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Social workers help individuals, families, and communities overcome challenges and connect with relevant services and resources.

Social workers may specialize in one of several areas, such as clinical social work, healthcare social work, or school social work. These specialties require different duties. For example, clinical social workers may treat individuals with mental health or substance abuse disorders, while school social workers may support students struggling with bullying or challenges at home.

Social workers earn a median salary of more than $49,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, this rewarding career path offers strong job growth potential, with the BLS projecting the creation of over 81,000 new social work jobs between 2018 and 2028. Graduates with an online MSW degree from an accredited program meet the educational requirements for most social work careers.

Top 10 Online Master’s of Social Work 2020

Rank School Location
1 Columbia University New York, NY
2 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
3 Boston University Boston, MA
4 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
5 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
6 Ohio State University Columbus, OH
7 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
8 University of Missouri Columbia, MO
9 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS
10 Fordham University Bronx, NY

Table of Contents

This guide ranks some of the best online master's in social work programs, in addition to providing information about common courses and potential careers and salaries for graduates.

The Best Master's in Social Work Online (MSW Online) Degree Programs

1
Columbia University in the City of New York
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4

University of Iowa 

Iowa City, IA

About this school

The University of Iowa is one of the longest-standing and largest higher education institutions in the Hawkeye State. The university offers diverse undergraduate and graduate programs on campus and online, including an online master's in social work program.

The online MSW program features a cohort format, allowing learners to progress through classes with the same group of approximately 25 peers. The program prepares students for macro-level social work careers. Classes include human behavior in the social environment, social welfare policy and practice, and advanced social policy. Students must also complete a field practicum in their community, gaining hands-on experience in a social work setting.

Online students must attend live video conferences in the evenings and attend campus for two or three days each summer. Applicants must live in Iowa or bordering states. They also need an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
73%
Percent Receiving Loans
47%
Online Enrollment
4%
5

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

Champaign, IL

About this school

U of I offers many online learning opportunities, including Massive Open Online Courses and more than 90 online certificate, degree, and endorsement programs, such as an online master's in social work.

Students earning the master's degree in social work online can choose between blended and fully online courses. Learners who choose blended courses complete most coursework online but meet at the Urbana-Champaign campus on weekends. The program's 72-credit traditional track applies to learners with bachelor's degrees in subjects other than social work. The 44-credit advanced standing option allows learners with a bachelor's degree in social work to expedite graduation. All students can choose from concentrations in:

  • School social work
  • Advocacy
  • Youth and family services
  • Healthcare
  • Mental health

Applicants need some human services experience through internships, paid work, or volunteering. They must also hold a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 semester credits or 90 quarter credits of undergraduate work.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
84%
Percent Receiving Loans
40%
Online Enrollment
6%
6

Ohio State University 

Columbus, OH

About this school

Ohio State offers accessible and affordable online programs through its Office of Distance Education and eLearning. All online learners pay in-state tuition rates regardless of where they live. The university offers an online MSW program for learners with and without bachelor's degrees in social work.

Learners who earned a bachelor's degree in social work within the past five years qualify for the Advanced Standing Alternative Plan (ASAP). The ASAP track starts in the summer semester and spans one year. The traditional track serves students with bachelor's degrees in areas other than social work. The traditional track begins in the fall semester and takes two years of full-time study to complete. Learners on both tracks can choose from two concentrations:

  • Child and youth services
  • Mental health and substance misuse

All learners complete courses on topics like evidence in social work practice, professional development, and mental health and substance abuse. Students also complete fieldwork requirements at an approved site in their community.

Applicants for the traditional track need at least 15 social science credits. ASAP applicants need a bachelor's degree in social work earned within the past five years. All applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
84%
Percent Receiving Loans
37%
Online Enrollment
9%
7

Michigan State University 

East Lansing, MI

About this school

Established in 1855, Michigan State University is a public research university that offers many online degrees and certificates for undergraduate and graduate students, including an online MSW program.

