The Best Online Degree Programs In Social Work 2020

Rankings, Salaries & Courses

Updated on: 03/20/2020
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If you have a genuine desire to help others manage life's challenges, a job as a social worker may suit you. Social workers help people cope with addiction, depression, homelessness, abandonment, and joblessness.

If you aspire to earn a social work degree but you wonder how to afford college, keep reading. This guide features the most affordable colleges, including the most affordable online social work degrees. Continue reading for answers to common questions about social work education such as program availability, accreditation, income potential, and career options.

Top 10 Best Bachelor's Degree Programs in Social Work 2020

School Tuition
1 Mary Baldwin University $16,556
2 Huntington University $19,709
3 Saint Joseph's College of Maine $27,221
4 University of Utah $13,460
5 Misericordia University $24,669
6 Ursuline College $17,054
7 Spring Arbor University $20,000
8 Northwestern State University of Louisiana $10,448
9 University of Arkansas at Little Rock $13,256
10 Aurora University $18,234


  • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
  • Offers at least one masters-level program in Communications
  • At least some portion of coursework may be taken via distance education
Ranking Metrics:
  • Number of specializations available in Communications 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.
  • In addition, we use the Department of Education Federal Student Aid office’s (Link: 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.

The Best Online Bachelor's Programs
in Social Work for 2020

The schools in this ranking represent some of the most affordable online bachelor's degree programs in social work.

Aside from affordability, these schools also score highly in several other relevant factors, such as availability of specialization areas, accreditation, and internship opportunities.

Rank Logo School Tuition # of Online Programs Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid Credit For Experience Placement Service Counseling Services Description & Additional Information Toggle
1 Mary Baldwin University Staunton, VA
$16,556 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

MBU, a small private institution founded in 1842, offers more than 30 online distance learning degrees. The school's affordable online social work degree allows students to take concentrations in medical or school social work. Classes give degree-seekers practical skills to interview individuals and families, manage on-the-job stress, and conduct interventions. Students can take most classes online, except for five courses which learners must complete in a group setting at regional centers in Virginia. The program offers night and weekend class options. Additionally, degree-seekers must complete a 450-hour practicum in their senior year. The practicum takes about 14 weeks to complete and gives learners the option to work internationally in Haiti or Honduras. Mary Baldwin University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

2 Huntington University Huntington, IN
$19,709 Tuition
99% Financial Aid

Huntington University, a private Christian liberal arts school founded in 1897, features more than 70 undergraduate, graduate, and pre-professional programs. The university offers eight distance learning programs, including the online bachelor's in social work degree. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the program provides a Christian-based education that can lead to licensure in all states. The 128-credit degree helps working professionals grow in the field of social work. It also prepares them to earn a master's in counseling. With shortened five-week semesters, learners take weekly classes that follow an asynchronous format. The program covers social policy, intercultural immersion preparation, and professional interviewing. While courses take place online, students also participate in practicums and shadow social workers to get hands-on experience. The practicum requires students to complete 450 hours of fieldwork. Huntington University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

3 Saint Joseph's College of Maine Standish, ME
$27,221 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

A private Catholic school on a 474-acre campus on Sebago Lake, SJC offers several affordable online degrees. With a broad curriculum, the online bachelor's in social work degree prepares students to work as generalists. Courses teach students about quantitative methods and data analysis, writing for social work, addiction and abuse, research, and policy. The program's cohort format ensures that students can engage with faculty and classmates throughout their studies. Most online classes offer asynchronous formats which let learners tailor their school schedule. However, degree-seekers also must complete fieldwork. They gain practical skills through two internships, including a one-year position. After completing this degree, students can earn advanced standing in a master's social work program. The curriculum also prepares graduates to earn their social work license. SJC accepts employer tuition reimbursement. The application process is free. Saint Joseph's College of Maine is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

4 University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT
$13,460 Tuition
85% Financial Aid

Established in 1850, the University of Utah features more than 100 undergraduate degrees, including an affordable online bachelor's in social work degree. Students receive flat-rate tuition. Out-of-state learners who take online classes can also benefit from in-state rates. The program consists of classes in social work statistics, social diversity, community-based research, social welfare policy, and research. On average, degree-seekers take 12-15 credits a semester and graduate in 3-4 semesters. Graduates find careers in family services, aging and gerontology, human services, and juvenile justice. Online classes at this affordable online college offer an interactive learning experience where students collaborate in group assignments. Learners also complete in-person fieldwork. Students who want to work with children and families can qualify for the Child Welfare Title IV-E Career Path grant, which includes in-state tuition, a stipend of $1,100, a $500 incentive, and job placement. The University of Utah is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

