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If you’ve served as a social worker and want to advance your career, it may be time to continue your education. But how is that possible with a demanding work schedule and personal commitments?
Several reputable colleges and universities offer Master of Social Work (MSW) programs that are flexible and allow you to pursue your educational goals. You can earn your degree without disrupting other areas of your life. There are also options for aspiring social workers who don’t have the educational background or field experience.
Let Benzinga lend a helping hand in your search for the best online MSW programs.
Why Choose an Online MSW Program?
There are many perks to earning a Master of Social Work. Beyond diving deeper into the fundamentals of the field and enhancing your skills, you can position yourself for career advancement opportunities in this growing field.
A Master of Social Work from a reputable program makes you more marketable to prospective employers because it demonstrates that you have completed the rigorous coursework and have the skills to excel in the field. Most MSW programs also require field experience and that’s another advantage you’ll have as a candidate.
It also prepares you to work in a clinical setting, which equates specialized work and higher earning potential. This also means more job opportunities for you as the demand for experienced social workers continues to rise. You can do work that matters in many settings, including schools, group homes, hospitals, mental health institutions, nursing homes, government agencies and prisons.
How to Choose an Online MSW Program
There are scores of online options to choose from. How do you know which programs are best? You want a program with experienced faculty, multiple enrollment tracks and competitive rates for tuition and fees.
Find a program with experienced faculty members who have in-depth knowledge of the industry. Look for instructors who have had extensive fieldwork and who can provide insights from their time in the field to help you navigate complex situations as they arise and learn more effectively.
Standard and Accelerated Tracks
The best online MSW programs offer a standard and accelerated track. If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s in social work from a program that holds the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation, there’s no need to retake core courses. Instead, you should have the option to enroll as an advanced student and earn your degree in far less time than someone who’s just starting out in social work. You’ll save money in tuition and fees and can start moving up the ladder sooner than later.
Cost of Attendance
Tuition and fees for online MSW programs vary by institution. Expect to invest a hefty sum in your education, but confirm that the cost of attendance is comparable to other colleges and universities that offer the same program. It doesn’t make sense to pay thousands more if you can spend less and still meet your educational goal.
Ask about cost increases. Some colleges and universities implement steep price hikes, so you want to avoid those options to keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket.
Jobs Waiting for You with an MSW Degree
Here are some of the most popular career options for Master of Social Work degree holders.
Interested in helping others cope with or overcome challenges? A social work career may be a good fit. Core responsibilities include finding individuals and communities in need, evaluating situations to come up with viable goals, referring those you assist to much-needed resources, maintaining adequate records and more.
The average annual earnings for social workers is $49,470. This breaks down to $23.79 per hour. You can earn even more as a clinical social worker. In this role, you will identify and treat behavioral, emotional and mental health issues.
Mental Health Counselor
Mental health counselors help individuals cope with serious issues related to addiction, aging, substance abuse, stress and self-esteem. They also promote emotional and mental health solutions for those dealing with family or marital issues or struggling to parent effectively.
In 2018, the median pay for mental health counselors was $46,050 per year.
School counselors address the academic and social needs of the students they serve. This entails identifying challenges that impact school performance and brainstorming solutions. School counselors collaborate with parents, educators and other individuals who play an integral role in the lives of students to help ensure goals are met. They also identify resources for students who face undue hardships, abuse or neglect.
On average, school counselors earn $56,310 per year. You can work at the elementary, middle or high school level.
Best Online Colleges for an MSW Program
We’ve taken the guesswork out of finding the best online college for an MSW program by compiling a list for you. We’ve also included a detailed description of each program so you can find the best fit and enroll with confidence.
1. University of Southern California
Offered by the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, the online Master of Social Work degree program is designed to fit your needs.
Choose from part-time or full-time enrollment options, depending on your career and personal obligations. There are also 2 program tracks — the traditional online MSW and the advanced standing online MSW.
