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The Best Online MSW Degree Programs of 2021


Salaries for those with a master's in social work degree vary based on career and experience level. As an example, clinical licenses usually require a master's degree. Licensed clinical social worker positions pay around $57,000 on average, with first-year workers averaging around $47,000. With 20 years of experience, though, these social workers can average salaries of nearly $64,000.

Pay also varies by location. For instance, child, family, and school social workers, average $49,760, but candidates in the District of Columbia average more than $70,000.

Master's degree-holders meet the educational standards for most social work licenses but can also pursue non-licensed jobs in the field. These positions include social and community service managers and case managers.

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Featured Online Social Work Programs

Employment Outlook for Social Workers in US

Employment and Average Salaries for Social Workers in the U.S., 2018
Social Work Career Employment Median Annual Salary
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 116,750 $43,250
Healthcare Social Workers 168,190 $56,200
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 320,170 $46,270
Social Workers, All Other 57,440 $63,140
Median Salary for Social Workers, by Degree Level (U.S.)
Bachelor of Social Work $49,000
Master of Social Work $52,000

Social Work Licensure

Entry-level social work licenses may require a candidate to possess a bachelor's degree. However, many licenses and certifications require at least a master's. States often necessitate degrees from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and may insist on concentrations or coursework that relates to the license. A clinical social worker, for instance, may need a clinical degree.

Each applicant must complete standardized tests, typically administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). A bachelor's-level license includes the bachelor's exam from ASWB, while a clinical license calls for the ASWB clinical exam. Candidates pay $230-$260 to register for these tests.

A candidate who pursues advanced credentials, such as the clinical social work license, typically needs 3,000 hours of related experience. States often insist on approved supervisors for this fieldwork and require each applicant to complete experiences in 2-5 years.

For more social work licensing information in your state, read our social work licensing guide.

Featured Online Social Work Programs

Should You Earn an Online Social Work Degree?

Distance education expands degree options. Candidates interested in master of social work jobs, for instance, can look for relevant concentrations, such as a school social work focus for K-12 positions. Students can choose these programs even if the schools are states away. Distance learners should also consider where they want to work since coursework may reflect the state's policies and heritage.

Out-of-state students often pay higher tuition than in-state students; however, some schools may charge equal tuition for all distance learners. Institutions may also participate in agreements that lower costs. As an example, 15 states boast membership with the Southern Regional Education Board, which offers the Academic Common Market. Through this program, learners can pay in-state tuition for out-of-state degrees that are not locally available. While many states may offer online social work degrees, students might earn this funding for a unique concentration.

Distance learners should also consider program delivery. Some programs use a hybrid format and require campus visits. The number and length of visits vary. For instance, degree-seekers may attend one on-campus orientation, spend a weekend each semester on campus, or complete a two-week residency over the summer. Programs may also use asynchronous or synchronous formats, with the latter including specific attendance times for online courses.

Online students can extend their professional networks across the country, though these connections often remain online. For this reason, candidates should be comfortable communicating virtually to make the most of their professional relationships. Learners should also excel at organization, independent work situations, and time management.

Best Online MSW Degree Programs 2021

University of Central Florida — Master of Social Work

UCF, based in Orlando, Florida, offers both full-time and part-time options for its online master of social work (MSW) program. Full-time students who already hold a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree and graduated during the last six years can take an accelerated program that takes one year to complete; otherwise, the program takes two years. Students take core courses, clinical specializations, electives, and courses for field experience.

The master of social work program is based on a generalist approach that develops critical thinking skills and teaches students how to apply evidence-based practices to serving clients. Students are required to adhere to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics; students who violate the code are subject to sanctions, including dismissal.

Applicants are assigned an online success coach who helps them throughout the application process and program. Students can also take advantage of webinars and other online sessions that cater to graduate students, as well as programs designed for all students, such as multicultural academic and support services, academic success workshops, and online library resources.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Orlando, Florida
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $369.65 per in-state credit; $1,194.05 per out-of-state credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; official transcripts; resume; three letters of reference; professional statement; copy of an undergraduate research paper; interview; B- or higher in at least one course in the humanities, physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and psychology
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a BSW; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

University of South Florida — Master of Social Work

USF offers an entirely online accredited master of social work (MSW) program with an accelerated track for students who received a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree in the last five years. Courses include core classes, advanced classes, a field practicum, and a capstone course, designed to prepare graduates for social work practice in agencies and community organizations.

The full-time MSW program takes four semesters and the part-time program takes eight. Most courses must be taken in the required sequence. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA during the program. If a student receives a grade of B- or lower, they must repeat that class in order to continue the sequence.

