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Best Online Social Work Bachelor’s Degree Programs ONLINE Social Work Degree

Best Online Social Work Degree for 2016-2017

An online degree in social work can help students take the first step towards a rewarding career that assists community members from all walks of life. Enrolling in a degree program that meets the students’ needs in regards to cost, resources, class size, and other factors is vital to academic success, which is why we have found the top online social work degree programs in the country based on these criteria. Explore the top online social work degrees for 2016-2017 below.

Rank School Name Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % #ONLINE PROGRAMS Student-teacher RatioGrad Rate
1 University of Alaska Fairbanks 99.80 43% 6 14:1 33%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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2 The University of Alabama 99.20 53% 4 21:1 67%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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3 Goodwin College 99.02 91% 4 10:1 N/A
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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4 Northern Arizona University 98.23 66% 3 18:1 49%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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5 Washburn University 97.92 58% 3 14:1 34%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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6 Washington State University 97.69 51% 3 15:1 67%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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7 University of Arizona 97.18 77% 2 20:1 61%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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8 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin 97.10 86% 1 18:1 37%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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9 Missouri State University-Springfield 95.92 51% 2 20:1 55%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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10 Viterbo University 95.83 100% 1 11:1 53%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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11 Western New Mexico University 95.81 26% 2 16:1 16%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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12 Utah State University 95.13 51% 1 22:1 50%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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13 Salisbury University 95.06 61% 2 16:1 67%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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14 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Shenango 95.00 71% 2 11:1 30%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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15 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Brandywine 94.75 61% 3 15:1 35%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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16 Prairie View A & M University 94.66 35% 2 18:1 36%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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17 California State University-East Bay 94.58 52% 1 27:1 41%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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18 University of Utah 94.55 41% 1 17:1 59%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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19 Brigham Young University-Idaho 94.43 36% 1 25:1 52%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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20 Indiana Wesleyan University 94.36 50% 2 16:1 70%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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21 Mayville State University 94.24 76% 1 17:1 39%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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22 Penn State World Campus 94.14 37% 4 17:1 86%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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23 Colorado State University-Fort Collins 94.11 48% 1 16:1 63%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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24 Mercy College 94.03 88% 2 19:1 34%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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25 Mid-Atlantic Christian University 93.90 72% 1 12:1 61%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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26 Union Institute & University 93.87 15% 3 8:1 27%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesNo
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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27 Brescia University 93.73 89% 1 14:1 46%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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28 Wayne State University 93.71 80% 1 15:1 28%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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29 Hannibal-LaGrange University 93.69 84% 1 12:1 51%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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30 Thomas University 93.66 86% 2 10:1 14%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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31 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Altoona 93.57 56% 2 17:1 67%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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32 Amridge University 93.52 100% 1 10:1 N/A
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesNo
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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33 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State York 93.50 55% 2 14:1 43%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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34 Metropolitan State University of Denver 93.24 18% 2 19:1 25%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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35 Spring Arbor University 92.99 99% 1 12:1 52%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesNo
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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36 University of North Alabama 92.57 51% 1 17:1 32%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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37 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Worthington Scranton 92.43 40% 2 16:1 48%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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38 Oregon State University 92.35 55% 1 19:1 61%
  • Credit for ExperienceNo
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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39 Presentation College 91.76 99% 1 10:1 44%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesNo
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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40 North Dakota State University-Main Campus 91.48 37% 1 19:1 53%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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41 Bemidji State University 90.87 43% 1 22:1 44%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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42 University of Wisconsin-Stout 90.10 23% 1 20:1 52%
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesYes
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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43 Brandman University 86.00 10% 1 15:1 N/A
  • Credit for ExperienceYes
  • Placement ServicesNo
  • Counseling ServicesYes
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As defined by the International Association of Schools of Social Work, social work has four major mandates: to promote social development, social change and social cohesion and to empower people. Whether through academic study or professional practice, the field draws upon the integrated social, cultural, economic and personal factors that impact human behavior and development. In turn, social workers are concerned for the well-being of others, providing direct practice advocacy, intervention and case management services in a variety of settings.

Social work is a growingly in-demand career field, one projected to display 19 percent growth nationally between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That should be good news to prospective students considering pursuing employment in the field. Workers in this diverse occupation are found in numerous industries, ranging from government organizations to nonprofit agencies, human services to health care. This guide serves as an introduction to the online social work degree, with an examination of education options as well as a Q&A with an experienced social worker.

The path to a career in social work includes multiple educational achievements at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The two most common degrees are the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and the Master of Social Work (MSW). BSW curriculum develops the core competencies of students, preparing them for generalist practice, while the MSW enhances those competencies through advanced study of particular areas of concentration.

MEET THE Expert: Caitlyn Wallace

Caitlyn Wallace has been volunteering or working in the social service field in one form or another since 2001. She graduated with an MSW from the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare in 2009, with a specialization in Community Mental Health. She has worked with children, adolescents, adults and seniors in inpatient and outpatient settings, as well as working as an advocate, community organizer and case manager. She is a clinical social work intern working in a community mental health center and is committed to providing mental health and wellbeing services to under-served populations.

