Online Social Work Degree

Many online colleges offer social work degrees. Social workers help groups like veterans, addicts, at risk youth and the under served. If you hope to make an impact, earning a degree in social work online may be a perfect start.

What is an Online Social Work Degree Program?

A degree in social work studies the skills, values and ethics you need to work in the social work field. Then also helps you apply concepts in real settings through fieldwork. There are online programs in social work at all levels. Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate. These take you through general to expert level clinical practice skills. And, aim to prep you for state licensure after which you may help the lives of others.

A bachelor’s in social work is a BSW for short. At this level, you learn basic info and guiding principles. Like how to advocate for clients, manage cases and link people with services. Master’s in social work, or MSW programs deepen your skill levels. They also refine your grasp of a clinical area in line with your career goals. An MSW is also what you need to take the national licensure exam. Doctor of social work programs (DSW) are clinical practice degrees. They differ from the PhD in social work which is a research degree. And, may help you build skills as a leader, academic or clinician.

When looking into these programs, check accreditation. Accredited online higher education programs in SW may take part in state/federal financial aid programs. Plus, they may allow for the flow of transfer credits. When you go to take national exams for a license, it may be useful as well.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

A BSW is an entry point for most social work positions. Most online BS programs entail 120 credits and take about four years to complete. The goal of a BSW program is to prep you for generalist practice roles (such as casework). And for jobs where you engage with clients (e.g., individuals, families, communities).

As such, you may learn to assess their needs, link them to services, and track their progress. Accredited programs also entail at least 400 hours of supervised field experience/practicum. To get into one of these programs you need a high school diploma or its equal. You also have to meet your college’s standards for GPA.

On average, it costs $6,518 to pursue a degree in social work at a public college. But tuition for private schools average $28,538. That said, some online colleges charge a flat fee that does not depend on residency.

MS in Social Work

An MSW program is a grad degree. It aims to nurture clinical expertise and prep you to pursue a mandatory state license. Non social work students may pursue an online master’s in SW. But you do need a bachelor’s of some type to gain entry. Some online colleges also look for a specific GPA range, references and GRE scores.

There are two types of MSWs to respond to students’ levels of education. Traditional and advanced standing (entry). Both may study policy, advocacy, admin and assessment tools. Traditional MSWs last from two to three years and may entail 60 credit hours. These often cover general topics in the first year. And, move into more defined practical skills classes for the rest. If you earned bachelor’s in SW, you may be eligible for an advanced entry MSW. These often entail about 37 credits and take about one year to complete.

Most accredited MSWs include at least 900 hours of fieldwork too. But often contain fewer for advanced entry students. Tuition rates is another variable when it comes to online MSWs. On average, it may cost $11,617 if you earn your degree at a public college.  

DSW or PhD in Social Work

The Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and PhD in social work are the highest level of degrees in the field. A DSW is for practitioners and a PhD in social work, for academics. The reasons to enter a DSW or PhD vary. Many hope to teach, lead, work on policies and research. As such, these programs often feature on campus visits to develop related skill sets. Most people who enter a doctorate program in social work have an MSW and experience. They often need specific grades, references and a strong personal essay.

A PhD in social work may help you master the skills needed to design and conduct social work research. It often takes about three years and may include supervised teaching. If you want to master the skills of a clinician, a DSW program may be ideal. It is a practitioner degree and usually refines your understanding of behavior. Many programs also prep you to solve problems. Like bullying, child welfare and issues stemming from poverty. You may get a chance to research these areas in depth too.

What can I do with an Online Social Work Degree?

A degree in social work may help you enter or advance your career in social and human services. In these career options, you help others cope with, manage and resolve issues of all kinds. The field of social work spans many areas, settings and kinds of practitioner. As such, there may be jobs for people with all levels of education. Some SW’s do start out with a with a bachelor’s. But this may only allow them to watch over case studies and files, not treat anyone. Then with an MSW and two years of supervised practice, many also earn their state clinical license. People who want to teach, research and supervise often pursue a PhD or DSW too. Right now in fact, about 65% of social work teachers have a doctoral degree.

