The Most Affordable Online Bachelor’s in Social Work Programs

by TBS Staff

Updated September 20, 2022 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Social workers assist clients of all ages, including elementary school children struggling with behavioral issues and aging clients facing financial and medical challenges.

These selfless professionals also help people with mental health conditions or substance abuse disorders. Many career paths in social work, including school social work, social services management, and healthcare social work, require a bachelor's degree in social work for entry-level positions. Prospective social workers can earn an online social work degree to increase their salary potential and job opportunities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers earn an average salary of just under $50,000 a year. The field also boasts faster-than-average growth, with a projected 16% increase in social work jobs by 2026. Online social work programs offer an accessible, flexible, and convenient route to a bachelor’s degree.

Online colleges let prospective social workers attend the top schools in the country without having to relocate. During online social work programs, social work students can complete coursework requirements, gain professional experience through local practicums, and meet state licensure.

Featured Online Bachelor's in Social Work

The Most Affordable Online Bachelor's in Social Work

  1. Eastern New Mexico University-Main Campus

    Portales, NM



    With a main campus in Portales, locations in Ruidoso and Roswell, and online programs, ENMU reaches more than 6,000 learners annually. Established in 1934, ENMU is the newest state university in New Mexico. The school is also a federally designated Hispanic-serving institution and maintains membership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

    ENMU offers an online bachelor of social work degree that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This 120-credit degree includes 38 credits of general education courses and 61 credits of upper-level social work classes.

    Social work core classes introduce learners to the fundamental theories, practices, and policies of the discipline. Students prepare for entry-level social work positions working with individuals, groups, families, and communities. The curriculum builds communication and analytical skills applicable to law enforcement, education, criminal justice, and healthcare settings.

    Students participate in Saturday sessions once per semester. The program also includes field experience requirements, during which students engage in a total of 464 hours of practical experience and instruction.

    Applicants interested in EMNU’s online bachelor’s degree in social work must submit an essay and three letters of recommendation. Individuals also participate in an interview with members of the social work faculty.

  2. Appalachian State University

    Boone, NC



    Founded as Watauga Academy in 1899, Appalachian transitioned from a teaching institution into a state university in 1967. The university serves more than 19,000 students online and from its main campus in Boone, North Carolina. It offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate programs. Appalachian is one of 17 institutions in the University of North Carolina System.

    The bachelor’s degree in social work at Appalachian includes 122 credits. Learners complete online and on-campus classes through a hybrid curriculum that incorporates classroom learning with practical experience. Students complete 44 credits of general education requirements alongside 18 credits of cognate coursework. Cognate classes emphasize the fundamentals of social work, psychology, and anthropology.

    Foundational social work classes include professional social work in contemporary society, human behavior and cultural competence in social work, and the social welfare system. Students also complete coursework in research methods and social work practice, as well as elective courses on topics such as death and dying, substance abuse, and social work services for older adults. During the final semester of their program, learners complete 32 hours of field instruction each week.

    Appalachian’s social work degree prepares students for professional licensure and certification, and the program holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education. Students may transfer up to 60 eligible credits into this program.

  3. Northwestern State University of Louisiana

    Natchitoches, LA



    Based in Natchitoches, NSU serves more than 11,000 students at its main campus; locations in Shreveport, Alexandria, and Fort Polk; and online. Established in 1884, NSU is the oldest continuously occupied institution of higher education in Louisiana. Part of the University of Louisiana System, NSU offers more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.

    The online bachelor of social work degree at NSU prepares students for entry-level careers in social work and human services. Learners also gain knowledge and skills applicable to graduate study, earning credits that meet the requirements of many master’s in social work programs. NSU’s online social work degree is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    The curriculum includes 120 credits of general education, major, and field work requirements. Students complete classes on topics like social work values and ethics, economics and social work, and cultural diversity. Learners complete 432 hours of field work during the final year of their program. NSU allows students to complete field experiences across two semesters or in a block placement during one term. While in the field, learners also take a research methods course and attend an on-campus seminar once a week.

    To apply to NSU’s online bachelor of social work program, learners need a minimum 2.0 GPA in pre-professional coursework. They also need to submit a signed statement of understanding related to their degree expectations and goals.

  4. Albany State University

    Albany, GA



    ASU is the largest historically Black university within the University System of Georgia, providing undergraduate and graduate programs through five academic colleges. Founded in 1903, ASU embraces diversity and seeks to elevate underserved populations through educational programs, community and educational partnerships, and economic development programs.

