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Best Online MSW Programs: Social Work

Read this guide to discover some of the best online MSW programs in 2024, what you’ll learn during your program, and the rewarding social work careers you can qualify for after graduation.

Author: Kyra Sutherland

Editor: Staff Editor

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Four young volunteers wearing blue t-shirts are happily packing items into boxes in a room with cardboard boxes around, suggesting a community service activity.

Social workers provide critical services to support children, individuals, and families. So if you’re considering a career in this meaningful field, earning a master’s in social work (MSW) online can help you gain critical skills and insights in research, human development, psychology, and beyond.

Online MSW programs give you the flexibility to continue to work, gain supervised work experience in the field (which is very important for this particular area of study), and balance your other responsibilities. We created this guide to help you make the best decision when selecting a program. You’ll find a list of the year’s top-rated programs along with helpful information about coursework, expected costs, and more.

Top 50 Online MSW Programs in 2024

Finding the right online Master of Social Work program can be a crucial step in realizing your passion for social change. As you take this path, program costs, quality, and specialization options should be at the forefront of your mind. The 2024’s best online MSW programs rankings dives into programs that not only align with your social justice goals but also provide the flexibility and accreditation needed for a fulfilling career in social work.

About the ranking
1
River Forest, Illinois
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

The Master of Social Work degree at Dominican University is well-suited to both current social workers and those pivoting to careers in the field. Students begin their work in the program with a first-weekend residency completed in-person or online and then complete classwork 100% online. During their time in the program, students can choose from six available tracks, including aging, global social work, and school social work. The 60-credit curriculum includes 1,080 hours of fieldwork, with assistance provided for remote students in securing local field placements. While this program is online based, it’s only available to residents of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Program Highlights:

Master of Social Work

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 2-3 years
  • Mode: Fully online
  • Accreditation: CSWE

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
2
Vermillion, South Dakota
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

The University of South Dakota offers the only graduate social work program in South Dakota, which it conveniently makes available to full- and part-time online students. For students who hold a bachelor’s degree in social work, there’s the 36-hour accelerated MSW option. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field can opt for the traditional 60-hour master’s degree. Full-time, regular-standing students can complete the program in two years, while advanced-standing students can finish in just one year. The curriculum incorporates 1,000 hours of hands-on fieldwork for all students, preparing them for advanced generalist social work services upon graduation.

Program Highlights:

Master of Social Work

  • Credits: 36-60
  • Length: 1-3 years
  • Mode: Fully online
  • Accreditation: CSWE

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
3
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

The Master of Social Work from Western Michigan University offers flexible online course options for students enrolled in the MSW program on the Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo WMU campuses. There are three track options for earning an MSW at the school. The standard 60-credit master’s program offers concentrations in clinical practice or policy, planning, and administration. A 39-credit advanced standing program is available to recent bachelor’s in social work graduates, and an accelerated 48-credit program allows BSW students to simultaneously work toward their master’s degree. All MSW students advance through the program with a cohort, ensuring a collaborative learning environment.

Program Highlights:

Master of Social Work

  • Credits: 39-60
  • Length: 10 months to 3 years
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: CSWE

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
4
Pensacola, Florida
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
5
Owensboro, Kentucky
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
6
San Angelo, Texas
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
7
Jackson, Mississippi
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
8
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
9
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
10
Scottsdale, Arizona
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
11
Pembroke, North Carolina
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
12
Anchorage, Alaska
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation NWCCU
13
Winona, Minnesota
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
14
Joliet, Illinois
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
15
Florence, Alabama
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
16
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
17
Gaffney, South Carolina
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
18
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
19
Saint Leo, Florida
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
20
Mequon, Wisconsin
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
21
San Marcos, Texas
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
22
Dover, Delaware
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation MSCHE
23
Tallahassee, Florida
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
24
Athens, West Virginia
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
25
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
26
Type:
Private for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
27
Boone, North Carolina
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
28
Rock Hill, South Carolina
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
29
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation WSCUC
30
Charlotte, North Carolina
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
31
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation WSCUC
32
Greenville, North Carolina
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
33
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
34
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
35
San Antonio, Texas
Type:
Private not-for-profit
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
36
Marquette, Michigan
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
37
Troy, Alabama
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
38
Boise, Idaho
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation NWCCU
39
Athens, Georgia
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
40
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation WSCUC
41
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation WSCUC
42
Salisbury, Maryland
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation MSCHE
43
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
44
Houston, Texas
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
45
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
46
Buffalo, New York
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation MSCHE
47
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Type:
Public
Cost:
$$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
48
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC
49
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation SACSCOC
50
Type:
Public
Cost:
$