1. Social Workers 

Most social workers help their clients solve and cope with problems. To do this they need to know how to assess client needs. Then also to respond to tough situations like child abuse or a suicide attempt. Some entry level social work jobs may call for a bachelor’s in social work. But most workers need a master’s degree. They also need two years of supervised work in a clinical setting. This enables a SW to pursue their state license.

2. Health Care Social Workers 

As a health care social worker, you work with people who are terminally ill, sick and aging. As such, you often help clients cope with changes in lifestyle, medication and treatment plans.

3. Clinical Social Workers 

A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) may diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional issues. Then, may also provide one to one, group, family and couples therapy. Unlike other kinds of SW’s, these roles call for a master’s in social work (MSW). You also need a mandatory state license. Not to mention strong assessment and case management skills.

4. Health Educators and Community Health Workers 

A health educator teaches people what behaviors promote wellness. They often liaise with community health workers who understand the people they serve. Then craft programs to address need. If you want to work as a health educator, you need a bachelor’s. Some employers also ask that you have the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential. Or, that you have a grad degree in an area like public health promotion.  

5. Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors 

Behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors are also addiction counselors. In their role, they often use the 12 step (AA) approach to help clients recover and cope. Many pros in this field work with specific groups. Like teens, veterans, people with anger issues or suicide impulses. As such, many jobs call for at least a bachelor’s or master’s and license.

6. Social and Human Service Assistants  

As support staff, social and human service assistants are case work aides. They work under the watch of social services professionals. Social workers and psychologists, for instance. In this role, they help clients identify and get the benefits and services they need. This calls for an ability to research and willingness to be of service. You may also need at least an associate degree and the skills to handle people in crisis.  

Is a Degree in Social Work worth it?

Social work may provide problem solving skills, opportunity and above average earning potential. Jobs in social work (drug abuse is one) are among the fastest growing in the nation. The demand for health care and social service programs is on the rise. And with it, the need for skilled SW’s. As such, the field shows the promise of 11% more jobs by 2028. That’s according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since this is a norm, some areas forecast even brighter outlooks. SW’s in health care face as much as 17% more jobs. For SW’s in mental health and drug abuse, 17% more opportunity. There is also need for child, family and school social workers. A 7% increase in jobs reflects gov’t budget limits as crimes against children prevail.

Salaries for SW’s are another moving part. The average annual salary for SW’s was $49,470 in 2018. But as a mid point, some people also earned more than $81,400. Social workers earned most in state, local and private hospitals. Gov’t, ambulatory care, and family services are other top industry settings. Many people with SW degrees work in related fields too. Like health education, counseling and community service. Most employers in these areas look for bachelor’s or master’s prepared workers. And you may need some type of state license depending on the field you choose.

Social Work Degree Jobs & Salary

OccupationAverage SalaryJobs
Social Workers $50,470707,400
Health Educators$46,910123,800
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors$46,240304,500
Network and Computer Systems Administrator $35,060413,700

Top States for Jobs as a Social Worker

StateJobsAnnual Mean Wage
CA12,210$71,020
NY4,910$67,580
FL3,880$51,980
OH2,870$53,650
SC2,770$45,700

What classes will I take with an Online Social Work Degree?

Online learning in SW often follows the guide set by the CSWE. The Council on Social Work Education sets standards for skills, conduct and knowledge. If you plan to become a social worker, you need to earn your degree from a CSWE accredited program. This rule of thumb applies to SW undergrad and graduate programs. But not to DSW and PhD programs as the CSWE does not accredit this level. Another thing that alters your study plan is your degree level. To give you more insight, here are three sample course outlines.  

