Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs 2021

Advertisement BestCollegeReviews.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Search Programs

Social workers help people manage problems in their everyday life. They work in hospitals, schools, and mental health clinics. A master’s degree in social work qualifies graduates for several careers, including substance abuse or mental health counselor, school or career counselor, social and community service manager, and health educator.

Master of social work programs focus on clinical assessment and management skills. Learners do not need a bachelor’s degree in social work to become part of a master’s program. Earning a master’s in social work usually takes two years. However, some programs allow graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work to earn their master’s degree in social work within a year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that social work jobs will increase by 13% from 2019 to 2029. The projected need for social workers outpaces that for many other types of careers. The median earning potential for a social worker is $50,470 a year, or $24.70 an hour.

mini icon
Advertisement BestCollegeReviews.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Schools

FAQ


  • What exactly does a social worker do?

    A social worker helps people manage problems in their everyday life. Clinical social workers can diagnose and treat mental and behavioral problems.


  • What kind of jobs can you get with a degree in social work?

    With a degree in social work, you can become a social worker, substance abuse counselor, health educator, probation officer, correctional treatment specialist, or school/career counselor.


  • How long does it take to get a master's in social work?

    It usually takes two years to earn a master’s degree in social work. In some programs, students with a bachelor’s degree in social work can earn a master’s in the field in a year.


  • Is getting a degree in social work hard?

    Most people who study for a degree in social work find it challenging. However, they believe that their efforts ultimately help many people.


What Can I Do With a Social Work Degree?

A master’s degree in social work provides graduates with many career opportunities. Most students completing a master’s degree in social work aim to earn licensure so they can become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). This enables them to counsel others, usually one on one. However, graduates with a master’s degree in social work may also choose not to focus on the clinical setting. Instead, they may work in administrative capacities. In both circumstances, a person must earn a master’s degree in social work to fulfill these roles.

A master’s degree in social work opens doors for a variety of jobs and work settings. This may include working as a clinical social worker in a hospital or as a non-clinical social worker with a grassroots or nonprofit group. Master of social work students may further specialize in one of several areas, such as community health education, medical settings; or working with children, families, or schools.

Accreditation for a Social Work Program



Colleges and universities receive accreditation to show they meet certain levels of quality compared with other colleges. These schools may receive both national and regional accreditation. Students should select an accredited college when choosing to complete an online program.

Although both national and regional accreditation are available, students and employees usually view regional accreditation in a more positive light. Regional accreditation helps ensure that credits earned at one school transfer to another regionally accredited school. Hiring companies may verify that employees have earned a degree from a school that is regionally accredited.

Programs for specific majors often have organizations that accredit them. Within social work, the Council on Social Work Education fills this role and accredits more than 800 bachelor’s and master’s degree social work programs.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s website allows users to verify if schools are accredited and what type of accreditation they have.

What Are the Requirements for a Social Work Program?

For a master’s degree in social work, applicants must usually meet a few requirements no matter which program they choose. Applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Applicants share their college transcript and often must show the completion of some social sciences courses. Applicants need a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Programs may require recommendation letters from professionals who can address the learner’s ability to complete a graduate program. A master’s program in social work may also ask for a personal statement, such as writing that reflects a commitment to social justice. Before completing the program, master of social work students must complete an internship of approximately 900 hours. This internship provides direct experience in a social work environment.

Courses in a Social Work Program



Courses for a master’s degree in social work can cover a variety of fields, including psychology, social sciences, and social policy. Graduates can explore other areas related to social work, such as public health or sociology. Courses for a master’s degree in social work will broaden research and analytical skills through special projects.

Some programs also may require a thesis to culminate studies. Social work courses also help to prepare students for state licensing exams. Here are a few courses common in many master’s in social work programs. The following course descriptions provide a sampling of available classes, but they are not necessarily available with each program.

Many master of social work programs offer human behavior in the social environment as a foundational course. This course typically analyzes human development throughout life. It also analyzes the interchange of human behavior among families, individuals, and society. Students examine the role of culture, ethnicity, race, sex, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic environment as they relate to human behavior.

Social work practice provides students with background on the professional roles of social work. The course may cover how to interact with various community members, including families and governmental or community agencies. Social work practice helps students learn how to apply their core social work values and ethics to on-the-ground social work.

This course prepares social workers how to engage and assist clients who come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Students learn more about culture, power, privilege, and oppression. The course explores diversity at several levels, including ethnicity, gender, race, physical differences, and sexual orientation. Students also become more self-aware of their role in diversity or oppression.

This course focuses on the history, development, and philosophy of social welfare in the U.S. This includes structures used to deliver social services and barriers to the achievement of social justice among some groups in the U.S. The class will often focus on groups typically affected by political and economic advances, including children, those with economic disadvantages, older population groups, racial and ethnic minorities, and women. The background provided in social welfare provides insights to the social system in which social workers must understand for their career.

Social work research prepares master’s degree of social work students to follow a process to conduct research within their chosen field. This includes learning how to design a research study, form a hypothesis, collect and process data, analyze statistics and other research results, and write a summary of research. Social work research also helps students to critically understand other research within the field so they can evaluate its strengths and weaknesses.

