Online Masters Degree in Social Work

Many students find that neither a campus-based nor an online bachelor’s degree in social work entirely prepares them for a long-lasting career as a social worker. As the need for social service providers increases, those with higher degrees are expected to be more competitive in the job market and eligible for higher-paying jobs. Having a traditional or online master in social work can also provide additional career opportunities in leadership and private practice that eliminate common problems with social worker burnout. In addition, a Master of Social Work degree lays the framework for additional education, such as professional certifications or an online PhD in social work.

How long does it take to earn a social work master’s degree online?

To complete the best online masters degree programs in social work it generally takes between 2 to 4 years. This is about 60 quarter-credit hours of coursework.

What are the admission requirements for an online master’s in social work?

For admissions purposes, students who apply to top online master degree programs in social work may be required to submit the following for admissions purposes:

  • Application form
  • Undergraduate transcripts
  • Revised Graduate Records Exam scores (Revised GRE)
  • Personal statement or Essay
  • Letters of recommendation

Online masters social work programs generally desire that candidates have either a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited school, or a bachelors degree in a related field such as:

  1. Psychology
  2. Social Welfare
  3. Health and Human Services
  4. Communication
  5. Gender or Urban Studies

What types of online master’s degrees in social work can students pursue?

Accredited online masters in social work schools offer a variety of different online master degrees, which include:

  • Clinical Social Work: Students in this concentration at social work masters degree online colleges learn how to diagnose and treat patients. Additional clinical work, professional papers and patient observations may be required in this track.
  • Community and Administrative Leadership: This course of study focuses on the administrative and legal elements of social work. Key topics include management, documentation and legislation.
  • Individuals, Families and Groups: The most common area of study, this program teaches specific coping skills and methodologies for working with a variety of patients. This track includes classes about individual and group behavior as well as common pathologies and treatments.
  • Child Welfare: The most prestigious online masters degree social work colleges will offer a child welfare track that focuses specifically on childhood abuse and applicable treatment strategies. Specific topics may include child safety, legal documentation and crisis prevention methods.
  • Student-Determined Emphasis: Many colleges providing online master’s degrees in social work encourage students to choose a personal emphasis. This is usually created by taking a number of electives that relate to a specific interest, such as social work policy or emergency social services.

What can students expect to learn in an online social work master’s degree program?

Students in accredited online master’s degree social work programs learn a variety of skills related to communication, behavior and clinical practice. Other areas of study include public policy and general social work practices.

Popular classes taken by students enrolled in top online master programs in social work include:

  1. Social Work Ethics- This course is designed to give an overview of best practices in a typical social work practice. Key topics like ethical theory, ethical analysis and value conflict are discussed.
  2. Social Welfare Policy- Focusing on the effect of public policy on current social worker practices, this course is required in the best online social work masters degree programs. Students also become familiar with welfare philosophy as it affects legislation.
  3. Clinical Practice- A series of clinical classes is required in all online master’s degree programs in social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). These courses allow students to observe and interact with patients under a variety of circumstances.

What careers can students pursue after graduating from social work masters programs online?

There are a variety of job options that social work master’s programs online graduates may consider, which include:

  1. Clinical Social Worker- Individuals in this field diagnose and treat specific mental, emotional and behavioral problems in a clinical setting. Those who have an online master degree in social work can expect to make an average of $47,230 per year, with a projected 34% increase in job availability by 2020.
  2. Child and Family Social Worker- Primary responsibilities in this field include investigating accounts of alleged child abuse, placing at-risk students in safe living arrangements and advocating for the rights of the child and family in governmental proceedings. The overall median pay was $40,210 in 2010, and jobs are expected to grow by 20% due to the projected increase in demand for child and family services.
  3. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers- These jobs focus on helping those with mental and substance abuse issues find and maintain treatment and support to help them function in daily life. The average salary for a mental health or substance abuse social worker is $38,600. In 2010 there were over 126,000 people employed in this field, and the number is expected to grow by at least 30% over the next ten years.

People interested in a career dedicated to helping others should consider an Online Master in Social Work. Social workers are hired to work a variety of jobs at hospitals and clinics, state and local governments, schools, and non-profit organizations. In this field, professionals help a range of clients in need of assistance such as disabled veterans, foster children, domestic violence victims, and more. Most people who choose to get into social work do it for the fulfillment of helping their community and people most in need. Salaries for social workers range from $46,108 to $67,610, but management and director positions often offer higher wages. One of the best ways a social worker can nab themselves a position on the higher end of the pay grade is with a Master in Social Work. And, even better, many highly ranked institutions offer this master’s degree online so professionals don’t have to stop working their full or part time job while studying. Here’s what to look for in an Online Master in Social Work.

