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Best Master's in Social Work Online Programs

Explore the top 25 online Master of Social Work (MSW) programs and learn about program components and common courses. Read what programs can cost, what types of aid are available, and what careers you may be prepared for upon program completion.

25 Best Online MSW Programs

When looking for an online Master of Social Work program, students should consider cost, time constraints, and availability of local practicum sites. Below are 25 of the best schools that offer MSW programs online.

1. Eastern Washington University

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees In-state (2018-2019)
Cheney, WA $12,381

Eastern Washington University offers a three-year generalist MSW program at its Spokane campus that meets on campus three weekends per quarter, with the rest of coursework completed online. The program totals 90 credit hours. The school also offers a three-weekend hybrid format for advanced standing students which takes around six quarters to complete (1.5 years, 45 credit hours). Both programs are considered part-time and enable students to balance work and family with their studies, and may allow students to complete practicum requirements at their place of employment or a distance location in some situations.

2. Colorado State University - Fort Collins

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees In-state (2018-2019)
Fort Collins, CO $12,495

The primarily online advanced generalist MSW program offered by Colorado State University - Fort Collins enables students to complete their coursework online and attend learning weekends twice per semester at one of three campuses (Fort Collins, Boulder/Longmont, and Denver). The program progresses in a cohort model, with traditional MSW students starting in three-year increments and advanced standing students joining the cohort in the second year. Students in the traditional program complete 64 credit hours over three years while advanced standing students complete 39 credit hours over two years. CSU works with students to find suitable field placement locations for completing the 1,000 hours of practicum (675 for advanced standing).

3. University of Northern Iowa

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees In-state (2018-2019)
Cedar Falls, IA $10,432

University of Northern Iowa has a trauma-informed MSW program that consists of a field practicum and 100% online coursework. Some courses are available asynchronously and other courses may meet via digital conferencing once per week. Students can earn their degree via the foundation track (60 units) or the advanced standing track (37 units), and can work with the school to find a convenient practicum site. UNI offers the only Trauma Informed Care (TIC) concentration in Iowa and has 153 partnerships for internship opportunities for students.

4. University of Maine

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees In-state (2018-2019)
Orono, ME $10,432

The distance MSW program at the University of Maine offers asynchronous online courses with some synchronous distance sessions and two Saturday sessions per semester in Belfast. Students can complete practicum requirements at a qualifying agency convenient to their location. The standard MSW track consists of 63 credit hours and can be completed in three years, while the advanced standing track consists of 46 credit hours and can be completed in two years. Both tracks are offered as cohort programs and will begin accepting students in the fall of 2020 (standard) and summer of 2020 (advanced standing).

5. University of Missouri - Columbia

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees In-state (2018-2019)
Columbia, MO $10,017

The University of Missouri - Columbia has an online MSW program that consists of completely online asynchronous coursework with a practicum available near students. The online program is available to residents of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Regular standing students can complete the required 60 credit hours in three years and advanced standing students complete 39 credit hours over the course of two years; both programs run in a cohort model, with the regular standing program beginning in June and the advanced standing program beginning in August. Students from either program can select a concentration in clinical social work or policy, planning & administration in human services.

Rank School Name Location Graduate Tuition & Fees In-state (2018-2019)
6 University of Nevada - Reno Reno, NV $5,575
7 The University of Tennessee - Knoxville Knoxville, TN $13,120
8 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD $6,835
9 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA $14,496
10 Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College Baton Rouge, LA $13,023
11 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND $9,697
12 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Edinboro, PA $16,328
13 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL $11,553
14 Rutgers University - New Brunswick New Brunswick, NJ $19,416
15 Humboldt State University Arcata, CA $9,109
16 Ohio State University - Main Campus Columbus, OH $12,425
17 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR $8,612
18 University of Louisville Louisville, KY $12,880
19 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX $6,889
20 Concord University Athens, WV $8,960
21 Texas State University San Marcos, TX $8,449
22 Aurora University Aurora, IL $12,600
23 Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN $9,465
24 Winthrop University Rock Hill, SC $15,730
25 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL $6,368

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

How to Choose an Online MSW Program

When deciding on an online MSW program there are a few considerations, including flexibility, cost, and residency. Find out more details.

Flexibility

While many online MSW programs may be offered as part-time options, some programs may enable students to study full time. It's important to consider what program works best with your schedule. How many credit hours are you prepared to take? How many hours can you dedicate to fieldwork each semester? Also consider if you prefer a program with asynchronous options or one with some synchronous components.

Programs Offered

When considering schools for an MSW program, check to see which programs are offered as online/distance options, as some schools may limit which programs are available in these formats. In addition, if you have earned a bachelor's degree in social work you should look for schools with advanced standing options which can be completed in less time than standard MSW program tracks.

