The 2021 Guide to Online Masters in Social Work (MSW) Programs

Social workers, in the most general sense, 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. 

A Master of Social Work (MSW) from an accredited institution may be required to become a practicing social worker in your state. More specialized and technical roles within social work might also be available to you when you have a master’s in social work degree. For some social work students, the idea of completing a degree program without having to relocate or sacrifice income can be appealing. This has led to the emergence of online MSW programs as an option for MSW degree seekers.

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

Earn your Master of Social Work online from the University of Denver.

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program is delivered by its top-ranked school of social work and offers two programs. Students can earn their degree in as few as 12 months for the Online Advanced-Standing MSW or 27 months for the Online MSW.

  • Complete the Online Advanced-Standing MSW in as few as 12 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the Online MSW Program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • No GRE Required
  • Customizable pathway options include Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness concentrations


Earn Your Master of Social Work From Simmons University

Aspiring direct practitioners can earn their MSW online from Simmons University in as few as 9 months. GRE scores are not required, and the program offers full-time, part-time, accelerated, and advanced standing tracks.

  • Prepares students to pursue licensure, including LCSW 
  • Full-time, part-time, and accelerated tracks 
  • Minimum completion time: 9 months


Earn your Master of Social Work online from Howard University

The online Master of Social Work program from Howard University School of Social Work prepares students for advanced direct or macro practice in culturally diverse communities. Two concentrations available: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice. No GRE. Complete in as few as 12 months.

  • Concentrations: Direct Practice and Community, Administration, and Policy Practice
  • Complete at least 777-1,000 hours of agency-based field education
  • Earn your degree in as few as 12 months


Earn Your MSW Online from Fordham University

Fordham’s skills-based, online MSW program integrates advanced relevant social work competencies, preparing students to serve individuals and communities while moving the profession forward. This program includes advanced standing and traditional MSW options.

  •  Traditional and advanced standing online MSW options are available.
  • There are four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
  • Pursue the degree on a full-time or part-time track.


Syracuse University’s Online MSW—No GRE Required

Syracuse University’s online Master of Social Work program does not require GRE scores to apply and is focused on preparing social workers who embrace technology as an important part of the future of the profession. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks are available.

  • Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks
  • No GRE required
  • Concentrate your degree in integrated practice or clinical practice


Earn Your Master’s in Social Work Online at CWRU

In as few as a year and a half, you can prepare for social work leadership by earning your Master of Social Work online from Case Western Reserve University’s school of social work.

  • CSWE-accredited
  • No GRE requirement
  • Complete in as few as one and a half years


What Do Social Workers Do?

The primary responsibility of a social worker is to help their clients—individuals, groups, communities or agencies—solve problems. They help clients identify and treat mental, behavioral and emotional issues. This resolution can be attained through various methods that include education, advocacy or intervention. While this role has evolved over the decades, it continues to focus on maximizing human potential and fulfilling human needs. If you are thinking about transitioning to a social work career, you can follow some of the steps below, which might include obtaining an MSW degree.

Can You Earn an MSW Online?

Yes, you can earn an online MSW. Many online MSW programs don’t require campus visits. However, if you’d prefer some on-campus experience, you can select a program that requires it. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits on-campus and online MSW programs. CSWE-accredited online MSW programs provide flexibility in your schedule and environment while teaching you self-discipline, focus and responsibility. 

Online Master of Social Work Program 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.

Online MSW Programs with No GRE Required

A student pursuing a master’s degree often has to meet many program application requirements. Some CSWE-accredited online MSW programs no longer mandate standardized tests like the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). This eliminates the cost, stress and time needed to study and take the examination.

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.

Advanced Standing MSW Program Options

One way to get a jump-start on your MSW program is to earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Many CSWE-accredited MSW programs offer an advanced standing option. In an advanced standing program, you already have a BSW so you don’t need to take as many classes to complete your MSW. Essentially, your work as an undergraduate reduces the number of classes (and credits) you need to take when you earn a master’s in social work. 

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Social Work Degree?

Within the overarching umbrella of social work exist a multitude of types of social work that individuals can consider pursuing. There are social work paths that lead to schools, mental health facilities, and correctional facilities, to name just a few. Below are descriptions and resources for a few specific areas of social work.

School Social Work

school social worker’s primary responsibility is to look out for the best interests of students in both their home and in-school lives. Some main duties might be advocating on a student’s behalf, 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. Some issues school social workers might deal with are student truancy, behavioral problems, and violence. For more information about the role of social workers in schools, consult the resources created by The National Association of Social Workers  that outline trends and practices in the field.

Clinical Social Workers

Clinical social workers treat and diagnose mental illness and help people who suffer from psychological challenges overcome barriers. The ultimate goal of a clinical social worker is to provide patients with the best quality of life they can possibly have, and they employ a variety of methods to help patients achieve this.

After completing an online master’s program in social work, you have the option of becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This certification can enable you to practice in many settings including hospitals, correctional facilities, substance abuse and addiction clinics, schools, and community health centers.

Social Work Careers and Salary Outlook

Is a Master of Social Work worth it? There are many factors to consider, including projected job growth, salary, and personal fulfillment. The median annual wage for family, child and school social workers was $47,390 in 2019, with earners in the 90% percentile earning $78,230, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Learn more about social worker salary and careers.

Online Master’s in Social Work FAQ

Before you advance your educational endeavors, research accredited online MSW programs and compare their length, curricula and costs. 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Social Worker?

How long it takes to become a social worker depends on whether or not you enroll in an advanced standing CSWE-accredited MSW program and whether you study part- or full-time. BSW programs typically take four years to complete full-time, while MSW programs take about two years. Additionally, the BLS notes that clinical social workers  need two years of work experience after they complete their graduate degree.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Master’s in Social Work?

The average cost of graduate tuition and fees was $18,947 in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES); $11,926 on average for public institutions and $25,442 for private institutions. To help pay for your education, the Council on Social Work Education recommends considering scholarships, fellowships, grants, service-based commitments and loans. 

Do MSW Programs Offer Social Work Specializations?

Yes, MSW programs offer social work specializations that allow you to focus on one area of the field. Common specializations include child, family, and school social work; healthcare social work; and mental health and substance abuse social work. You also may find programs that prepare you for social work administration or to practice social work with those in the military and veterans.

What Can You Do with a Social Work Degree Besides Social Work?

According to the BLS, social workers can work in hospitals, schools, mental health facilities, community agencies, private practices, and human and child welfare service agencies. 

Find the Best Online MSW Program for You

In searching for the best online MSW programs that fit your needs, carefully consider the structure of the coursework, admissions and campus visit requirements. Once you are armed with all of the information available to you about a specific program, you will be in the best position to choose an MSW online degree program that works for you.

Last Updated September 2020