Professional Organizations for Social Work Students



Professional organizations for master’s in social work students provide the chance to network with others, advance their career, and broaden their education within social work. Several professional organizations for social work will accept students as members. This enables the students to attend special trainings or receive professional publications. The list below includes a few professional organizations for social work students.


  • National Association of Social Workers With more than 120,000 members, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) formed in 1955 and touts itself as the largest organization in the world for social workers. Its student membership offers a way to connect with colleagues and advocate for social issues. Student members of the National Association of Social Workers pay a reduced fee.

  • Clinical Social Work Association Geared toward licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), the Clinical Social Work Association provides LCSWs with legislative advocacy, up-to-date clinical information, and a free consultative service for legal and ethical questions. The organization opens its student membership to those enrolled in a degreed social work program.

  • School Social Work Association of America The School Social Work Association of America focuses on the professionals and students who work in school settings. Members at both the professional and student levels receive access to legislative alerts, liability insurance, and an e-newsletter, among other benefits.

Scholarships for Social Work Students

Online master of social work students can take advantage of several available scholarship opportunities. Some programs offer scholarships specifically for those in social work. Others offer scholarships to students regardless of their major. The following list shares information about a few scholarships available to online master’s in social work students.

The Cenie “Jomo” Williams Tuition Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Offered by the National Association of Black Social Workers, this scholarship bears the name of the group’s first elected president. Applicants need a GPA of at least 3.0, be African American, and demonstrate an interest in working with the Black community. The scholarship requires enrollment in an accredited U.S. social work program for the semester that the student will use the funds.
Amount: $1,500

Verne LaMarr Lyons Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Master’s degree candidates in social work with an interest in working with African American communities may apply for this scholarship. Applicants must belong to NASW. Another requirement is acceptance into an accredited master of social work program. The NASW Foundation offers this scholarship. Students already in a master of social work program for more than a year can apply again for part or all of their second year of study.
Amount: $4,000, plus an additional $1,500 for conference attendance and professional development

The Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Master’s degree candidates in social work with a commitment to working with American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations may apply for this scholarship. The NASW Foundation also offers this scholarship to those with a demonstrated commitment to working with public or voluntary nonprofit agencies or with local grassroots groups. Applicants must belong to NASW.
Amount: Up to $4,000

Best Online Master's in Social Work Programs 2021

  • #1 Western New Mexico University

    Silver City, NM

    Online Master of Social Work

    A public university in Silver City, WNMU offers an online master’s degree in social work (MSW). Learners may complete all classes online, with no requirement to visit campus. Learners take classes synchronously at specific times.

    Core courses include cultural competence in social work practice, human behavior in the social environment, and community organization and development. WNMU’s elective courses include advanced social work practice with the military, psychopharmacology for social workers, and understanding the rural community. Students complete a practicum within the community with approval from a local supervisor. 

    In-state residents pay reduced tuition. The social work program requires a minimum 2.75 GPA on the most recently completed 64 hours of undergraduate or graduate coursework.

    The online MSW program holds accreditation by The Council on Social Work Education. WNMU is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #2 University of South Florida

    Tampa, FL

    Online Master of Social Work

    Located in Tampa, USF offers an online master’s degree in social work. Students with a bachelor’s in social work and at least 35-credit hours can receive advanced standing in the MSW program. Learners complete all classes online and synchronously. USF offers two tracks: one for recently graduated students and one for working professionals.

    The 60-credit curriculum includes foundations of human behavior, diversity and social justice, and psychopathology. Learners also complete a field practicum and capstone research project. Enrollees typically finish the MSW program in eight semesters. 

    Applicants must possess a 3.0 GPA or higher in all graduate or undergraduate courses. They must also hold a degree from a regionally accredited school. Florida residents pay lower tuition than out-of-state residents.

    USF’s online social work degree is accredited by The Council on Social Work Education. USF is regionally accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #3 Saint Leo University

    Saint Leo, FL

    Online Master of Social Work

    A private university in Saint Leo, Florida, Saint Leo’s online master’s degree in social work prepares future social workers residing in 11 states. The program offers a full-time, two-year track or a part-time, three-year track. Learners complete 62 credit hours to earn their social work degree.

    In addition to core courses such as human behavior in the social environment and social welfare policy, electives allow students to specialize in areas such as older adults and the military. Learners participate in weekly evening classes and field-based internship hours. Enrollees also attend one weekend clinical residency held on campus.

    Admission requires a 3.0 GPA or higher from previous undergraduate or graduate work. Students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. The MSW program holds accreditation from The Council on Social Work Education. Saint Leo is regionally accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

  • #4 Arizona State University

    Scottsdale, AZ

    Online Master of Social Work

    Located in Scottsdale, ASU offers a 60-credit master’s degree in social work online. The program includes two professional seminars and synchronous courses. Learners also complete field education at two internship sites. ASU’s School of Social Work assists learners in finding internships in their geographic area.

    Courses in the social work program include social policy and services, diversity and oppression in a social work context, and assessment of mental disorders. The degree culminates with a portfolio project.