Bachelor’s Degree Courses 

Most online BSW degree courses aim to prep you for generalist entry level practice. As such they often introduce to the field, its ethics, practices and theories. These topics help you build key client and case management skills. Like how to engage with, assess, intervene and check client progress. Also, to then apply these methods with individuals, families and communities.

Other online courses may help you understand human behavior through the lens of systems theory. You may also learn to apply social work theory to issues across the lifespan. A few other common topics are:

Intro to Fieldwork

What you learn in class could be used to help people in the field. You may visit places to meet people and find ways to support them. Online students may complete these experiences in an approved setting locally.

Working with Aging Populations

Older people may develop mental and physical problems. You could learn to recognize those problems and help them live better lives.

Violence and the Community

This course looks at how violence affects people in neighborhoods. You may learn about child abuse, drug trafficking, war and other forms of violence.

Social Work Methods in Research

You may learn to use science to research social issues. Your own studies could spot problems, offer solutions and help people see things differently.

Bear in mind, you may have general education and elective classes too.

Graduate Degree Courses 

The classes you take in an online MSW depend on your entry point. Traditional entry which is both broad and deep. Or, advanced entry which omits general courses. Traditional MSW programs are for bachelor’s prepared students from all undergrad majors. As such, it often starts out with the basics of social work. These areas span social welfare policy, behavior theories, and research methods.

Advanced entry MSW courses stress clinical skills and science. So, you may refine knowledge of practice area. While also learning to apply theory into interventions. Keep in mind, you may also have electives that relate to social work. Play therapy, loss and grief, gender issues and forensics are a few ideas.

A DSW offers advanced training in a specific area of practice in social work. Most DSW programs entail a form of residency or dissertation that helps form skills too. There are two main areas that a DSW curricula tends to cover. Social work administration and clinical social work. These themes aim to build your ability to problem solve as a leader (director) and expert clinician.

While a practitioner degree, DSW course work does include research. Not to test theory like a PhD. Rather, to use statistical tools and current ‘best practices’ to address social problems and issues. As such, your courses may stress social welfare policy analysis and advocacy. In the mix, you may also learn to write grant proposals to fund programs to benefit groups with unmet needs. Here are a few other possible topics.

Oppression and the Struggle for Human Rights

The world includes people from many different groups. You could learn to help those who are treated unfairly because of things like race, gender, health and age.

Chemical Dependency

Using drugs and other substances the wrong way can cause problems. You may learn to recognize and treat those problems to improve people’s lives.

Ethics in Professional Helping

Every person has basic human rights. This course aims to teach how certain factors protect our rights or threaten them.

Human Behavior in the Social Environment

Study how our behavior affects our daily lives. You may learn the way different groups live side by side with positive and negative results.

Most programs also include research methods, statistics and classes in your chosen area.

To focus on a specific group, clinical issue or interest area, you may need to add a concentration. Here are a few to think about.

1. Addiction and Substance / Drug Abuse

This area focuses on the many facets of addiction. From root causes and effects of trauma to counseling theories and methods. Side topics may span treatment, recovery and ways to prevent relapse.

2. Clinical Social Work

A focus in clinical social work is about the methods to treat and prevent mental illness. You also learn to apply these tactics with individuals, groups and families.

3. Social Work Administration

Rather than working with one client, social work admin is about the practice as a whole. You still need to know how to listen to people but may focus more on policy.

4. Medical Social Work 

In medical social work, courses often cover ways to intervene in crisis. You may also study medical after-care and discharge planning. Some problems also cover mental health issues and aging.

5. Criminal Justice 

This area aims to provide you with the basic skills to test and treat forensic groups. These groups span criminal offenders, substance abusers and victims of crime. You may also learn how to help law enforcement personnel.

6. Military Social Work

In this field, you help military service members, veterans and their families. Part of this means linking them with resources and VA benefits. Another is crisis intervention and issues including PTSD.

How long does it take to get a Social Work Degree online?

It may take four years of full time study to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work online. And, you may reduce this time if you have associate degree credits to transfer in.