5 Misericordia University Dallas, PA
$24,669 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

Based in northeast Pennsylvania, MU features a 121-credit online bachelor's in social work degree that provides students an accelerated path to graduate in as few as two years. With a blended hybrid and online format, the program appeals to working adults. Students can start at any time in the year and begin by taking prerequisites and elective classes in sequential order. Courses give degree-seekers a foundation in comparative sociology, social problems, cultural minorities, and basic statistics. MU maintains partnerships with agencies that allow students to complete their fieldwork on the weekends or in the evenings. Degree-seekers must complete 600 hours of supervised fieldwork. Graduates receive the training to earn their social work license in Pennsylvania and other states. After earning a degree, students can enter a master's in social work program with advanced standing. Online students receive discounted tuition. Misericordia University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

6 Ursuline College Pepper Pike, OH
$17,054 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

Ursuline College offers accelerated degrees available on campus in Pepper Pike, Ohio, and online. The online bachelor's in social work degree allows working adults to advance their careers and obtain licensure or enter grad school. Learners take 15-week semesters with classes that teach a generalist practice. Classes focus on research methods, theory, human behavior and social environment, and social welfare. In the final year, professors consider each student's career goals to place them in local agencies for their fieldwork. While in the program, students take 15 graduate-level classes that prepare them for advanced placement in a master's in social work program at Western Reserve University. Applicants must complete prerequisites, including taking the SW 338 theory course. Once they apply, degree-seekers receive an admission decision within two weeks. The application must include two recommendation letters. Ursuline College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

7 Spring Arbor University Spring Arbor, MI
$20,000 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

Established in 1873, SAU delivers a Christian-centered education with traditional on-campus and online classes. The university features online programs in nursing, business, communications, education, organizational management, and social work. SAU's online bachelor's in social work degree lets students complete their education entirely online. While learners study from a distance, they receive guidance from a faculty member throughout their education. The 124-credit program also requires an internship in which students must complete a minimum of 400 hours in the field. Courses provide degree-seekers with practical social work skills from a Christian perspective. Students take classes in racial and ethnic relations, interviewing, biblical perspectives, and social welfare policies. Eligible learners can also qualify for a child welfare endorsement and receive specialized training opportunities. Applicants must submit an online application, autobiographical essay, and writing sample. The admission office gives preference to students currently working in the field. Spring Arbor University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

8 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA
$10,448 Tuition
97% Financial Aid

NSU provides classes from its historic campus built more than 130 years ago in Natchitoches. The university also offers more than 40 online programs through eNSU. The school's 120-credit online bachelor's in social work degree, a program offered since 1970, teaches students a generalist approach that applies to a variety of different social work careers. In the program's final year, students complete two semesters in supervised fieldwork. Graduates can pursue entry-level positions in child welfare, aging, alcohol and substance abuse, and mental health and illness. Individuals can also transfer degree credits toward a master's in social work degree. Out-of-state students enrolled in an online degree do not pay out-of-state fees. NSU also discounts tuition after 12 credits. Students only pay $100 per credit after 12 credits. Northwestern State University of Louisiana is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

9 University of Arkansas at Little Rock Little Rock, AR
$13,256 Tuition
97% Financial Aid

UA Little Rock offers more than 60 undergraduate and 40 graduate programs. The online bachelor's in social work degree gives students a foundation in a generalist practice that can translate to many different careers. The 120-credit program includes required courses in social welfare policy, statistics, methods of social work research, addictions, and human behavior. In the fall and spring semesters of their final year, students must complete 16 hours a week for their internship. Learners complete a total of 240 hours in fieldwork every semester at local agencies. UA Little Rock maintains transfer agreements with local two-year schools which allows students with prior college credit to earn their degree in two years. All online students pay flat-rate tuition. The school's social work program, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, only accepts Arkansas residents. University of Arkansas at Little Rock is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

10 Aurora University Aurora, IL
$18,234 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

Aurora University offers online degrees available in accelerated five- and eight-week sessions, specifically for working professionals. The online bachelor's in social work degree prepares students to become licensed social workers in Illinois or transfer with advanced standing to a master's in social work program. Depending on students' transfer credits, this 120-credit program takes 2-4 years to complete. Required classes include social welfare, human behavior in the social environment, individuals and families, and social work research. To qualify for the licensure exam, individuals need two years of work experience in addition to the degree. Degree-seekers can save money since instructors use free open education resource materials instead of textbooks. Applicants can transfer up to 68 credits from an associate degree or 90 credits from a four-year college. Aurora University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

