A bachelor’s degree gains you entry into the social work field. But to take on significant responsibility, such as becoming certified or licensed, a master’s degree in social work (MSW) is usually required. While many MSW programs involve two to three years of study with on-campus classes, more schools now offer 1-year MSW degrees via distance learning—meaning you never have to set foot on campus.
Besides convenience, 1-year MSW programs online allow you to quickly capitalize on your graduate degree and move into the types of jobs you’re aiming for. Despite a much shorter timeline to graduation, 1-year MSW programs online still incorporate valuable in-person fieldwork experiences, typically at a location close to you.
If you’re unfamiliar with 1-year online MSW programs, in this guide, you’ll learn how these degrees work and what you can expect in terms of cost and potential for professional advancement.
College Spotlights: Best 1-year Online Master of Social Work Programs
Completing your MSW while working is a lot to take on. Commuting to campus, finding parking, and paying university fees are hoops you must jump through before your professors utter the first word. Online MSW programs offer a simpler, more convenient option. Keep reading to learn about several top MSW programs that offer online degrees in as little as one year and stand out regarding education quality and flexibility. These schools also serve as a preview for our complete ranking of 1-year MSW programs online.
Morgan State University
Morgan State University students interested in earning a master of social work can choose an in-person program at the Baltimore campus or an online program. Both degrees have the same curriculum and credit requirements, though the online program offers convenient hybrid remote learning primarily consisting of asynchronous classes. The online MSW program at Morgan State University only offers a full-time option. Students choose from the standard track of 60 credits and graduate in about two years or the advanced standing track of 30 credits and graduate in just one year. To be eligible for the advanced standing track, students must already have a bachelor’s degree in social work earned within the past five years. Besides their coursework, online MSW students must also complete the required field placement hours.
University of South Florida
Students seeking an online master’s degree in social work have several programs to choose from at the University of South Florida. Which track a student chooses depends on if they qualify for advanced standing and if they want to complete the online program part-time or full-time. If a student earned a bachelor’s degree in social work within the past five years, they’ll have advanced standing and can complete their MSW in three consecutive semesters (35 credits). Students without advanced standing complete 60 credits in eight consecutive semesters. Coursework is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous lessons. This blended online learning approach provides interactive learning while accommodating the scheduling needs of working students. Students also are required to complete either 600 or 900 hours of fieldwork, depending on their standing.
University of Louisville
Social work students at the University of Louisville’s master of science in social work online program choose between the regular and advanced standing tracks. The regular track consists of 60 credit hours and takes four to eight semesters to complete. For students who earned a bachelor’s in social work in the last seven years, the advanced standing track requires only 30 credits and can be completed in two to five semesters. In addition to choosing the pace of their learning, students also choose from several concentrations, including psychosocial oncology, military social work, mental health, alcohol and drug counseling, and gerontology. The online curriculum follows a hybrid model; most classes can be completed via the internet, but students still will need to complete in-person requirements, most notably the several hundred hours of fieldwork. This program does not require the GRE to apply.
Walden University’s master of social work program allows students to customize their education using focus areas and embedded certificate courses. Specializations include child and family, healthcare, trauma, and the military. The 12 start dates each year allow students to begin their program at the right time for them. Walden University offers three MSW program tracks to choose from: traditional, traditional fast track (intensive), and advanced standing (for students with a bachelor’s in social work from a CSWE-accredited program and a minimum GPA of 3.0). To help pay for your education, Walden University offers eligible students a $2,000 Walden Leading Social Change Grant. The bulk of the classwork can be completed online but includes skills labs and simulations to enhance virtual learning. Although in-person fieldwork is part of the curriculum, students choose sites close to them and facilities that offer tele-practice options.
Virginia Commonwealth University
The online master of social work program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers a combination of online and in-person instruction to provide a complete education that covers both practical and theoretical concepts. The online portion is largely offered synchronously, meaning there’s a set time students attend class. The core courses usually occur during the work week and evenings. For electives, synchronous classes are in the late mornings on Saturdays. The in-person part of the curriculum includes fieldwork experiences that students complete in their local communities. As for the speed at which students can earn their MSW degree, VCU offers plenty of options. Students choose one of three start times during the academic year and choose between a full-time or part-time track. There’s also an accelerated option, in which students can graduate in just one year. Even without advanced standing, full-time students can graduate in as little as 16 months.
Can I get a 1-year MSW degree online without a BSW?
Generally speaking, no, you can’t complete a 1-year MSW program online without a bachelor’s degree in social work. A small number of programs have non-advanced-standing curricula that make it possible to graduate in just over a year, such as VCU. How long it takes to complete an MSW online program depends on two primary factors: whether the student chooses part-time or full-time study and whether they earned a bachelor’s degree within a certain amount of time of enrolling in the MSW program. In most online MSW programs, it’s only possible to graduate in one year if a student attends class full-time year-round and has a BSW. Otherwise, students should expect to take at least two years to graduate.
