Social workers and licensed clinical social workers find rewarding jobs with social agencies, mental health/substance abuse clinics, hospitals, and schools. Students who have already earned a bachelor degree can apply for admission to one of over 200 Master’s of Social Work (MSW) degree programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The curriculum leads to a generalist MSW designation or one of many specializations that match the student’s career goals.
The field is vibrant. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a rise in the employment of social workers by 16 percent, 2016 to 2026. The greatest projected growth is anticipated for healthcare social workers (20 percent). The BLS reports a top social worker’s salary of $79,740, with the median annual wage of $47,980. All states require licensure for clinical social workers who provide assessment and therapy for individuals, couples, and families. There is no related licensure required for social workers who support agencies in program planning, grant funding, and public policy.
Not everyone is well-suited to pursuing an MSW on a full-time basis. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of qualified part-time MSW alternatives and many of them are offered in online formats. The online degree carries the same weight as on-campus equivalents. Both programs require a strenuous, supervised field experience. Need to know more? The following comprehensive guide ranks the top online, part-time MSW programs in the country so you can make a wise choice. Here are tips for online success, specifically for part-time MSW students:
Each MSW program for part-time, online students is comprised of a general, core education along with courses in a specialized field within the major. Despite the part-time, online class format, students must maintain regular online attendance and attain acceptable levels of academic performance. Here are 10 key questions asked by individuals evaluating an online MSW program:
A: It’s not as hard as you think. Many students build lasting communities with their MSW peers for help with job searches, locating MSW research sources, and reliable publications from the online library. First, learn the software for your school: multimedia and videos, email communications and the use of the class discussion or bulletin board feature. Learn the institution’s or class etiquette for posting conversation strings, emails and posting. Avoid the usage of all capital letters and respond to faculty or classmate emails promptly and courteously.
A: Even though you’re attending part-time classes online, don’t mistake thinking that a smaller class load is a reason to study less. Devote 6-9 hours daily for each three-credit online course or a minimum of 27 hours a week. Create a study calendar that doesn’t interfere with work, family or social commitments. If the course assignment or syllabus is confusing, be sure to email your professors to get things clarified — early. For online courses in real-time, be sure to log-on at the starting time.
A: That depends on the school and part-time syllabi. Some programs offer statistics in their foundation studies in social welfare research. It can speed up progress toward the degree if students complete a statistics course before entering their MSW program.
A: Work with your faculty or MSW advisors to choose the best non-profit or public agency that is related to your career goals. Off-campus or online students typically find a field education facility serving their community with a convenient commute. The agency is responsible for communicating their goals, their programs, their client populations, and legal/safety policies. Students may be required to pass a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) evaluation before obtaining permission to participate in the agency.
A: Most accredited schools will not grant academic or field credits for previous experience. Some departments may reduce field experience hours depending on clinical experience. Some will not. Accrediting bodies, such as the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), will not permit member institutions to grant credits based on experience.
A: In addition to MSW specializations and a social work core (research methods, ethics, and practice principles) a well-rounded online curriculum should address Community Practice, Clinical Practice, and an Integrated Clinical/Community Practice.
A: Most states require clinical social workers to hold a license, though requirements may vary. All states require applicants to pass the Association of Social Work Board licensing examination covering master’s, clinical, and advanced generalist specialties.
A: With faculty advice, MSW students choose electives that dovetail with their specialties. For example, electives can include studies in specific client populations, performing crisis interventions, establishing and following social policy, procedures for grief counseling, or conducting family assessments and interventions.
A: Not necessarily. Some programs require that students maintain progress throughout the year for online part-time MSW students. It’s an opportunity to catch up on units toward the degree or shorten time to graduation. Most schools do not allow summer field education/internships. Your program can also require on-campus summer attendance for conferences and workshops.
A: Depending on the school, the advanced generalist program concentrates on both Clinical and Macro social work. Clinical studies prepare the student for work with individuals, families, and other groups to determine the correct interventions and counseling services. The Macro social work curriculum prepares students for participation in agency policy, program planning and evaluation.
Nationwide, MSW degree programs may have unique specialty courses and internship requirements. What they typically share is a progression from generalist-practice studies to a specialized-practice education with electives. Here are some class titles and descriptions of generalist and specialized-practice courses:
This generalist course establishes a thorough understanding of basic skills and knowledge required to pursue a specialty. It is one of two required generalist courses for entering students.
This generalist course explores current research, diagnostic methodology, and social issues. Introduction to clinical syndromes that cause emotional distress in adult and child populations.