11 Briar Cliff University Sioux City, IA
$18,442 Tuition
100% Financial Aid

Briar Cliff University, a private liberal arts school founded in 1930, features online degrees for busy adults and opportunities to earn college credit for prior learning experiences. The online bachelor's in social work degree suits students with at least 77 credits from an associate degree in social work or human services. Degree-seekers take 124 credits in classes, such as social issues and policy, human behavior and social environment, and social science research and methods. The curriculum prepares students for a 450-hour internship. This degree-completion program lets transfer students graduate in two years. In addition to transferring up to 90 credits from an accredited college, learners can also earn credits through exams. The online program does not require campus visits. However, students can meet one-on-one with faculty every week, if needed. The program offers two start dates in the fall and spring. Briar Cliff University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

12 University of Nebraska at Kearney Kearney, NE
$15,975 Tuition
93% Financial Aid

UNK offers about 170 majors, including a fully online bachelor's in social work degree from the College of Arts and Science. Learners gain a foundation in social work practice with groups, research and social welfare, individuals and family, and social policy and programs. The 120-credit program, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since 1982, prepares students to work in adoption, child welfare, family services, substance abuse, and aging services and gerontology through a variety of electives and major courses. The university allows students to transfer up to 66 credits from an associate degree. After completing this program, students qualify for advanced standing in a master's in social work degree. Online programs only admit transfer students, readmit, and post-bachelor's students. Online learners cannot take on-campus courses. University of Nebraska at Kearney is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

13 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
$15,374 Tuition
90% Financial Aid

Established in 1883, UND features more than 225 degrees available on the 521-acre campus in Grand Forks and online. UND's online bachelor's in social work degree lets students graduate in as little as two years, depending on their prior college background. The 120-credit degree allows students to tailor their studies toward their career goals. Degree-seekers can earn minors in gerontology or chemical dependency. Classes run synchronously. Consequently, students must meet with instructors and classmates in real-time using video conferencing technology. Most classes run online, but students must complete some hands-on activities on campus. The program's curriculum leads up to a 450-hour field placement that students can complete in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Eastern Montana, or southern Manitoba. Social work students can find networking opportunities through the Student Social Work Association Phi Alpha. New transfer students and freshmen automatically receive consideration for scholarships. University of North Dakota is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

14 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ
$14,882 Tuition
94% Financial Aid

Since 1899 NAU has offered degrees from its campus in Flagstaff. Now the university boasts more than 20 regional locations throughout Arizona and through online classes. The university features more than 200 programs, including the online bachelor's in social work degree that prepares graduates to work with diverse populations. Degree-seekers complete 120 credits in research; statistics; research methods, policy, and human behavior; and social environment. At the end of the program, learners must complete 450 hours of fieldwork. The coursework prepares students to gain licensure. Eligible learners can gain placement in the Child Welfare Training Project, which features tuition reimbursement for up to two years and a monthly stipend of $500. Project graduates work as child safety specialists in the Arizona Department of Child Safety. Applications must include two references and a completed questionnaire about a student's interest in social work. Northern Arizona University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

15 University of Louisville Louisville, KY
$17,098 Tuition
97% Financial Aid

University of Louisville, a public research institution, offers 40 degrees and certificates with fully online classes designed for adult learners. The online bachelor's in social work degree lets students customize their degree with an optional drug and alcohol counseling track. This concentration includes electives in special issues in alcohol and drug counseling, substance use and substance use disorders, mental health, and motivation and change. The 120-credit program also includes service-learning and practicums. To complete the practicum, students work 16 hours a week in a local area human service agency for a total of 450 hours. The fully online classes let students study on their own time. Degree-seekers can transfer up to 60 credits from two-year colleges and up to 90 credits from four-year schools. This program qualifies students to enter a master's in social work program with advanced standing. University of Louisville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