School Services & Accreditation

Career Services Yes
Academic Counseling Yes
Accreditation HLC

Inside Look: Accredited Online MSW Programs

As you begin your search for the best online MSW program for you, it can be helpful to dive into the details of individual programs. We’ve spotlighted three CSWE accredited options below. Even if you don’t end up enrolling in one of these programs, reading about each school can give you a better idea of what a quality program looks like and what different online MSW programs have to offer in terms of curriculum, concentration tracks, cost, and length.

University of Southern California

university-of-southern-california-logo

The CSWE accredited USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers students a traditional (60 credits) or fast-track (37 credits) online Master of Social Work program. Students can specialize by picking one of three school departments Adult Mental Health and Wellness; Children, Youth, and Families; or Social Change and Innovation. Students can further narrow their specialty by choosing a program track—Military Social Work or School Social Work—that focuses on helping specific populations.

The skills and strategies included in the program are clinical case-management, client risk assessment, DSM-5 diagnosis, ethical decision-making, professional code of ethics, and interventions—including motivational interviewing, problem-solving therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

University of Denver

university-of-denver-logo

Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the online Master of Social Work from the University of Denver is a top-ranked program. It is available in a traditional format (60 credits) that takes 21 months to complete full-time or an accelerated format (45 credits) that takes about 18 months to complete full-time. The accelerated track is only available to students with a bachelor’s degree in social work.

The online MSW program at Denver has four start dates throughout the year and includes a foundation curriculum and a concentration curriculum in Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness. It requires one or two field internships depending on the student’s past social work experience.

Arizona State University

arizona-state-university-logo

Arizona State University offers students an affordable online Master of Social Work program, only costing $820 per credit hour regardless of whether students are Arizona residents or not. The program comprises 60 credit hours and requires students to participate in 960 hours of hands-on field education at two different internship sites.

Some of the courses include Assessment of Mental Disorders, Policy Practice, Macro Social Work, Micro Human Behavior/ Social Environment, and Diversity and Oppression in a Social Work Context. Admittance to the program requires official transcripts, a personal statement of education and career goals, a graduate admission application, three letters of recommendation, and proof of 240 completed volunteer or work hours in the social services.

Explore Online MSW Programs in Your State

Advantages of Earning a Master’s in Social Work Online

Completing college is a milestone, but continuing on to graduate-level studies can open so many other doors. Below are three of the advantages of pursuing an online social work degree masters.

  1. Flexibility and Convenience

    The online format of MSW classes allows you to study and attend classes from anywhere with an internet connection. In addition to eliminating commute time, online programs offer the flexible schedule you need to complete your coursework when it’s most convenient, such as after your workday or while your kids are in school.

  2. Promotion and Increased Pay

    Pursuing a Master of Social Work online degree also means increased knowledge and experience. This will make you more competitive for promotions and pay increases. Advancing in your career path will also open doors to positions in traditional and nontraditional settings such as behavioral health clinics and community and economic development.

  3. Specialization and Experience

    Since a bachelor’s degree in social work covers the basics, a master’s degree in social work allows you to pick a concentration in the area(s) you are most passionate about. Not only will you take specialized classes, but you’ll most likely complete an internship related to that concentration as well. Concentrations could include anything from youth and families to social change and innovation. This supplementary experience will prepare you to advocate for social change in your community.

What You’ll Learn in Online MSW Programs

Online MSW programs typically cover the history and current policies of social work and how social workers can advocate for policy change to stop injustices. Students learn how to perform research, how human behavior changes in various social environments, how to assess mental disorders, how to help people in a clinical and community setting, and how diversity and oppression have affected everyone in all social constructs.