Students who select the traditional online MSW path complete 60 credit hours. It is the best option if your undergraduate degree is not in social work. You will also choose from 3 concentrations:
- Adult Mental Health and Wellness
- Children, Youth and Families
- Social Change and Innovation
You can select the advanced standing option and graduate in just 12 months if your bachelor’s degree is in social work. This track only requires 37 hours to earn your degree.
Distance learning students enjoy small class sizes of no more than 12 students. Assignments and resources, including USC’s libraries, are available 24/7, so you can work when it’s convenient for you.
2. Columbia University
Earn a Master of Social Work from one of the top-rated universities in the nation. Columbia University prides itself on providing distance learning students with the same experience students receive in the classroom. You will also have access to career and instructional support to ensure you stay on track with your courses and find employment after graduation.
Courses are led by accomplished faculty who are also social work specialists.
When you enroll, you will select a social work specialization from the following list:
- Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice
- Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming
- Policy Practice
- Social Enterprise Administration
The next step is to choose a field of practice. Online students have these options:
- Family, Youth and Children’s Services
- Health, Mental Health and Disabilities
If you want to enhance your degree even more, there are 6 minors you can choose from:
- Business Administration
- Criminal Justice
- Emerging Technology, Media and Society
- International Social Warfare
- Public Policy and Administration
You’ll also complete a required field placement in your community to gain real-world experience.
3. Fordham University
Fordham University offers a Master of Social Work through the Graduate School of Social Service accredited by the CSWE.
You can earn your degree in just 16 months as a full-time student or in 32 months if you choose to attend part-time. There’s also an accelerated track for students who earned a bachelor’s degree in social work or finished the first year of a comparable accredited program. If you fall under these criteria, you can earn your degree in just 8 months.
The curriculum is customized to help students align their studies with their career aspirations. You will select from the following four areas of focus:
- Individuals and Families
- Organizations and Community
- Policy Practice and Advocacy
Candidates for the Master of Social Work are also required to gain field experience during their studies. It must be completed at a faculty-approved agency and placement specialists are available to help you find the perfect fit in your community.
4. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The online Master of Social Work program is another ideal distance learning option for nontraditional students. It’s structured in a way that doesn’t disrupt your current career or personal commitments.
When you enroll, you’ll choose from 2 concentrations — Leadership and Social Change or Advanced Clinical. If you choose the first option, you’ll enhance your grant writing, human services management and policy advocacy skills. The latter requires specialization in health care, mental health or children, youth and family services.
You need 72 credit hours to finish the traditional program or 44 credit hours if you hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. Also, know that the field placement requirement can be completed at your current place of work if you’re employed with a social service agency.
5. University of Central Florida
Want to earn your Master of Social Work in a short span but don’t have a Bachelor of Social Work? Or maybe you earned a bachelor’s degree, but it was over 5 years ago? The online master’s program from the University of Central Florida may be a good fit. It is accredited by the CSWE.
Students complete the following core courses:
- Diverse Client Populations
- Foundations of Behavioral Health Policy and Social Work Practice
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment
- Social Work Practice I: General Practice
- Social Work Practice II: Intervention Approaches
- Social Work Research
- Social Welfare Policies and Services
If you select a clinical specialization, you will also complete the following courses:
- Clinical Evaluation in the Social Work Practice
- Clinical Practice with Families
- Clinical Practice with Groups
- Clinical Practice with Individuals
- Psychosocial Pathology
- Theories for Evidence-Based Clinical Practice in Social Work
The program spans 9 semesters and equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the social work field. You will also gain invaluable experience through field placement.
6. Rutgers University
The online MSW program from Rutgers University caters to students who want to learn on their own schedule. It’s designed to be completed in 3 years and includes a field education component.
Also accredited by the CSWE, this degree features a standard and advanced standing track. Students who do not have a bachelor’s in social work must complete 60 credit hours. If you meet this requirement and your degree is from a CSWE-accredited school of social work, you can enroll as a student with advanced standing and take 39 credits to complete the program.
You can also apply to the Violence Against Women and Children Certificate program to enhance your degree.