16 Wayne State University Detroit, MI
$14,366 Tuition
94% Financial Aid

WSU's 13 schools and colleges offer more than 340 programs. The online bachelor's in social work degree, delivered through Where Online Works, offers flexible classes for working adults. The 120-credit degree prepares students for a generalist social work practice. Courses include human behavior and the social environment, research methods, social work practice, and social welfare policy and services. Classes follow traditional on-campus schedules. Learners need a computer with a microphone to participate in online class activities, many of which involve group work. Aside from the 460-credit internship, all classes occur online. Students complete the field requirements over two semesters in their senior year. This degree prepares learners to apply for a license. The program accepts students who have completed a minimum of 60 credits from an accredited college. Wayne State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

17 Troy University Troy, AL
$12,114 Tuition
94% Financial Aid

Troy University, founded in 1887, offers 71 fully online degrees with accelerated nine-week semesters. Offered through the College of Health and Human Services, the bachelor's in social work degree features fully online classes with five start dates available throughout the year. Students complete 120 credits, including 27 core requirements in diversity, ethics, professional communications skills, research, social policy, and human behavior. Using Canvas, learners can access discussions and coursework online at their convenience. They also gain hands-on experience through mandatory community service and a 400-hour internship. The well-rounded curriculum allows graduates to work as marriage and family therapists, healthcare social workers, clerics, and probation officers. Troy offers numerous scholarships for military personnel and their family. The school also offers financial aid for out-of-state transfer students who hold at least 24 credits. Troy University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

18 Brescia University Owensboro, KY
$13,413 Tuition
95% Financial Aid

Brescia University, a Catholic liberal arts school, offers more than 10 programs through its distance learning division. The bachelor of social work degree lets students graduate within two years without ever traveling to campus. Graduates gain the practical skills and knowledge to earn their online master of social work degree. Students can make their schedule but they do need to meet at set times for weekly web chats. Learners take 128 credits, including 57 general education requirements, 18 language and literature credits, nine religions and philosophy credits, nine math credits, 12 social and behavioral science credits, six major electives, and 36 major credits. Students must complete two field practicums in their final year. The program takes an average of two years for students who have completed 86 transferable credits. Applicants can pick from five start dates. Brescia University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

19 Eastern New Mexico University Portales, NM
$10,918 Tuition
98% Financial Aid

Offering more than 60 degrees, ENMU boasts some of the most affordable tuition in the Southwest. Students living within a 135-mile radius of the university receive in-state tuition. ENMU's online bachelor's in social work degree combines asynchronous and synchronous coursework. Most students complete classwork on their own time. However, degree-seekers may occasionally need to participate in class activities at set times. Academic advisors help students throughout their educational journey by phone or email. Students can also receive help through the Online Writing Center. Learners must complete two practicums in their final semesters. They work in the field under supervision for a total of 440 hours. This program typically takes students two years to complete. New students start classes in the fall and spring semesters. Applicants can apply for free. After completing an application, students must interview with the program faculty. Eastern New Mexico University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

20 Western New Mexico University Silver City, NM
$12,773 Tuition
96% Financial Aid

WNMU offers an online bachelor's in social work degree that trains students in a generalist practice for careers in rural areas. The degree requires 120 credits. Degree-seekers take classes in diversity, theory, ethics, and research methods. At the end of the program, learners complete 450 hours of field experience. Field directors place students with agencies that suit their career goals. Degree-seekers work 15 hours a week in the fall and spring semesters and attend weekly Skype meetings. Otherwise, classes run asynchronously and students do not have set class times. Juniors and seniors can enter the Title IV-E Stipend Program through the Children Youth and Families Department, which offers up to $4,500 every semester. WNMU accepts applications throughout the year with three start dates. Tuition does not increase as long as undergraduate students maintain a 2.0 GPA and take 30 credits a year. Western New Mexico University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

21 Bemidji State University Bemidji, MN
$14,814 Tuition
94% Financial Aid

BSU offers more than 65 undergraduate programs, including a wide selection of degree-completion programs available at regional locations or online. BSU's bachelor's in social work degree primarily offers online coursework. However, students must attend in-person classes 3-4 times a year. Learners must also complete an internship. They must complete 480 hours either in one semester or over two semesters. Students can also volunteer through the social work club. The program focuses on teaching students interpersonal relations, human behavior, family dynamics, social welfare policy, and research. Degree-seekers can tailor their degree with a minor in substance and behavioral addictions or a certificate in alcohol and drug counselor. The degree prepares students to obtain licensure in Minnesota. Social work students can apply for the Jeanne Gillen Scholarship, Don Crompton Scholarship, and North Star Scholarship. Bemidji State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

22 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville, TN
$21,019 Tuition
94% Financial Aid