Broadly, programs in social work combine conceptual, theory-based study with hands-on, application-based instruction in subjects such as intervention, counseling and therapy, policy, case management, advocacy and education. Coupled with experience-focused internships and practicums, online BSW and MSW programs provide students with a comprehensive understanding of social work practice, preparing them to pursue an assortment of professional opportunities. Entering this field requires more than just a degree, and the following guide offers insights into specific academic opportunities and specializations, with advice for selecting online programs.

Social work education programs are available in multiple distance-based formats, including the following:

Online. Social work degree is completed 100 percent online. Blended. Program includes hybrid mix of online courses with in-person classes or learning sessions. Online Degree Completion. Students who either have an associate degree or meet credit requirements can finish their BSW through online courses.

For social work and other subjects, web-based courses are delivered via both real-time synchronous and asynchronous formats, taking advantage of a variety of learning technologies and resources, such as interactive video, chat boards and other forms of instructional media.

Online Social Work Degree Timeline

Social work education at undergraduate and graduate levels (master’s and doctoral) is responsible for paving the way for future leaders within the professional community. To maintain continuity, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) – the main accrediting body for baccalaureate and master’s social work programs – has created an educational policy and accreditation standards. This policy provides the guiding context in which universities design their social work degree programs, specifically in three major areas: curriculum, field experience and student development. In turn, these items are important for the prospective student to review and understand. The program overview below analyzes the curriculum, field experience and student development components for each degree level. Program specifics such as the credits required and time to completion vary from university to university.

Online Bachelor of Social Work

Generally, online BSW programs require between 120 and 128 semester credit hours, with full-time students usually graduating in four years. BSW programs are designed to prepare graduates for entry-level positions as generalist practitioners in human service positions. Studies introduce an array of topics including ethics, diversity, human behavior, at-risk populations, social environments, psychology and more. These courses shape the fundamental skills of the profession: assessment, case management, social work practice, social welfare policy and research methods. To learn more about what courses and specializations are important for different career paths, visit our guide to careers in social work.

Divided between general education and classes for the major, the BSW emphasizes both academics and real-world experience. Students admitted to the major typically complete core coursework during the first two years of the program and transition to social work courses in the final two years, culminating in a supervised internship with a social services agency. The number of required field work hours varies, but usually falls between 400 and 500. For the field education component, students work with a faculty advisor or site placement coordinator to arrange placement in an agency or organization. Students may interact with a variety of individuals, groups and families dealing with a range of personal, behavioral and social issues.

Syracuse University
  • Enrollment: 25,932
  • Tuition: $39,004
  • College Type: Private
  • State: New York
  • Bachelor of Science in Social Work
Wayne State University
  • Enrollment: 23,232
  • Tuition: $10,190
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Michigan
  • Bachelor of Social Work in Social Work
Indiana Wesleyan University
  • Enrollment: 15,890
  • Tuition: $23,164
  • College Type: Private
  • State: Indiana
  • Bachelor of Social Work
Touro College
  • Enrollment: 8,931
  • Tuition: $14,850
  • College Type: Private
  • State: New York
  • Bachelor of Arts in Social Work
Washburn University
  • Enrollment: 7,386
  • Tuition: $5,486
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Kansas
  • Bachelor of Social Work
Brandman University
  • Enrollment: 5,805
  • Tuition: NR
  • College Type: Private
  • State: California
  • Bachelor of Arts in Social Work
Western New Mexico University
  • Enrollment: 3,798
  • Tuition: $4,314
  • College Type: Public
  • State: New Mexico
  • Bachelor of Social Work
Wayne State College
  • Enrollment: 3,248
  • Tuition: $5,520
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Nebraska
  • Bachelor of Social Work

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The MSW allows students to focus on their concentration, providing the opportunity to not only enhance their theoretical knowledge of the field, but become an advanced practitioner through hands-on clinical experience. Online MSW students can develop skills in myriad areas: policy development, intervention, counseling, advocacy, primary prevention and more. Visit our full guide to online MSW programs to get detailed information about this advanced degree option, including how to identify the best schools, admissions and graduation requirements, and top careers after college.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Social Work

Students interested in education post-MSW have two paths to select from: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Social Work (DSW). These degrees represent the highest level education available to social workers and students. On the one hand, the social work PhD is an academic, research-focused degree for individuals seeking to become researchers or faculty members at higher education institutions. On the other, the DSW is a professional degree aimed at those interested in developing their knowledge and skills to become advanced clinical practitioners. Learn more about these advanced options and see which online doctorate in social work makes the most sense for you.

Find the Right Program for a Social Work Degree Online

With such a diversity of educational options, figuring out the appropriate fit for the online student can be challenging. There are several factors that impact the choice of undergraduate and graduate programs alike.

CSWE accreditation.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the primary accrediting body for academic programs, whether on-campus or online. As of February 2015, the CSWE has accredited 504 BSW and 235 MSW programs in the United States, including blended and distance learning options.

