Social Workers: Fired Up and Ready to Serve
They’re advocating for societal and economic justice, combating racism and poverty, providing vital mental and emotional healthcare, and shaping government and public policy.
They’re doing more than just engaging social work practice. They’re promoting positive change. Social Workers have become key influencers, with the skills to lead organizations through 21st-century challenges.
If having this kind of impact fires you up, and you want to pursue a purpose-driven life, an online Master of Social Work (MSW) program may be just right for you. Whether you are just starting out and browsing career options, or are already working in a related field with a bachelor’s, an online MSW can launch you on a rewarding career path, advancing your pay and responsibilities. And an online option may offer you the flexibility you really need to make this career path possible.
Wherever you are in the process of your school search, figuring out the best program for your needs and interests may be challenging. There are umpteen options and specializations, and you may not know what to look for. That’s where we come in. We’ve amassed an abundance of information and compiled a comprehensive list of online MSW programs for you to consider.
If you feel ready to just jump in and review our list, click here. But if you want some more insightful background information—like how in-demand the MSW is these days, and what kind of employment opportunities await—read on!
Why the Online MSW is Worthwhile and Offers Advantages
In many ways the online MSW offers unique advantages over its traditional on-campus counterparts. Why? Online MSW programs have nailed the technology piece and killed it on flexibility, making it more possible to fit a fieldwork-heavy program into your life. The game changers are sophisticated technology platforms that offer live sessions and coursework so that online MSW students can duplicate an in-person experience. The best part is that students can enroll in a program with a unique focus, area of specialization, or academic prestige and not have to uproot their lives to attend.
An online MSW translates into this: a world-class education that speaks to your particular passion and can be accessed through your laptop no matter where you are.
In fact, getting the MSW online has never been easier, or more practical. Like their on-campus MSW peers, online students must complete the fieldwork component of social work education. But a unique feature of the online degree is that many programs have developed creative and smart approaches to helping students fulfill their fieldwork assignments no matter the distance or locale. Program administrators partner with fieldwork institutions in a student’s hometown or local community to set up the appropriate supervisory experiences. We think this is a winning approach, and an unbeatable advantage of pursuing the online degree.
MSW Employment Stats for an In-Demand Degree
The employment outlook for future social workers is very promising. Employment opportunities vary from state to state, but, nationwide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates the addition of 109,700 jobs for social workers between 2016 and 2026. That’s industry growth of 16%; blowing away the 7% projected for jobs across all industries. Overall enrollment in MSW programs steadily rose in the period from 2011 to 2015, and it’s likely the trend will continue.
Salary expectations are equally promising. The BLS reports that “the median annual wage for social workers was $46,890 in May 2016,” but also that “the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,510.” (For a reference point, the median annual earnings in 2016 for Americans over the age of 25 with a master’s degree were $71,760.)
We do have to add that MSW pay is influenced by the various levels of work experience and of licensure obtained. Salaries are also affected by geography and area of specialization. To learn more about salary by state and specialty, click here for an online job search.
How Do I Pay For This: Investing in Your Social Work Degree
As we said before, online MSW programs are of equal quality to their on-campus counterparts (and sometimes better depending on your goals and the programs). Generally, online options are about the same cost as their on-campus peers. Pricing can vary widely among programs, so you'll need to do your homework on what you can afford. And, importantly, what kind of debt you take on if you need to finance your education. A 2015 report released by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) states that 77.7% of MSW graduates have some loan debt, with the median debt amount at $40,815. In the 2016 report, those numbers were 80.2% and $41,334.84. For general financial information about student loans and debt, click here. To learn about more specialized financing for the MSW, click here.
Higher education, especially in social work, requires a big investment of time and money. We hope the data here will clarify your individual financial goals when selecting the right program. We’ll be transparent about overall costs for each program; not just tuition, but the anticipated fees that can be scattered about brochures and websites. There are school, state, and federal scholarships on offer and we’ll note them throughout.
Finally, there are loan forgiveness programs at the federal and state levels, but they have stringent requirements and sometimes confusing mechanics. Be sure to learn everything required for you to take advantage of those options.
So now that we’ve looked at some statistics (a skill you’ll develop further in your MSW programs), let’s talk about who can benefit from this Ultra Guide, and how.
Who This Guide Is For
For as many reasons as we have readers, attending an MSW program online can be more viable than traditional on-campus programs. Many MSW students are over 35 years old (about 20% for full-time programs and about 35% for part-time) so balancing child-care, work, or the other thousand demands of adult life may make a traditional campus impractical. Online learning (also called distance education) can provide flexible hours for coursework, and save time on travel. You may want to bring social work skills to your own community, which is otherwise remote from MSW programs and agencies. Or you may be someone who does their best work when they are alone and control the learning environment.
