Online Social Work Degree Guide of 2020

What are the different types of Social Work degrees?

There are a variety of social work degrees to choose from depending on your career goals. Some students pursue a bachelor’s in social work, or BSW. Those interested in continuing their education earn their master’s degree in social work (MSW), doctor of social work (DSW), or PhD.

Complete List of Social Work Degrees

  1. Bachelor’s of Social Work (BSW)
  2. Master of Social Work (MSW)
  3. Doctor of Social Work
  4. PhD in Social Work (PhD)

Featured Master’s in Social Work Degrees Online

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.

Sponsored Online MSW Program

Social Work Degrees Explained

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is an undergraduate degree and typically the first step in pursuing a career in social work. A bachelor's degree in social work can be completed in four years full-time and prepares students to earn an entry level position in social work. Those with a BSW can work in a variety of fields including mental health, residential treatment, and aging services. If you’re interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you may want to consider schools with Council on Social Work Education accredited programs. BSW programs include classroom education, online or on campus, as well as a field education placement to practice in a real-world setting. It is important to note that some universities refer to their undergraduate degrees in social work differently. Some may offer a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW) or a Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW) rather than a BSW.

Careers Available for BSW holders

  • Caseworker
  • Mental Health Assistant
  • Probation Officer
  • Human Services Specialist

Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)

A master’s degree in social work (MSW) is a graduate degree that can typically be completed in two years, full-time and some universities have a part-time option, which typically takes three years to complete. You don’t need a BSW to pursue a master’s degree, although a related area of study may be useful. Those interested in becoming a clinical social worker must earn an MSW to provide advanced clinical services. An MSW can also prepare you for a leadership role in social work or social justice work in politics. Since social work is such a broad field, some online degrees offer concentrations, which may help narrow down the decision making process. Master’s degrees in social work are available online or on-campus and it is important to consider your learning style when researching programs. If you have already completed undergraduate work in social work you may be eligible for the advanced standing option depending on the university’s requirements.

Online, Campus, Hybrid, and Distance Learning MSW Programs

What is the difference?

The majority of programs try to use these terms to represent specific types of degree programs. Common terms used to describe Master of Social Work (MSW) programs include: campus MSW programs, online MSW programs, hybrid or blended learning MSW programs, distance learning / education MSW programs, and distributed MSW programs. We will examine each term to make it clear what they typically represent.

  • Campus MSW Programs: These are the most common type of MSW program with over 220 universities offering CSWE accredited programs. These programs can either be full-time where students attend classes on-campus the same way they would for an undergraduate program or part-time where students attend classes at night and/or on the weekends. Some universities even offer campus-based programs at off-campus locations (see distance learning below).
  • Online MSW Programs: For online programs, the majority of instruction is online (except for field education which must be completed at a local health services agency). Students are not required to attend classes on-site. However, some online programs do have an on-campus requirement where students are required to visit the campus, typically once or twice a year. We classify any program that requires two or fewer visits to the campus per year as an online program.
  • Hybrid / Blended MSW Programs: Hybrid programs combine on-campus and online instruction. The combination of on-campus and online instruction varies by graduate school. Typically these programs follow one of two formats: 1) individual courses combine on-campus and online instruction where students meet in person a limited number of times each semester or 2) students take both on-campus courses and online courses. For these types of programs, only certain classes may be offered online.
  • Distance Learning / Education MSW Programs: Unfortunately, this term is used to describe many different types of programs and students should reach out to a university if their program structure is not clear. Many early online programs used the term distance learning. Now, the majority of programs that use this term have on-site instruction at an off-campus location. For example, the University of Iowa, School of Social Work offers distance education MSW programs in Des Moines, Quad Cities and Sioux City.
  • Distributed MSW Programs: The term distributed MSW programs is not used as frequently as the terms online or hybrid MSW program. Two schools that do use this term are Humboldt State University and California State University, Chico, both of which are in California. We classify the program at Humboldt State University as an online program as students are only required to attend on-campus instruction once a year for four days. Whereas, we classify the program at Chico State as a hybrid program as students are required to attend on-site classes two weekends a semester.

Accredited Online MSW Programs

Online master’s degrees in social work are classified as those that either do not require any campus visits or only require a limited number of campus visits during the program. On OnlineMSWPrograms.com, we classify any program that requires two or fewer campus visits per year as an online program. Programs that have a campus requirement are clearly noted on the site. If you work full-time or are unable to visit a local university and attend on-campus courses, an online MSW may be the right fit for you. Be sure to research as many options as possible before making your decision.

OnlineMSWPrograms.com has made it easy for students to find CSWE accredited online Master of social work degrees by delivery method (online versus hybrid), by program length (full-time versus part-time), and by those offering advanced standing programs. We have created pages dedicated to specific types of online social work degree programs and have included a comprehensive list of CSWE accredited schools on each page. All schools are listed alphabetically so that it is easy to browse programs by name.