MSU's online master's in social work includes traditional and advanced standing tracks. Students who earned an accredited bachelor's degree in social work within the past six years with a minimum 3.25 GPA qualify for advanced standing. All other students pursue the traditional track.

Both tracks offer two concentrations:

  • Clinical practice
  • Organizational community leadership

Students take courses on topics like research methods, clinical assessment and diagnosis, and social work macro practice. Learners also complete fieldwork requirements to gain hands-on experience in a social work setting in their community.

Degree candidates take mostly asynchronous classes, but they must attend monthly video conferences. They must also visit the East Lansing or Flint campuses for several days during the summer. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
80%
Percent Receiving Loans
41%
Online Enrollment
6%
8

University of Missouri 

Columbia, MO

About this school

Mizzou offers online learners the same standing, resources, and top-notch education as on-campus students. Mizzou offers more than 125 online programs, including self-paced courses that candidates can start immediately. Students can use these courses to increase their GPAs and meet admissions requirements.

Mizzou's College of Human Environmental Sciences offers an online master's in social work program with traditional and advanced standing tracks. Applicants qualify for the 39-credit advanced standing track if they earned an accredited bachelor's degree in social work within the past seven years. All other students complete a 60-credit traditional track. All students take courses on topics like social work research, human behavior and psychopathology, and social agency management. They also complete fieldwork requirements.

Applicants must live in Missouri or one of eight bordering states. All online learners qualify for in-state tuition rates regardless of residency. Online students gain access to services and resources like tutoring, a career center, a writing center, and an online library.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
69%
Percent Receiving Loans
44%
Online Enrollment
7%
9

University of Kansas 

Lawrence, KS

About this school

With a 150-year commitment to academic excellence and research, KU earned its place in the prestigious Association of American Universities. KU offers a variety of online undergraduate and graduate programs through the Center for Online and Distance Learning, including an online master's in social work program.

The university's online MSW program features a blended learning format and traditional and advanced standing tracks. The traditional track includes 36 credits of coursework and 28 fieldwork credits. After completing core classes, degree candidates take concentration courses in clinical or macro social work.

Students with an accredited bachelor's degree in social work qualify for the 38-credit advanced standing track, which offers concentrations in clinical social work practice and social work administrative and advocacy practice. All students complete core courses on topics like social work research, social policy and program analysis, and human behavior in the social environment.

Students complete most coursework online but must attend some classes on one of KU's campuses. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Online students gain access to resources such as the KU Writing Center, online library services, tutoring, and technology support.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
65%
Percent Receiving Loans
47%
Online Enrollment
8%
10

Fordham University 

Bronx, NY

About this school

Fordham University is a Jesuit school that encourages students to fight for justice, strive for excellence, and care for others. The school offers diverse online and on-campus programs, all of which are rooted in Jesuit principles.

The school's online MSW program includes foundational coursework in social work theories and practice. After taking foundational courses, learners choose from four areas of advanced study:

  • Individuals and families
  • Organizations and community
  • Evaluation
  • Policy practice and advocacy

Students also complete fieldwork requirements at an approved site in their community. Online students must attend live video chats, but they can complete assignments on their own schedule throughout the week.

Applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree with at least 18 completed liberal arts credits. The university prefers applicants with at least a 3.0 GPA, but it is not required. Distance learners can access resources such as off-campus counseling, disability services, career services, and a writing center.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
83%
Percent Receiving Loans
51%
Online Enrollment
4%
11

The University of Tennessee - Knoxville 

Knoxville, TN

About this school

Established in 1794, the University of Tennessee was the first public university founded west of the Appalachian Divide. Today, the UT Knoxville campus serves as the state's flagship university and continues to lead the region in education.

The institution's College of Social Work offers an online master's in social work with a 60-credit traditional track and 37-credit advanced standing track. Degree candidates who earned an accredited bachelor's degree in social work within the past five years qualify for the advanced standing track.