UT is a public research institution with a presence in each of Tennessee's 95 counties. UTK offers an online bachelor of science in social work, which is the first of its kind in Tennessee. The program is geared toward learners who have completed 60 credits and have earned an associate of art or an associate of science degree from a regionally accredited community college. Degree-seekers can complete the program in five years. Students complete courses fully online. Learners can choose electives in courses like trauma, forensic social work, and social work with military and veteran populations. Just like students enrolled in the on-campus program, online learners work with a field coordinator to secure their required practicum placement. The University of Tennessee - Knoxville is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

23 Campbellsville University Campbellsville, KY
$17,843 Tuition
96% Financial Aid

Campbellsville University, a Christian school founded in 1906, features 52 online programs that offer adult learners flexible professional development with a faith-based curriculum. The online bachelor's in social work degree consists of 120 credits that teach students how to assist groups and families from a Christian perspective. With shortened eight-week semesters, degree-seekers can complete the program within two years if they have transfer credits. On average, learners take four years to graduate. Students gain specialized skills with electives in subjects of marriage and family social work, aging, and crisis intervention. Courses focus on providing students with training in general practice. Graduates can pursue entry-level work as substance abuse counselors or school social workers. They can also earn an online master's in social work degree. Students can save money and time by transferring up to 72 credits from an accredited college. Campbellsville University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

24 Touro University Worldwide Los Alamitos, CA
$19,045 Tuition
88% Financial Aid

Through its on-campus and distance learning programs, TUW aims to provide educational opportunities to adult learners and underserved communities. The 120-credit online bachelor's social work degree offers transfer students with 60 college credits the chance to graduate within two years. Otherwise, full-time students need on average 3.5 years to graduate. Part-time students may need up to seven years to complete coursework. The program offers a completely online experience. Students participate in online group assignments and do not need to travel to campus. Learners complete research online through the library databases. Tutors also offer online support. Undergraduates participate in case studies and fieldwork to gain practical experience to work with families and individuals. With a bachelor's in social work, students can enter TUW's master's in social work program. Online students do not pay any additional fees for textbooks. Touro University Worldwide is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

25 King University Bristol, TN
$21,034 Tuition
88% Financial Aid

King University, a Christian private school with public college tuition rates, features more than 90 majors and minors. Students can complete the bachelor of social work degree major coursework within 16 months. The program offers completely online classes. However, degree-seekers must complete a 400-hour practicum to gain hands-on experience. The program includes 124 credits in subjects like research and evaluation, historical foundations and contemporary issues, human diversity and ethical issues, and family and group practice. The college offers multiple start dates in the academic year. Only students who have a minimum of 45 transfer credits can apply for this program. Eligible applicants also need a minimum 2.2 GPA. The application must include a 300-500-word personal statement and an interview with the program committee. King University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

How Much Can You Make in a Social Work Career?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes a median annual salary of $49,470 for social workers in 2018, which is higher than the median salary of $38,640 for all other professions. The job outlook for social workers remains positive, with BLS projecting an 11% growth rate for the profession from 2018 to 2028. By contrast, the average projected growth rate for all other professions for the same period is only 5%.

Where you establish your career as a social worker greatly impacts your income potential. The District of Columbia pays the highest median wage for social workers ($82,900) followed by Hawaii ($81,790), Rhode Island ($75,710), Massachusetts ($75,340), and Nevada ($75,020).

The table below illustrates the different jobs you may qualify for with a bachelor's in social work from an accredited institution. Note that some jobs are in related professional arenas rather than strictly within the social work field.

Job Description

Social workers assist communities by helping individuals during transitional times, linking families to financial resources, and creating programs that address community issues. Social workers may also investigate child abuse reports or tend to mentally ill clients. Other responsibilities include record keeping, making return visits to homes to determine progress, and carefully considering each situation to identify specific needs.

Job Description

Counselors help people struggling with addiction or mental illness by assessing treatment needs and choosing applicable treatment programs. Additional tasks include discussing treatment plans with clients, informing clients of negative behavioral patterns, and recommending external programs that may help with recovery.

Job Description

Professional responsibilities vary depending on a worker's focus. For instance, some assistants help financially struggling parents acquire food stamps, while others help individuals with special needs locate rehabilitation organizations. These workers create treatment itineraries, assist clients with bathing or other common tasks, and touch base with clients to evaluate program effectiveness.

