Best Online Master’s in Social Work Degrees

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Social justice has become a hot topic in today’s society.

Best Online Master's in Social Work Badge

The reality is that there will always be winners and losers in the system, and the field of social work aims to help those who are most vulnerable.

If you have the desire to work with diverse groups of people and advocate for them, the field of social work may be one you should consider. Although you do not need a degree to help people or to make a difference, a master’s in social work gives you the clinical training needed to understand the theory and policy experience to make change happen. Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, non-profit organizations, the government, and even prisons. Chances are, you have probably met a social worker and not even realized it!

College Choice has compiled a list of the 53 Best Online Master’s Degrees in Social Work. These schools were chosen based on factors such as overall excellence, affordability, and job placement rates after graduation. Keep reading to find out which online degree may be able to work with your schedule and career goals.

Top 10 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Degrees

Rank School Location
1 Boston University Boston, MA
2 Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH
3 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
4 Fordham University Bronx, NY
5 Indiana University Indiana, PA
6 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
7 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ
8 Simmons College Boston, MA
9 Campbellsville University Campbellsville, KY
10 Catholic University of America Washington, DC
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What kind of master’s degree in social work should you get?

An online degree may be more favorable for you than a traditional on-campus one if you wish to continue working full-time while going to school. Not only are online programs usually more affordable (typically there is no difference between in and out-of-state tuition), they also allow you to earn your degree at your own pace. Several of the programs listed in this ranking have both part- and full-time options, giving you complete control over your degree. There are two types of online courses: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous courses meet at designated times via an online platform, while asynchronous courses are recorded and can be completed at any time before the specified deadline.

Almost anyone can apply for an online master’s degree in social work, so long as they already have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Those who have a bachelor’s, but not necessarily in social work, are often admitted into traditional programs that take two to three years to complete. By contrast, those with a bachelor’s in social work are often admitted to “advanced standing” accelerated programs that can be completed in about one or two years.

Check out last year’s ranking of the 50 best on-campus MSW degrees here.

How much money does someone with an online Master of Social Work degree make?

Whether you studied for your master’s online or on campus, there should be no difference in the salary you earn, as your diploma will never say “online” on it. According to PayScale, the average salary of someone in the U.S. with an MSW degree is $52,000. A licensed clinical social worker earns $57,000 on average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of fall 2018, the median salary of all social workers was slightly lower, at $49,470. It should be noted that while you do not necessarily need a license to work in the field, a majority of people who consider themselves a “social worker” do have a license to practice and thus make slightly more, on average, than their non-licensed peers.

State, workplace (i.e., public versus private sector), and years of experience all influence one’s salary. The top-paying states for child, family, and school social workers are the District of Columbia, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California. Metropolitan areas boast the highest rate of employment for social workers. Between 2016 and 2026, it is estimated that this field will experience a growth of 16%, which is higher than the national average.

What can you do with an online Master of Social Work degree?

The most common career path after obtaining an MSW is to become a licensed social worker. There are three main types of social workers, as listed by the BLS:

  • Child, family, and school social workers
  • Medical and public health social workers
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers

Social workers are not counselors or therapists, nor do they have the license or training to “treat” people like psychologists or doctors do, but they may work alongside other professionals in the health care field. In general, social workers seek to help the overall wellbeing of individuals, either on a personal or societal level. They may work with children in at-risk families or campaign with non-profit organizations to change certain laws.

What are the requirements for an online Master of Social Work degree?

Schools prefer applicants with either a BSW or another bachelor’s degree and a GPA of at least 3.0. After being admitted into a program, students take foundational courses (if in a traditional MSW program) and then move on to more advanced courses (specialization requirements or electives). Depending on the program, students may also participate in a field placement/internship at the beginning of the degree program, or start one after they complete their foundational coursework.

Each school and state has its own requirements for the minimum hours of field placement/internship that must be completed in order to graduate. This hands-on experience is not only important for developing one’s hard skills, it is also necessary if one wishes to become a licensed social worker. Please note that not all programs listed in this ranking have explicitly stated that their curriculum leads to state licensure. If the program does allow its graduates to sit for licensure, usually the curriculum only meets the licensure requirements of the state where the school’s main campus is located.

  1. Boston University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Boston University offers a Master’s of Social Work degree that is one of the top programs on-campus or online. The program is one of the oldest programs of its kind, creating leaders in social justice for over 100-years. BU is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

    Online presence

    The online degree requires at least 60 credit hours of coursework and 1,000 total clock hours of fieldwork experience. There are a variety of additional requirements dependent on student choices. Sample courses include:

    • Racial Justice
    • Cultural Intersection of Oppression
    • Communities and Organizations
    • Social Work Research

    Notes

    Boston University program comes with two concentrations. The clinical track focuses on professional tools while the macro track focuses on academic issues and solutions.

  2. Case Western Reserve University
    Location

    Cleveland, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Case Western University offers students a nationally ranked graduate program from a top-tier school. Their M.S.W. program offers three specializations, all available online. The degree from the regionally accredited school meets all the requirements for a social work license.

    Online presence

    Sample courses include Social Policy, Research Methods in SW, and Direct Practice Foundation Methods and Skills. Each specialization is a direct practice concentration and comes with their own requirements for graduation. Primary concentrations are:

    • Mental Health with Adults
    • Community Practice for Social Change
    • Children, Youth, and Families

    Notes

    Students are required to complete at least 60 credit hours of 100 percent online coursework and 900 total clock hours of fieldwork experience.

