Question: What does it mean if an online MSW program uses a cohort model?

Answer: A cohort model refers to an online degree program where students enter as a group or “cohort” and proceed through the program together.

The majority of online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs use a cohort model of instruction where students take a predetermined schedule of classes. There are very few online MSW programs that have flexible scheduling that allow students to pick and choose which classes they take each quarter or semester. (With the exception of programs that offer multiple concentrations or electives, where students have the option to customize their degree program during the advanced standing year.) The cohort model of instruction has both advantages and disadvantages for students.

Advantages of the Cohort Model of Instruction

There are several advantages to the cohort model when it comes to online MSW programs. Since students enter and proceed through the degree program as a group, this allows students to form closer bonds with their classmates. The cohort functions as a student’s support group during the program and often starts their professional network following graduation. In addition, several programs that use a cohort model have some class sizes and limit the number of students per cohort to create a cohesive student group. Finally, with a set curriculum of classes, students do not have to worry about getting the classes they need to graduate.

Disadvantages of the Cohort Model of Instruction

The main disadvantage of the cohort model is that all classes in the program may not be offered every semester or quarter. Therefore, if a student needs to take a leave of absence for personal reasons, they may have to wait sometime before continuing their degree program. This is especially true for online MSW programs that only accept incoming students once a year. This is not as much of a concern for programs that have multiple start dates as there is a higher chance that courses will be offered more than one time per year.

For students who are considering attending a full-time online MSW program, we definitely recommend asking an admission advisor what happens if a student needs to take some time off during the program for an unforeseen circumstance. This may not be as big of a concern for part-time programs, but there are part-time programs that only accept students once a year as well, so students should talk to an admissions advisor if they have any concerns about needing to take time off during the degree program.

One other disadvantage of the cohort model is that students typically cannot take more classes each semester in order to graduate early. Students must follow the set curriculum as they proceed through the online degree program.

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