Residency Requirements

Another factor to keep in mind when choosing an MSW program is residency requirements. While many programs offer 100% online coursework, some programs may require some campus visits each semester. Also, keep in mind that all MSW programs require clinical practicum experiences. Ask about practicum site availability to see if your practicum can be completed in a location near you.

Accreditation

MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Although some states may allow social workers to have alternate qualifications, a CSWE accredited degree is often the easiest route to licensure. Therefore, check your program choices to CSWE accreditation status.

Cost

Online MSW programs can vary in cost and involve different types of fees. Explore your program choices to see if it has flat-rate fees or a variety of fees. Also, see which schools offer scholarships and other aid specifically for MSW program students.

How to Enroll in an Online MSW Program

Enrolling in an Online MSW Program

To enroll in an online MSW program, you will first need to fill out an application. You may be required to upload unofficial transcripts with your application along with other required documents and the application fee, if required. For MSW programs students may need to submit a resume, letters of recommendation, a detailed explanation of relevant experience, a personal statement of goals, and entrance exam scores (where applicable). Upon acceptance to a program, students may need to furnish official transcripts. While some programs accept applications throughout the year, some programs may only accept applications once per year, or even once every few years, especially if they run in a cohort model. Check with your school choices to find out when it accepts applications and when programs begin.

Registration Process

After being admitted into a program, you will receive an enrollment packet with information about your school's online course system and steps to set up your login. You will need to have your accounts active prior to the beginning of your coursework. Depending on your program, classes may run in 16-week or 8-week cycles; or there could be another length of time altogether. Registering can vary by school, but you may register through an academic advisor or manually online. Academic advisors will work with you to create a plan of study and make sure that you are aware of important enrollment and course dates. Students typically need to complete foundational MSW courses prior to taking those in the advanced study year.

Technical Requirements

Each school may have different software and hardware requirements, and your school will communicate these requirements to you before your program begins. Because of the time spent online, most online MSW students need to have a Mac or PC computer with an operating system that is recent (example: Windows 7 or later). Students will also need access to the internet, so it is recommended that you have internet connection at home as well as a major web browser such as Firefox or Chrome. Schools may require additional technical requirements, such as Microsoft Office, but many software needs may be available through the school's online portal.

Overview of Online MSW Programs

Online MSW programs are often available as two track options and are available as fully online as well as hybrid. In order to choose the right program, you should contemplate your family and work obligations, your learning style, time limitations, and transportation. You should also consider your previous education and work experience and how these determine your program options. The following sections give an overview of common MSW program tracks, formats, concentration options and components.

Program Options and Length

  • Traditional MSW programs are for students who have earned a bachelor's degree outside of social work. The curriculum typically consists of a foundation year with core MSW courses and an advanced study year that consists of advanced practice coursework. Students on a traditional track who take courses full time typically finish in around two years, while students studying part time finish their program in three or four years.
  • Advanced Standing MSW programs are for students who have earned a bachelor's degree in social work. Students in these programs usually bypass the foundation courses but may need to complete some bridge coursework, depending on the selected program. Full-time advanced standing students may be able to complete their program in one year while part-time students may finish in two years or more.

Program Format

Some programs may offer completely online coursework while other programs may require campus visits one or more times throughout the program. Students may be required to complete an online orientation at the beginning of their program to familiarize themselves with the online learning environment. The online coursework may be completed through a third-party portal that gives students access to video lectures, assignments, course syllabi, exams, and other items associated with courses. Course communication with peers and teachers may be completed through this portal. Students in a hybrid program will also have opportunities to communicate with teachers and peers during on-campus sessions. Depending on the chosen program, students may be able to access all or part of their online coursework at their convenience. Some programs may require students to log in at specific times and dates for lectures, assignments, and other course requirements. Both fully-online and hybrid programs still require students to complete on-site practicum experiences and/or internships.

Practicum Requirements

Both traditional and advanced standing MSW tracks consist of practicum requirements. Each program may have different requirements, but traditional students often complete around 1,000 practicum hours while advanced standing students may complete 500 to 700 practicum hours. Students may be required to complete a practicum each semester. Within practicum experiences students work in a variety of social service settings, applying the MSW competencies in direct practice. Students who are already employed in the social service sector may be able to complete their required hours at their place of employment, and other students may be able to complete their hours at a location close to them. Check with each program to find out what practicum sites are available near you.

Concentration Options

While some MSW programs offer an advanced generalist curriculum, other programs enable students to select an area of concentration for a customized educational experience. Some common MSW concentrations are listed below.

  • Advanced Generalist: These programs often explore social work practice with infants through adults, leadership, and applying research to practice.
  • Child and Families: This concentration prepares graduates to address the needs of families, children, and youth.
  • Mental Health: Mental health concentrations emphasize more comprehensive client assessment and interventions.
  • Military Social Work: Military social work programs prepare graduates to manage challenges and lives of military families.
  • School Social Work: School social work programs prepare graduates to work in educational settings providing services to students and school personnel.