Currently, we have organized schools offering accredited online social work degrees into the following categories:

  • Complete List of MSW Degree Programs
    Currently there are 40+ schools that offer Master of Social Work degrees online for students who have not earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from an accredited undergraduate program. This page includes schools that offer both full-time (14) and part-time (31) programs.
  • Advanced Standing MSW Programs
    Currently there are 24 schools that offer social work online degree programs designed for students who have already earned a BSW from a CSWE accredited undergraduate program. This page includes schools that offer full-time (10) and part-time (20) programs.
  • Clinical Social Work Programs (LCSW)
    Currently there are 22 schools that offer online MSW programs with a clinical social work or mental health concentration. All 22 schools offer programs for traditional students, while 16 schools have programs designed for advanced standing students.
  • Full-Time MSW Programs
    Currently there are 14 schools that offer full-time online MSW degree programs. This page does not contain programs designed for advanced standing applicants.
  • Part-Time MSW Programs
    Currently there are 31 schools that offer part-time MSW degree programs online. This page does not contain programs designed for advanced standing applicants.
  • Hybrid MSW Programs
    Currently there are 13 schools that offer hybrid MSW programs. 12 of the 13 schools offer programs for traditional students, while 8 offer programs for advanced standing applicants. This page includes schools that offer full-time and part-time programs.
  • MSW Programs with a Concentration in Military Social Work
    Currently there are 2 schools that offer online MSW programs with a specific specialization or sub-concentration in military social work. Both schools offer programs full-length and advanced standing online MSW programs.

Careers Available for MSW holders

  • Clinical Social Worker
  • School Social Worker
  • Medical Social Worker
  • Military Social Worker

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

A Doctor of Social Work (DSW) is a graduate level degree that offers advanced training in social work administration and clinical social work. Candidates interested in pursuing a DSW should hold a master’s degree, typically in a similar area of study as social work, but requirements may vary. DSW programs generally focus on leadership and management training. DSWs offer students the opportunity to pursue advanced or supervisory roles and the potential to earn a higher income.You may be wondering what the difference is between a Doctor of Social Work and a PhD. Unlike a Ph.D. in social work, which focuses on research in an academic setting, a DSW trains students to work in a variety of settings including schools and hospitals. Although there may be some overlap in terms of the curriculum, it is important to consider what environment you prefer to work in when deciding between these two degrees.

For more detailed information, see our comprehensive guide to social work careers for MSW holders.

Careers Available for DSW holders

  • Advanced Practice Clinical Social Worker
  • Social and Community Service Manager
  • Human Services Administrator
  • Social Work Administrator

Online DSW Programs

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Degree Programs: Currently there are 4 schools that offer online DSW programs. This page includes schools that offer full-time and part-time programs.

University of Southern California's School of Social Work logo
  • Earn a Doctorate of Social Work in an accelerated 24-month program.
  • DSW@USC prepares experienced professionals to develop practical, applied solutions to large-scale social challenges.

Sponsored Online DSW Program

PhD in Social Work (PhD)

A PhD in social work prepares individuals for research positions in social work. Coursework typically involves advanced research methods and policy. One of the main goals of PhD work is to help students advance social work careers outside of academia through research. PhD graduates typically pursue a career in academia including teaching and research.

Careers Available for PhD holders

  • Researcher
  • College or University Professor
  • Clinical Director
  • Human Services Director

Things to Consider When Choosing a Social Work Degree

CSWE Accreditation

Why is Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation important? CSWE-accredited programs meet the highest standards of performance, integrity and quality for social work education. When selecting a program, it’s important to think about where you want to work and who you want to work with. Depending on where you live, an accredited program may be required in order for you to sit for your social work licensure exam. State requirements may vary, but licensure is required for all master’s level careers in social work. Although some states don’t mandate accreditation, the licensure process may be simpler due to the CSWE’s standardized educational criteria. Another reason CSWE accreditation is important is that it may expand employment opportunities. Some employers may prefer candidates that have earned their degree through a CSWE-accredited program. Make sure to research your state’s requirements before selecting a social work degree.

