. An ethics course teaches students how to balance competing interests, like the example above, and make appropriate, ethical decisions for their clients.
  • All of the fieldwork at this level is generalist. In other words, it’s foundational for social workers to understand how to work with other people, whether individuals or groups. Expect to intern in multiple locations to get a sampling of the different types of settings in which social work takes place.

The second year is where the advanced standing students jump in. Along with a few courses in their concentration, they’ll also take a few standard courses, the most common of which are Research Methods, Human Behavior and Clinical Social Work Practice (note that specific course names will vary by school).

  • In terms of research courses, students will be drilled in the scientific method and best practices. That includes designing a study, working with test subjects ethically and collecting appropriate data. While this may seem like a rehashing of one’s bachelor’s level research course, it’s not. The content overlaps, but students will be expected to design more sophisticated studies and tackle more complex topics. Additionally, they will be preparing research specifically within their specialization.
  • Human behavior courses, meanwhile, help the student understand how differences in age, race, gender, class and upbringing influence human behavior. Graduate-level coursework also explores how social disturbances are formed through biological and environmental factors.
  • Clinical social work practice courses vary by concentration. That is, they can be specific to the population the student will be working with. All students learn the theoretical concepts needed to assess patients and provide appropriate therapy. They’ll then apply this in fieldwork settings, which will be specific to their specialty.

Despite being Internet-based, online MSW programs still pack hundreds of hours of fieldwork into the curriculum. In fact, to attain CSWE accreditation, MSW programs must include at least 900 hours of fieldwork, compared to 400 for a BSW. One obvious question for someone looking to attain an online degree with so much fieldwork required is: How does that work?

The top online MSW programs usually have relationships with internship sites across the country. Moreover, they have dedicated staff to help place students in workplaces that are appropriate to their concentrations. Students in isolated or rural areas may have to work with their field coordinator to identify an appropriate setting near to them — whether a prison, hospital, local government office or other. The placement site will have a supervisor there for the student to report to; this person will also be responsible for ensuring the student is meeting the learning objectives of the placement.

At the end of the program, MSW graduates will have passed a key hurdle for licensure. In addition to holding the MSW, their coursework should also have prepared them for the licensure exam. There are two types they may be interested in:

Licensed clinical social worker (LCSW)

Each state maintains its own qualification to sit for this exam, with two years of practice in a supervised setting typically required in addition to the MSW and passing a standardized test. As the name implies, LCSWs can work in clinical settings, directly with patients.

Licensed master social worker (LMSW)

Again, each state sets its own standards, but these typically include a passing test score and professional experience after graduating with an MSW. LMSWs can work as consultants, case managers or administrators. They are not involved in clinical work.

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Social Work Degree?

As mentioned, earning an MSW allows you to specialize in a particular area. You’ll gain targeted knowledge and skills that will help prepare you for advanced roles. As an example, here are some of the potential career paths:

  • Child welfare social workerGovernment agencies and nonprofits, as well as hospitals, hire child and family social workers to protect children. They work with states’ child protective services agencies to investigate allegations of mistreatment and evaluate the child’s home life, pulling minors out of dangerous or unhealthy situations as necessary and placing them in the custody of foster or adoptive families.
  • Clinical social workerThis is the most common career path for MSW graduates. Licensed clinical social workers engage with individuals, families or groups to identify and alter negative behaviors. This can involve developing treatment plans alongside doctors, especially in residential treatment facilities. Many also work as counselors or therapists because there’s so much overlap between the fields. However, social workers have additional responsibilities, such as reaching out to others on behalf of their client. LCSWs can join the Clinical Social Work Association to keep current with professional development activities.
  • Community and organization social workerThis career involves little, if any, direct involvement with clients. Colleges with such a specialty often incorporate coursework on planning, fiscal management and leadership, which helps prepare students for upper-level administrative roles. These administrators make policy decisions about how to deliver services to specific populations, and often work in social service agencies, probation departments, state mental health departments and hospitals.
  • Mental health social workerMental health social workers, who must attain an LCSW, are responsible for assessment and diagnosis of patients, as well as crafting treatment plans that help patients with mental health disorders go about their daily life.
  • School social workerThe School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) notes that school social workers provide services to not only students but also parents and teachers. This can include crisis intervention and mobilizing resources to facilitate learning as well as developing programs to serve students with disciplinary problems or exceptional abilities. Individual states may have licensure requirements for school social workers separate from the LCSW or LMSW.