The average full time student may complete an MSW degree online in two years, or part time in either three or four years. Some advanced entry MSW programs take one year assuming all your credits transfer.

It can be another two to three years if you want to earn a DSW degree. But some colleges give up to 8 years. And others offer accelerated options and a few start dates.

University Level of Degree # of Credits Required Starts Per Year Minimum Months to Complete
University of North Dakota Bachelors 120 2 24
Indiana Wesleyan University Bachelors 120 5 24
Northwestern State University of Louisiana Bachelors 120 2 48
University of Buffalo Masters 60 1 36
Indiana University Masters 60 4 36
University of Southern California Masters 37 2 12
Walden University Doctorate 58 Multiple 30
Kutztown University Doctorate N/A 1 36
SUNY – Albany Doctorate 36 1 36

Scholarships For Social Work Majors

One way to make a degree more affordable is to win a scholarship. Many schools and grantors offer them to help new and current students.

Pride Foundation Social Work Scholarship

For LGBT students in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, or Washington state. Applicants must be students at an accredited college. Majoring in a social work area is also necessary. The award amount varies but goes up to $12,000 and there is one student selected.

Deadline: January 8, 2021

Bob Benedetto Memorial Scholarship Fund for Social Workers

For undergrads from Ventura County, CA. To receive this $1,000 award, you must show solid academics and write a winning essay. College seniors accepted into a social work grad program may also be eligible.

Deadline: January 26, 2021

Davis Putter Scholarship Fund

For undergrad and grad students active in working for social change. If you work to combat racism, sexism, homophobia etc. this may help you qualify. Another criteria a DPSF award of up to $10,000 is financial need so you must file a FAFSA. 

 Deadline: April 15, 2021

Mildred Cater Bradham Social Work Fellowship

For up to two members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. Applicants must be full time students going for a professional or grad degree in the field. There are two winners of up to $1,000 each planned. 

Deadline: February 1, 2021

Senior Planning, Social Work & Eldercare Scholarship Award

For high school seniors and college freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. As long as planning to pursue a career in senior care. To receive this $900 award, one must answer essay questions and have quality references.

Deadline: July 31, 2021

15 Online Social Work Degrees

Many online colleges offer CSWE accredited degrees in social work. We have ranked our top 15 schools based on the number of graduates from the program in 2019. Our process looks at 2019 data from the NCES. And, it may help you narrow your search down.

  1. University of Southern California
  2. University of Texas Arlington
  3. Rutgers University 
  4. Aurora University 
  5. Fordham University 
  6. Columbia University New York City
  7. Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis
  8. Simmons University 
  9. Wayne State University 
  10. Ohio State University 
  11. Walden University 
  12. Our Lady of the Lake University 
  13. University of Michigan
  14. Arizona State University 
  15. University of Denver

FIND AN ONLINE SOCIAL WORK DEGREE

Let’s take a closer look at the online social work degrees that these 15 schools have to offer. 

1

University of Southern California

Advanced Standing Master of Social Work  

Fully Online


USC offers an online advanced standing MSW for BSW prepared students. It may take about one year to complete and comes with a choice of anchor points. Adult Mental Health and Wellness, Children, Youth and Families and Social Change and Innovation. After earning your degree, you may pursue a professional license. You can also look into their traditional online MSW.

Sample courses include:

  • Policy and advocacy 
  • Science of social work 
  • Applied learning – field education

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $58,195
Grad $47,107
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$39,516

Average Net Price:
$37,521

More Degree Programs:

  • MSW
  • PhD in Social Work
  • Dual Degree Options
  • MA in Jewish Nonprofit Management
  • MS in Gerontology

2

University of Texas Arlington

Master of Social Work 

Fully Online


UT Arlington offers a self paced online MSW which one may go for either full or part time. It spans 61 credits. Part of these are generalist basics. Others form the Advanced Practice study plan. There are five areas to anchor studies. Aging, children and families, health, mental health and community practice. Each adds specific classes onto the core. 

