Choose the right Online MSW Program
This resource was created to help students find and research online Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. For students who are considering or have already decided to pursue an MSW online, we offer a comprehensive guide. For professionals who already work in the field or for individuals looking for a career change, an MSW is required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW).
Through extensive research, we have created one of the most thorough resources on the Internet for students interested in schools offering an MSW online. OnlineMSWprograms.com includes information on graduate degree details, admission requirements, and tuition for a variety of schools. All of the schools listed on the site are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the only organization that provides accreditation for Master of Social Work degrees in the United States.
Unfortunately for prospective students, there is no one set of standards for how an online MSW degree must be structured or even what can be called an “online” program. Degree requirements, course structures, and instruction methods all vary by school. Our goal is to make it clear how different graduate institutions work so that students are better prepared to determine which one fits their needs, accepts students from their state, and meets their professional aspirations. While there are advanced degrees that offer courses entirely online, all online MSW programs have a field education requirement where students must work at health services agencies in their local area.
Compare MSW Degrees
School Profiles for All Online Master of Social Work Programs
Overview of Top Master of Social Work Programs: Online and Campus
All accredited online MSW programs must meet the same CSWE accreditation standards as campus-based counterparts. Currently, there are 223 universities with accredited MSW programs and an additional 12 schools that have online MSW degrees that are candidates for accreditation. Through our research, we have identified 34 schools that offer a CSWE-accredited MSW online and at least 13 schools that offer hybrid MSW degrees, which combine online and campus-based instruction.
For students who earned a Bachelor of Social Work from a CSWE-accredited undergraduate program, some graduate schools offer students the ability to enter an online Master of Social Work program as an advanced standing student. Typically, advanced standing students are able to waive the first year of classes, which are also known as foundation classes at many institutions. From our research, there are 24 schools that currently offer advanced standing MSW programs online.
Check out our Advanced Standing Online MSW Programs page for more information about these programs including admissions requirements and other restrictions.
Master of Social Work: Online Versus Hybrid Delivery Methods
When researching online MSW graduate degrees, it is important to understand the different delivery methods that are being used by universities and how they impact students. We classify online programs into two categories: online and hybrid. Online programs are further broken down by whether or not the program requires students to visit the campus during the program. Programs that require students to visit campus two or less times per year are still classified as online programs on OnlineMSWprograms.com. As noted above, all online MSW programs have a field education component that requires students to work in a local health services agency during their schooling.
Learn more about these programs including admissions requirements and other restrictions.
Be Informed: Several online MSW programs have geographic restrictions and do not accept students from all 50 states. Check out our Eligibility and Admission Requirements page for more information.
Online Master of Social Work Programs: Class Structures and Instruction Methods
In addition to the different delivery methods described above, online MSW programs have different class structures and instruction methods. It is important to understand these differences when researching online degree programs, since they impact how and when students attend classes.
For some master’s in social work online programs, the type of instruction depends on the professor who is teaching the course. Other programs use exclusively synchronous or asynchronous instruction methods. Independent of the type of instruction method used, most online programs utilize an online environment or course management system where students can find course information, view lectures and submit assignments. In addition, students interact with classmates and teachers through forums and discussion boards.
Online MSW Degree: Full-Time versus Part-Time Options
Students interested in earning a Master of Social Work online have a variety of options in terms of length, depending on how much time they have to dedicate to their studies. While some schools offer both full-time and part-time options, others only offer one schedule. Most schools that offer full-time programs recommend that students do not work full time while they pursue their degree. Full-time online schedules are demanding due to the combination of coursework and field education, and students who cannot dedicate that much time to the graduate degree should consider a part-time option instead.
Field Education Requirements in Online Social Work Master's Programs
Field education, sometimes called a field internship or field practicum, is a key component of all online MSW degrees. During field education work, students are placed at a local health services agency where they will work closely with field instructors who mentor them on the practical applications of social work. Field education allows students the opportunity to apply their classroom education to real-world situations in a controlled and supervised environment. All field instructors are required to have earned an MSW and typically have at least two years of experience post-graduation, so they can directly relate to MSW students. Local agencies may include (but are not limited to):
- Community organizations
- Addiction treatment centers
- Mental health facilities
- Family counseling centers
- Medical care facilities
Students enrolled in an online MSW degree must complete a required number of field education hours in order to graduate. For traditional students, field education requirements typically range from 900 to 1,200 hours depending on the school. For students in advanced standing, the requirements range from 450 to 1,000 hours. Online MSW programs typically have set semesters when students complete their field education requirements, which vary depending on length.
The number of hours students spend in field education per week depends on whether they are enrolled in a full-time or part-time program. Students enrolled full-time typically need to spend 16 to 20 hours per week to meet the requirements during their two-year degree program. The structure of field education for part-time students is more varied. Since these programs tend to be longer, there is more time for students to complete the requirement. Typically, part-time students can expect to spend at least one day per week at an agency during semesters where they take field education classes.
Check out our Field Education page for more information about field education placements, internships and practicums.
Careers in Social Work: Master of Social Work Concentrations
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are two main categories of social workers: direct-service social workers and clinical social workers. Direct-service social workers help people solve everyday problems, from accessing government assistance programs, to adopting a child, to helping people deal with life changing events like losing a job. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat patients who are experiencing issues like anxiety or depression. They use psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and can treat patients individually or in group sessions.
- Advanced Generalist (with or without sub-specializations)
- Clinical Social Work Practice
- Administrative Leadership
- Children, Youth and Family Social Work
- Community Organization, Planning and Administration
- Community Social Work
- Mental Health and Adult Social Work
For students interested in clinical social work, licensing requirements are determined by state specific licensing boards; therefore, licensing requirements are different for each state. For some states, it may be necessary to earn an MSW with a clinical concentration; for other states, it may not. Students should review the requirements for their state of residence before deciding on the best online MSW program for them. For states that have specific course requirements, students may be able to complete those requirements by taking additional classes post-graduation.
Check out our online MSW concentrations page for more information about the different concentration options and about the MSW concentrations offered by each university.