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Best Online MSW Programs in Illinois

Thinking about advancing your social work career or making a professional pivot? An online MSW program in Illinois could be the next step. This guide covers the best degree programs and answer some FAQs.

Author: Megan Harrington

Editor: Staff Editor

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If you want to reach new levels in your social work career, an MSW degree can be a good investment — especially for Illinois residents. In fact, the Chicago area has the third highest employment level for social workers in the U.S., making it an attractive area for job opportunities.

There are many online MSW programs in Illinois; however, only some offer an ideal blend of flexibility, affordability, and career advancement. If you’re like most other MSW students, you have a lot of demands on your time. Many MSW candidates continue working full-time while enrolled in school, on top of juggling family or other personal obligations.

With an online MSW program in Illinois, you can tailor your schedule around the rest of your life. And upon graduation, you’ll be eligible for your licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) certification, a necessary step in increasing your earnings or opening your own practice.

Enrolling in graduate school is a big step, so having all the relevant information is essential before you take the leap. In this guide, we’ll look at the different types of MSW programs in Illinois, spotlight some of the best programs, and answer your most pressing questions. Let’s get started.

College Spotlights: Best Online MSW Programs in Illinois for 2024

Graduate school is a significant investment, so you must ensure it’s a good fit before you commit the time and financial resources to a program. We’ve done the research for you, and in the section below, we’re highlighting some of the best online MSW programs in Illinois. These online and hybrid options offer an ideal mix of affordability, flexibility, and quality instruction. If you’re ready to advance your social work career, these three programs are a great place to start.

Dominican University

The MSW programs at Dominican University combine small classes, unique field experiences, and exceptional flexibility, making this one of the best online MSW programs in the state. This Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program offers nearly every option an MSW student could want. Students can choose from online or on-campus courses, traditional or advanced-standing pathways, and part- or full-time study. Traditionally, a first-week orientation session was held on campus, but now there’s an online option.

Students must be residents of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, or Wisconsin to attend this online MSW program in Illinois, but advisors will work with you to find local fieldwork assignments. If you’d prefer, there are even international fieldwork options. When it comes to financing your education, the school offers departmental scholarships and graduate assistantships, which can reduce the amount of loans you’ll need. Dominican graduates have great professional outcomes. At nine months post-graduation, the school boasts a 100% placement rate.

Delivery:

  • Online
  • On-Campus
  • Hybrid

Specializations:

  • Aging, Adulthood and Gerontology
  • Children, Youth and Family
  • Global Social Work Practice for Immigrants and Refugees
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Military
  • School Social Work

Program Options:

  • Traditional
  • Advanced Standing
  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE

Loyola University Chicago

With over 100 years of experience, Loyola University has a strong tradition of educating social workers. The CSWE-accredited, completely online MSW program in Illinois can be completed in eight semesters (including summers) and is a mix of synchronous classes and asynchronous content. The program uses cutting-edge online teaching modalities, including small group seminars and simulations. Students are part of a cohort for the first five semesters of the program and then progress to in-person fieldwork and internships.

The online option is part-time, so this program takes a bit longer than a full-time program, but it gives students the flexibility to continue working and tending to family responsibilities. This 49-credit program isn’t inexpensive, but internal and external scholarships are available. And the financial commitment may be well worth it.

Delivery:

  • Online

Specializations:

  • Advanced Clinical track or the School Social Work track (Micro Practice Specialization)
  • Leadership, Community, Advocacy, and Policy track (Leadership, Mezzo, and Macro Specialization)

Program Options:

  • Traditional
  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

The 100% online MSW program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign allows students to continue working full-time while they study. Known as the “iMSW” program, it is CSWE-accredited and offers traditional and advanced-standing options. The traditional pathway comprises 48 credits plus 24 credit hours of fieldwork, while the advanced-standing program is 32 credits of classes and 12-24 credit hours of fieldwork (depending on prior experience).

Students choose from two concentrations and complete their internship within that practice area. Concentrations include Leadership and Social Change and Advanced Clinical. Within the advanced clinical concentration, students focus on one of the following areas: mental health, schools, healthcare, and children, youth, and family services. Students in the iMSW program can expect to graduate in about 18 months (advanced standing pathway) or between 36-48 months (traditional pathway). The mix of flexibility, quality instruction, and focused internships make the iMSW program a very attractive option.