How to Use This Guide
There are so many online MSW options that you can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. Below, we’ve made the list of programs manageable. Helpful categories separate out schools by your priorities, including low-cost programs, flexible class schedules, and educational specialties. Each category has a laser-focus on only two or three schools that are the most representative for each category. So a prospective MSW student can utilize this guide in a number of ways:
If you want an overview of all the options, you can browse through the entire guide to develop a broad sense of the kinds of programs available to you as well as our top picks for each of the categories included in this guide. If you’re already clear on your priorities when it comes to choosing a program, scroll to the category(s) that matter most to you to see our top picks based on our in-depth. If you plan to continue researching schools outside our recommendations, browse through the category subheads to develop a sense of the kinds of questions we asked of each program. This will give you insight into the types of questions you should be asking as you research potential schools.
As you read through the guide, keep in mind that there is no “best” or “perfect” online MSW program — but there is possibly a “best fit” for you.
How We Made This List: Research Methodology
In making our recommendations manageable, we used an intense research process to arrive at the 29 online MSW programs covered by our guide. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) currently accredits 68 online and distance MSW programs throughout the country. We used their list as a starting point. We also utilized resources with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the MSW program rankings provided by US News & World Reports.Our team spoke with admissions counselors and reviewed each school’s available program literature and webinars. And with the help of Nedda Gilbert, MSW, CSW, and a Noodle expert in education and clinical social work, we used a few criteria to further evaluate our programs.
First, we relied on CSWE accreditation standards. CSWE is the nation’s governing recognition association. It’s the only meaningful accreditation for an MSW program in the United States; without accreditation, the program will severely limit your job prospects and prevent licensure. Our list only includes programs currently CSWE-accredited, with the youngest program accredited in 2013, allowing for multiple classes to have graduated before evaluation.
Second, we consulted resources with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the MSW program rankings provided by US News & World Reports. There is also regional accreditation, like that afforded by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). These accreditations hold schools to yet another set of quality standards. While regional accreditation can also ensure eligibility for federal loans and funding, it is not essential for career-progression or licensure and did not factor heavily in our selection of programs.
We also checked to make sure that students from every state could enroll in each online program. Not all online programs accept students who live in certain states, due to the differences in licensing standards between states. You should make a point to check this with any online program you investigate. The vast majority of the programs in this guide are open to anyone throughout the United States, and where there are omitted states we’ll point them out.
Finally, we considered if the online programs are conducted in a 100% online format. MSW programs necessarily have field placements, which are long-term internships at sites that employ social workers. By design, field placements must be completed in person. As we have said, smart programs will accommodate you in your own geographic area. But even in the regular coursework for some online programs, there may be requirements to visit the campus in-person. We have a few of these partly-online, partly-on-campus programs (called “hybrid” programs). However, the majority of the programs we selected feature a completely online experience. When they don’t, we’ll let you know.
Our final list has the following online MSW programs:
- Arizona State University (AZ)
- Boston University (MA)
- California State University, Northridge (CA)
- Case Western Reserve University (OH)
- Catholic University of America (DC)
- Colorado State University (CO)
- Columbia University (NY)
- Delaware State University (DE)
- Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (PA)
- Indiana University (IN)
- Portland State University (OR)
- Rutgers University (NJ)
- Tulane University (LA)
- University at Buffalo - State University of New York (NY)
- University of Arkansas (AR)
- University of Denver (CO)
- University of Houston (TX)
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (IL)
- University of Louisville (KY)
- University of Nevada, Reno (NV)
- University of New England (ME)
- University of New Hampshire (NH)
- University of North Dakota (ND)
- University of Southern California (CA)
- University of Tennessee at Knoxville (TN)
- University of Texas of the Rio Grande Valley (TX)
- Walden University (MN)
- Western New Mexico University (NM)
- Widener University (PA)
Background on Online MSW Programs
Curriculum and Specializations
The bedrock of MSW programs is a two-year, full-time structure. Think of that as the default setting. “Year 1” is a “Foundation” year, where you learn the basics of social work. “Year 2” is an “Advanced” or “Concentration” year, where some programs allow you to specialize intensively. Some programs also offer electives in both Year 1 and Year 2.
Even when you stray from the full-time, two-year program, your coursework is still going to reference this structure. It helps to know it so you can make sense of the way programs describe themselves. If you’re a BSW-graduate entering in advanced standing, you skip directly to Year 2. If you’re a part-time student expecting to complete the MSW program in three years, you’re still going to have Year 1/Foundation classes and Year 2/Advanced classes, even if you take two years to complete “Year 1.” So “year” can be a loose term.
An MSW program can be “traditional” (year 1 and year 2) or “advanced standing” (just year 2). A program can also be part-time (one or two classes per semester) or full-time (three to four classes per semester). Note that part-time programs can be very flexible and some will allow you five years to complete the program. This rubric below is generalized but can give you an idea of how these variables interact:
|Full-Time||2 years (4-6 semesters), ~60 credits||1 year (2-3 semesters), ~30 credits|
|Part-Time||3-4 years (6-12 semesters), ~60 credits||2-3 years (4-6 semesters), ~30 credits|
You may also consider specializing your education. Some students focus on becoming a clinical social worker (“method”) for children and families (“field of practice”) with a certificate in school social work (“certificate”). It may seem confusing, but there is some general structure to help you sort it out.