Students can use online library services, including assistance with research databases, and career services. Career services include online virtual interviewing, career coaching, company and contact databases, and job search tools.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Tampa, Florida
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $431.43 in-state per credit; $877.17 out-of-state per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; official transcripts; a resume; three letters of reference; personal statement; short essay describing a social problem; at least three undergraduate credit hours in human biology and three undergraduate credit hours in the social sciences; at least one year of experience in a clinical social work setting is preferred but not required
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a BSW degree; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

The Ohio State University — Master of Social Work

Ohio State's virtual master of social work (MSW) program includes a foundational core curriculum, advanced practice courses with a strong practical focus, and field practicums.

Students can choose to specialize in mental health and substance abuse or children and youth services. Ohio State's social work program was accredited in 1919, making it one of the oldest in the United States.

The MSW consists of an initial foundational curriculum, followed by advanced practice courses that focus on applied theory in various specialized areas. Students also participate in field practicums that help them develop experience.

Every student is assigned to an academic counselor for assistance with the curriculum for the duration of the program. Students also have access to faculty advisors for career and research advice and to the school's online library and career services.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Columbus, Ohio
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $722.50 per credit; $200 surcharge for nonresidents
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA from the last degree received; official transcripts; resume; three recommendation letters; a personal statement; bachelor's program must have included at least 10 semester credit hours in the social sciences
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

University of Southern California — Master of Social Work

USC offers an online master's in social work (MSW) degree that takes one year for full-time students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) and two years for students without a BSW. Students can enroll full time or part time.

The program integrates contemporary research into the curriculum, including applicable findings from neuroscience, and more than 1,000 hours of field education. Students choose from the following specialties: adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; and social change and innovation.

Students are assigned a faculty advisor upon admission to the online MSW program. They can also use the online library services and career services, including alumni mentoring and networks as well as career workshops.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Los Angeles, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $1,995 per unit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA from the last degree received; minimum 18 credits in the liberal arts; official transcripts; resume; 2-3 letters of reference; a statement of purpose
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a BSW degree; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

California State University, San Bernardino — Master of Social Work

CSUSB offers an online master of social work (MSW) program that puts equal emphasis on macro (societal) and micro (individual and family) practice.

The online MSW requires three years, though full-time students can complete the on-campus program in two. Since the program requires 1,080 hours of fieldwork, the school advises that students who work full time "reduce their hours of employment."

Students first study a generalist curriculum and then select a specialty. However, only one elective, public child welfare, is available to online students. Students may test out of a generalist course but must substitute it with an elective course. Similarly, students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) may, with their advisor's approval, substitute an elective for a course that their BSW work substantially covered.

Applicants to the online MSW are not required to live a specific distance from the San Bernardino campus, but "the further away a student lives from the CSUSB main campus, the more likely that student is to be accepted into the distance learning program."

Online students have access to academic and career advising services, a social work writing coach, as well as online library services.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: San Bernardino, California
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $650 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; at least one course each in human physiology, human behavior, and social sciences research methods; official transcripts; resume; three references; an autobiographical statement
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Three years
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

Louisiana State University — Master of Social Work

LSU's online master's in social work (MSW) program consists of two parts: the first is a generalist year that covers concepts and theories while including an internship option for real-world experience, and the second is a specialist year. Depending on the student's interests, the online MSW program may include a thesis. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Rather than a traditional semester, courses last seven weeks. Because of this intense schedule, full-time enrollment consists of two courses and part-time enrollment consists of one course. Students can participate in internships in their local communities over one or more of these seven-week periods.

Students with an existing bachelor of social work (BSW) can complete the program in 9-12 months, while the program typically lasts two years for those without the BSW. When students enroll, they can call upon the "Enrollment Concierge" team and once admitted, are assigned a "Learner Concierge" to provide nonacademic support. They also have access to academic advisors, career resources, the library's online services, and alumni networks.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $539 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA in last degree received; minimum 12 credits in social/behavioral sciences and nine in the humanities; a grade of C or higher in an undergraduate statistics class; official transcripts; resume; 2-3 reference letters; a letter of intent
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 9-12 months for students with a BSW degree; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

The University of Alabama — Master of Social Work

UA's online master's in social work (MSW) program offers two concentrations, one on children, adolescents, and their families and the other on adults and their families. While the program is primarily online, certain courses require in-person skills labs. Students can participate at designated locations in Alabama, Georgia, or Mississippi.