Faculty background.

Social work faculty members are one of the primary drivers of the quality and success of both undergraduate and graduate programs. Prospective students should consider the faculty mix of the department, each instructor’s professional and educational background, experience, licenses and specialized certifications.

Field placement process.

At all levels, hands-on experience is vital to an education in social work. Prospective students should investigate the field placement process, specifically site selection and whether opportunities are available in their own local communities. Applicants can also research the number of hours required to complete that portion of the degree.

Online and onsite courses.

The overall distance learning experience is among the key criteria for choosing an online degree program in social work. Students at all levels should be comfortable with alternative learning formats and understand how content is delivered (asynchronous or synchronous mode) and where (over the Internet or on campus).

Licensing and Certification for Social Work

For the clinical social worker, licensing and certifications are required in order to maintain the professional standards and ethics of the practice. Licensure is determined at the state level, as each state sets its own educational guidelines and policies. However – typically speaking – clinical licensure has the following basic requirements:

Completion and graduation from a CSWE accredited MSW program Finishing at least two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience (post-graduation) Successfully passing credential examination from the Association of Social Work Boards

There are several kinds of social work licenses, each one requiring different levels of experience, education and training. After earning a license, social workers may choose to acquire additional certifications from organizations such as the National Association of Social Workers. Below is a list of common social work licenses:

Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW).

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in social work can apply for an LBSW license. Designed for entry-level social workers, this certification requires the applicant to meet educational and supervised clinical experience standards.

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).

The LMSW is for individuals who have completed a master’s or doctoral degree in the field. The requirements typically include post-graduate work experience hours and the successful completion of a standard examination.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LSCSW).

This is the primary designation for clinical practitioners. Work experience, an MSW degree and examinations are all part of the requirements for this certification.

Here are some of the major certification and membership organizations for social work:

Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

The ASWB focuses on social work regulation. It comprises the regulatory boards of all U.S. states except California, as well as the District of Columbia, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Four examinations are available: Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist and Clinical.

National Association of Social Workers.

The NASW organization, with 132,000 members, offers various career development opportunities. Credentials are divided into two groups: professional social work (e.g., diplomate in clinical social work) and advanced practice specialties, for example, qualified clinical social worker or certified school social work specialist.

American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (ABE).

Social workers can select from ABE credentials in these areas: clinical supervision, children and their families, psychoanalysis and advanced generalist, also known as Board Certified Diplomate (BCD).

For more information on how to obtain your certification, read our guide to social work licensing and certification.

Interview with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Suzette Doescher, LCSW-S, of Richardson, TX, has more than 15 years of experience in the field. Suzette came to this career later in life as a non-traditional student – completing her degree and becoming a social worker at the age of 50.

What is your current role?

I currently work in an independent practice that focuses on the adult population. I specialize in trauma, PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I am currently in the process of writing a paper on DID as an archetype to earn certification as an Archetypal Pattern Analyst, a type of depth psychology

Where did you get your degree?

Since graduating high school in the 1960s, I always dreamed of going to Tulane University. And, 30 years later, I had not one, but two degrees from the university.

Why did you choose a career in social work?

I cannot say I consciously chose my career. In fact, my life’s experiences put me into a position where the choice was made from me. I’m sure you have heard that most people enter the therapy professions because they have their own issues they are still dealing with. I am no exception to that rule. At the ripe old age of 50, I became a social worker. I wanted to go to graduate school but was terrified of the GRE. I didn’t believe I could pass it after being out of school for 30 years. Someone mentioned to me the school of social work at Tulane University did not require the GRE. Hence, you now have the story of how I chose my career.

What’s the best part of the social work profession?

The best thing about my profession is the diversity. There is always some area of social work that can be pursued, matched to what that individual wants to do. For me, being a social worker is not a job, not a career, but a vocation – it’s a calling. Many of the cases I handle are difficult. People frequently ask me how I can listen to such horrible life circumstances all day. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have done it when I was younger. I was not ready.

What advice do you have for prospective social work students?

My supervisees ask me that question quite often. My answer now is different than what I would have said when I was younger. If you want to help people, the first person you have to help is yourself. What I have learned in my experience is that it is important to take care of yourself if you are going to dedicate your life to caring for others. I routinely tell my clients that I’m not going to work harder at their recovery than they are: I’m going to teach you how to make yourself better, not try to make you feel better, so you can rely on that when you leave this office. But, I’ve also have had clients leave the office and never come back. So, students should know they can’t save the world – they can only save those who want to save themselves.

Social Work Education Degree Search Tool

Given the projected growth of the field, many students are now seeking online programs in social work. The good news is that many schools are answering this call with innovative degrees that can be completed fully online. Whether pursuing a bachelor’s degree or a doctorate, prospective students need programs that provide proper accreditation, excellent faculty credentials, field placement opportunities, and flexible course scheduling. The search tool below uses all of these criteria to provide each student with a tailored list of online programs in social work to meet their needs.