All learners choose between two concentrations: evidenced-based interpersonal practice and organizational leadership. Through electives, students can earn certificates in areas such as:

  • Forensic social work
  • Trauma
  • Gerontology
  • Veterinary social work
  • School social work license

In addition to coursework, learners must complete a 672-hour field placement. UT Knoxville only grants admission to the online advanced standing program to Tennessee residents. However, out-of-state learners can apply for the traditional track. All applicants need a minimum 2.7 GPA.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
73%
Percent Receiving Loans
45%
Online Enrollment
6%
12

Temple University 

Philadelphia, PA

About this school

Founded in 1884, Temple University offers diverse on-campus and online programs for undergraduate and graduate learners, including an online master's in social work program that features a mix of asynchronous and synchronous courses.

The online MSW program includes traditional and advanced standing tracks. Students who earned an accredited bachelor's degree within the past five years qualify for the advanced standing track. All other students pursue the traditional track. Students on both tracks choose between two concentrations: clinical practice and macro practice. In addition to concentrations, students can pursue one of two specializations: children and families or health and mental health. Students may also design their own specialization.

All learners take core courses on topics like social work practice, social policy, and social work research. Learners complete mostly online courses, but during the summer between the first and second years of the program, students must attend an on-campus residency in Philadelphia.

Applicants to the traditional track need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA; advanced standing applicants need a minimum 3.25 GPA. Distance learners gain access to resources and services like the Student Success Center, library services, and an online career center.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
73%
Percent Receiving Loans
69%
Online Enrollment
8%
13

Florida State University 

Tallahassee, FL

About this school

Florida State University is a student-centered comprehensive research university. FSU offers a variety of on-campus and online programs, including an online MSW program. The program offers traditional and advanced standing tracks.

The traditional track comprises 61 credits and typically takes three years to complete, while the advanced standing track comprises 39 credits and takes most students two years to complete. Both tracks cover foundational topics such as social work practice, research methods, and social policy. All students complete fieldwork requirements at an approved site in their community, gaining hands-on experience in a social work setting.

To qualify for the advanced standing track, applicants need an accredited bachelor's degree in social work with a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least 400 hours of field experience. Traditional track applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree in any subject with a minimum 3.0 GPA. All applicants submit a resume, transcripts, and a statement of purpose. They must also submit GRE scores unless their academic background qualifies them for a waiver.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
83%
Percent Receiving Loans
32%
Online Enrollment
5%
14

Case Western Reserve University 

Cleveland, OH

About this school

Case Western Reserve University is a private, nonprofit university that hosts 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year. With on-campus, online, hybrid, and Massive Open Online Course offerings, CWRU students can learn in the ways that work best for them.

CWRU offers an online master's degree in social work through the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Graduates earn a master of social sciences administration rather than an MSW. Students must attend weekly live virtual classes. Learners can pursue a generalist track or choose from eight specializations:

  • Children, youth, and families
  • Community practice for social change
  • Mental health with adults
  • Aging
  • Health
  • School social work
  • Substance use disorders and recovery
  • Individualized plan of study

The program requires 400 hours of fieldwork for generalist studies or 650 fieldwork hours for specialized tracks. Students with an accredited bachelor's degree in social work qualify for advanced standing, potentially graduating within one year. All other students typically graduate within two years. All applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.7 GPA.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
85%
Percent Receiving Loans
71%
Online Enrollment
7%
15

Louisiana State University 

Baton Rouge, LA

About this school

The state's flagship school, Louisiana State University offers diverse online and on-campus programs, including an online master's in social work program that takes a holistic approach to social work education.

The 60-credit online MSW program covers topics like child welfare, human diversity and oppression, and advanced social policy. Classes include differential diagnosis, human behavior and the social environment, and social work research. In addition to coursework, students complete fieldwork hours, gaining hands-on experience in a social work setting. Students can choose between thesis and non-thesis tracks.

Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least 12 credits of completed social and behavioral sciences courses. Applicants must also submit a letter of intent and three letters of recommendation for consideration.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
67%
Percent Receiving Loans
36%
Online Enrollment
5%
16

Catholic University of America 

Washington, DC

About this school

More than 130 years ago, Pope Leo XIII chartered The Catholic University of America. Today, the university provides an education rooted in the Catholic tradition to more than 5,000 learners annually. The university's online MSW program offers many of the benefits of a small university, including classes with no more than 25 students and responsive faculty members.

The Catholic University of America offers two tracks for online learners seeking MSWs: advanced generalist and advanced standing. The advanced generalist program welcomes learners from many academic backgrounds. Students with an accredited bachelor's degree in social work can apply for the advanced standing program. Advanced standing applicants need a minimum 3.5 GPA in all social work courses, a 3.2 in all undergraduate courses, and at least 480 hours of field experience.

Both tracks prepare graduates for clinical social work careers. Degree candidates can customize the degree to their interests and goals through fieldwork placements. While specific placements are not guaranteed, the university works hard to place students in the areas of social work in which they plan to practice. Potential fieldwork specializations include trauma treatment, therapy, case management with homeless individuals, and play therapy with children.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
76%
Percent Receiving Loans
61%
Online Enrollment
9%
17

Indiana University - Bloomington 

Bloomington, IN

About this school

IU Bloomington hosts more than 94,000 students annually and boasts a global alumni network of more than 690,000 graduates. Much of the university's recent growth comes from online learners; between 2014 and 2020, IU Bloomington increased its online program offerings by 77%.

The 60-credit online master's degree in social work covers social policy and clinical social work. Learners take classes on topics such as diversity, human rights, and social justice; assessment in mental health and addictions; telehealth; and military social work. Students also complete a practicum to gain hands-on experience in a social work setting. The program features mostly asynchronous courses, but some classes may require students to attend live video sessions.

The broad curriculum prepares graduates to work in diverse roles such as family services worker, adult protective services agent, hospital social worker, and geriatric case manager.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, a personal statement, and a resume.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
78%
Percent Receiving Loans
35%
Online Enrollment
4%
18

The University of Alabama 

Tuscaloosa, AL

About this school

Established in 1831, the University of Alabama is the state's flagship university. The school offers a variety of online and on-campus programs for undergraduate and graduate students, including an online master's in social work.

The School of Social Work's online MSW program offers two tracks: a 42-credit advanced standing track and 60-credit traditional track. While both tracks feature mostly online courses, students must meet for in-person sessions on some Saturdays. The school offers meeting places throughout the region, including many in Alabama. Students may also attend these sessions in Jackson, Mississippi, or Atlanta, Georgia. Degree candidates can choose between two concentrations:

  • Children, adolescents, and their families
  • Adults and their families

Students pursuing the traditional track take foundational social work courses during their first year, followed by concentration courses. Advanced standing students need an accredited bachelor's degree in social work and begin the program over the summer, taking 12 credits of bridge courses before taking one year of concentration courses.

All students can choose from electives on topics like psychopathology, crisis intervention, and family preservation. Advanced standing students complete 500 fieldwork hours, while traditional students complete 1,000 fieldwork hours. Applicants to both tracks need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
72%
Percent Receiving Loans
43%
Online Enrollment
15%
19

University of Houston 

Houston, TX

About this school

The University of Houston has offered distance learning programs since 1953. Today, UH offers more than 1,250 online courses and 25 online graduate programs, including a master's degree in social work.

The online MSW program features a cohort model, with about 25 learners per cohort. The traditional MSW program consists of 63 credits and takes three years to complete. Applicants with a bachelor's degree in social work can apply for advanced standing, allowing them to bypass the first year of courses, graduating within two years.

Learners on both tracks choose between macro and clinical social work concentrations. Within those concentrations, degree candidates can further specialize in:

  • Health and behavioral health
  • Social work practice with Latinos
  • Political social work

Learners can also create an individualized specialization. Students must complete 900 fieldwork hours at an approved site in their community, gaining hands-on experience in a social work setting. UH is authorized to teach online courses in states that participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA).