Students with an existing bachelor of social work (BSW) from an accredited program can enroll in the accelerated online MSW program, which requires 42 credit hours and 500 practicum hours. The regular online MSW course requires 60 credit hours as well as practicum hours.

Prospective students must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and a GPA of at least 3.0. Students have the option of enrolling in two dual degree programs as well as the MSW course: MSW/juris doctor (JD) or MSW/master of public health (MPH). They must meet the admission requirements for both degree programs.

Online MSW students can use the university career center offerings and online library.

Students who live outside Alabama or plan to practice in another state should check the authorization requirements for their states.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $420 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; official transcripts; resume; at least three letters of recommendation; a statement of purpose
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a BSW degree; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

Rutgers University — Master of Social Work

Rutgers University's online master of social work (MSW) program offers all of its classes asynchronously, meaning students do not have to attend sessions at a specific scheduled time. Classes are recorded and students interact with one another and faculty through discussion tools. Students begin field engagements during their third semester and continue throughout the MSW program.

Students with an existing bachelor of social work (BSW) from an accredited program can complete the course in one year, while other students typically take three years. Students may apply for specialty certificate programs such as violence against women and children or Latino/a initiatives for service and training.

Prospective students must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and a GPA of at least 3.0. Additionally, they must have completed an introductory statistics course. Experience in social work is recommended but not required.

Students in the online MSW program can use Rutgers' career services, including assistance with resume writing and job applications, as well as online library services. Each student is assigned an academic advisor.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: News Brunswick, New Jersey
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $900 per credit plus $300 online fee per course
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; completion of an undergraduate statistics course; official transcripts; resume; at least three letters of recommendation; a personal statement
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a BSW degree; 2-3 years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

University of Tennessee — Master of Social Work

UT offers an accredited online master of social work (MSW) program with full- or part-time options and an accelerated option for students with a bachelor of social work (BSW). Students choose a concentration in either evidence-based interpersonal practice or in organizational leadership. Students may also pursue certificates in gerontology, school social work, trauma, or veterinary social work.

Students who completed their BSW during the last five years and maintained a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 are eligible for the accelerated MSW program, which typically takes one year. Other students with a bachelor's degree typically finish a full-time MSW in two years or a part-time program in three years. The program includes 672 field placement hours.

Prospective students must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with a GPA of at least 2.7. Experience in social work is recommended but not required.

Students can take advantage of the university's career services and the online libraries, including research support from librarians.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $734 in-state per credit hour; $1,758 out-of-state per credit hour
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program (with approximately 75% of courses within the liberal arts); minimum 2.7 GPA; official transcripts; resume; at least three references; a professional statement
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students with a BSW degree; 2-3 years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

California State University, Northridge — Master of Social Work

CSUN emphasizes urban population needs in its online master of social work (MSW) program. Within that framework, it offers generalist training, designed to enable students to address social work needs on individual, local, or national levels.

The social work master's program typically takes two years for full-time students and three years for part-time students. Most classes are primarily asynchronous but include weekly synchronous programming during the evenings. Field classes meet weekly at a scheduled time. The program's final semester includes an individual or group capstone research project based on field work.

When students apply, they are assigned a program manager. Students are also assigned to cohorts to foster peer interactions and networking. Students do not change cohorts during their program. The program includes access to career services and online library services.

Prospective students should have a degree in a liberal arts discipline, such as a social science, and at least a 3.0 GPA. They must also have work experience after their bachelor's degree and demonstrate personal maturity for successful social work practice.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Northridge, California
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $752 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; official transcripts; resume; at least three references; a personal statement
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

University of Houston — Master of Social Work

The UH master of social work (MSW) online program prepares students for careers that develop "social, economic, and political justice." The program begins with generalist core subjects, and then students choose either macro practice or clinical social work programs. Students can also choose specializations, including health and behavioral health, political social work, social work practice with the Latino/a population, or an individualized specializations program.

The virtual MSW program assigns students to a learning cohort when they join the program. This cohort approach provides students with online peer relationships and networking. Each cohort includes approximately 25 students.

The full program requires 60 credit hours, though students who already have a bachelor of social work (BSW) can enroll as an advanced student for a 38-hour program. The program requires a minimum of 900 field hours.

MSW online students are eligible for most university services, including online library services and career resources.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Houston, Texas
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $461.63 in-state per credit; $970.63 out-of-state per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; official transcripts; resume; at least three references; a personal narrative statement
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years for students entering with a BSW; three years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

Boston University — Master of Social Work

BU's online accredited master's degree in social work (MSW), designed for part-time study, offers students the choice of majoring in macro practice or clinical practice. Students can opt for the traditional track or for a human service experience track. Most coursework is asynchronous, but students must attend weekly live classes on Sunday or Monday nights. Classes are limited to no more than 15 students.