Concentration of Methods
This has to do with the scale of the work you intend to do as a social worker. Thinking of the zoom function on an online map gives a rough idea.
- “Micro” signifies a concentration on individuals or small groups. This is like zooming to the level of one house on a map. These method concentrations are usually called “Clinical” or “Direct Practice” and usually you will learn theories and practices underlying various forms of clinical therapy. That could be training in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Psychodynamic theory, Family Systems, or Trauma-Informed care. This is the most commonly offered methods concentration.
- “Macro” signifies concentration on Community Organizing, Social Justice, Management and Policy. This is like zooming to the level of a state. You’ll learn about systemic inequalities including racism, sexism, and economic disadvantage and the socio-political mechanisms that support or subvert them.
- “Mezzo” as a term is rarely used, so these programs will usually be termed to have “Generalist” or “Advanced Generalist” focus. This is like zooming to the size of a neighborhood. In practice, it means you’ll learn a combination of Micro and Macro.
Concentration of Fields of Practice
Once you decide scale, the field of practice concentration has to do with the setting you want to work in. There are many. The list below is a snapshot of the most popular:
- Children, Youth and Families
- Mental Health
- School Social Work
- Addictions and Substance Abuse
MSW Concentration of Certificate
Certificates are further evidence of specialized training, and help with licensure and employment. You can get a certificate within the course of your MSW program, or you can get a certificate with training by an accredited organization after you graduate.
Within MSW Program - For some schools, the certificate concentration takes the place of a field of practice concentration. This may require taking credits beyond those needed to graduate, and so certificate concentrations may be optional.
After MSW Program - As an example, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville offers a post-master’s certificate program in trauma. The most important thing to remember is that any certificate program should be accredited through the Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program of the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
Dual-Degree Programs or Interdisciplinary Minors
Some programs offer the possibility of a dual degree or a minor while completing your MSW. For example, you might pursue a dual degree in an MSW/MPH (Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health). But to keep our heads straight, we limited ourselves to comparing standard MSW programs.
Social Work online programs are, logistically, broadly similar. This can be outlined by what we'll call "The Pajama Scale" based on how much you can participate in the program while wearing pajamas:
Coursework (100% Online Programs) = Can Wear Pajamas
From your computer, you can access an online portal (or several) provided by the school to watch professors lecture, participate academically with other students, and complete your coursework.
Online MSW programs may use what is called a Learning Management System or LMS. Two popular options are Canvas and Blackboard Learn, but there are a several others. An LMS is often used in conjunction with a video conferencing online tool, such as Adobe Connect or Google Hangout.
Online programs make a distinction between “synchronous” and “asynchronous” content. If your online classes are scheduled to take place at 11am CT every Wednesday, and all the students are required to log into the class at the same time, that would be synchronous. If your classes are pre-recorded, and you can watch them at 9:30 at night or 2:00 in the afternoon, they are asynchronous. All programs have some kind of asynchronous content (e.g., homework that can be done at any time) but some also have synchronous coursework. If you want maximum flexibility, look for completely asynchronous programs. If you’re fine with or would enjoy interacting live with your professor and classmates, look for synchronous elements in the program. If you’re concerned about the technological savvy required for online coursework, some MSW programs recommend using University System of Georgia's Online Readiness Tool (SORT).
Coursework (Hybrid Programs) = Mostly Pajamas
As we mentioned, hybrid programs contain mostly online coursework, but may occasionally require that the student visit campus. Sometimes “hybrid” means that certain elective courses throughout the program are only available on campus. Sometimes “hybrid” means that, once or twice during the program, you will have to visit the campus for a weekend-long retreat or intensive for face-to-face learning with teachers and classmates. Throughout this guide, we’re going to focus on 100% online programs, but we’ll alert you to hybrid offerings or when campus visits are mandatory--the latter of which should be a major consideration in any program choices.
Field Placement = Ditch Your Pajamas
It can be called “Field Placement,” “Field Practicum,” “Field Internship,” or just “Fieldwork,” but these terms all refer to the same thing: practical experience for a graduate student working at a social-work-related agency, institution, or program under an experienced social worker. It is something of an apprenticeship; the standard defined by the CSWE is that “[f]ield instructors for master’s students hold a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program and have 2 years post-master’s social work practice experience.”
All field placements will require you to work outside of your home. During a typical 2-year MSW program, most students have two field placements, each lasting a few months, and each at a completely different site. (We’ve seen no programs that encourage you to have both field placements at the same location, and some explicitly reject it.) Mirroring the Year 1 and Year 2 structure we outlined earlier, first-year placement is sometimes called a “Foundation” placement, and during the second year it can be called “Advanced” or “Concentration” placement. Each program has a different requirement for the total field placement hours required for graduation. The range is from 900 to 1200 hours (900 is the CSWE minimum). The two field placements can be the same length, or sometimes the Advanced placement can be a little longer.