    ASU offers a 123-credit hybrid bachelor’s degree in social work that is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education. Students take 42–44 credits of classes in English, mathematics, communication, and foreign language online. Additional online courses in natural and social science prepare students for major-related courses.

    The degree includes on-campus social work courses in social policy, research methods, and social work practice. Social policy classes focus on policy development and how it applies to social services, while research methods coursework trains learners to identify, define, and create measurable outcomes within social work contexts. Social work practice courses emphasize intervention strategies and techniques applicable to individuals, groups, families, and communities.

    Students also study foundational values and ethics, human behavior and the social environment, and interviewing and recording. A field instruction requirement allows learners to apply classroom knowledge and skills in a practical setting.

  5. Troy University

    Troy, AL



    Established in southeast Alabama in 1887, Troy began offering educational programs at Fort Rucker and Maxwell Air Force Base during the 1950s. The school also hosts an additional campus in Phenix City and delivers programming online and at military installations around the world. The university currently offers 70 undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 18,000 students.

    Troy’s online social work bachelor’s degree includes 120 credits. Students complete 57 credits of general education classes, 27 credits of social work coursework, nine credits of electives, and 27 credits of social work professional requirements.

    Social work courses include ethics, social work research, human behavior in the social environment, and social policy and planning. Students also study communication and diversity. The pre-practicum senior seminar prepares students for their fieldwork, focusing on resume development, interviewing skills, and public policy. During the practicum, which spans one or two semesters, learners gain hands-on experience working at an approved site. The practicum includes a minimum of 400 contact hours.

    The online social work degree at Troy prepares students to work in counseling, education, criminal justice, and human services settings. Students learn how to support and advocate for individuals, groups, and communities.

  6. Metropolitan State University of Denver

    Denver, CO



    MSU Denver was established in 1965 and currently shares its downtown campus with two other higher education institutions. The university offers its more than 20,000 learners an 18-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and hosts almost 100 undergraduate and graduate programs through five colleges and schools.

    MSU Denver’s online bachelor of science in social work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The curriculum includes 120 credits, including 54 credits of required social work core courses. Students complete 21 general studies credits and six social work prerequisite credits prior to completing upper-level social work classes.

    Prerequisite classes in written and oral communication, natural and social sciences, and civic engagement and responsibility prepare learners for required classes in human behavior, social welfare policy, and the philosophy of social work. Additional social work classes in case management, leadership and program administration, and gender in social work practice prepare students for careers as family service caseworkers, patient advocates, probation officers, and substance abuse counselors.

    During the final year of the program, students complete classes in research methods and statistics while participating in a professional field experience. Learners accrue nearly 500 contact hours while working in clinical, education, healthcare, or human service settings.

    Applicants to MSU Denver’s social work program submit an essay detailing their reasons for selecting the discipline, their academic and career goals, and how they will meet the demands of the degree.

  7. University of Utah

    Salt Lake City, UT



    Founded in 1850, the U is Utah’s oldest institution of higher education, offering almost 200 undergraduate and graduate programs. The university hosts more than 31,000 students at its main campus in Salt Lake City and online.

    The school’s online bachelor’s degree in social work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The curriculum comprises 120 credits, including 48 credits of sequential social work courses. The program builds communication, problem-solving, and analytical skills to help learners abide by and implement the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics.

    To gain admission into the social work program, learners must first complete prerequisite courses in general psychology, sociology, national government, and social work as a profession. Core social work classes in human behavior and social environment, social welfare policy and services, and social work research and evaluation precede a social work practicum. During the practicum, students complete 450 hours of work at an approved agency.

    To apply to the social work program, learners need a minimum 2.35 GPA in general education and prerequisite coursework. Additional application materials include a personal statement, a social work-related resume, and two evaluation forms and letters of recommendation. Students interested in working with children and families can apply for the Child Welfare Title IV-E Career Path grant administered by the Utah State Division of Child and Family Services.

  8. Western New Mexico University

    Silver City, NM



    WNMU offers undergraduate and graduate programs in more than 70 fields of study. Founded in 1893 as an institution to train teachers, WNMU took its current name in 1963 and now serves over 3,500 learners in many fields of study.

