What to Look For in an Online MSW Program

Portions of the following article were drafted using an in-house natural language generation platform. The article was then reviewed, fact-checked, and edited by multiple members of our editorial team prior to publishing.

Written by: Jennifer Cuellar | Edited by: Diana Zaremba | Last Updated: June 2024

If you’re ready to advance in the social work field, applying to an online master’s in social work (MSW) program may be right for you. These programs offer a flexible and comprehensive educational path, allowing you to balance studies with work, family, and other commitments.

However, with numerous online MSW programs available, how do you choose the right one for you? We’ll guide you through key factors, including accreditation, curriculum and specializations, field education, faculty expertise, and student support.

Popular Online MSW Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

Understanding Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Programs

An online master’s in social work (MSW) program is a graduate-level education designed for advanced practice in social work. These programs provide foundational knowledge, advanced coursework, and specializations.

Importantly, they require students to complete a significant amount of fieldwork hours for hands-on experience. Upon completion, graduates can pursue licensure and work in diverse settings, such as human service agencies, research organizations, schools, nonprofits, governments, and hospitals.

Key Factors to Consider in an Online MSW Program

When choosing an online MSW program, there are several key factors to keep in mind.


Accreditation is crucial in an online MSW program. It signifies that the program meets the highest standards for social work education as set by the Council on Social Work Education (CSW). Accreditation ensures you will learn the necessary social work competencies and prepare you for licensure. It also adds credibility to your degree.

Curriculum and Specializations

Online MSW programs offer a curriculum designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge needed for generalist and specialized social work practice. Some specializations may include topics like aging, domestic violence, mental health, trauma, and substance use. If you already know which area you want to work in after obtaining your degree, look to see which specialties your program offers.

Fieldwork and Internship Opportunities

MSN programs require students to complete fieldwork and internships. These in-person experiences allow you to apply classroom concepts, skills, and techniques in supervised practice. You’ll gain hands-on experience by engaging with individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations in real-world settings.

Faculty Expertise

The expertise of faculty members plays a significant role in the quality of an online MSW program. Professors who are experts in their respective areas of social work bring valuable real-world experience and knowledge into the classroom, enhancing your education. They also contribute to the program’s reputation and credibility.

Student Support and Resources

Online MSW programs typically offer various student support and resources. These can include professional development resources from various social work organizations, health and wellness support, and financial aid options.

Benefits of an Online MSW Program

Enrolling in an online MSW program comes with several benefits. It offers flexibility, allowing you to complete coursework when convenient. This flexibility could also lead to savings in time and money, as you won’t need to commute to campus. You can also benefit from learning from educators across the country, bringing diverse perspectives and experiences into your learning process.

Frequently Asked Questions Around Online MSW Programs

Is a master’s in social work worth it?

An MSW can significantly enhance your career in social work, potentially leading to higher salaries, promotions, and access to specialized fields such as healthcare and mental health. It’s also a requirement for licensure as a licensed master social worker. However, weighing the cost and time investment against these professional benefits is important.

What’s the difference between a LMSW and a LCSW?

While both LMSWs and LCSWs hold a master’s degree in social work, LCSWs have additional clinical training and supervised experience, which qualifies them to diagnose and treat mental health issues independently. LMSWs may perform generalist duties and cannot provide counseling without supervision. LCSWs also undergo a more rigorous licensing process and often have greater earning potential.

Do you need a master’s degree to become a social worker?

A bachelor of social work (BSW) may suffice for entry-level roles in some states. However, a master of social work (MSW) is often necessary for advanced social work roles.

Is getting a master’s in social work hard?

Earning an MSW is challenging due to the intense academic coursework, substantial fieldwork, and the emotional nature of helping others overcome obstacles. It is also financially demanding. However, it can be a rewarding choice for those dedicated to social work.