In a totally on-campus program, the school leverages connections within the community of their local city and state to find field-placements for students. The obvious difficulty with an online program is that students can be anywhere. You may be asking the University of Southern California to find you a field placement in Miami or Anchorage.
Most schools will help to place you at a social-work-related agency or organization within a 1-hour drive from where you live. These tend to be in urban areas, due to the concentration of programs that employ social workers. If you don't live near an urban center, you may have a longer commute or have to get creative with your school's advisor.
If you’re an applicant who has already been working in a social-work-related field, you may wonder if your field placement can be at your current job. It varies. Some schools frown on it and some schools permit it with conditions. One of those conditions is typically that you must be doing your placement hours in a job-capacity unrelated to your current job, and under the supervision of someone besides you regular supervisor.
In all cases, successful field placement is about having a conversation with your school and being assertive about your preferences.
Extra Costs Associated with Field Placement
Travel: Whether you drive or take mass transit, you will have to pay the cost of your own travel. It is highly unlikely that any program or field placement will reimburse your travel expenses. Pay or Stipend: Field placements can sometimes become your actually-paying job after you have graduated from the MSW program. But during the program, field placements usually offer no pay of any kind. You should not expect the field placement to help defer the cost of attending the MSW program, and certainly not to provide a living wage. If you need financial assistance for living expenses while enrolled, you'll want to explore loans.
How Do I Get Accepted: Online MSW Admissions Requirements
Most programs want you to have three letters of reference. Obviously, former professors or bosses related to social work fit the bill. But it can also just be someone with whom you had a professional supervisory relationship and can speak to your work and character. What it can’t be is your therapist, your mom, or your hamster--anybody who is likely to have a personal bias or no basis to judge you as a student or worker. If you’re applying to an advanced standing track, you will definitely need a letter of reference from someone overseeing your BSW field placement.
Most schools require just one essay (phew!) called a Personal or Professional Statement. Each school is different, but it will probably address several concerns for the admissions committee: what is your anticipated commitment to the mission and practice of social work, what are your experiences that will inform your time as a student and a professional, and how will you balance your life with the time and costs of attending school?
Every program on our list requires that you graduated from a 4-year baccalaureate program and wants to know how you did. Be prepared to arrange for transcripts of your coursework to be sent as part of the application process.
Prerequisite Social Work or Volunteer Experience
Successful MSW applicants come from many educational backgrounds. If you have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree within the last five years, you’re advised to pursue an advanced standing program. But if you don’t, there’s no reason to be discouraged. Most schools don’t require any prerequisite work experience, volunteer hours, or related coursework. The only strict educational requirement is a 4-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution. So whether you’ve been working in the field for a long time or you have no experience in social work and are ready for a career shift, this guide will still have you covered.
If you have an overall undergraduate GPA above 3.0, you’ll be fine with the minimum requirements of most programs. The highest minimum in our survey of schools was 3.2 but anything below these minimums just means that you will need to supply GRE results.
The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a standardized test to demonstrate an applicant’s academic readiness for a graduate degree program. Though usually standard for applying to graduate programs, it is almost never needed for many MSW Programs. You’ll only be asked to submit GRE results if your GPA is below the school’s application minimum.
Tuition and Fees
Like any college program, cost is calculated by the following elements:
there is a price per tuition credit (e.g. $500/credit); and there are a set number of credits required to complete the program (e.g. 60 credits); and there are assorted fees that go by more names than there are words for “snow” (let’s say total fees are $250/semester for 4 semesters).
So our base tuition ($30,000) plus our fees ($1,000) give us a total program amount of $31,000. Tuition per credit usually increases a little every year, and you won’t be grandfathered into the fee you started the program with. But calculating cost per credit means that you pay the same base tuition whether it’s a part-time or full-time program. The fees, however, are tied to semesters; the total can change depending on how long it takes you to complete the program. Throughout our guide we will be using the best available information to provide you with an estimated total cost for completing each MSW program.
English Proficiency and International Applicants
During the application process, some schools require international students to demonstrate that you can speak and write English with certain proficiency. If you are an international student, there are sometimes additional requirements and fees. This guide can’t effectively cover those requirements for you at each school, so, if they are relevant to you, be sure to check with your preferred programs’ admissions counselors.
Criminal Background Checks
Students from a wide variety of experiential backgrounds make the social work field better able to address a range of client populations. But it should be noted that a criminal record can limit your opportunities in the workforce.
"Students who do have a past felony must understand that they may encounter challenges in securing a field placement,” writes the University at Buffalo in a program FAQ. “If students are unable to successfully complete field education requirements it will result in dismissal from the program." This stance is representative of other programs. But while something to consider, there are many opportunities in social work. Be honest with your school about your personal history and thoughtful in researching a good-fit field placement.
Our Online MSW Picks
Low Barriers for Admission
All graduate programs want you prepared to handle the rigors of their coursework. Rather than review a standardized test, like the GRE, most of the online MSW programs use your GPA to guide this evaluation. A 3.0 or above will make you competitive to almost all of the programs we’ve reviewed, but even if your GPA dips below this benchmark, you will still have many options. In general, if you fall below the minimum GPA set, the school may then require you to show GRE scores demonstrating your readiness for graduate work.