Job Description

These officers and specialists administer drug tests for people on probation or parole. They also discuss an individual's progress with friends and family. Additional responsibilities may include assessing rehabilitation needs and providing information about helpful programs and organizations. At times, these workers may supply court testimonies regarding parolees and probationers; thus, they should keep updated records regarding their clients.

Job Description

Social and community service managers identify community issues by consulting local citizens and then oversee programs that tend to these needs. Specifically, managers recommend strategies to improve programs, assess the impact of programs, and help secure additional funding. These employees can work for organizations that focus on specific groups, including veterans, the elderly, or the homeless.

Sources: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions

Do social workers need a license?

All states require doctorate-trained clinical social workers to obtain a license before they can practice. Most states require social workers with a master's degree to be licensed as well, whether they engage in clinical practice or not. Many states issue an initial license for social workers who have completed a bachelor's degree in the field from an accredited college or university.

How long does it take to become a social worker?

A bachelor's degree in social work typically takes four years to complete. Pursuing a master's program usually means another two years of study. Some schools accept bachelor of social work (BSW) graduates as advanced-standing students, which means they can earn a master of social work (MSW) in just one year. Most doctoral programs in social work take 3-5 years to complete. Clinical psychologists need a doctor of social work (DSW) to practice in most states.

Will I need to complete fieldwork?

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires BSW students to complete at least 400 fieldwork hours before graduation. MSW students must complete at least 900 fieldwork hours. Some states require more fieldwork hours. Most states require DSW students to complete at least two years of post-MSW supervised clinical practice prior to licensure.

What other occupations can I get if I pursue a master's?

An MSW from an accredited institution qualifies you for a variety of client-focused jobs such as clinical mental health social worker, substance abuse counselor, child welfare case worker, and school case worker. You can also explore a career in academia as a postsecondary instructor. However, you likely must complete a Ph.D. in social work to qualify for tenure.

How should I select courses?

Whether you pursue an on-campus or online social work program, you should enroll in courses that reflect your professional interests. Some schools allow students to create an individual plan of study. Learners take classes with a specific focus to create their own field of specialization. If you know what you want to cover in your thesis or dissertation, select the courses that expand your understanding of those topics.

Find the Best Online Social Work Program for You


Although colleges and universities do not need accreditation, schools throughout the country work hard to maintain their accreditation since it is a reliable and consistent measure of academic excellence. Schools complete the rigorous accreditation process to assure academic stakeholders of the quality of their educational programs and the soundness of their institution as a whole.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee organizations that grant regional, national, or programmatic accreditation. Regional accrediting bodies focus on degree-granting, nonprofit private and public institutions. National accrediting bodies focus more on vocational or trade for-profit schools and sectarian institutions. Programmatic accrediting bodies focus on specific fields or programs. In the social work field, CSWE accredits programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

If you plan to apply for financial aid, be sure to enroll in an accredited school since ED channels funding only through accredited colleges and universities.

Specialties and Fields of Study in Social Work

Majoring in social work opens up many professional avenues. You can work with a specific demographic such as the elderly or children, or you can specialize in a particular function or role such as case administrator, community organizer, or trauma and disaster expert. Many social work programs offer the five common specialty areas below.

Child and Family Social Workers

This popular specialization often requires providing intervention services to prevent the abuse or neglect of children and vulnerable family members. Child and family social workers help their clients find temporary or permanent housing and apply for and qualify for benefits. They also assist in adoptions and family unification.

Community Organizers

These social workers help organize groups around a common cause. They often take on advocacy roles and spearhead fundraising efforts. They also assist in grant writing efforts. Community organizers help bring a group's message to a larger audience through various marketing, social media, and public relations initiatives.

Corrections Counselors

Social workers who choose to build a career in justice and corrections often work as crisis workers, juvenile probations counselors, or victim advocates. Many work in the public defender's office, parole agencies, state and federal facilities, and women's shelters.

Healthcare Social Workers

Patients who need assistance in dealing with illness or transitioning home from the hospital sometimes need the services of a healthcare social worker. These professionals provide services such as finding a reliable home health aide, locating a support group, and securing health benefits for their clients.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

These professionals help clients dealing with a variety of mental health problems or addiction issues. They also often work with the family and close associates of their clients to help them cope with their mentally ill or addicted loved one.

Common Courses Taken for an Online Social Work Degree

Social work encompasses several specialization areas. Since each school offers coursework that supports its social work specializations, courses vary by school. However, many institutions offer the five foundation classes below.