Students can choose a concentration and will spend many hours practicing their skills through various internships. A capstone course demonstrating the student’s readiness to practice social work at an advanced level may be required before graduation.

Popular Online MSW Courses

  • Dynamics of Racism & Oppression

    This course explores social inequality issues related to disability, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation. The issues are analyzed from structural, social-psychological, and applied perspectives. Students identify historical themes that continue today and explore the costs of oppression to all individuals.

  • Human Behavior and Social Environment

    In this course, students study human behavior in relation to their social environments throughout the life cycle. They examine the influence of micro-, meso-, and macro-level social systems on individual behavior, including families, groups, organizations, and communities. Dynamic social constructions such as culture, race, class, gender, and sexual orientation are studied as sources of both oppression and strength at all social systems levels.

  • Research Methods

    This introductory course helps students learn the principles and process of research and the ethical considerations when designing and implementing a project. Coursework focuses on problem identification, hypothesis formulation, measurement, sampling, and experimental design

  • Social Policy for Social Work Practice

    This course introduces the historical context of social policy and services in the United States. It underscores social workers’ responsibility to understand and address the systemic factors that create social, economic, and environmental injustice. Students learn how social workers influence social welfare policy and advocate for social change related to social injustices based on race, ethnicity, language, class, religion, gender identity, etc.

  • Field Education

    Students participate in several hundred hours of field education via internships that allow them to put what they’ve learned into practice in community and clinical settings. Sometimes professors hold virtual practices before sending students into the field.

Specialization Options

An online master’s degree in social work will typically include a couple of concentration options. Choosing one will deepen your knowledge of a particular branch of social work that you enjoy. Your additional expertise will make you a competitive job candidate and allow you to better serve populations. Below are several examples of degree concentrations you may encounter as you search online social work master’s degrees.

  • Mental Health and Wellness

    This concentration focuses on the mental health and physical well-being of patients across the lifespan. It will prepare students to help individuals and populations affected by serious mental health conditions and other simultaneous health conditions achieve wellness and recovery. Students will learn to address the stigma and discrimination that impedes their clients’ health; work in collaboration with families, external teams, and support services; and advocate for those living with mental illnesses.

  • Children, Youth, and Families

    This concentration gives students the skills to deliver evidence-based treatment to families. They learn how system issues such as oppression and discrimination impact families. Students also learn to address the needs of vulnerable children and youth while building supportive social environments.

  • Trauma Practice

    This concentration prepares students with enhanced clinical skills to work with populations and individuals affected by trauma. It focuses on comprehensive assessment, advanced interventions based on cognitive approaches, and trauma-informed care for diverse clients, including children, adults, couples, families, and groups.

  • Community Practice

    This concentration prepares students for advanced practice with public or nonprofit organizations, neighborhoods, communities, congregations, and religiously affiliated agencies. Students learn various professional community practice models to strengthen and enrich communities in local and global settings.

Accreditation for Online MSW Programs

Accreditation shows that an online MSW program has met or exceeded certain educational expectations. The online MSW program you choose should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This council has set the bar high by requiring accredited programs to complete program self-studies, receive site visits, and more. An accredited social work program prepares students to become competent social workers to enter the field. It also signifies that they will receive a well-rounded education from qualified professors, and gain the knowledge, skills, and field experience they need to meet their state’s specific education licensure requirements.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Social Work

This master’s degree prepares students to work with people and populations in all areas, including healthcare, government, schools, and the military. No matter the area you choose, the need for social workers is high, and the field is predicted to grow 13% between 2019-2029. The average pay was $50,470 in 2019. Below are several examples of careers you can pursue with a master’s degree in social work.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Social workers help patients who have mental health conditions or addictions. Activities may include individual and group therapy, crisis intervention, case management, client advocacy, prevention, and education.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$29,540

$46,650

$80,900

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Healthcare Social Worker

The medical social worker assists behind the scenes with patients and families to ensure they have the resources they need to heal, as well as addressing their emotional and psychosocial needs as they cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses. They provide patients with information and counseling and may refer them for other services.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$35,000