The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University boasts a top-ten-ranked MSW program with a minimum GPA of 2.7. You can work with a lower GPA, but you’ll need to provide GRE results. The rest of the application requirements are standard: three letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and a résumé. It’s a prestigious program and one of the oldest social work schools in the country, begun in 1915 and CSWE-accredited in 1919.
The minimum GPA at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver is 2.5. They have standard admissions requirements and, as always, the personal statement is an essential opportunity to express the value of your candidacy as a student.
At Walden University, the minimum GPA is set at 2.5, and that’s the major barrier to entry. Applicants will need to submit transcripts and a personal essay, but there are no prerequisite classes or social-work-related experience, and, atypically, there are no professional letters of recommendation required. For the advanced standing program, you need (obviously) a BSW and (less obviously) a GPA of 3.0.
Cost Conscious Students (Low Cost Programs)
Higher education does not have to equal higher debt. As you’re reviewing schools, note that some offer lower tuition to students living in the state. An important note: below in this section, and throughout this guide, we have used the most recently available tuition and fee rates to estimate the total cost of each program. Fees and tuition are always subject to change at the discretion of each program, even during the course of your enrollment. However, we feel that working with the amounts provided by each institution helps to better prepare prospective students plan for the cost of higher education.
Regular tuition at the University of Louisville is $714.00 per credit, which places it well above the other programs in this section. But if you’re a member of the military on active duty, you may qualify for the lowest tuition fee on our list: $250/credit. Factoring fees, your program total is estimated at $16,212.
This is a program that offers a discounted rate for students living in New Mexico at $265.62 per credit. But even the non-resident rate is competitive at $330.77 per credit. Adding estimated total fees of $3,500.00 over the 66-credit, two-to-three-year program, residents can expect a total cost of $21,031.00 and non-residents $25,331.00. Like others in this section, WNMU offers students training in an advanced generalist program.
With credits at $438 each, Delaware State University has one of the lowest rates among MSW programs without in-state tuition discounts. (The estimate over the full program is tuition at $26,280 and fees at $6,950.) A broad-ranged advanced generalist program, it is an intense two-year program where students typically take four classes per week, plus the field internship.
The $382.89 fee per credit -- plus fees over the course of this 60-credit, three-year program at the University of North Dakota College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines -- puts this program at a total estimated cost of $33,508. It is largely synchronous coursework in the evenings and weekends, but the program does have on-campus visits twice during the program, each about a week long. These are a valuable opportunity to get face-to-face learning with your cohort during this advanced generalist curriculum.
Accredited Advanced Standing Online MSW Programs
Most of the MSW programs we reviewed have advanced standing online programs. You must already have a BSW to enroll. Advanced standing programs cover the material in the second year of a two-year traditional program, so they are about half the credits and half the cost. Below we’ve highlighted just a few of the advanced standing programs on offer.
The Boston University School of Social Work has an advanced standing program that is part-time, so students can still manage a job. You can plan on taking two courses per semester and your field placement will be more than a usual advanced placement program at 1000 hours. The program is 43 credits and is estimated to take about two years. There are some additional requirements beyond holding a BSW, including submitting field evaluations from your undergraduate placement.
The distance education programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, called the iMSW Programs, are open to advanced standing students and they come in two types depending on your concentration. If you want the macro program, called the iMSW in Leadership and Social Change, that is 100% online, but the iMSW Advanced Clinical program is a hybrid program, requiring occasional visits to the main campus in Illinois. If you live relatively close, this can be a great option.
The Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston has both hybrid and 100% online options for advanced standing students. The program is 38 credits long, and part-time. Notable faculty members of the program include Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and author Dr. Brené Brown.
Online MSW Programs for Full-Time Working Students (Part-Time Programs)
Mid-career pursuit of an MSW is pretty common, so many part-time online programs explicitly accommodate students who are maintaining a full-time job. However, there is always the logistical difficulty of your field placements. Most field placements will be about two or three days each week. Because you need to be under the supervision of a qualified social worker, most placements will need you to be there during regular work hours. So even if you are able to balance your coursework with your regular full-time job, you will likely have to modify your schedule to make the field placement work. If you happen to be working in a social-work-related field already, and your program allows it, you may be able to continue working at the job, though likely in a new capacity with a new supervisor.
At Boston University, you can plan on taking two courses per semester and your field placement. Many students are between 35 and 45 years old, and the program has made efforts to accommodate the hectic nature of those schedules. The coursework is both synchronous and asynchronous.
This is a full-time program, which seems like a mistake for this section, but the online full-time MSW program is explicitly intended to accommodate working students. The classes are all synchronous, but are always scheduled for nights and weekends. It’s estimated to take two and a half years to complete the 60 credits. For the field placement, it is possible to do part of the requirement at your current social-work-related job. The program offers two concentrations, Community Practice for Social Change (macro) and Direct Practice (micro).