  3. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Southern California offers a master’s in social work to all online students. The degree is a perfect pathway towards becoming a licensed professional and gives students the ability to choose how they study. This is a regionally accredited university which holds special accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Online presence

    This program offers four concentrations and two study plans for both traditional and Advanced Standing students. Courses are structured asynchronously to allow students to choose an ideal schedule. Sample courses include:

    • Leadership in the Profession and Organizations
    • Theory and Practice
    • Science of Social Work
    • Policy and Advocacy

    Notes

    Although students are required to complete over 1,000 field hours, it is possible to fulfill some of these hours through the Virtual Field Practicum. The controlled environment allows students to join an approved agency for the remainder of this requirement.

  4. Fordham University
    Location

    Bronx, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Fordham University has a Master’s in Social Work program that is currently ranked the best in the nation by BestSchools.org and OnlineColleges.net. It is well known for flexible class schedules, a world-class faculty, and great opportunities in the field.

    Online presence

    A decision between clinical and leadership concentrations change the nature of student requirements. Students on average need to complete 61 credit hours of work as well as 900 clock hours of fieldwork. Sample courses include:

    • Social Work Practice in Research
    • Advanced Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis
    • Human Behavior
    • Social Environment

    Notes

    This online program is currently limited to residents of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. For students who live in this area, this is an amazing degree that has asynchronous courses, full access to course materials, and scheduling options for advanced students.

  5. Indiana University
    Location

    Indiana, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Indiana University offers an Advanced Generalist program for students who are interested in becoming licensed social workers. This program has the distinction of being the only program on this list to be continuously accredited since 1923. All students have access to the library and student support

    Online presence

    Open to all students from any state, program participants only need to visit campus once during the entire duration of the program. Part-time students can take up to four years to complete the required 60 credit hours. Sample courses include:

    • Human Behavior and the Social Environment
    • Statistical Research Methods for Social Work Practice
    • Diversity Issues in America

    Notes

    All coursework is done entirely online aside from fieldwork in a student’s local community. The online program can be completed in as little as two years.

  6. Florida State University
    Location

    Tallahassee, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Florida State University is a pioneer when it comes to online education. The school offers an extensive online program and is the first in the nation to welcome Advanced Standing Schools. This regionally accredited program is available for both traditional and remote learners.

    Online presence

    This is a part-time program that requires 480-hours of field experience and 61 credit hours of coursework. Students need 30 credit hours to apply for graduation. Sample courses include:

    • Psychopathology
    • Social Work
    • Research
    • Social Welfare Policies and Programs

    Notes

    This degree is certainly one of the best in the country but is unfortunately not available to all students. It is important that students check FSU’s coverage map for this degree to see if you fall into an area supported by this social work program.

  7. Rutgers University-New Brunswick
    Location

    New Brunswick, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Rutgers University offers a completely online Master’s program for students around the world. This program is one of the most sought-after social work degrees in the country and comes with two specializations. Courses are small and taught in an asynchronous format.

    Online presence

    The degree begins three times per year and can be feasibly completed within three years. Instructors are real-world professionals, providing students with a strong understanding of the field. Sample courses include:

    • Social Welfare Policy and Services
    • Psychopathology
    • Human Behavior and the Social Science

    Notes

    The program requires 62 credit hours of coursework and 900 hours of fieldwork. Concentrations include clinical and Violence Against Women and Children.

  8. Simmons College
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Simmons College offers a graduate online social work degree that has a special focus on clinical training. It is one of the most exciting programs on this list and a smart choice for working professionals who need a flexible degree option. Specializing in clinical work at an accredited program will aid students in getting specific licenses within their state.

    Online presence

    Students in the SocialWork@Simmons program have access to an intimate, online educational setting. This includes synchronous classes, discussion forums, and uniquely designed online coursework. Within this program, students will find that there are four clinical specializations. These include:

    • Child and Family
    • Trauma and Interpersonal Violence
    • Mental Health and Addictions
    • Health and Aging

    Notes

    The master’s social work foundation program requires 65 credit hours. Sample courses include Dynamics of Racism and Oppression, Social Welfare Policy and Services, and Advocacy and Social Action for Professional Social Workers.

  9. Campbellsville University
    Location

    Campbellsville, KY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Campbellsville University is a strong contender for being one of the most comprehensive graduate degrees for online students. Curriculum from this institution focuses on interpersonal communication skills and Christian ideals. Complete independently accredited programs in as little as 21-months.

    Online presence

    The online program from Campbellsville focuses on advanced subjects in the field of including cultural competencies, psychopathology, and human development. The degree is perfect for students who feel the need to become valuable members of society. Sample courses include:

    • Advanced Practice with Children and Families
    • Community Development and Grant Writing
    • Change Theories

    Notes

    This is an advanced standing curriculum of a total of 30 credit hours of coursework to be completed online. 900 practicum hours of field practice and a research project is required.

  10. Catholic University of America
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The Catholic University of America is a premier leader in online learning, particularly when it comes to the social work. An M.S.W. is entirely online, allowing students to obtain their degree without disrupting already busy schedules. It is one of the only programs in the country that prepares students to sit for the Licensed Graduate Exam. The exam is the first step in the journey towards a highly respected and quickly growing profession.

    Online presence

    Online students will be treated to a variety of features that make this an excellent choice. Small class sizes emphasize a hands-on and evidence-based teaching style. One of the friendliest programs on our list offers graduate students student advisement and support in the field. This requires at least 54 credit hours of courses including:

    • Human Development and Psychopathology
    • Ethical Issues in Contemporary Social Work
    • Psychodynamic Theory
    • Social Functioning

    Notes

    A student’s hours are dependent upon specific placement agencies and departments. Participants receive peer mentoring and supervision for at least one hour per week.

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