Common Courses

Online MSW programs usually consist of foundational and advanced coursework. All students will learn social work methods and theories, regulations, and their effects on social work practice. Depending on a student's chosen program and concentration area, they may take a variety of courses. Some common courses found in MSW programs are listed below.

  • Social Welfare Policy - In these courses, students explore the policies and regulations that affect social work practice. Students should develop a solid understanding of social welfare programs and policies as well as those that may no longer be used today. Students may also learn about social work development and how the practice of social work can still be improved.
  • Diverse Populations - MSW programs often contain a course on working with diverse populations. These courses explore characteristics of various populations and may require students to reflect on their own values and attitudes. Students may analyze various relationships, and should develop skills for both practice with diverse populations and opposing injustice.
  • Research Methods - Research methods courses may explore how to properly conduct and analyze information, as well as how to apply findings to the practice of social work. Students may learn types of research, research measures, and ethics and design of research.
  • Leadership in Social Service Organizations - Students in these courses expand their understanding of social service organizations and their processes. These courses may explore management theories, community engagement, and the necessary skills for effective leadership.

How Much Does an Online MSW Cost?

Online MSW programs can cost up to $40,000 or more for traditional students and $20,000 for advanced standing students. Specific costs vary by program and courses needed for individual students. Programs may consist of tuition and other fees which can include technology fees, general fees, facility fees, and online learning fees. These fees can cost an additional $2,000 to $10,000. Keep in mind that the initial application for a program may have a fee of $50 or more, and taking online courses means that you will need internet access as well. When calculating the cost of your program, consider all fees associated with the program as well as indirect costs. Advanced standing programs and accelerated programs may help students to save both time and money, and some programs may offer a fixed tuition or tuition per semester rather than credit hour.

Financial Aid & Scholarships for MSW Students

The first step to finding aid for an online MSW program is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is free to use and shows students the type of aid that they qualify for. Some additional aid may also be available directly through MSW programs.

Work Study

Work study programs can pay for some or all of student costs associated with earning their MSW. Work study programs may be available through student employers and schools, as well as practicum sites.

Student Loans

Students may be eligible for a variety of loans through private, state, or federal services. Federal and state loans are income based and may be available as unsubsidized or subsidized. It is recommended that students obtain federal or state loans prior to applying for private loans.

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Students may be able to have some or all of their MSW program loans forgiven through a student loan forgiveness program. Some of these programs are listed below.

  • Income-Based: Income-based repayment plans help graduates keep loan payments at an affordable level, and forgive loan balances after 20 or 25 years.
  • National Health Service Corps: The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program gives licensed social workers $50,000 towards student loans in exchange of working in a high-need site for two years.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: This program is for graduates who work in non-profit organizations, and forgives unpaid student loan balances after 10 years.
  • Indian Health Services: Social workers who are employed by Indian Health Services may be eligible for up to $40,000 in student loan forgiveness.

Scholarships for Online MSW Students

There are a wide variety of scholarships available to MSW students which vary by state, school, and student. Some awards that are available specifically to MSW students are discussed below.

  • National Association of Black Social Workers: Students who demonstrate service to the African-American community who are enrolled in full-time study with a 2.5 GPA may be eligible to earn a $250 or $2,000 scholarship.
  • The Dr. Alma S. Adams Scholarship: This scholarship awards $5,000 to qualifying students who are passionate about reducing tobacco use in underserved populations.
  • The Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship: Students who show a commitment to working with Hispanic-American, Native Alaskan, and Native-American communities may be eligible to earn $2,000 or $4,000 scholarships.
  • The Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial Scholarship: Students in an MSW program who have demonstrated service to the physical and mental health needs of the African-American community can earn up to $2,000 through this scholarship.

What Can You Do with an Online MSW?

Graduates of online MSW programs can work in various roles including those in practice and administration. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists are expected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028. Social workers require licensure in all states for clinical roles, and many states also require social workers to be certified or licensed for nonclinical roles. To obtain licensure, social workers need to have at least two years of supervised experience beyond graduation and a master's degree. Some careers that MSW graduates may pursue are listed below.

Mental Health or Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health social workers work with clients who suffer from various mental health illnesses, while substance abuse social workers assist clients with addictions. They may provide counsel and referral services to help clients cope with their conditions. In 2018 the median annual salary for these social workers was $44,840, according to the BLS, and they are expected to see an 18% job growth from 2018 to 2028.

Healthcare Social Worker

The BLS reported that healthcare social workers had an average median annual wage of $56,200 in 2018 and are expected to grow 17% from 2018 to 2028. They help patients to cope with diagnosis and adjust their lives as needed. They may also provide referrals to support groups and consult with medical professionals.

Child and Family or School Social Worker

Child and family social workers help families to obtain assistance and may intervene when there are cases of neglect or abuse. School social workers work in schools and consult with students to help them succeed socially and academically. They are expected to see a 7% job growth from 2018 to 2028 and had a median annual salary of $46,270 in 2018, as per the BLS.