Sample Courses include:

  • Behavior 
  • Death and Dying
  • Intimate Partner Violence 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $11,040 / $28,129
Grad $10,248 / $22,980
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$7,339

Average Net Price:
$14,445

More Degree Programs:

  • BSW

3

Rutgers University

Master of Social Work – Clinical Social Work  

Fully Online


Students in this 60 credit program may complete their MSW in three years. Unless you are a BSW prepped student. The first few classes lay out basic skills and research methods. In them, you study ways to assess and diagnose. As the course plan moves on there are field placements and you work with the school to set these up.

Sample classes include:

  • Social Welfare Policy 
  • Diversity
  • Practice w/ Individuals, Families & Groups

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $15,407 / $32,189
Grad $19,983 / $32,391
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$12,941

Average Net Price:
$16,873

More Degree Programs:

  • Hybrid MSW
  • Advanced Standing MSW

4

Aurora University

Bachelor of Social Work 

Fully Online


AU offers a 120 credit program. Each class lasts 8 weeks and may use open education resources instead of textbooks. This is free of charge to enrolled students. Along with a broad set of classes there is field instruction. 

Sample courses include:

  • Social Work w/Groups 
  • Behavior
  • Institutions and Policies

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $25,060
Grad $12,600
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$13,936

Average Net Price:
$17,906

More Degree Programs:

  • MSW

5

Fordham University

Master of Social Work 

Fully Online


Fordham calls their program ‘future focused’. The traditional program entails 66 credits and there is also an advanced standing option. In either, you may co create your curriculum with an advisor. This also allows room to choose a focal area to line up with goals. Individuals and families, community, evaluation or policy and advocacy. Field education takes place near you and the school partners with agencies nationwide.

Courses may include:

  • Human Rights and Justice 
  • Skills Lab
  • Clinical Assessment

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $54,393
Grad $35,289
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$28,867

Average Net Price:
$39,558

More Degree Programs:

  • Advanced Standing MSW

6

Columbia University New York City

Master of Social Work 

Fully Online


Columbia’s program entails 60 credits. It emphasizes social and economic justice for high risk groups. There are a few required core and practice areas. The school also matches students with agencies that provide direct practice in the first year.

Classes may include:

  • Behavior
  • Direct Practice
  • Advocacy  

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $54,393
Grad $35,289
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$28,867

Average Net Price:
$39,558

More Degree Programs:

  • PhD in Social Work

7

Indiana University

Master of Social Work (Direct)

Fully Online


IU offers an online MSW (direct) program. It includes basic courses in diversity, human rights and social justice. You also explore fields such as military social work, e-social work, tele-behavioral health and addictions.  

Sample courses include:

  • Community and global theory and practice 
  • Social policy analysis 
  • Clinical theory and practice 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $36,512
Grad $33,304
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$11,541

Average Net Price:
$13,036

More Degree Programs:

  • MSW Campus
  • Dual Degrees 

8

Simmons University

Master of Social Work 

Fully Online


Simmons’ program entail 37 to 65 credits. In these, there are two field education experiences. There are full time, part time and accelerated tracks. Online students may also go for a certificate which may grow advanced skill sets. Practice with groups and families. Work with clients’ mental state or in trauma practice. 

Classes may include:

  • Cognitive Theory
  • Sociocultural Theory
  • Motivational Interviewing 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $42,070
Grad $22,818
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$27,038

Average Net Price:
$30,841

More Degree Programs:

  • MS in Behavior Analysis

9

Wayne State University

Bachelor of Social Work  

Fully Online


Wayne’s 120 credit program includes a 460 hour two semester internship which is an in person experience. You may tailor this basic program with a minor related to injustices. This focus may help you apply skills to aging, children, housing, policy etc. Other classes in the core relate to basic knowledge and values. That said, emphasis is on working in urban areas with at risk, poor and minority groups. 