    WNMU’s online bachelor of social work degree comprises 120 credits, including 41 general education credits and 44 social work credits. Required social work classes include ethics in social work and human services, diversity in social work, and social welfare policy. The curriculum also includes courses in human behavior and the environment, social work practice, theories and foundations of social work, and research methods.

    Learners must complete a research project, a pre-practicum skills lab, and a field practicum. The research project teaches learners to design, sample, and analyze quantitative and qualitative data. The pre-practicum skills lab trains students in professional social work practices applicable to supervision, consultation, and problem-solving in a practical setting. During the 450-hour practicum, students work with individuals, groups, and communities at an approved setting.

    Learners interested in WNMU’s online social work degree must agree to abide by the institution’s social work mission and goals statement. Aspiring students must also submit an essay detailing their interests and goals and supply the names of four references.

  9. Wayne State University

    Detroit, MI



    Originally established as a college of medicine, WSU in Detroit, Michigan, is now made up of 13 schools and colleges. The university offers almost 350 undergraduate and graduate programs to over 27,000 students each year. WSU is a member of the State of Michigan’s University Research Corridor.

    WSU’s online bachelor of social work degree comprises 120 credits, including 51 social work credits. Learners complete 60 credits of general education and prerequisite courses during their first two years followed by 60 credits of major and elective classes. The bachelor of social work degree at WSU is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Prerequisite classes include written and oral communication, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Classes in human behavior and social environment, research methods, social work practice, and social welfare policy and services draw on unifying themes related to values, ethics, social justice, and diversity.

    Learners participate in a field education exercise, gaining hands-on experience working with vulnerable populations. WSU partners with local hospitals, school districts, and private and government agencies to place social work students in a field setting. Students earn 460 contact hours during two semesters.

    Students interested in pursuing an online social work degree at WSU must have earned at least 60 college-level credits with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Individuals must also complete an assessment to determine how ready they are for online learning.

  10. Brescia University

    Owensboro, KY



    Established as a college for women by the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in 1925, Brescia is now a coeducational institution with campuses in Maple Mount and Owensboro, Kentucky. It also hosts some online programs. Brescia emphasizes Catholic foundations through academic programs designed to create servant leaders.

    Brescia’s 128-credit online bachelor of social work degree holds accreditation from the Council of Social Work Education. Students complete 42 credits of social work coursework, such as human behavior in the social environment, social issues in diversity, and ethical considerations in social work.

    Classes in social welfare policy introduce students to the historical and legal aspects of human service practices, while research methods and statistics courses build analytical and technical skills. Learners complete two field practica, working at agencies to apply classroom knowledge in practical settings.

    Brescia’s online social work degree prepares students for careers in clinical, educational, and human service settings. The program also builds the competencies needed to pursue a master’s in social work. Students who complete their bachelor’s degree in social work with a minimum 3.5 GPA and earn satisfactory performance assessments in field work receive automatic admission into the institution’s master’s degree in social work program.

Ranking Guidelines

We selected online social work programs based on the quality of the program, the types of available online classes for social work, faculty, rankings, awards, and prestige, including the school’s reputation for effectively providing quality online degree programs.

Advantages of a Social Work Education

Social workers with associate degrees can increase their earning potential and job opportunities by pursuing an online bachelor's in social work. An associate degree meets the qualifications for positions as an intake specialist or case manager assistant for a social services organization. However, applicants with bachelor’s degrees can qualify for positions with greater responsibility and higher salaries. A candidate with an online bachelor's degree in social work can also qualify for state licensing exams, which open additional career opportunities.

An online bachelor's degree in social work meets the entry-level requirements for many career paths, including work as a school social worker, healthcare social worker, or social work supervisor. PayScale reports that a professional with a bachelor's degree in social work should earn 30% more than an associate degree holder. Earning a bachelor’s degree translates to an average raise of $11,000 per year, as the following table shows.

Average Salary by Degree Level

Degree Level Average Salary
Associate Degree in Social Work $36,000
Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work $50,000
Source: PayScale

Social Work Career and Salary Information

An online bachelor's degree in social work prepares graduates for several in-demand career paths. For example, social workers who specialize in working with children can pursue opportunities as school social workers or child and family social workers. A bachelor’s degree qualifies social workers for several supervisory positions with work experience, including positions like social work supervisors or social services managers. After earning a BSW, a social worker can also apply to MSW programs to earn their master's degree in social work and become a clinical social worker.