The hybrid program at the Graduate College of Social Work is for those who live within the Gulf Coast region or within commuting distance of Houston. The program has some coursework on campus that takes place on Saturdays, and in general the coursework can be completed on nights and weekends. There is also a 100% online program with both synchronous and asynchronous elements. If you feel you work better in a more formalized class structure and would like to get face-to-face skill training, consider the hybrid program. If you are very self-motivated and feel comfortable with totally online interactions, the 100% online program may be a good fit.
Widener’s part-time program allows you to take one course per semester throughout the entire program, which stretches the time to your MSW but may fit your schedule better overall. The university wants the field placement to be collaborative between the student and the university, and they are open to field placements at your current job or outside of typical 9-to-5 hours. The coursework is 100% online and asynchronous.
For Future Child Welfare and Family Social Workers
Many social workers feel a special call to work with vulnerable children and to provide assistance to families. The following programs place children and families at the center of their educational focus.
The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a concentration in “Children, Youth and Families.” As part of a top-15 MSW program, the Children, Youth and Families Department describes itself “for students who want to become licensed clinical social workers helping children, adolescents and transitional age youth with issues pertaining to social welfare, safety, early childhood education, childhood development, juvenile justice and mental health, among other areas.”
Rutgers offers a clinical program with, optionally, a unique certificate program studying Violence Against Women and Children (the university has also developed the Center on Violence Against Women and Children). A multi-disciplinary and research-heavy track, it also offers, through the VAWC Verizon Wireless HopeLine Scholars Program, a scholarship and experience as a research assistant with VAWC. The School of Social work is mostly asynchronous, with occasional live elements depending on the class. You can expect to travel in a cohort through the three-year program.
The MSW program at the School of Graduate Studies and Research features a second-year concentration on Family-Centered Practice and Trauma-Informed Care. There is, in order to enter the program, a course prerequisite in either Human Biology or Human Anatomy & Physiology. In total it is a two-year program requiring 900 field placement hours.
For Future Clinical Social Workers
The following programs place a strong emphasis on preparing MSW graduates to become clinical social workers. (Note that when you graduate, you are not automatically a therapist. There is often post-graduate licensure, which Noodle explains further.) Clinical Social Work is often a micro-practice concentration (see above.) There are many kinds of therapy; a smattering includes Trauma-Focused, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Psychodynamic theory, Family Systems, and Motivational Interviewing. Programs you investigate may cover some of these or other therapeutic practices. In addition, you can expect your field work to have a strong clinical focus.
The Columbia School of Social Work is one of the highest-ranked social work programs in the country. It is notable for placing a special emphasis on training students in DBT--its curriculum was developed closely with the creator of DBT, Marsha Linehan, and Columbia professor Andre Ivanoff is a noted expert. Columbia teaches a host of methodologies including Motivational Interviewing (with expert professor Allen Zweiben) and Complicated Grief Treatment (with expert professor M. Katherine Shear).
The College of Social Work is proud of its clinical education: the Evidence-Based Interpersonal Practice is specially designed for interventionist methodology and group work. The program offers certificates in gerontology, school social work, and trauma. There is also a unique certificate in veterinary social work, the only curriculum of its kind in our list of schools.
The MSW program at Indiana University’s School of Social Work specializes in Solutions Focused Brief Therapy and Telebehavioral Health Social Work Practice with Individuals. It’s a top 30 MSW program, first accredited in 1923. The program has start dates in January, May, and August, and is expected to last two years for full-time and three years for part-time. Note that the program has undergraduate prerequisites of six social science courses and one math course. The program also offers a host of scholarships.
For Future Community Social Workers
Macro-practice with communities is at the heart of the social work profession’s historic mission. The locations and interests of each MSW program allow for work with a wide range of communities or specialization with particular vulnerable groups.
The program’s concentration in “Community Practice for Social Change” will instruct students in non-profit revenue planning and development to enact meaningful social change. It is a macro-heavy program offering a discussion of major issues including inequality, oppression, human rights, and cultural diversity. Expect intensive work in community organizing and social policy.
If you have a strong interest in macro work with Latinx communities, the MSW program at UT, Rio Grande Valley is an excellent option. But note that this program is only open to advanced standing (BSW-holding) students.
The MSW program, under Tseng College at CSU, is generalist and provides students with the tools to interact with urban families. As an online full-time program, students can expect to have a two-week online learning orientation before completing the 60 credits in two years.
For Future Mental Health Social Workers
Don’t want to confine yourself to clinical work? You may wish to assist individuals requiring mental health assistance, but there are many more ways to do this beyond becoming a therapist. Mental Health social workers work in hospitals, clinics, schools, and other institutions where mental health care is vital. The work can include case management, client advocacy, prevention, and education. These programs each offer their own training in mental health social work.