Delivery:

  • Online

Specializations:

  • Advanced Clinical concentration (including four focus areas: Mental Health, Schools, Health Care, and Children, Youth, & Family Services)
  • Leadership and Social Change concentration

Program Options:

  • Advanced Standing
  • Traditional
  • Full-Time
  • Part-Time
  • No-GRE

Types of Master of Social Work Programs in Illinois

Traditional MSW Programs in Illinois

For students without an undergraduate degree in social work (a BSW), a traditional pathway program that starts with foundational coursework is the best option. Most online MSW programs offer a traditional pathway, which usually consists of about 60 credits and takes about two years of full-time study to complete. While coursework can often be completed 100% online, traditional MSW programs also require in-person fieldwork, internships, or both.

Traditional MSW Programs in Illinois Worth Exploring

No-GRE MSW Programs in Illinois

Whether it’s been a while since you’ve been in school or just don’t want to spend the time and energy on standardized tests, you’ll be happy to hear that many online MSW programs in Illinois do not require GRE scores. This includes high-quality and selective schools. Many of the programs have undergraduate GPA requirements instead. If your GPA is lower than the threshold, you may want to consider studying for the GRE. If you score well on the exam, the GPA requirement may be waived.

No-GRE MSW Programs in Illinois Worth Exploring

Advanced Standing MSW Programs in Illinois

The majority of MSW programs in Illinois offer an advanced-standing pathway. In this program option, students who already have a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited school can bypass much of the introductory coursework. Because they are starting with a background in social work, advanced standing students typically graduate sooner (one year for full-time study and two years for part-time study).

Advanced Standing MSW Programs in Illinois Worth Exploring

Part-Time MSW Programs in Illinois

For students who intend to work full-time or just need some extra flexibility, a part-time MSW program can be an attractive option. These programs typically have the same amount of credit and fieldwork requirements, but students can spread the coursework out over a longer period. For students in a traditional pathway program, they can expect to graduate in about three years. Advanced standing students who are studying part time usually graduate in about two years.

Part-Time MSW Programs in Illinois Worth Exploring

Pathways with an MSW Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for social workers is better than average and the profession is expected to grow by 9% through 2031. And thanks to their advanced education and skills, social workers with a MSW degree are in even higher demand. The three most common careers for MSW graduates include mental health social workers, health care social workers, and child, family, & school social workers. There are less common options, including forensics social workers and hospice social workers. Once you have the degree, there are many career choices.

Mental Health Social Worker

Mental health social workers work in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, and private practice. With your MSW, you can earn your licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) credentials and work in private practice, offering behavioral assessments as well as group and individual therapy. Opportunities in Illinois continue to grow; a new Illinois law allocates $10 million in funding to a partnership between mental health social workers and police officers.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$54,213

$66,417

$79,968

Source: Salary.com, 2023

Healthcare Social Worker

As a healthcare social worker, you’ll likely be employed by a hospital system and will help patients navigate treatment options as well as the insurance system. Many MSW programs offer dual degrees such as a master’s in public health (MPH)-MSW. This combination allows for specialization in the health care industry and more advanced job opportunities.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$58,458

$72,154

$84,536

Source: Salary.com, 2023

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

Many child, family, and school social workers are employed by the government, educational institutions, or hospitals. Having a MSW will allow you to earn your LCSW credentials, leading to higher salary potential and leadership opportunities. As a LCSW, you will also have the option to open your own practice, if desired.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile

$39,268

$48,997

$59,781

Source: Salary.com, 2023

Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Illinois

In Illinois, there are two levels of social work licensure: a licensed social worker (LSW) and a licensed clinical social work (LCSW). Both licenses allow individuals to manage a caseload, but only LCSWs can operate under their own practice. Graduation from a MSW program is a prerequisite if you wish to become a LCSW.

Steps for obtaining your LSW credential:

  • Follow the administrative code and be of good moral character.
  • Graduate from a CSWE-credentialed MSW program OR graduate from an CSWE-credentialed BSW program AND undergo three years of supervised social work experience.
  • Complete the IDFPR application and pay any necessary fees ($50 as of 2023).
  • As of January 2022, LSW candidates no longer need to take the ASWB exam.

Steps for obtaining your LCSW credential:

  • Follow the administrative code and be of good moral character.
  • Graduate from a CSWE-approved MSW program OR doctoral program.
  • Complete the necessary supervised clinical professional experience; 3,000 hours for MSW program graduates and 2,000 hours for doctoral program graduates. For full time individuals, this must be complete in no more than 40 hours and no less than 30 hours per week. For part-time individuals, this might be completed in no more than 29 hours and no less than 15 hours.
  • Complete the IDFPR application and pay any necessary fees ($50 as of 2023).
  • Pay the required fees ($260 as of 2023) and sit for the ASWB clinical exam.