Featured Online Bachelor's in Social Work

Social Worker

Social workers assist people facing problems in their everyday lives, teaching coping skills and behavior modification. Social workers with bachelor’s degrees may work in different fields, such as child and family social work, school social work, or healthcare social work. In these fields, social workers assist clients and contribute to programs to help the community.

Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $40,000
  • Mid-Career: $46,000
  • Experienced: $51,000
  • Late Career: $55,000

Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers are licensed to diagnose and treat behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders. Also known as licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), they offer individual and group therapy, develop strategies to change their patients’ behaviors, and create treatment plans for their clients. A clinical social worker needs a master’s degree and a license to practice.

Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $50,000
  • Mid-Career: $56,000
  • Experienced: $60,000
  • Late Career: $64,000

School Social Worker

School social workers assess students’ social, psychological, and academic abilities to identify ways to help children overcome challenges. These social workers also work with teachers to assess their students’ social or emotional needs, meet with students, and work with parents or guardians.

Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $45,000
  • Mid-Career: $49,000
  • Experienced: $52,000
  • Late Career: $63,000

Social Work Superviser

These supervisors oversee social workers within organizations. They direct programs, act as mentors, and review cases. Social work supervisors approve treatment plans, evaluate the performance of social workers, and educate clients. They must hold a state license, and some positions require master’s degrees.

Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: $46,000
  • Mid-Career: $51,000
  • Experienced: $57,000
  • Late Career: $66,000

Social Work Service Managers

This type of manager supervises social service programs, managing a team of social service providers, including social workers. Their organizations may focus on children, aging adults, or people with substance use disorders. Social service managers evaluate their programs to identify improvements. Entry-level positions require bachelor’s degrees.

Salary based on experience:
  • Entry Level: N/A
  • Mid-Career: $49,000
  • Experienced: $52,000
  • Late Career: $55,000
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

Choosing an Online Social Work Program

Before applying to online social work bachelor's degree programs, prospective students need to carefully consider which degrees fit their career goals and interests. With so many options, applicants may feel overwhelmed. However, by researching each program, a student can determine which degree is the best fit.

Students can consider factors like program cost, transfer policies, and program length to narrow down their options. Prospective students considering a specific social work career path, such as school social work or clinical social work, may prefer programs that offer a concentration in that area. These factors help students decide where to apply.

Program Cost

The total cost of an online social work degree can vary widely. In general, in-state public schools offer the lowest tuition costs. However, many out-of-state public schools offer a flat rate for online students. Consider the total cost of the degree, including technology fees, online learning fees, and books.

Transfer Policies

A generous transfer policy can save students time and money when earning their social work degrees. For example, a program that accepts up to 90 transfer credits toward the degree means students can earn social work degrees in as little as one year. Some online schools offer a transcript evaluation to determine transfer credits before students apply.

School Size and Type

Both public and private colleges offer social work degrees, so students should also consider school type. Some prefer smaller schools, which offer a more intimate classroom experience, while others prefer a larger cohort of students in the program.

Program Length

While an online social work degree typically takes four years to complete, the program length will vary, depending on the program requirements, such as a practicum or internship. A student may prefer a program that offers a part-time or accelerated option.

On-Campus Requirements

Some online programs include on-campus requirements, such as an on-campus orientation or residency weekends to meet with other students and faculty members. When researching social work programs, a prospective student may prefer a local program with some on-campus requirements or a fully online program.

Social Work Concentrations

A student earning an online social work bachelor's degree can choose a concentration to specialize their education. Specializations like school social work, child and family social work, or healthcare social work prepare majors for career paths after graduation. Some concentrations, such as clinical social work, require an applicant to possess a master’s degree.

School Social Work

A concentration in school social work prepares graduates to work with teachers, parents, and administrators to help students’ social development. School social workers address bullying, poor academic performance, absences from school, and aggressive behavior. Some school social work positions require an applicant to possess a master’s degree.

Healthcare Social Work

Healthcare social workers assist patients in navigating the medical system. They help subjects understand a diagnosis, provide support to make lifestyle changes, and help patients to access services for medical conditions. They often work with doctors to address the mental and emotional health of patients.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

The mental health and substance abuse concentration prepares social work majors to assist clients in coping with mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders. They may also provide group support services.