$56,750

$86,130

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

School social workers help protect students, other children, and their families in vulnerable situations, providing support and assistance where needed. They may intervene with students and parents in instances of substance abuse, physical or mental abuse, and other conditions that put students at risk. Child and family social workers may also arrange adoptions and find foster homes for abandoned or abused children.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$30,870

$47,390

$78,230

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise programs and organizations that support public well-being. They oversee the program or organization’s budget and policies regarding participant involvement, program requirements, and benefits. Social and community service managers work for nonprofit organizations, for-profit social service companies, and government agencies.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$41,220

$67,150

$112,480

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Correctional Treatment Specialist

A correctional treatment specialist collaborates with parole officers, agency staff, and inmates to develop rehabilitation plans for probationers and parolees. They may develop training and education programs to improve work skills. They also help parolees find counseling services, mental health and substance abuse treatments, housing, and employment. Some of their duties may include conducting questionnaires and psychological tests to assess inmates.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$36,370

$54,290

$94,860

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Social Work

There’s more to the cost of an online master’s degree in social work than the tuition. Various fees are associated with online programs—including possible fees for internship and practicum classes—and you may need to pay for books or materials.

Before you start, create a plan, which preferably includes some financial aid, to pay for everything. Talk to your school’s financial aid department who can direct you to school scholarships, grants, or fellowships that are available to MSW students. If you work while you pursue your online MSW degree, check to see if your employer offers tuition assistance.

What Your Online Master’s in Social Work Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

60

$620

$37,200

65

$1,100

$71,500

60

$1,415

$84,900

Q&A with an Online MSW Professor

Q. The field of social work is notorious for causing burnout. What would you say to students who are considering the field of social work, but are worried about burning out a few years in? In the online MSW@Denver program, are students taught any skills to help them avoid burnout?

I would say that it is important to develop a strong system of self-care as well as community care. That is, not only should social work students and professionals have a toolbox of self-care strategies aimed at mindfulness, stress relief, and boundary-setting but they (we) should also tend to and draw from the care and mutual aid present in our communities. Staying well is not an individual act but also depends on the connections and resources from within our communities, both personal and professional. I think many courses will build in some lessons on self-care as a prevention strategy but it is also something we can expand and enrich, especially as we take away learning from the pandemic.

Q. Most MSW programs require in-field projects or internships. What advice do you have for students to help them get the most out of these opportunities?

Field projects and internships offer some of the best opportunities to put coursework learning into actual practice. While sometimes the work can seem removed from what students are learning, remembering to bring coursework lessons into internships by engaging in conversations with supervisors and colleagues is often a way to really apply learning to real-world experiences. Remember to cherish the time you have even as it is busy and full. Being present and actively engaging in your learning is key.

Q. What are the best ways students can prepare to pursue an online MSW?

Be sure to really investigate the values, ethics, mission, and approaches to learning that are centered in your prospective program of study. Get very familiar with the NASW code of ethics so you are clear about what the discipline really values and forwards. This is the core of developing a sense of professional and disciplinary identity. Social justice work is at the heart of social work practice and I see this as the gift we bring to other disciplines. Understanding the centrality of this will make the growth and challenges you experience in the program have more meaning.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online MSW Programs

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in social work?

Although each school’s admission requirements will vary slightly, you will typically see some general requirements—outlined below—with every program.

  • Bachelor’s degree transcripts
  • Letters of recommendations
  • Resume
  • Minimum GPA
  • Prerequisite classes during bachelor’s degree
  • Letter of purpos

How long will it take to finish my master’s in social work online?

A traditional MSW online program will take approximately two years or four semesters. However, factors like part- or full-time study, and accelerated programs affect completion time. Each of these come with benefits and setbacks. Usually, 900 hours of practicum are required for an online MSW degree, so be sure you understand the full-time commitment when applying.

Can I earn a master’s in social work 100% online or do I need to visit campus?

That depends on the school. Most universities offer on-campus, hybrid, and online opportunities. However, some schools do have in-person requirements, even if you’re attending online. Generally, you should be able to find a few schools that offer 100% online degrees no matter where you live, both part-time and full-time. Keep in mind that online MSW programs typically include a project, practicum, or internship, which requires students to gain relevant experience out in their communities.