    MSW program applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must also complete a minimum of 240 hours of volunteer or work experience in social services within a six-month timeframe in the previous five years.

    ASU charges the same tuition for in-state and out-of-state residents. The online social work program holds accreditation from The Council on Social Work Education. ASU is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission. 

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #5 University of Central Florida

    Orlando, FL

    Online Master of Social Work

    A public school based in Orlando, UCF offers its online master’s degree in social work in two tracks. One caters to students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) and the other serves students without a BSW. Learners in the traditional track without a BSW complete 62 credit hours in three years. Students in the advanced standing track with a previously earned BSW complete 32 credit hours over four semesters.

    UCF offers online courses in a synchronous format. Courses include diverse client populations, clinical social work practice with LGBTQ+, and practice with families. Degree-seekers complete field work to earn their degree. 

    Online students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. UCF’s master’s in social work program holds accreditation from The Council on Social Work Education. UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #6 University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    Online Master of Social Work

    Located in Los Angeles, USC features both a traditional online master’s degree in social work and an MSW option for those with a BSW. The traditional program requires 60 credits. The program for those with a BSW requires 37 credits.

    After learners complete foundational work, they choose from one of three departments to form their curriculum. Department options include adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; and social change and innovation. Learners also may choose optional tracks in military social work and school social work if desired. USC’s master’s degree in social work also requires field work. 

    Admission requires a minimum 3.0 cumulative undergraduate GPA. In-state and out-of-state residents pay the same tuition. The social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. USC is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

    School Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

  • #7 The University of Texas at Arlington

    Arlington, TX

    Online Master of Social Work

    UTA, a public university, offers a fully online master’s degree in social work that learners can complete in 1-3 years. In addition to foundational coursework, students may choose from five specialty areas: direct practice with children and families, direct practice in mental health and substance abuse, direct practice in aging, direct practice in health, and community and administrative practice.

    The online master’s degree in social work at UTA only enrolls learners currently living in Texas. However, Texas residents serving as military veterans, active-duty, reserves, or National Guard and their spouses may still apply for the program regardless of residency. Program leaders assist these out-of-state learners in finding field internship placements.

    Admission requires a 3.0 GPA or higher from the last 60 hours of completed undergraduate work. UTA’s online social work program is accredited by The Council of Social Work Education. UTA is regionally accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #8 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, IL

    Online Master of Social Work

    U of I offers a 72-credit master’s degree in social work to learners without a BSW. The school also offers a 44-credit advanced standing program to learners with a BSW. U of I designed the online program so that learners may work full time while earning their degree.

    Students choose one of two primary concentrations: leadership and social change or advanced clinical. Enrollees who choose the advanced clinical concentration select one of three specialty areas including mental health, healthcare, or youth and family services. The advanced clinical concentration also requires in-person weekend classes once a month. To graduate, learners complete an internship within their concentration.

    Enrollees pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a minimum 3.0 GPA in 60 semester hours of prior college coursework. The social work program holds accreditation from The Council on Social Work Education. U of I is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #9 University of Houston

    Houston, TX

    Online Master of Social Work

    The online master’s degree in social work at UH focuses on social, economic, and political justice and emphasizes critical thinking skills. Learners begin the program by completing a foundations of social work course. Other courses include advanced social policy analysis, clinical applications of the DSM in social work, and cognitive behavioral interventions.

    The 63-credit online curriculum features an asynchronous class format. Interaction with classmates and professors often occurs on online discussion boards and via live teacher office hours. Degree-seekers must also complete a minimum of 900 hours of fieldwork. Distance learners work closely with the school’s Field Education Office staff to find fieldwork placements in their area.

    Students in UH’s online program pay some additional fees beyond tuition. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. The social work program holds accreditation from The Council on Social Work Education. UH is regionally accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

  • #10 University of North Carolina at Charlotte

    Charlotte, NC

    Online Master of Social Work

    The online master’s degree in social work at UNC Charlotte emphasizes persistent and emerging social problems in diversifying urban areas locally, nationally, and globally. The program offers several degree tracks with online components, including a fully online track anticipated in the near future. 

    The school’s three-year blended program currently combines hybrid and online classes. Learners in hybrid classes meet at the school’s Center City location in Charlotte. The future fully online program will include occasional immersion visits to campus. Enrollees also complete an internship.

    The graduate school at UNC Charlotte requires a minimum 3.0 GPA for undergraduate work. Applicants must also hold an undergraduate degree with a liberal arts major. North Carolina residents pay in-state tuition in the school’s online MSW program.

    UNC Charlotte’s MSW program holds accreditation from The Council on Social Work Accreditation. UNC Charlotte is regionally accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

    School Type: Public, 4-year or above

Related:

More Best College Reviews Resources

See all posts
The 40 Best Community Colleges Online

The 40 Best Community Colleges Online

Community colleges have long provided an affordable and convenient way for students to achieve their academic and career goals. Today,…

The 40 Best Community Colleges Online

The 25 Best Master’s in Human Resources Online

Master’s in Human Resources In order to build a successful business, the human resources department of any organization must effectively and ethically hire, train, develop,…