Costs and Financial Support for Online MSW Programs Students in Illinois

Enrolling in a MSW program is an investment in your professional future and can lead to promotions and higher earnings down the road. But in the short term, costs can add up, so it’s important to understand the financial commitment in advance. Luckily, there are financial aid opportunities available, even for graduate students.

A good first step is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is necessary for all federal and state loans and grants, and you’ll also find information specifically for graduate student aid at the FAFSA site.

Beyond federal loans and grants, you may be eligible for institutional aid and private scholarships. Many social work programs offer institution-based scholarships, like those offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or the graduate tuition waiver for social work students offered by Illinois State University.

The state of Illinois offers the School and Municipal Social Work Shortage Loan Repayment Program for eligible individuals and there is also loan relief available for community behavioral health workers.

For a broader overview of the financial aid process, head to our financial aid page.

How Much Your Online MSW in Illinois Might Cost

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

60

$1,030

$61,800

60

$850

$51,000

49

$1,045

$51,205

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Illinois MSW Degrees

What are the typical admissions requirements for an online MSW in Illinois?

Admission requirements will vary depending on your program, but in general, individuals should have an undergraduate degree from an accredited school and a minimum GPA average (usually 3.0 on a 4.0 scale). For many programs, such as the iMSW from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, GRE test scores are not required.

Additional admissions criteria may include:

  • A personal statement describing why you are interested in social work and the particular program
  • Two to three professional or academic references
  • A résumé detailing any relevant educational, work, or volunteer experience.
  • International students may also be required to submit TOEFL exam results

How do online MSW programs in Illinois facilitate fieldwork components?

In almost all cases, fieldwork requirements must be completed in person and in state. Even if you are attending a 100% online program, you should plan on living in or near Illinois, especially during the latter half of the program when fieldwork occurs. The number of hours vary by program, but students in a traditional pathway program can expect to complete about 1,000 hours of practical experience. In some cases, international field work opportunities may be available.

What factors may impact the length of time needed to complete the online MSW in Illinois?

For traditional pathway programs, students typically need to complete 48 to 60 credits. Based on full time study, this takes about two years. It will take longer if you choose a part-time program and shorter if you enroll in an advanced standing program. For example, the 49-credit online MSW program from Loyola University is designed to be completed in eight consecutive semesters (including summers). The 60-credit traditional pathway program from the Erikson Institute can be completed in two years, or about three to four years part time. Sometimes, online courses are more condensed (about eight-weeks long), and you take fewer classes at a time. It all depends on the program.

Is it possible to earn an MSW degree through 100% online study in Illinois, or do I need to visit the campus?

In many MSW programs in Illinois, you can take courses and exams completely online. However, you will have to do all required field work and internship hours in person. These hours typically take place in the later semesters, so that’s important to note for planning purposes. Additionally, some programs have in-person orientations. However, there may be a virtual/zoom option for this.

If I live out of state, can I enroll in an online social work master’s program in Illinois?

It depends. Some schools have residency requirements. For example, Dominican University’s online program is only available to students residing in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In this case, if you live in a different state, you’d have to relocate first. Other programs allow students from other states (even international), but keep in mind you’ll likely need to complete your field work hours in the state of Illinois.

Essential Social Work Resources for Students and Professionals in Illinois

  • School Social Work Best Practice Guide
    This guide is a collaboration between the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Association of School Social Workers and provides a detailed overview of best practices when it comes to the role. If you’re considering school social work, this is a good resource.
  • Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW) Facebook Group
    This Facebook group is for current members of the IASSW and is intended to promote professional development and improve outcomes for clients. It’s a private group, so you’ll need to request access and be approved.
  • Illinois Society for Clinical Social Work
    If you’re a clinical social worker looking for networking opportunities, conferences, or professional resources, this site has a wealth of information. Don’t miss the self-care resource section for tips on avoiding burnout and staying grounded.
  • National Association for Social Work Illinois Chapter – Live & Recorded Events
    Whether you need continuing education (CE) credits, want to brush up on certain skills, or are looking to network, the events page from the NASW’s Illinois Chapter is a great place to start. They offer both live and recorded trainings.
  • Society for Social Work Leadership in Healthcare – Illinois Chapter
    Through advocacy, mentoring, networking, and professional development, this organization is working to strengthen and promote social work in healthcare settings. The site has links to a list serv, helpful articles, and information on grant opportunities.