Part-Time MSW Programs

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FAQs, Resources & the Best Part-Time MSW Programs

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:

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Tips for Passing a Part-time MSW Program

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:

Q: How can I maintain good communication with faculty and peers?

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.

Q: What can part-time MSW students do to achieve success with online coursework?

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.

Q: Do I need knowledge and proficiency in statistics for entering an MSW program?

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.

Q: What can I expect in my required field education or internship?

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.

Q: Can I receive credits for previous field experience?

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.

Q: Are there focus areas common to most part-time, online MSW programs?

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.

Q: Do I need to get a social work license?

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.

Q: Which kind of electives are offered in part-time MSW programs?

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.

Q: Will I have my summers free?

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.

Q: What is the focus of the advanced generalist specialty?

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.

Examples of Part-time MSW Courses

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:

Social Work Practice for Individuals and Families.

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.

Advanced Group Theory and Practice.

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 Work in the Schools.

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.

Field Education Practicum.

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.

Scholarships & Resources for Part-time MSW Programs

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:

Council on Social Work Education

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.

Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship

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.

The American Association of University Women

(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.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

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.

Schepp Foundation Scholarship

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.

EPICC Scholarship Program

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:

The Clinical Social Work Association

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.

The National Association of Social Workers

(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.

National Association of Black Social Workers

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 National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

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

The Latino Social Workers Organization

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.

The Council on Social Work Education

(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.

The Association of Social Work Boards

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.


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