Child and Family Social Work

Child and family social workers help families access services such as housing, childcare, and healthcare benefits. They also protect vulnerable children and intervene if children face neglect or abuse. This concentration requires additional courses on children and families.

Clinincal Social Work

Clinical social workers diagnose mental, behavioral, and emotional problems. They also help clients treat these issues. A professional clinical social worker must hold a master’s degree in social work, but the undergraduate concentration prepares students for graduate-level work in the field.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Social Work?

Earning an online bachelor's degree in social work typically takes four years of full-time study. Most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits of coursework, including general education credits, electives, and major requirements. Social work majors can take advanced courses within their field, including specialized courses in a concentration area. Several factors affect the length of a bachelor’s degree, including the student’s transfer credits, the program requirements, and enrollment status.

For example, a student with an associate degree can often earn a bachelor’s degree in two years by transferring credits from their associate program. Some program requirements, such as a practicum, can also lengthen a program. Learners who choose part-time schedules often require more than four years to earn their degrees, while an accelerated option lets students complete the requirements in less time. Prospective students can finish faster by researching program requirements and identifying programs with generous transfer credit policies.

Social Work Courses

Introduction to Social Work:
Introductory courses provide a survey of the social work profession, including different types of social services and social welfare organizations. Social work students study significant social problems, the methods of social workers, and at-risk populations. The course prepares students for advanced courses in social work.
Diversity in Society:
Social work students study social diversity, including identity, cultural issues, prejudice, and discrimination. This course may cover the social construction of race and the impact of racism and bigotry on society. Students study different types of diversity, including ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation.
Social Work Methods:
Advanced social work majors often take courses on social work methods, which prepares graduates for careers in social work. Students learn about the best practices in social work, intervention techniques when working with individuals, groups, or communities, and how to develop professional relationships. The course also covers ethical principles in social work.
Family and Child Welfare:
Many social work programs incorporate a course on family and child welfare, which may be an elective. During the class, students can examine child welfare practices and the role that child welfare workers play in families. They also learn about intervention methods and assessment tools for working with children of all ages.
A bachelor’s social work program commonly includes a practicum, or supervised field experience, where undergraduates can gain hands-on experience. Students enrolled in online social work degree programs arrange the practicum at a local site approved by their program.

Accreditation for Online Social Work Degrees

A prospective social work student should always choose an accredited program. Accreditation plays an important role in social work licensure, so attending an unaccredited program can significantly limit a social worker’s professional opportunities after graduation. Accreditation acts as a marker of academic excellence. Regional and national accreditation agencies evaluate an entire college or university, examining student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements. Schools that earn regional accreditation meet the highest standards for liberal arts and research institutions.

In addition to regional and national accreditation, programmatic accreditation assesses specific programs, such as business schools, teacher preparation programs, or counseling programs. In social work, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits programs. CSWE sets professional standards for social work education, which programs must meet to earn accreditation. Graduates from accredited online bachelor’s degrees in social work meet the requirements for state social work licenses and professional certifications.

Earning an accredited online social work degree benefits students in several ways. Accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid programs, and credits earned at an accredited institution will more likely transfer to other schools. Finally, many MSW programs only accept applicants with bachelor’s degrees from accredited institutions.

Social Work Associations

Professional organizations help social workers transition from their online social work degree into the workforce. Many of these organizations offer educational resources, research on the profession, and career resources, including jobs boards. Membership associates host conferences and events with networking opportunities, and they also provide valuable guidance for social workers preparing for their licensing examinations.

The National Association of Social Workers:
The NASW, which dates back to 1955, represents over 120,000 social workers, making it the largest membership organization of social workers in the world. Members can receive access to specialty credentials, continuing education resources, and the NASW career center.
School Social Work Association of America:
As a professional organization for school social workers, SSWAA offers professional resources for social work students. Members can access professional advocacy services and receive discounts on publications and conferences.
Association of Social Work Boards:
ASWB administers social work licensing examinations, which professional social workers must pass to receive licenses in the field. The organization provides information on the exam, testing accommodations, and resources for exam candidates.
International Federation of Social Workers:
An organization recognized by UNICEF, the federation brings together social work organizations from around the world. Social workers who belong to these organizations can access the federation’s information hub, events, and opportunities.
Council on Social Work Education:
CSWE acts as the accrediting agency for degree-granting social work programs. The council also advocates for social workers and offers professional development resources, including research in the field, publications, and education resources.

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