Online Master's in Social Work (MSW)

Social workers, in the most general sense, work to help needy or at-risk individuals of varying demographics through intervention and advocacy. They work to ensure the welfare of any population that might be vulnerable to hardship. School social workers play an integral role in the lives of children, helping students balance school, home and community to achieve academic success. They work in a school setting where they interact and communicate directly with students and their families. Through social, emotional and behavioral competence, social workers help students plan for and achieve success that suits their individual needs.

The main goal of a school social worker is follow standards to ensure that students are mentally, physically and emotionally present in the classroom. School social workers are required to adapt to the ever-changing school policies, nationwide educational models and social contexts of today’s complex educational landscape. Many of the issues that school social workers face are unique to a school environment, such as school attendance, bullying, school violence and support for students with multiple learning problems or risk factors.

If you majored in a general mental health field such as psychology or sociology and are interested in working in a school setting, earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) may be the right choice for you. With this degree, you can dive into a field that makes a great difference in the lives of students.

A Master of Social Work from an accredited institution may be required to become a practicing school social worker and, along with state certification, would allow you to become a school social worker at any grade level. For many social work students, the idea of completing a degree program without having to relocate or sacrifice income is very appealing. This fact, coupled with advances in online education, has led to the emergence of online msw programs as a popular option for degree seekers. More specialized and technical roles may be available to you when you have a master's degree.

Jumpstart Your Career in Social Work, Explore Online MSW Programs:

Earn your MSW online from Fordham University
    • No GRE Required
    • Full time, part time, and accelerated tracks
    • As few as eight months to complete
Discover Fordham University
Earn your MSW online from Denver University
    • No GRE Required
    • Complete in as few as 27 months
    • Fieldwork placement and immersion experiences
Learn more about Denver University

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Online MSW Admissions Requirements

Each online MSW program has its own prerequisites, so you should contact your accredited institution for detailed information regarding its policies. Depending on your school, you may be required to submit some or all of the following:

  1. Application: Fill out an initial application, which you can find on the website of the accredited institution of your choice. Paper and online forms are both generally accepted.
  2. Bachelor’s degree: You should have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent from an accredited institution prior to applying to an MSW program.
  3. Transcripts: Request transcripts in advance of the application deadline, and upload one official copy of each transcript from any postsecondary schools you have attended.
  4. Experience: Include any experience in social work that may be relevant.
  5. Personal statement: Write a personal statement, which is typically in the form of an essay. You may be required to submit multiple essays to fully express the intent and purpose of your application. Below are some common topics that should be mentioned in a statement.
    • Your main academic and personal interests
    • Experiences in school or work that have helped to prepare you for this course of study
    • Why you wish to study for the degree you’ve chosen
    • Why you wish to study at the university
    • Your plans for the future after you earn your degree
  6. Resume/CV: Upload a copy of your most recent resume or curriculum vitae as part of your application.
  7. Letters of recommendation: Submit your letters of recommendation. The number of letters required varies with each school. Be sure to request them well in advance of the deadline.
  8. Test scores: Mail in copies of your test scores. Many schools require GRE General Test scores or TOEFL/IELTS scores for international students; however, some programs do not require test scores at all.
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Online MSW Program Curriculum

The curriculum and number of credits required to complete an online msw program vary widely depending on your school and specialization. However, a typical msw program online includes courses in:

  • Social work in a school setting
  • Mental disorders in children and adolescents
  • Behavior management and instruction

Typically, coupled with general and elective coursework are social work field experiences. For school social workers specifically, these will take place in a school system or school district setting, and will help train social workers using hands-on methods. Online MSW programs often partner students with surrounding area field sites to offer the same field experience as on-campus programs.

School Social Work

What is a school social worker?

A School social worker's primary job function is to look out for the best interests of students in both their home and in-school lives. Some of their main duties might be advocating on student’s behalves, ensuring that students have access to food and clothing, and working with parents and staff to create action plans for at-risk students. A school social worker might work in a single school, a district, or multiple districts depending on the size of the student population being served. Some example issues school social workers might deal with are student truancy, behavioral problems, and violence in student populations.

Many online msw programs even include specialized coursework that educates future school social workers on working with children and student populations.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families at USC offers an innovative online MSW that features courses that engage students in discussions on working with children and young adults in and out of school settings.

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For more information about the role of social workers in schools, consult a guide created by the The National Association of Social Workers that outlines trends and practices within the field.

Social Work Career Outlook

After completing an online master’s program in social work, the next step is to get licensed. This certification will enable you to officially work in the field of your choice. Every state has its own licensure requirements for becoming a school social worker. The  average annual salary for a school social worker employed in elementary and secondary schools in 2017 was $62,690. School social workers can work at the elementary, middle, or high school level.