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
59%
Percent Receiving Loans
39%
Online Enrollment
12%
20

Tulane University 

New Orleans, LA

About this school

Tulane University opened as a medical school in 1834. Today, the school serves undergraduate and graduate students through diverse areas of study, including social work. Aspiring social workers can choose between online and on-campus programs.

During the online master's in social work program, learners must attend weekly live video conferences. Students learn how to promote social and economic justice, evaluate social policies and programs, and affect social change.

The university features a "clinical-community" curriculum that covers macro and micro social work concepts. Learners study topics like organizational and community practice, theories of human behavior across the life course, and intro to direct social work practice. Learners also complete 948 fieldwork hours at an approved local site.

Applicants should demonstrate a commitment to social justice and experience giving back to the community. They also need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
85%
Percent Receiving Loans
28%
Online Enrollment
2%
21

Wayne State University 

Detroit, MI

About this school

Wayne State University hosts more than 27,000 students from over 70 countries. The university offers many on-campus and online programs, including an online MSW program.

Online students take courses full time, completing the program in about two years. During their first year, learners study foundational social work principles and practices. They also begin an internship at an approved local site, which they participate in throughout the duration of the program.

During their second year, students build on first-year foundational knowledge and take more specialized courses. Degree candidates can choose between two concentrations:

  • Interpersonal practice
  • Innovation in community, policy, and leadership

Students may qualify for advanced standing if they hold an accredited bachelor's degree in social work. These learners apply their previous experience toward first-year foundational requirements, expediting graduation.

All applicants need a bachelor's degree with at least 30 credits of humanities, social sciences, and biological sciences courses. Candidates must submit transcripts, three references, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Online learners gain access to resources such as a writing center, online advising, and assistance in finding counseling.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
47%
Percent Receiving Loans
49%
Online Enrollment
11%
22

University of Maine 

Orono, ME

About this school

The University of Maine offers diverse on-campus and online programs for undergraduate and graduate students. Distance learners can choose from a variety of online degree programs, including an online master's in social work.

Residents of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire can pursue the online MSW program. The hybrid program includes online courses, on-campus meetings with cohorts, and fieldwork requirements at approved sites in students' communities.

The curriculum is divided into four parts: bridging, generalist, specialist, and elective courses. Advanced standing students with a bachelor's degree in social work complete bridging, elective, and specialist classes for a total of 46 credit hours over two years. All other learners take 63 credits of generalist, elective, and specialist courses, graduating in three years. The curriculum prepares graduates to work as clinical social workers.

Degree candidates can customize the degree through electives on topics like:

  • Trauma: theory, assessment, and treatment
  • Expressive therapies in social work practice
  • Substance abuse assessment and intervention
  • Group strategies in health/mental health settings

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and completed social and behavioral sciences and statistics or research methods courses. Candidates also need volunteer, internship, or work experience in human services or social welfare.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
60%
Percent Receiving Loans
66%
Online Enrollment
7%
23

University of Denver 

Denver, CO

About this school

The University of Denver serves diverse students through undergraduate and graduate programs, including online options. Aspiring social workers can pursue an online master's degree in social work that features a 90-credit traditional track and 60-credit advanced standing track.

Regardless of their track, all learners take foundational and concentration courses. However, advanced standing degree candidates don't take as many foundational courses as traditional learners. All students can choose from two concentrations:

  • Mental health and trauma
  • Health and wellness

Both concentrations prepare graduates to work in social work roles such as case manager and counselor. Online learners gain hands-on experience through a practicum at an approved site in their community. Courses follow a synchronous format, requiring students to attend live weekly chats for each class.