Classes may include:

  • Social Environment
  • Policy and Services
  • Social Work Practice 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $13,517 / $28,887
Grad $18,226 / $72,489
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$7,835

Average Net Price:
$15,012

More Degree Programs:

  • MSW
  • PhD Social Work

10

Ohio State University

Master of Social Work  

Fully Online


Ohio State offers an online traditional MSW as well as an advanced standing option. The program begins each Fall semester and may take two years full time. You can study part time too. And, you will be able to choose from two anchor points. Mental Health and Substance Misuse or Child and Youth Services. You also complete two field placements.  

Sample classes:

  • Evidence Based Practice
  • Professional Growth
  • Children and Youth 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $32,061
Grad $36,009
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$10,456

Average Net Price:
$18,706

More Degree Programs:

  • MSW – ASAP Pathway

11

Walden University

Doctor of Social Work 

Fully Online


Walden’s program focuses on justice and advocacy. At the same time, it nurtures clinical expertise through a choice of anchor points. There are eight areas to chose from including medical social work. Criminal justice, administration, and addictions are a few others. Plus, you have up to eight years to complete the program.  

Learning topics may include:

  • Advanced social work theory and practice 
  • Program and practice evaluation 
  • Clinical seminar  

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $12,150
Grad $12,539
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$3,900

Average Net Price:
N/A

More Degree Programs:

  • BSW
  • MSW Advanced Clinical Practice
  • MSW – Children and Families 

12

Our Lady of the Lake University

Master of Social Work

Fully Online


OLLU’s program spans 30 to 57 credits depending on your entry point. Both are online and you complete fieldwork locally. A main feature is its focus on the urgent needs of the Hispanic community. Students learn to apply data driven know how to work with this group in meaningful ways. Local field experiences aim to hone real world skills along the way.

Classes may include:

  • Psychopathology
  • SW with Hispanic Children and Families
  • Hispanics in the U.S.  

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $29,218
Grad $17,116
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$19,023

Average Net Price:
$18,012

More Degree Programs:

  • PhD in Social Work 

13

University of Michigan

Master of Social Work 

Fully Online


U Michigan offers a part time program that aims to lead to licensure in clinical social work. There are 45 credits to complete and the school provides field placements near you. There are three anchor areas. Interpersonal practice, mental health and substance use / disorders.

Classes may include:

  • Applied Assessment Skills 
  • Evaluation 
  • Aspects of Health and Disease

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $15,558 / $51,200
Grad $24,218 / $48,532
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$21,174

Average Net Price:
$17,357

More Degree Programs:

  • Joint PhD

14

Arizona State University

Master of Social Work

Fully Online


ASU offers a 60 credit general program. The focus is on finding practical ways to help the most vulnerable. Along with your courses, you take part in 960 hours of mandatory hands on field education. These take place at two approved and distinct internship sites.

Sample courses include:

  • Diversity and Oppression
  • Mental Disorders
  • Policy and Services

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $11,388 / $29,428
Grad $12,608 / $27,048
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$10,651

Average Net Price:
$13,764

More Degree Programs:

  • BA/BS in Psychology

15

University of Denver

Master of Social Work

Fully Online


At U Denver, you complete 54 credits and 500 hours of direct field practice. Two areas of emphasis allow you to tailor these classes. Choose Mental Health and Trauma or Health, Equity and Wellness. Each of these helps to steer what you study and the setting for your hands on work. 

Classes may include:

  • Integrated Health Care
  • Methods for Evaluating
  • Leadership and Supervision 

Tuition and Fees:
Undergrad $52,515
Grad $51,639
Special rates available for military students.

Avg Grants & Scholarship Aid:
$28,592

Average Net Price:
$37,263

More Degree Programs:

  • MSW 
  • PhD in Social Work
  • Dual Degrees

*Unemployment Earnings.  Sources for school stats and data include the NCES and IPEDS.