The Tulane School of Social Work has developed a robust certificate in Disaster Mental Health. The program prepares students, at the macro- and micro-practice levels, to practice effective crisis intervention, disaster management, and mental health treatment. The program is primarily synchronous coursework over the Canvas learning management system. Tulane is keen that students have demonstrated strong undergraduate junior and senior year academic performance.
The Graduate School of Social Work MSW program has a strong mental health and trauma focus. The program has an emphasis on clinical direct practice supported by theory and research. The university encourages field placements in agencies practicing psychotherapy, crisis intervention, and case management. This is another top-20 MSW program benefiting from a long history (CSWE-accredited since 1933).
The university has an adult mental health and wellness concentration. Students will be prepared to operate at the administrative level for community-based services to address emotional stress. The iMSW Program at the University of Illinois does require two special prerequisites before applying: first, some work or volunteer experience in human services and, second, twenty hours of undergraduate coursework in social and behavioral sciences, humanities, and biological sciences.
For Future Substance Abuse Social Workers
If you’re interested in substance abuse counseling, you may need the Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) certification. Some of the requirements for this certificate are partially satisfied by the specialized programs on offer below.
The Graduate School of Social Work has a clinical direct program with a field of practice in Health and Behavioral Health. It’s program that can prepare students for working with specific demands in Texas, but also national demands for social workers with advanced training in healthcare, mental health and substance abuse.
The Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work provides the specialized course of study known as the Alcohol and Drug Counseling Specialization.
Robust Field Placement Opportunities for Online Students
With online programs, not all schools are able to provide the same resources to students as they pursue their required field placement. Some programs place the burden on the student to find field placements, and then work with a coordinator at the school to make sure they fit program requirements. Some basic ground rules on fieldwork include that the work should not be more than an hour’s commute from the student, and that at least one (if not both) of the internships during an MSW program be at an agency and job that the student is not currently working in. Fieldwork has special accreditation requirements, so you will want to make sure that any program you choose will provide advisors with knowledgeable guidance.
The College of Social Work at Knoxville is dedicated to helping the student find suitable field placements. They will work with the student to identify field placement opportunities, but they are adamant about forming a direct relationship between the school and your field placement, coordinating all details on behalf of the student. Like most schools, there are many existing field placements in its home state, but the College of Social Work also notes some existing out-of-state placements in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
As a top program with many excellent resources, USC already has many contacts around the country, touts 4,000 field placements in total worldwide, and can leverage these to the student’s benefit.
If you are currently working in a social-work-related job, you may want to consider PSU’s fieldwork program. The school views finding fieldwork in your area to be a collaborative process, so you won’t be on your own. More to the point, they encourage students who wish to complete fieldwork at their current job (provided the job meets the fieldwork requirements). It’s part of the Employed Social Worker Option and is explicitly designed with career social workers in mind.
Robust Services for Online Students
Online learning involves more than just watching TEDTalks. Some of the programs below have exceptional digital resources to provide a rounded learning experience.
The program at USC has impressive digital offerings. The coursework is synchronous, but the lectures are always recorded making them easy to review. The platform allows for interactivity between students and professors during class (this video gives a fair idea). The program has app support for ease of access through mobile devices.
In 2014, BU was recognized with an award for Best Practices in Distance Learning Programming (singling out current Professor Donna McLaughlin and her class, Clinical Practice with Groups). You will use the Blackboard learning management system to access coursework, and enter synchronous class sessions with Zoom. (BU also won the Blackboard Catalyst Award in 2017 for distance learning with technology.)
The University of Denver has recently revamped its online program (the first new cohort began coursework in January 2018). This redesign of the program involves extensive use of the “Online Campus” a hub where you can access synchronous coursework, download readings and homework, create presentations and interact with other students.
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Southeast
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Arkansas, or nearby states of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Offered by the National Catholic School of Social Work (NCSSS) at The Catholic University of America, the MSW program prepares its students to sit for the Licensed Graduate Social Work Exam (an LMSW-equivalent) which 95% of its graduates pass. The program offers advanced generalist and clinical concentrations. It also proudly claims a 94% employment rate for the class of 2017 with an average salary of $51,531. Note that NCSSS offers some competitive scholarships (including half tuition) only if applicants submit GRE scores which are otherwise not required for admission.
With part-time and full-time options, the MSW program at Tulane University prioritizes social justice and advocacy in what they term “culturally relevant social work practice.” The school’s location in New Orleans has facilitated the strong focus in disaster mental health we mentioned above and relationships with FEMA, The American Red Cross, and The Salvation Army. But the school also offers concentrations in clinical practice and family practice, each with a community focus. (For the clinical program, Tulane shares that graduates have an 87% pass rate on the LCSW exam.
The School of Social Work is located within the Fullbright College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Only an advanced standing program is offered, which students are expected to complete full-time within 12 months. UA’s School of Social Work is centered on the Multi-System Life Course perspective which is an advanced generalist preparation for students to practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Northeast
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in Maine, New Hampshire, New York, or nearby states of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The traditional, part-time program at the University of New England offers the ability to take one course at a time. Coupled with largely asynchronous coursework, the program is friendly to full-time workers who may take as long as four years to complete the required 64 credits. (There is an advanced standing option as well with a 35-credit requirement which can be completed in as few as 16 months.) There are three method concentrations offered: Clinical Practice (micro), Community Practice (macro), or Integrated Practice (mezzo).