Enrollment and Admissions Options

Admissions requirements vary depending on the type of social work degree you wish to pursue. If you are interested in becoming a licensed social worker, research your state’s eligibility and and admissions criteria for MSW programs before making your decision. Admissions requirements vary depending on the program or school, but typically include earning a bachelor’s from an accredited institution, meeting minimum GPA requirements, taking certain prerequisite classes during your undergraduate education, submitting undergraduate transcripts, submitting a personal statement and letters of recommendation, and submitting GRE scores. If you don’t meet certain requirements, you may still be eligible if you speak with an admissions faculty member and can meet other requirements. For most online MSW programs, submitting GRE or MAT scores is not required. Some programs may prefer candidates with work experience in a human or social services related field. Prospective students should speak with enrollment specialists before making their decision

Field Education and Internships

A unique aspect of social work in higher education is the field work, or internship requirement. Field education prepares students to practice social work in the real world under the supervision of field instructors. Field education requirements vary depending on whether a student is enrolled in a traditional or advanced standing MSW program. Traditional students must typically complete 900 to 1200 hours at an agency, whereas advanced standing students complete 450 to 900 hours. Agencies may include community organizations, addiction treatment facilities, mental health facilities, and family counseling and therapy centers. Check if the university has agency partners that are of interest to you. The relationships you make during internships may help with your career development after graduation. Students usually work 16 to 20 hours per week at a field agency, and in some programs part-time students are allowed to work 10 to 14 hours per week over more semesters.

Tuition and Financial Aid

The cost of your social work degree may vary depending on a few factors, but you can typically expect to pay a certain amount per credit. Is the program you’re interested in offered by a public or private institution? Is the program delivered online or on campus? Are there financial aid options available or a tuition reimbursement program offered by your employer? A social work degree does not have to be financially out of reach if you consider these factors while researching programs. In terms of financial aid, some universities offer fellowships, which are designed as loan forgiveness programs and others offer scholarships, another way students can save money without compromising their education. Beyond the typical costs of pursuing a master’s degree, make sure you also have an understanding of additional costs, including room, board, and books.

Concentrations

Some social work programs offer concentrations so that students can gain experience and land a job in a specific field. Common concentrations include Clinical/Direct Practice Social Work, Advanced Generalist, and Community Development, Management/Administration, and Policy. Online programs tend to have less available concentrations than their on campus counterparts. However, some online programs offer more specialized concentrations including Children, Youth and Family Social Work, Administrative Leadership, Mental Health and Adult Social Work, Community Social Work (including programs which emphasize the needs of the Hispanic community), and Community Organization, Planning and Administration. Depending on the career path you choose, it’s important to check your state’s requirements and speak with an admissions advisor.

Class Structure

There are typically two types of class structures for online social work programs, the cohort model structure and flexible course structuring. Most online programs use a cohort model, where a group of students is accepted as a cohort and work through the program together until graduation. A benefit of the cohort model is that students cultivate valuable relationships with their classmates, who then become part of their professional network. A flexible course scheduling structure allows students to set their own pace and select courses and complete work within a set number of years. This class structure benefits students who are balancing commitments outside of their education.

Instruction Methods (in Online Programs)

Online MSW programs generally have two instruction methods, synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous programs feature “live” classes, where students log in, view classes in real time, and are able to interact with their peers and professors. Synchronous programs may feel more like an on-campus experience since students can ask questions and receive immediate feedback. Asynchronous programs do not require students to log into class at a specific time. Instead, students view lectures on their own time and must complete assignments by certain deadlines. Students looking for more flexibility and who may prefer working more independently.

Featured Online Social Work Graduate Degrees

Sponsored Online Social Work Programs
School Description
University of Denver Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-20 ranked Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. No GRE Required.
Fordham University Earn your Master of Social Work online from the top-ranked Fordham Graduate School of Social Service. Bachelor's required.
Simmons University Simmons University's online Master of Social Work program can be completed in as few as 16 months, and GRE scores are not required.
Case Western Reserve University The CSWE-accredited Master of Science in Social Administration from CWRU is an online program for social work leaders.
University of Southern California (USC) Apply to USC's innovative MSW program to take the next step in your social work career. No GRE required.
Baylor University Complete Baylor's Master of Social Work program online in as few as 12-16 months and start serving vulnerable populations in need.

Sponsored Online MSW Program

FAQs

What degree do you need for social work?

A bachelor’s degree in social work is the minimum requirement for a career as a social worker. Depending on professional goals, some social workers continue their education and pursue a master’s degree or doctor of social work.

Is an undergraduate social work degree a BA or BS?

It depends! Universities may offer a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW) as well as a Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW). Any of these degrees can get you started in a career in social work.

What is the highest degree you can get in social work?

A doctorate in social work or a PhD are the highest degrees that you can get in social work. Each can be completed after earning a master’s degree and time to complete varies based on the program.

Which degree should I get if I want to be a school social worker?

Depending on where you live, there are a few steps to become a school social worker. A bachelor’s degree in social work is typically a good start and some states require a master’s degree and a license.

Which degree should I get if I want to be a licensed clinical social worker?

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) must complete a master’s degree, then complete LCSW licensing and examination requirements, and apply for licensure. Make sure to check your state for licensure requirements.