Teaching Hours

In a traditional school setting, a six credit course meets for six hours of in-person teaching time per week. It’s essential that students going for their Master in Social Work get this same kind of personal teaching from their professors. While the teaching hours won’t take part in the classroom, the virtual schooling environment can bridge this gap with video conferencing, online forums, recorded lectures, and more. Perspective students should ensure the programs they are interested in offer enough teaching hours from real professors in real time rather than exclusively learning through textbook.


The U.S. Department of Education has a database of accredited postsecondary institutions. The government itself doesn’t do the accreditation assessments. This is completed by a third-party institution to ensure fair and even decision-making. Only a Master in Social Work from an accredited university will be accepted by top employers including hospitals and the government.


For professionals interested in a particular branch of social work, it’s important to attend an online program which offers degree specializations. Focuses include Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence Specialization, Mental Health and Addiction, Health and Aging, Clinical, and more.

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota offers two Master of Social Work degree programs, one for BSW students and the other for non-BSW students. Regardless of which program is selected, students can expect to spend two years finishing the program. Classes are held live on evenings and weekends, with the program requiring 36 credits for graduation. A huge advantage of this program is students, no matter where they live, are charged in-state tuition rates.

Texas State University-San Marcos

Texas State University San Marcos offers a Master of Social Work degree with a specialization in Administrative Leadership. The 62 credit hour program is designed mainly for part-time students, though full-time students can also enroll. The program is completely online, assuring students of flexibility when creating a class schedule.

Stephen F Austin State University

Stephen F. Austin University offers a Master of Social Work degree program that can be completed online. A total of 64 credit hours is required for graduation, and all students must complete a field component of the program prior to graduation. Classes can be completed online, but some residency is required such as when completing field experience.

University of Nevada

University of Nevada offers an Master of Social Work degree program that can be completed online. The school keeps its classes small, usually with an average of 20 students in order to encourage discussions and allow for individualized attention. Students who possess a BSW degree will only need to complete 32 credit hours for the graduate degree, while those without a BSW will need 62 credit hours to graduate.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University offers a Master of Social Work degree that can be completed online. The school offers a fully accredited program that teaches students advanced practices in one of three areas. Students can choose from clinical social work, social work administration or social work planning and policy. The goal of the department is to promote diversity and awareness through critical-thinking, self-awareness and data analysis.

University of Alabama

University of Alabama offers a Master of Social Work degree that can be completed online. The university has been consistently ranked in the higher tier of schools that offer distance learning, and its program in Social Work is no exception. U.S. News and World Report ranks the program in the top 20% of all accredited MSW degrees in the nation, and students enrolled in the program agree with that ranking. The degree offers two concentrations from which to choose, Adults and their Families or Children, Adolescents and their Families. The degree requires 60 credit hours to complete, and can be done totally online with the exception of on-campus labs held on select Saturdays at convenient locations.

Florida State University

Florida State University offers a graduate degree program in Social Work that can be completed totally online. Students in the program have the distinction of earning a degree that was the first of its kind in the United States, demonstrating FSU's commitment to looking ahead to the future and staying ahead of the competition. The online program allows students to complete classes at their convenient, and never requires their presence in Tallahassee. However, many do attend graduation so they can meet other students and faculty face-to-face that they established relationships with along the way.

Fordham University

Fordham University offers students a Master of Social Work degree that can be completed online by students who live more than 50 miles from the college's campus. The program requires 66 credit hours for completion, 48 hours of classroom instruction and 18 hours of field experience. Fordham's Graduate School of Social Service, nationally-ranked as one of the best, offers mentoring by some of the nation's most acclaimed faculty and generous financial aid packages for those students who qualify.

Utah State University

Utah State University offers a Master of Social Work degree that is available to students online. The program is designed for part-time students who are already working in the field and are seeking career advancement. The program can be completed in three years on a part-time basis, so working professionals have a great deal of flexibility when coordinating their class schedules with personal and professional responsibilities.

University of South Carolina

University of South Carolina has one of the most recognized Schools of Social Work in the world. Ranked among the best graduate social work programs in the South, it has received national and international acclaim for its academics and field placements for students. Offering a Master of Social Work that can be completed on a part-time basis, the school offers students over 500 regional placement options with agencies and organizations, and even offers international placements for those students wanting to showcase their skills in foreign nations.

University of Illinois

University of Illinois, one of the nation's premier public universities, offers a Master of Social Work degree that can be completed online. Designed for working professionals, the MSW Outreach Program lets students continue to work full-time while pursuing a degree for career advancement. Five concentrations are available for specialization including Advocacy and Leadership and Youth and Family Services. After finishing their coursework, students take one semester and spend one day per week on campus, then spend the next two semesters in an internship, many times with their current employer.

University of Wyoming

University of Wyoming offers students a Master of Social Work degree program that can be completed online. Students take an advanced generalist concentration of courses which prepare them for leadership positions in a variety of agencies including criminal justice, family service, vocational rehabilitation and many others. Upon completing their coursework, students are eligible to begin their field experience. The practicum can be done in an agency that is conveniently located near the student, possibly with the student's current employer.