Online Master's in Social Work Degree Guide

Master of social work programs expand upon the topics students learn about in a bachelor of social work program. Learners focus more on some of the specialty areas and are taught the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in their careers. Students learn best practices for helping clients from a variety of backgrounds and, upon graduation, know what to offer clients, when to offer certain services, and when to refer clients to a different source.

Since there are many areas of social work that individuals can pursue professionally, many programs offer the chance to choose a concentration. By choosing a specialization, students are able to cater their degree to their personal and professional aspirations. Most graduates are prepared to gain licensure in their specific field. Master's students who wish to continue their education can pursue a doctoral social work program, which opens the door to more career options and higher salary opportunities. Online social work programs are an excellent choice for students who need flexibility.

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Social Work Programs for You

Earning Your MSW Online

There are many benefits to earning an online master's in social work. Courses are typically delivered asynchronously, meaning that students are able to work at their own pace to complete their required coursework at times that are most convenient for them. Because online programs are so flexible, online students have the ability to work while going to school. Working while earning an education can help students pay for their tuition.

Because online programs are so flexible, online students have the ability to work while going to school

Many colleges also offer discounted tuition rates to online students. Some schools even offer out-of-state learners resident tuition rates, which are lower than the nonresident rates they would pay if they were traditional, on-campus students from out of state. Online master's in social work programs include internship requirements in addition to the required coursework. For online students, these internships are available at locations in their community.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an MSW Online?

To earn a master's in social work, students must complete their required coursework and a practicum or internship. The curriculum requires students to earn about 60 credits and takes between 1.5 to two years to complete. Once they complete their master's program, graduates are prepared to complete the field experience requirement to earn licensure.

Courses in an Online Master's in Social Work Program

A master of social work degree covers many different topics that will prepare students for several types careers. Most students learn about specialized careers by completing a program concentration.

Example Courses

Geriatric Social Work In this course, students focus on the aging process and special needs that exist for senior citizens. They learn how to communicate with the older population, their families, and caregivers.
Generalist Social Work Practice Methods Students learn about the foundations of social work, including ethical principles, core concepts, and common values. They also learn how to develop relationships with their patients and how to provide quality services.
Social Work Case Management This course teaches generalist social work ideas, and students learn how to collaborate with a team to focus on clients. The course also covers organizational concepts and social work roles.
Child Welfare Issues In this course, students learn about the functions and roles of child welfare workers, including assessment, intervention, engagement, and the ability to place children with the proper families.
Family Therapy Students learn how they can provide social services to families. They are taught different elements of social work, including marriage counseling, general family therapy, and dealing with adoptions and foster family scenarios.

Accreditation for an Online Social Work Program

There are two different types of accreditation: regional and national. The most notable difference between regionally and nationally accredited institutions is that the credits that are earned from a regionally accredited program are much more widely accepted. Regional accreditation is also considered to be more prestigious, because institutions with this accreditation tend to focus more on academics.

The CSWE is the national association that represents social work education. The association promotes quality social work education and offers various opportunities for professional development and leadership. Licensing requirements, graduate school admissions, and employers in the social work field require that students complete their degree at a CSWE-accredited institution. There are several online programs that are accredited by the CSWE.

See the 2019 Best Online Master's in Social Work Programs

Social Work Specializations

In social work master's programs, students can often choose a specialization. They usually cover career paths that graduates can pursue, such as the specific skills and knowledge required. Specializations provide students with the chance to cater their degree to their career and personal interests. Below are some of the most common specializations available in social work programs:

Substance Abuse

In this specialization, students learn the skills and knowledge needed to treat and care for patients who struggle with substance abuse issues.

School Social Work

Social work students learn how to work with learners in a school setting. This concentration also covers the different situations they would encounter in their career.

Child Welfare

Students learn about a variety of child welfare issues, including children who have been neglected and abused, adoption cases, and foster care situations.

Medical/Public Health

In this specialization, students learn about different chronic illnesses with which people struggle. They learn the necessary skills to provide counseling to patients and their families.

Mental Health

Prospective social workers learn how to provide a variety of services to patients who struggle with mental illness and about different types of mental illness that exist.

Earning a Doctoral Degree in Social Work

Earning a master's in social work can open a lot of doors to students, including the opportunity to continue their education in a doctoral program. A doctorate typically takes three years to complete, and much of the time is spent researching and writing a dissertation. This research requirement allows students to show what they have learned and often combines practical and learned knowledge. Doctoral degrees can open up career opportunities in the field that are not available to individuals with a master's degree, such as teaching in a college. This degree also helps graduates earn higher salaries.

Job and Salary Outlook for Online Master's in Social Work Graduates

There are several different career opportunities that individuals with a master's in social work are able to pursue. Graduates with a master's in social work have more career opportunities and are equipped with the education needed to pursue any type of social work licensure. All social work careers have a common goal, and that is to help those in need.

Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and behavioral issues. They help their clients cope with their problems. These professionals work in many settings, including health clinics, hospitals, and human service agencies.

Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers work with children and families to improve their lives in a number of ways. They assist with family therapy, marriage counseling, and child welfare cases, including adoption and foster care situations.

School Social Worker

School social workers support students that are struggling with issues such as bullying. They provide one-on-one counseling and keep parents and teachers updated on the child's progress.

Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers support families and individuals dealing with chronic and acute illnesses. They educate and counsel patients, provide advice to caregivers and family members, and help patients cope with emotional and mental stress related to their illness.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health and substance abuse social workers provide support to individuals struggling with mental and emotional illness as well as individuals who have issues with substance abuse, including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

Salaries and Job Outlook for Social Workers

Occupation Minimum Degree Required Employment Annual Mean Wage
Social Worker Master's 682,100 $47,980
Child, Family, and School Social Worker Master's 317,600 $44,380
Healthcare Social Worker Master's 176,500 $54,870
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker Master's 123,900 $43,250
Source: BLS, May 2016

Top-Paying Industries for Social Workers

Setting Salary
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $58,490
Local Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals $52,900
Ambulatory Healthcare Services $48,340
State Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals $46,120
Individual and Family Services $40,800
Source: BLS, May 2016

Licensing and Certification for Social Work Graduates

Most social work jobs require licensure, and the requirements are different in each state. In Michigan, licensure is regulated by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. To become a licensed social worker in this state, individuals must have at least a bachelor's in social work from a Council on Social work Education (CSWE)-accredited institution and they must pursue a technician designation.

To become a licensed bachelor social worker, individuals must have a bachelor's in social work, 4,000 hours of supervised field experience, and they must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) bachelor's exam. In most states, to be a licensed master's clinical social worker, graduates must poccess LMSW licensure and earn clinical licensure as well. This usually requires social workers to pass an additional exam.

Additional Social Work Resources

Explore Scholarships for Social Work Students

Check out this guide to find the social work scholarships right for you. We list scholarships for social work master's students, scholarships for social work majors, and social work doctoral students.

Professional Organizations

Professional social work organizations connect social workers across the country and world and offer many valuable networking opportunities and resources for students and graduates. Explore our guide to finding the right social work organization for you.


Whether you are an aspiring social work student or a seasoned social worker already in the field, there are many resources available to support, encourage, and develop your professional knowledge and insight into the social work field. Browse our list of must-have resources for every social worker.

Accredited MSW Programs

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