Students seeking a clinically-oriented specialty can build a working base for group practice. Emphasis is on group formation, group dynamics, group development, leadership techniques, and on long-term group psychotherapy principles.
Social workers choosing to practice in a public education setting should learn advanced principles of performing interventions, addressing policies and practice concerns, and how best to serve the special needs population.
Part-time students must complete 10 to 14 internship hours per week by their final semester. Choose from a range of local social service organizations, including human service organizations, alcohol and addiction treatment centers, mental health agencies, schools, and correctional facilities.
Part-time, online MSW programs can take from two and a half to four years to complete. Often students opt for part-time programs to keep from losing their jobs or overburdening their finances. Others prefer relatively small course loads to save money on tuition. Whether you’re attending on a full or part-time basis it can be beneficial to receive scholarships and grant assistance. Note that some financial aid programs are restricted to full-time students. Also note that many social work schools offer their own dedicated grants and scholarships to their own students. Here are several sources for financial aid:
The council administers Social Work HEALS (Social Work Health Care Education and Leadership Scholars). Qualified graduate scholars in accredited MSW programs may receive fellowships and scholarships to offset the cost of their program.
The National Association of Social Workers offers 10 scholarships of $40,000 to support the education of Master's degree candidates in social work. To become eligible, students must prepare to serve communities of residents hailing from American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino backgrounds.
(AAUW). This non-profit association recently awarded $3.9 million in grants and scholarships to 250 women and community-related projects serving women and girls. AAUW also offers Career Development Grants to baccalaureate grads – with priority given to women of color – who are undertaking graduate work or returning to school.
The U.S. Department of Education has established the PSLF to forgive the balance of undergraduate/graduate Direct Loans that are not in default. Students can apply for PSLF once they have paid 120 monthly payments and are employed in a public service organization.
Established in 1925, The Leopold Schepp Foundation hands out fellowships up to $9,000 to graduate students under age 40 who demonstrate financial need. Applicants must have maintained a minimum grade-point-average of 3.3.
This membership networking community for social workers provides scholarships to the graduate school author of an outstanding clinical paper. The Holm Award Program pays $1,000 through judging based on the student’s Master’s thesis.
Students and social workers should be aware of current or emergent treatment methodologies, how accreditations matter, and the state licensing standards for the profession. The following organizations and associations promote ethics and best practices in social work, applicable to students and professionals:
An individual membership association, CSWA performs legislation advocacy, offers discounted comprehensive professional liability insurance, and support for current licensed social workers and students preparing for the field. The CSWA job board is home to a job search tool and interview preparation articles.
(NASW). Over 120,000 social workers and managers belong to the NASW, making it the world’s largest membership organization of professional social workers. Members can use resources that facilitate professional growth, including the NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Social Work Journal, and continuing education opportunities.
Created in San Francisco in 1968, the NABSA was part of the cultural outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement. It hosts national and international annual conferences and advocates in career advancement to the decision and policy-making levels at social work organizations.
The NCCPR Blog offers timely reports on issues including foster care, child abuse, family preservation, and child welfare. Many of the research documents are posted on the organization website at www.nccpr.org.
LSWO is dedicated to the recruitment and retention of Latinos working in social work and mentorship to students preparing for the profession. The Career Center hosts a job board and information on MSW salaries and benefits.
(CSWE). Since its founding in 1952, CSWE has grown to represent more than 800 social work degree programs. The organization establishes and maintains accreditation standards for colleges and universities. Members receive the Journal of Social Work Education.
This valuable resource helps members to register for the licensing exam and take online practice tests with standardized 170 multiple-choice questions. Its Group Review Practice Test is designed for social work schools accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
5 Tips to Interact Successfully with Professors and Students in Online CoursesU.S. News and World Report
Course DescriptionsNYU School of Social Work
Course Electives by SpecializationLoyola University Department of Social Work
Field Education in Online MSW ProgramsOnline MSW Programs
On-Campus vs Online MSW Programs: Is an Online MSW Right for You?Social Work Guide
MSW Coursework and SyllabiRutgers University
Paying for Social Work DegreesCollege Scholarships, org
Part-Time MSW Program Frequently Asked QuestionsSchool of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Part-Time Online Master of Social Work Programs for Traditional Standing StudentsOnline MSW Programs
Program Description – Social Work Internship and Field Placement (Master’s Level)North Carolina State University
Social Work Master’s Programs OnlineSocial Work Guide
Social WorkersU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Top 10 Financial Aid Resources for Graduate StudentsUniversity of Southern California School of Social Work
What Is an Advanced Generalist Master of Social Work (MSW) Program?OnlineEducation.com