School Type
Private Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
77%
Percent Receiving Loans
41%
Online Enrollment
8%
24

Colorado State University - Fort Collins 

Fort Collins, CO

About this school

For more than 50 years, Colorado State University has provided distance learning programs. Today, CSU offers more than 40 fully online degrees. The online master's in social work features an advanced generalist curriculum that prepares students for a variety of social work careers. Degree candidates can pursue optional certificates in:

  • PreK-12 school social worker
  • Advanced clinical behavioral health
  • Nonprofit administration
  • Conflict resolution and mediation
  • Military and veteran culture

The program features mostly online courses, but learners must attend face-to-face sessions on campus in Fort Collins twice per year. Students also complete 1,000 hours of fieldwork experience at an approved local site. Learners with a bachelor's degree in social work can pursue the advanced standing track, which takes two years to complete. Students with other bachelor's degrees pursue the traditional path, graduating in about three years.

Applicants need at least 400 hours of paid work or volunteer experience in human services. They also need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least 18 completed credits of social, biological, and behavioral sciences courses. All online students pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency. Online students gain access to resources such as online advising, career services, and library services.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
71%
Percent Receiving Loans
46%
Online Enrollment
7%
25

University of Arkansas 

Fayetteville, AR

About this school

The University of Arkansas hosts students in Fayetteville and online through its Global Campus. The Global Campus offers a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, including an online master's degree in social work.

The 39-credit online MSW program is exclusively for learners with accredited bachelor's degrees in social work. Degree candidates must pursue full-time study, graduating within one year. In addition to social work courses, students must complete 22 hours of fieldwork per week at an approved site in their community. In some cases, learners may complete internships at their current workplace.

This MSW program uses asynchronous learning for individual classes; however, learners must attend live online seminars every Tuesday evening. The program features a cohort model, allowing degree candidates to build connections and network with peers. The curriculum prepares graduates for social work careers and doctoral programs.

Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and a completed undergraduate statistics course. Prior coursework must also demonstrate proficiency with computers. Candidates must submit three professional references, a personal statement, and social needs papers. Faculty from U of A may interview applicants remotely.

School Type
Public Nonprofit
Graduation Rate
66%
Percent Receiving Loans
42%
Online Enrollment
7%
👏

End of list, bravo!

Ranking Methodology

Online Master's in Social Work Programs Ranking Guidelines

We selected these accredited online MSW programs based on quality, curricula, faculty strength, school awards, rankings, and reputation — including the school's reputation for providing quality online degree programs.

What Is Social Work?

Depending on their specialty, social workers may perform duties like helping individuals and families access social services, counseling clients with mental health struggles, or supporting communities by improving services. Social workers can specialize in several areas, such as clinical social work. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Social workers can also specialize in areas like children and family social work, healthcare social work, and school social work.

Depending on their specialty, social workers may perform duties like helping individuals and families access social services, counseling clients with mental health struggles, or supporting communities by improving services.

Social workers may practice in a variety of environments, often based on their specialization. For instance, healthcare social workers work for healthcare organizations and hospitals, while school social workers practice in schools. Many social work jobs require a master's degree from an accredited social work program. For example, clinical social workers need a license to practice, which requires an MSW.

The Three Levels of Social Work Practice

Micro-level Social Work

Micro-level social workers work with clients on an individual basis, focusing on a client's personal experiences and challenges. They may apply counseling and therapy skills to help clients manage emotional challenges and connect clients with relevant resources and services. These social workers often teach behavioral modification techniques and coping skills. They may have specialties related to school social work or clinical social work.

Mezzo-level Social Work

Unlike micro-level social work, mezzo-level social work focuses on groups, like families and communities. These social workers may support groups by offering counseling services, connecting groups with social services, and advocating for a community's needs. They rely on many of the same skills as micro-level social workers, customizing treatment plants to help groups meet their goals; however, their work focuses on larger systems, such as providing community advocacy rather than individual advocacy.

Macro-level Social Work

Macro-level social workers focus on policies and administration to affect large-scale social change. These social workers advocate for vulnerable communities and work to influence public policy. They may work in research or public administration roles. Macro-level social workers often collaborate with micro-level and mezzo-level social workers to understand the needs of clients and the challenges facing client systems.