Diversity and Multiculturalism

Degree-seekers develop basic knowledge and skills necessary for work with culturally diverse populations. They study the theories of socioeconomic justice and how discrimination affects vulnerable populations. Students also learn how to engage in evidence-based social work practice.

Human Behavior in the Social Environment

Students learn about a variety of social environmental factors such as gender, race, socioeconomic status, and disability. They explore how these factors affect human behavior and lifespan development. Degree-seekers study the value of interacting with individuals, families, groups, and communities within the context of social environments.

Introduction to Social Work

Learners explore generalist social work practice and the different field settings where they can work. They also study emerging field issues, regulations and legal developments, and professional ethics and values.

Policy and Advocacy

Students learn how to analyze and formulate social policies and how to address policy issues in a collaborative manner. They study the legislative process and the values that underpin social policies. Degree-seekers learn how to develop effective advocacy plans that advance well-being.

Social Work Research

This course introduces students to quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research. Learners explore ethical research standards and methodology and how these concepts relate to social work practice. They learn how to use research to enrich and inform their own social work practice and address the diverse needs of the groups and individuals they serve.

Internships and Practicums in Social Work

Social work programs typically require students to complete an internship or practicum during their junior or senior year. Both experiences familiarize degree-seekers with the duties and responsibilities of social work practice in the real world. Under close supervision of a qualified social work practitioner, learners can perform the type of work they will complete as social workers.

Degree-seekers usually spend the same amount of time in a practicum setting as they would in a college class, which is normally just a few hours each week. Most practicum experiences last one semester. Internship programs often require more hours and often last an entire year. Facilities that accept interns tend to assign higher-level duties to them than they would to a student in a practicum program.

Colleges and universities work closely with social work agencies and other facilities in need of social work services to ensure that their students complete their internship or practicum in a safe and suitable environment. Online students may need to find their own internship or practicum provider, which they must submit to their school for approval.

Attending Online vs. On Campus

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that more than 6.6 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in online courses during the 2017-18 school year. This data reveals that online learning has become a permanent fixture in the U.S. educational arena.

Many students enroll in online courses because of geographical and scheduling flexibility. They can attend classes from anywhere with internet connection. And, since most schools offer asynchronous classes, learners can also access their courses at their convenience.

Distance learners also enjoy cost savings by pursuing cheap online degrees. They do not incur transportation and lodging costs or other on-campus expenses. You can make your affordable online social work degree even more cost-effective by researching a school's tuition policy for online learners. Some universities charge online enrollees the same tuition as in-state students, no matter where they reside. Since tuition often comprises a major portion of college expenses, the savings can add up quickly.

Learn more about affordable online colleges on this website.

A Career in Social Work

Image of Dr. Amanda Keys

Dr. Amanda Keys is a licensed clinical social worker and is currently the BSW coordinator at Missouri State University. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri - Columbia and a BSW and MSW from Missouri State University.

Dr. Keys has more than 10 years of experience as a local, regional, and national presenter and author. Prior to academia, she worked in a variety of child welfare positions in Missouri for more than a decade.

Why did you choose to pursue a social work career? Has this field always interested you?

I have always been passionate about helping others. However, it took changing my undergraduate major five different times for me to finally figure out what that looked like.

My last major prior to social work was elementary education. I chose this degree because I loved working with children. While this is an amazing degree option for some, I realized the semester I completed student teaching that it wasn't the right option for me. During student teaching, I found myself wanting to spend more time helping students with social and emotional issues and less time addressing their academic needs.

By the end of the semester, I knew that I had to look for a different way to help others. I started asking anyone I knew who was in a helping job what degree I should get. Consistently, the answer was social work. I knew nothing about social work and spent several weeks researching what I could do with this degree. I learned that a social work degree was even better than I thought it would be.

This degree not only allows me to help children, but it also opened the door for me to help in other ways. Getting a social work degree provided me with job opportunities to work with individuals, families, groups, and communities. Therefore, I felt that choosing a social work degree gave me so many more options to demonstrate my passion for helping.

What was the job search like after completing your bachelor's in social work?

I had a job offer before I graduated with my bachelor's degree. I had three job offers before I graduated with my master's degree. I have never applied for any social work job without someone contacting me and asking me to apply for it before the position opened. This experience is common for many social work professionals.

What jobs have you had in the social work field? Which did you prefer the most, and why?

I spent more than a decade in child welfare before becoming a professor. My first job was in case management, and my last job was as an administrator in a statewide child welfare agency. I also spent two years in part-time private practice, providing therapy to children and their families.