The University of New Hampshire has a traditional-only, full-time program which you are expected to complete in about two and half years. This advanced generalist program offers four fields of practice, but one is a unique specialization on our list. The Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Graduate Certificate prepares social workers to provide critical professional services to individuals with disabilities, and connects students with the robust research opportunities at the UNH Institute on Disability.
Part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, the University at Buffalo has a top-30-ranked MSW program on a part-time basis, with traditional and advanced standing options. Students who reside in New York will receive the in-state tuition of $713 per credit. Since 2009, the curriculum has been designed to instruct social workers in trauma-informed care and a human rights perspective. Most of the application requirements are standard except for a prerequisite undergraduate human biology course. It can be completed 100% online, with the exception of many elective courses which are on-campus or hybrid.
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Midwest
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, or nearby states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan.
One mission of the MSW Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is to prepare students to work beyond the state even outside the country. The program has three thematic goals: research-based practice, commitment to diversity, and a focus on people and their interactions with ecological systems. For those living within the area, the Hybrid program, which requires on-campus visits, is a good option and there are well over 300 field placement opportunities.
The MSW program at Indiana University’s School of Social Work is competitively ranked 23rd (out of 244 programs in the United States) by U.S. News & World Report and was first accredited by the CSWE in 1923. State residents applying from the program will benefit from the reduced tuition of $541 per credit, but note that there are undergraduate course prerequisites of six social science classes and one math class. Part-time and full-time programs have start dates in January, May, or August.
CWRU requires that you suggest a field placement for yourself by submitting a form with your application to the MSW program. Note that the school is pursuing the ability to be, but is not currently, available to students residing in Kentucky or Puerto Rico.
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Southwest
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in Texas, Arizona, or the nearby state of New Mexico.
The MSW program prepares students to address the needs of distinct and vulnerable populations in the Southwest, and has many research centers and offices which, among other areas, address health policy, Latinx communities, and immigration. Applicants are advised to have some field placements in mind before they begin working with the school’s Field Education Office. The program has several prerequisites: undergraduate-level statistics, a course in either human biology or anatomy, and 240 hours of social-work-related job or volunteer experience over a six-month period.
The University of Texas of the Rio Grande Valley offers only an advanced standing online program, and is specifically intended for students wishing to work with Latinx populations. Per the school’s Field Education Handbook: “The Office of Field Education currently has over three hundred affiliations with agencies/institutions in the Texas-Mexico Border including but not limited to the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, and Laredo. We also have some available agencies in San Antonio, and Corpus Christi.”
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Plains
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in North Dakota, or nearby states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
As we’ve mentioned, the program at the University of North Dakota requires brief visits to the campus, which is made considerably easier if you live in the region already. The program offers student support services for all students, and notably particular services for American Indian students and military veterans.
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Pacific West
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in California, Oregon, or the nearby state of Washington.
California State University, Northridge offers, at Tseng College, an online MSW program that is traditional and full-time only. It has a special focus on mid-career professionals and is generalist in approach, while presenting micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level concentrations of method. There are also many ties to Los-Angeles-County-based programs and organizations.
The School of Social Work at Portland State University is a part-time program with traditional and advanced standing tracks. Of the four concentrations offered by the school, only two are available to online students: “Practice and Leadership with Communities and Organizations” (a macro program with an emphasis on racial, economic and social justice through organization and policy) and “Health Across the Lifespan” (a mezzo program with an emphasis on mental health in systemic contexts). Though mostly online, you will visit the campus in Oregon for two-day intensives around late September each year.
Online MSW Programs for Students Living in the Mountain West
Online programs can be taken anywhere in the world, but those closer to home provide unique regional opportunities. They may offer in-person hybrid coursework, rare specializations, or interactions with local populations. Not to mention it may save money: several programs offer discounted tuition for students residing in the school’s or even neighboring states. Below, we’ve focused on a few online MSW programs able to serve students living in Nevada, Colorado, or nearby states of Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
The University of Denver first became accredited by the CSWE 52 years before Colorado State University. With the benefit of a prominent MSW program in the state, Colorado State University was able to define a niche. Denver had an urban focus to its social work in a metropolitan area, so CSU sought to address rural and underserved urban populations throughout the state. CSU offers a part-time hybrid program (for traditional or advanced standing students) which is particularly adept at serving students and addressing clients in the Front Range region (central Colorado and southeast Wyoming).
Whether at the 32-credit advanced standing program or the 62-credit traditional program, in-state residents attending the MSW program at the University of Nevada, Reno will benefit from low tuition of $350 per credit. Students in this online program will participate in a three-day (over the weekend) residency at the University of Nevada School of Medicine patient simulation facilities in Reno--an opportunity to plan field placements and interact with other students in a lab setting.