CSWE-accredited Online MSW Programs

During an online master's in social work program, students take classes on topics like social welfare planning, school social work, and social work theory. Many online programs also let students tailor a degree to their interests by pursuing a concentration. Common concentrations include:

  • Clinical Social Work
  • Generalist
  • Community and Social Systems
  • Aging
  • Children and Families
  • School Social Work

Additionally, students should ensure that the online MSW program they choose holds the appropriate accreditation. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) grants programmatic accreditation to MSW programs, including online social work programs. As an independent, nonprofit organization, CSWE assesses social work programs based on their faculty qualifications, practicum requirements, and curricula.

A master's degree from a CSWE-accredited program meets the educational requirements for social work licensure in every state. In addition, many employers only hire candidates with an accredited social work degree. Therefore, prospective MSW students should ensure their chosen program holds CSWE accreditation.

Advanced Standing MSW Programs

Students with a bachelor's in social work from a CSWE-accredited program may receive advanced standing in an online MSW program. Typically, an MSW takes two years of full-time study to complete, but advanced standing may allow students to graduate in one year.

Master's in Social Work Admissions

Admission requirements for most online MSW programs include a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Most programs do not require a bachelor's in social work, but they may feature prerequisite coursework. Applicants typically need to submit a personal statement and letters of recommendation. Some social work programs may require GRE scores. Online programs may also include an interview during the admissions process to assess an applicant's qualifications for online graduate study.

How Long Does a Master's in Social Work Take?

Earning a master's in social work online usually takes two years of full-time study; however, students with advanced standing -- meaning those with a bachelor's degree in social work -- can graduate in just one year. During their program, students must meet coursework and field education requirements.

Online MSW Programs Field Education Requirements

Like on-campus social work programs, online MSW programs incorporate field education as a central component of social work training. Field training fulfills the experience requirement for social work licensure while also giving students hands-on experience in the field.

Online students can typically meet practicum requirements through placements at approved organizations near their homes. Many online social work programs include general and specialized field training. Requirements vary by program, but most MSW programs include at least 600 hours of field education.

Social Worker Licensure

In addition to a social work degree, many social work jobs require a state license. Candidates typically need an accredited master's degree in social work and professional experience to earn licensure. Most states also require candidates to earn passing scores on a social work exam. Licensed social workers must renew their credentials regularly by meeting continuing education requirements.

Because requirements vary by state, aspiring social workers should research the licensure process in the state where the plan to practice. The Association of Social Work Boards provides information and resources on each state's licensure requirements. The list below covers several types of social work licensure and corresponding requirements.

What Is an LSW?

An LSW, or licensed social worker, typically needs a master's degree in social work. Each state sets different educational and experience requirements for LSWs.

What Is an LMSW?

An LMSW, or licensed master social worker, needs a master's degree from an accredited social work program. Some states use the title LSW rather than LMSW.

What Is an LCSW?

An LCSW, or licensed clinical social worker, needs an MSW and two years of clinical experience under an LCSW.

What Is an LGSW?

An LGSW, or licensed graduate social worker, generally needs a master's in social work and passing scores on an exam. Some states prefer the title LSW.

What Is an ACSW?

Granted by the Academy of Certified Social Workers, the ACSW credential recognizes social workers with a master's degree and supervised experience.

Social Work Jobs and Salaries

Graduates with an MSW can work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, and community organizations. They may work as marriage and family therapists, social service managers, and mental health counselors. The following sections cover several common careers and potential salaries for MSW graduates.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists help families overcome challenges, including personal relationship problems, life changes, and mental health struggles. They work with individuals, couples, and families to help clients process life changes and make decisions about their future. Marriage and family therapists also refer clients to relevant community resources and services, such as support groups and inpatient treatment facilities.

Strong interpersonal communication skills help marriage and family therapists support their clients. Marriage and family therapists typically hold a master's degree in social work, psychology, or a related field. In every state, marriage and family therapists need a license to practice.