The program requires 65 credits and two field internships totaling 1,200 field hours. Students who received a bachelor of social work (BSW) from an accredited institution within the last six years and have at least two years of full-time human services work experience can apply for an advanced study track. The advanced track requires 43 credits and a 1,000-hour field internship.

Students entering the traditional or human service experience MSW tracks must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited program, but there is no minimum GPA requirement. Advanced standing students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

On entering the online MSW program, students are assigned a first semester advisor. After the first semester, they are assigned a regional advisor who is based in their geographic region. Online students can also use the virtual career center and library services.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $875 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program; official transcripts; resume; at least three references; a 3-4 page personal statement; optional phone or Skype interview
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years for students entering with a BSW; three years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

New Mexico State University — Master of Social Work

NMSU delivers an online accredited master of social work (MSW) program that prepares students for advanced generalist social work practice, with an emphasis on delivering culturally appropriate services in the United States Southwest.

The program takes full-time MSW students two years to complete, or one year for students who graduated from an accredited bachelor of social work (BSW) degree program within the last seven years. Full-time students take four courses per semester and part-time students take three courses. Students also participate in fieldwork placements. The school notes, "Given the demands of 24 hours per week doing direct school work and time needed for studying, part time students will find it difficult to work full time."

The program is 51% asynchronous, with one course per semester entirely asynchronous. It includes 450 hours of foundational fieldwork and 500 hours of concentration fieldwork. All courses toward the MSW must be taken in sequence.

Students have access to the university's virtual career services and online library offerings.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Las Cruces, New Mexico
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $411.50 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program with at least a 3.0 GPA; at least one course in human biology and one course in statistics or research methods (additional course requirements for students who did not graduate with a liberal arts degree); official transcripts; resume; two references; a personal statement; students applying for the advanced track must include a case study, a biopsychosocial assessment, and a copy of their last field final
  • Minimum Time Commitment: One year for students entering with a BSW; two years for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

Fordham University — Master of Social Work

Fordham University, located in the Bronx in New York City, offers an online master of social work (MSW) program that full-time students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree can complete in eight months and other full-time students in 16 months. Students begin with a generalist core curriculum and select a specialist domain for the rest of their MSW studies. The specialty domains are individual and family, organizations and communities, evaluation, and policy practice and advocacy.

For field experience, students work with placement specialists to find placements in their communities and receive supervision and guidance from professional social workers. Students may begin field work (one general placement and one specialist placement) in their first term and all online master's in social work students participate in a field-advising seminar each year, during which they discuss their experiences with peers and faculty.

In addition to BSW students, students who have completed the first year of an accredited MSW program can also enroll for advanced standing which permits them to complete full-time studies in eight months or part-time studies in 16 months.

Students can take advantage of the career center guidance services, including tips on resumes, applications, and networking, as well as virtual services from the library.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Bronx, New York
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $963 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program with at least a 2.6 GPA though 3.0 is preferred; 18 undergraduate credits in the liberal arts; official transcripts; resume; one letter of recommendation; an autobiographical statement
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Eight months for students with a BSW; 16 for non-BSW students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site

University of Missouri — Master of Social Work

Mizzou offers its accredited online master of social work (MSW) program in an advanced standing program for those who already have a bachelor of social work (BSW) and a regular option for those with a bachelor degree in other disciplines. Please note that the online MSW program is only available to residents of Missouri and its contiguous states: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Applicants for the online MSW degree must have a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited school. The coursework must reflect "a sound liberal arts foundation, including courses in the humanities, as well as in the social and behavioral sciences" and include at least one statistics course with a grade of C- or higher.

The program requires 60 credits for regular students and 39 credits for advanced standing students. The typical course load is two courses per semester, so a full-time student with an existing BSW can finish in two years while other students can finish in three.

Students are strongly encouraged to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) to determine career goals, make plans toward those goals, and track their progress. The IDP tool does not automatically share students' plans with their advisors, but students are urged to review their plans with their advisor at least annually. Students are also invited to use the online library services and virtual services from the career center.

  • Program: Online MSW
  • Campus: Columbia, Missouri
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Council on Social Work Education
  • Tuition: $469.75 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited program with at least a 3.0 GPA; a grade of C- or higher in an undergraduate statistics course; official transcripts; resume; three letters of recommendation; a personal statement; advanced standing applicants must also include their most recent field evaluation or, if not available, a recommendation from their field supervisor
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years for advanced standing students; three years for traditional students
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
View School Site