I have enjoyed aspects of each job. When I worked in case management, I loved getting to spend time in families' homes, building rapport and witnessing first-hand their successes. In my role as an administrator, I enjoyed making agency policy changes that would help provide better service to our clients. I also loved setting my own schedule and being my own boss when I was working in private practice.

What are some crucial skills that you acquired through your BSW program?

My BSW program taught me how to engage, empathize, assess, advocate, and be a policy change agent for individuals, families, groups, communities, and the larger society. I learned how to work with any type of client system. Additionally, I learned how to be a social justice advocate. When I turn on the news and see stories of inequality, I feel fortunate to possess a skill set that helps me change this.

What are some of the day-to-day challenges you face in your work?

The biggest challenge is when someone makes a choice that hurts them or others. I have worked with individuals who were doing so well in sobriety and then sabotaged their own success. This can be challenging when you have built rapport with clients and have been their biggest advocate and empowerer.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of a social work career?

The most rewarding aspect for me is having the ability to impact generations that have yet to be born when we intervene and provide supportive services. I also like that social work can look different every day. Social workers seldom do the same activities each day. Therefore, if you get bored easily, you can explore social work jobs with a job description featuring "other duties as assigned."

What changes would you like to see in the typical curriculum for a BSW program?

BSW programs should remember their roots in social justice. Our profession's founder dedicated her life to advocating with and for people who did not have the same opportunities as she did. I wish all BSW programs required at least one class solely devoted to providing experiential activities for students to demonstrate ways to increase equality and access for all.

What advice would you give to students who are considering a bachelor's degree in social work?

Don't wait to contact your university's social work program. Each BSW program has its own admission policies. Contact your desired school immediately to ensure that you have the prerequisite courses you need to apply. Also, make sure that you only consider CSWE-accredited programs. This is the only recognized social work accreditor for social work programs.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Social Work

Colleges and universities often give online students access to the same financial assistance packages as on-campus enrollees. Scholarship funding typically comes from colleges and universities, special-interest groups, and private organizations. Most grant packages come from state and federal governments and are often channeled through schools for disbursement. Federal student loans offer lower interest rates than private loans and easier repayment plans.

Begin your search for affordable online social work degrees by completing the FAFSA. The information you provide determines which federal financial aid program you qualify for and how much aid you are eligible to receive.

Scholarships for Social Work Students

Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: Applicants must submit an essay of no more than 1,000 words explaining their involvement in the struggle against any form of oppression and their goals for social change. Applicants must demonstrate financial need.

Amount: Up to $15,000/year

James M. & Erma T. Freemont Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students pursuing an accredited degree in a helping profession, including social work, may apply. Candidates must be enrolled in a historically black college or university.

Amount: Varies

National Association of Black Social Workers

Who Can Apply: NABSW administers several scholarship programs open to full-time students of African descent pursuing an accredited social work program. Applicants must present demonstrable service to the black community and have at least a 2.5 GPA.

Amount: Varies

National Pathfinder Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Social work majors with demonstrable special interest in preventing drug and alcohol abuse can apply for this scholarship sponsored by the National Federation of Republican Women.

Amount: $2,500

Patty Gibbs-Wahlberg Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Sponsored by the Phi Alpha Society for Social Work, this scholarship accepts applications from members with outstanding scholastic achievement, strong leadership qualities, and a verifiable service record.

Amount: $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000

After Graduation: Options for Social Work

Advancing Your Social Work Degree

Master's programs in social work typically take two years to complete. However, some schools give advanced-standing status to graduates of an accredited BSW program, which can lead to an MSW degree in just one year. MSW programs allow students to enroll in courses that center on their preferred area of social work practice.

A doctoral program in social work requires 45-60 credits beyond the master's level. Ph.D. students typically enroll in 2-3 years of coursework before writing their dissertation, which can take another 2-3 years. Online master's and Ph.D. social work programs maintain similar requirements for admission and completion as on-campus programs.

Certifications and Licensure

The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) administers five exams for social work licensure at associate, bachelor's, master's, advanced generalist, and clinical levels. All states require clinical social workers to obtain a license prior to practicing, but not all states support the five levels of licensure administered by the ASWB.

Every state maintains specific licensure requirements, which can vary greatly. However, all states require licensure applicants to show proof of completion of a CSWE-accredited program at the level required by the license for which they are applying. Be sure to check the licensure requirements of the state where you plan to establish your social work practice.

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