7. University of South Florida
Prefer to have face-to-face interaction with faculty? Consider the online MSW program from the University of South Florida. It features live online classes twice a week that allow you to connect with your instructors and peers. You will complete the following core courses:
- Diversity and Social Justice
- Evaluations of Clinical Practice in Diverse Settings
- Foundations in Human Behavior
- Foundations of Social Work Research and Statistics
- Foundations of Social Welfare and Policy
- Foundations of Social Work Macro Practice
- Foundations of Social Work Micro Practice
- Health, Illness and Disability
- Social Welfare Policy Development and Analysis
- Social Work Practice with Couples and Families
- Social Work Practice with Groups
- Social Work Practice with Individuals
Students also select 3 clinical electives from this list:
- Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice In Integrated Healthcare
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy
- Dementia Care in Home and Community Based-Service from a Social Work Perspective
- Introduction to Psychopharmacology in Social Work Practice
- Living Latinx: Social Work Practice
- Substance Use Disorders
- Trauma and Intervention
- Women’s Health
The program requires 60 credits to reach the finish line, along with a field component of 12 to 15 hours per week.
8. University of North Dakota
Are you seeking a graduate degree program that prepares you to work in multiple settings as a social work practitioner? The online Master of Social Work from the University of North Dakota is a viable option.
There are 2 enrollment options:
- Concentration option: This track is designed for individuals who hold a Bachelor of Social Work from a CSWE-accredited program. It spans 36 credit hours and you can earn your degree in just 1 year. Students are also required to visit the campus once while enrolled in the program.
- Foundation option: If you don’t have a bachelor's in social work, this track is for you. This 3-year program requires 2 campus visits and 60 credit hours to reach the finish line.
If you enroll as a foundation student, you will complete a series of courses to prepare you for upper-level coursework. Once you’ve met the 24-credit hour requirement, you will transition to these core foundation courses:
- Human Behavioral and the Social Environment I and II
- Practice with Communities
- Practice with Families
- Practice Field Education I and II
- Practice Field Education Seminar I and II
- Practice with Individuals
- Practice with Organizations
- Practice with Treatment Group
- Research Methods and Analysis
- Tools for Policy
This program is offered by the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines.
9. University of Nevada, Reno
The online Master of Social Work from the University of Nevada, Reno, aims to develop social work leaders and practitioners and prepare them for licensure. You’ll learn the skills needed to thrive in the field and learn how to tackle significant challenges in many environments.
This CSWE-accredited program offers 2 tracks to earn your MSW:
- Traditional Program: Designed for Bachelor of Social Work degree holders, spans 15 months and requires 32 credit hours.
- Advanced Standing Program: Designed for individuals who did not study social work in undergraduate and requires 62 credit hours.
Core courses required by both traditional and advanced students include:
- Advanced Multi-dimensional Assessment
- Practice and Program Evaluation
- Social Work Administration I and II
- Therapeutic Interventions with Families
- Therapeutic Interventions with Groups
- Advanced Practicum I and II
- Integrative Case-Based Seminar – Advanced Generalist Practice
When you finish the program, you will be ready for work in both public and private settings.
10. University of Missouri
The online MSW program from the University of Missouri is tailored to nontraditional students who want to advance their careers in clinical practice or planning, policy and administration. You need 60 credit hours to complete the program, and there’s a supervised field practicum component.
Administered by the School of Social Work, this program also offers regular or advanced standing. Students with a regular standing must complete 60 credit hours. If you earned a bachelor’s in Social Work within the past 7 years, you can enroll as an advanced standing student and earn your degree with just 39 credit hours.
You will also select a concentration from these 2 options:
- Advanced Clinical Practice
- Policy, Planning and Administration in Human Services
You must reside in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma or Tennessee to be eligible for enrollment.
Get Started with an Online MSW Program Today
Benzinga is here to help you find an online MSW program that meets your needs and budget. If you’re ready to get started, take a look at our list of top options. Review the program descriptions and evaluate the reputation, structure and cost of each before enrolling to ensure you make the best decision.
Southern New Hampshire University Online
SNHU Online Offers:
- Flexible schedules
- Affordable tuition
- Online tutoring
- Access to electronic research materials
- Specialized academic advising
- Supportive online community