Benefits and Challenges of Earning a 1-year MSW
For many students, earning a 1-year MSW degree online is a fast and convenient way to get a graduate degree and take the next career step. Despite these benefits, there are still some challenges that online students need to be aware of before applying to a particular program. Let’s look at the common advantages and disadvantages of completing an MSW program in 1 year online.
The single biggest benefit of getting an online degree is convenient virtual learning. The ability to work full-time while fitting in classwork during nights and weekends is a huge advantage. Even when classes are live, students have the benefit of being able to learn from home, saving time and money on the commute to campus.
Getting a Master’s Degree
A master’s degree is critical for those who want to make the most of their career in social work. A BSW is sufficient for many social work positions, but they’re usually entry-level. Most clinical social workers need a master’s degree and state licensure to provide clinical care.
Most online MSW programs provide a great deal of flexibility. Not only can students choose from various concentrations or specializations, but they also can choose to attend part-time or full-time. There’s also the option for advanced standing, which allows students with a BSW to finish more quickly by reducing the number of field experience hours and classroom credits needed to graduate.
These big advantages come with enrolling in 1-year MSW programs online. But despite these benefits, there are still challenges to online learning that prospective MSW students need to know about.
One of the benefits of online study is self-paced learning. This can be a double-edged sword in that time management becomes critical to ensure students complete their requirements. Not having in-person instruction means the student bears more responsibility to ensure they complete assignments on time and attend class regularly. When learning from home, it’s easier to put things off or get a late start on a project because of work and family commitments.
In-Person Instruction Still Required
Social work is a people-intensive career. This means a lot of face-to-face interaction is required when in practice. Because of this, all accredited MSW programs require students to complete a minimum number of hours of in-person training. These field experiences provide students opportunities to practice what they’ve learned in a supervised, real-world setting. Those looking for an online degree to avoid in-person learning need to consider this important aspect of the profession.
Fewer Peer-Learning Opportunities
One of the great things about attending class on campus is getting to know your classmates. Whether you’re chitchatting before class or asking for extra help with an assignment after class, networking and group learning opportunities are limited when classes are delivered online.
How do classes differ from a longer MSW program?
Most classes will be the same if you’re in a 1-year MSW online or a traditional on-campus program. However, completing an MSW with advanced standing means you’ll need to complete fewer classes to graduate. This is the case at the University of New England’s online MSW program, where advanced-standing students need 32 credits and 500 practicum hours while traditional students need 64 credits and 900 practicum hours. Columbia University requires advanced standing students to complete 600 field hours, while traditional MSW students need 1,200.
1-year Online Master’s Degrees in Social Work Costs
Like any other major investment, you want to fully understand how much your education will cost before you decide to enroll in a 1-year online MSW program. The first step is to look at the school’s tuition rates and total cost of attendance. But this is only part of the story, as financial aid can significantly impact how much an MSW costs. Several types of financial aid are available, such as scholarships, grants, employer tuition assistance, and student loans. These all have advantages and drawbacks, which you can learn more about on our financial assistance page. To give you a rough idea of what a 1-year online MSW program costs, take a look at the following chart:
|School Name||No. of Credits||Cost/Credit||Est. Total Tuition Cost|
52 (quarter credits)
Frequently Asked Questions About 1-year Online Social Work Master’s Degrees
What are the admissions requirements for a 1-year online master’s in social work?
Getting admitted into a 1-year MSW online program requires a bit more from applicants than getting accepted into a traditional MSW program. This is because 1-year online MSW degree programs usually require students to have advanced standing. And to get advanced standing, you must not only have a BSW degree but have earned it within the last five or so years with a minimum GPA; specific requirements vary by school. Most applicants also need to provide the following:
- Online application
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited school
- Official transcripts
- Resume or curriculum vitae
- Application fee
Some programs may also require letters of recommendation, GRE test scores, personal statements or essays, and evidence of prior experience in social work or similar practice.
Can I earn a 1-year master’s in social work 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?
Getting a 1-year MSW degree online will not usually require a campus visit, but it will require face-to-face learning. The bulk of the curriculum consists of classes that can be completed online through synchronous or asynchronous learning formats. However, part of the curriculum consists of several hundred hours of fieldwork. These must be completed in person; most programs allow students to obtain these hours at a location close to where they work or live.
How much salary can I expect with an MSW?
Generally, a student with a master’s degree in social work can expect to make significantly more per year than one with a bachelor’s degree in social work. The National Association of Social Workers reports that an MSW degree gets you about $13,000 more per year than just a BSW degree. But getting a master’s degree isn’t just about making more money. Getting a master’s degree in social work is usually required to engage in clinical practice and become licensed, which impacts your upward mobility in the field and long-term job satisfaction.