Median Annual Salary

$50,090

Projected Growth Rate

22%

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists help law offenders access social services and reintegrate into the community. These professionals may work with probationers, parolees, and pretrial defendants. After evaluating clients, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists design a course of rehabilitation, which may include referring clients to services like job training or substance abuse counseling.

Most probation officer and correctional treatment specialist positions require at least a bachelor's degree in social work. A master's degree qualifies candidates for advanced roles in the field.

Median Annual Salary

$53,020

Projected Growth Rate

3%

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers oversee social service programs. They identify the need for programs and services, plan and implement programs, and analyze the effectiveness of programs. Social and community service managers also manage the workers who provide an organization's services.

Most managerial social work jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. Some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree or significant experience in social services.

Median Annual Salary

$65,320

Projected Growth Rate

13%

Social Workers

Social workers assist individuals struggling with mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. They may connect clients to community resources, provide counseling services, and treat mental health issues. Social workers can specialize in an area such as school social work or healthcare social work.

Many social workers need a master's degree, including clinical social workers who must hold an MSW and two years of supervised experience.

Median Annual Salary

$49,470

Projected Growth Rate

11%

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors help clients manage mental health and behavioral challenges. They evaluate clients' mental and physical health, develop customized treatment plans, and help clients modify behaviors. These counselors may also refer clients to social services and conduct outreach programs to educate the public on destructive behavior.

Most substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors hold at least a bachelor's degree, but mental health counselors typically need a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary

$44,630

Projected Growth Rate

22%

Common Social Work Job Titles

  • Admissions Counselor
  • Agency Director
  • Care Coordinator
  • Care Manager
  • Career Counselor
  • Case Manager
  • Child Welfare Advocate
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Community Educator
  • Community Health Worker
  • Community Liaison Social Worker
  • Community Planner
  • Community Social Worker
  • Corporate Foundation Specialist
  • Drug Dependency Counselor
  • Family Services Caseworker
  • Gerontology Social Worker
  • Health Reform Advocate
  • Healthcare Social Worker
  • Immigration Program Administrator
  • Medical/Clinical Worker
  • Medical Social Worker
  • Mental Health Social Worker
  • Nursing Home Administrator
  • Occupational Social Worker
  • Outreach Specialist/Coordinator
  • Patient Advocate
  • Population Health Social Worker
  • Poverty Advocate
  • Public Health Social Worker
  • Public Interest Advocate
  • Rehab Counselor
  • Residential Care Manager
  • School Social Worker
  • Shelter Director
  • Social Recreation Director
  • Social Worker Administrator
  • Social Worker Assessment Specialist
  • Social Worker Home Health
  • Social Worker - Housing Subsidy Specialist
  • Social Worker/Internal Case Manager
  • Social Worker Planner and Policymaker
  • Treatment Specialist
  • Volunteer Services Director
  • Youth Counselor

Common Places of Employment for Social Workers

  • Adoption Agencies
  • Advocacy Programs
  • Area Agencies on Aging
  • Child and Family Services
  • Child Welfare Organizations
  • Clinics
  • Colleges
  • Community Action Programs
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Companies
  • Court Systems
  • Domestic Violence Centers
  • Foster Care Agencies
  • Government Agencies
  • Healthcare Centers
  • Health Maintenance Organizations
  • Homeless Projects
  • Hospitals
  • Neighborhood Coalition Programs
  • Nonprofit Organizations
  • Nursing Homes
  • Public Service Agencies
  • Private Social Service Agencies
  • Religious organizations
  • Schools
What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?
A social work degree gives you a grounding in sociology, psychology, public health, and social justice, and prepares you to work with clients to solve social and personal problems.
View Guide
What Can You Do With a Psychology Degree?
A psychology degree focuses on the understanding of behavior through courses on topics including sociology, childhood development, family structure, sexuality, addiction, and more.
View Guide

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