The National Association of Social Workers has more information on social work careers and provides 13 different credentials for MSW holders. Examples of credentials include:

  • Certified Clinical Alcohol Social Work
  • Tobacco & Other Drugs Social Worker (C-CATODSW)
  • Certified Advanced Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-ACYFSW)
  • Clinical Social Worker in Gerontology (CSW-G)

How Much Money Can I Make with a Master’s in Social Work Degree?

In some fields, master’s degrees do not necessarily equate to higher earnings. That’s not the case with social work. According to PayScale data, social workers with an MSW maintain a salary advantage over those with only a BSW throughout their careers:

DEGREEENTRY (0-5 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE)MIDCAREER (5-10 YEARS)EXPERIENCED (10-20 YEARS)LATE CAREER (20+ YEARS)
Social worker (MSW)$43,328$47,432$53,466$60,349
Social worker (BSW)$34,982$40,256$42,172$44,300

Given the lack of disaggregated data, it’s difficult to determine how well MSW grads do compared to BSW grads across specialties. Some of the specialties listed below include non-clinical roles for those without a master’s degree. Nonetheless, the following numbers do offer some insight into salary patterns for social workers in different specialties:

SPECIALIZATIONENTRY (0-5 YEARS’ EXPERIENCE)MIDCAREER (5-10 YEARS)EXPERIENCED (10-20 YEARS)LATE CAREER (20+ YEARS)
Child, family or school social worker$38,676$42,100$50,780$53,000
Licensed clinical social worker$49,926$55,402$59,341$62,048
Medical social worker$48,736$51,791$57,036$59,545
School social worker$44,259$49,978$52,724$61,986

When it comes to employment outlook, social workers are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the profession to add nearly 110,000 jobs between 2016 and 2026, representing a 16 percent increase.

Of the jobs adds, certain specialties are expected to see more growth than others, according to BLS:

  • 45,000 jobs are expected for child, family and school social workers, a 14% increase on 2015 figures
  • 35,400 jobs are expected for healthcare social workers, a 20% increase
  • 23,900 jobs are expected for mental health and substance abuse social workers, a 19% increase

A closer look at changing political and social dynamics can partly explain the projected growth. Bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system may further increase demand for substance abuse social workers. As the BLS points out, drug offenders are now being sent to treatment programs with social workers rather than jail. Meanwhile, increased access to healthcare through the Affordable Care Act, paired with the retiring generation of Baby Boomers, contributes to the need for healthcare social workers.

Online Master’s in Social Work Program Accreditation

When it comes to accreditation, there are two types you need to look for: regional accreditation for the college and programmatic accreditation of the MSW.

Regional accreditation is granted by regional agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. In short, these bodies affirm that the school provides enrollees with an education that meets acceptable standards. Although schools can instead seek out national accreditation, as many technical and vocational schools do, this is far less valuable for social work students, who must have graduated from a BSW program at a regionally accredited school to enroll in an MSW program that is recognized by the Council on Social Work Education.

CSWE is the primary programmatic accrediting body for the discipline. Although each state maintains its own requirements for professional licensure, all states require a degree from a CSWE-accredited school. Once out of school, graduates from such programs can sit for one of two certifications previously mentioned, provided they meet all other requirements established by their state: licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) or licensed master social worker (LMSW).

As of 2018, CSWE accredits nearly 70 online MSW programs in the U.S. It maintains a list of accredited online programs as well as a list of all accredited institutions, both on-campus and off-campus, which can be filtered by concentration.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Social Work Degree

Like students of any other program, MSW-seekers must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for scholarships, grants and loans from the federal or state government. Colleges typically require a FAFSA to compete for their own grant and loan programs as well. For detailed information about FAFSA and scholarship sources, see our financial aid guides. Some that might be of interest are:

Speaking of alternative means of financing a degree, those holding a bachelor’s in social work have an advantage: They hold a job that’s in high demand. An online program gives them the flexibility to seek out a new degree without losing their current source of income. And some employers may provide tuition reimbursement for education that directly impacts their employees’ work. Contact your human resources department to find out whether your employer offer this benefit.

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