A Master’s in Social Work (MSW) is an incredibly versatile degree, allowing you to work in everything from government assistance programs to private psychological counseling. The increasingly popular online Masters of Social Work programs make this degree even more attractive, adding convenience and flexibility to earning an MSW.
Online MSW programs include coursework as well as a clinical practice, typically performed in a student’s local community. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), requires all MSW programs to include a mandatory clinical practice to be accredited.
Students can select from full-time and part-time online Masters of Social Work programs. Some schools offer accelerated online Master’s of Social Work programs. A social work masters degree is required for jobs in clinical or public school social work. People with a master’s degree in social work typically work as counselors, social workers or therapists.
Employment Growth for Social Workers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 25 percent job growth for social workers from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. The expected job growth is due to an increase in demand for a variety of social services and healthcare, but will vary by specialty.
From 2010 to 2020 the BLS forecasts a 34 percent job growth for healthcare social workers; 31 percent for mental health and substance abuse social workers and 20 percent for child, family and school social workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary in 2011 for social workers was $53,900.
MSW Online Programs Ranking Guidelines
We’ve created a list of the best online MSW programs. We base our rankings on academic quality, awards, reputation, rankings by notable sources and internship opportunities.
#1 Fordham University (New York, NY)
The Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University is ranked #11 by U.S. News & World Report in social work. The MSW online degree program includes class work focused on theory, social work application, policy and research. The program also includes field placements. As part of the field work students participate in an integrative seminar in order to enhance the connection between online classroom and field learning.
The part-time online masters of social work program includes a clinical concentration. The program takes about three and a half years to complete. The program is asynchronous; in general, there are no specific times students are required to be online.
The first two years of the MSW program provide the foundation, the next two years are advanced. The online students are required to attend face-to-face sessions in New York City two times each year for the duration of the program. The online Master’s of Social Work degree qualifies graduates to take the certification or licensing examination in their home state, which is required in most states.
#2 University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
The USC School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report in social work; the social work department is ranked #15 by the Princeton Review‘s Gourman Report of Graduate Programs. The Master of Social Work degree online program is flexible, highly interactive and has the academic rigor of the on-campus program. Students connect with their peers and professors via live online classes, chat sessions and study groups.
Students obtain hands-on training in the field in their local community. The school arranges the supervised internships. Students can begin the online MSW program at their convenience; the USC school of Social Work provides multiple start dates. The foundation-year curriculum offers a common base of knowledge, values and skills. In the second year, students select a specialized area: Families and Children; Health; Mental Health; and Community Organization, Planning and Administration.
All concentrations require a field placement in addition to specialized coursework. A sub-concentration is available in Military Social Work and Veteran Services.
#3 Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA)
The VCU School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #11 by U.S. News & World Report in social work. The MSW online degree has synchronous and asynchronous elements, thus students are expected to be online with classmates at specific times for some activities as well as work offline independently at their convenience.
The Masters of Social Work online students have an internship at a nearby social services, government agency, hospital, school or business under the supervision of an experienced social worker. Students are required to obtain 1,050 hours in an approved internship/placement site. VCU’s MSW Distance Education (DE) program is a part-time program completed in about four years. The online students use the curriculum provided to the on-campus MSW students.
Students select a concentration option in Clinical Social Work or Social Work Administration, Planning and Policy Practice. The online students are prepared to engage in development of the profession, influence community decision making as well as formulate, implement and evaluate interventions, programs and policies.
#4 Boston University (Boston, MA)
Boston University (BU) School of Social Work is ranked as tied for #16 by U.S. News & World Report in social work. The school provides a part-time online Master of Social Work program in Clinical Social Work Practice. Students can select the Traditional MSW Track or the Human Service Experience Track.
Candidates for the Human Service Experience Track are required to have at least two years of supervised human services experience. The track includes a single 1,000 hour field internship. The Traditional MSW Track includes two field internships totaling 1200 hours in the field. Faculty advisors help students find field internships in their community.
The online courses are taught by the Boston University’s faculty. The Online MSW program is completed in about two and a half years. The Master of Social Work program includes synchronous (face-to-face) components; students have to be available at a specific time.
#5 Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Florida State University College of Social Work is ranked #44 by U.S. News & World Report in social work; the social work department is ranked #24 by the Princeton Review‘s Gourman Report of Graduate Programs. The school reports its online MSW program is the first of its kind in the country. The Florida State University College of Social Work offers an asynchronous instruction which allows students to be online at their convenience. Campus visits are not required.
The online MSW program includes field placement opportunities. The program takes about two years to complete. The program is guided by the same standards as the traditional program. The Masters of Social Work program is available to students living in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Non-residents can appeal for a non-resident tuition waver, which significantly reduces the cost per credit hour.
#6 University of North Dakota Online & Distance Education (Grand Forks, ND)
The University of North Dakota is ranked #79 by U.S. News & World Report in social work. The part-time MSW distance program takes two years to complete. Students are prepared to serve as an advanced generalist social worker. The online MSW program is designed for students with a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Candidates without a BSW degree are required to apply to the Master of Social Work for Non-BSW Students distance program. Students pay in-state tuition regardless of where they live.
Live Web classes are held during the evenings and weekends. Students are required to visit the campus one time. Students gain experience in local field placements.
#7 University of New England (Portland, ME)
The School of Social Work at the University of New England is ranked #130 by U.S. News & World Report in social work. In 2010, UNE was ranked as one of the “Best Universities” in the North offering “A full range of undergraduate and master’s programs” by U.S. News & World Report. The accelerated online MSW degree program is available to those with a social work degree and those seeking to begin a new career. The online Master of Social Work degree program includes supervised fieldwork in the students’ community. Campus visits are not required.
The School of Social Work at the University of New England provides a Traditional Track and an Advanced Standing Track. Some students may qualify to enroll directly in the Advanced Standing Track which builds on the basic social work curriculum by focusing on advanced social work subjects, skills and theory. Students in the Advanced Standing Track are required to select the Individual, Family and Group Practice concentration or the Organizational and Community Practice concentration.
#8 Texas State University (San Marcos, TX)
The School of Social Work at Texas State University/San Marcos is ranked #148 by U.S. News & World Report in social work. The online MSW degree program is available on a part-time basis. The program provides the Foundation Curriculum and the Administrative Leadership Concentration Curriculum. A field practicum is a major element of the MSW program.
Online students in the Regular Track or Advanced Track have the same curriculum requirements and syllabi as the on-campus students. The Regular Track takes part-time students four years to complete and full-time students two years to complete. The Advanced Standing Track takes part-time student two years to complete and full-time students one year to complete. Students in the Advanced Standing Track take specialized coursework in the Direct Practice concentration or the Administrative Leadership concentration.
The online students are taught by core faculty members specially trained to deliver interactive online courses. The program is available to students across the nation and throughout the world. The Regular Track is available to people with an accredited baccalaureate degree in any area of social work. The Advanced Standing Track is available to people with a BSW degree from a CSWE accredited program.
#9 Saint Leo University (Saint Leo, FL)
Saint Leo University, a Catholic university, has been selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Top Universities in the South”. The school is open to people of all faiths. Saint Leo University School of Education & Social Services offers a Master of Social Work online program with an Advanced Clinical Practice concentration.
Students are prepared to be leaders in advanced clinical social work practice, serving all populations, especially the elderly, member of the workforce, military personnel as well as individuals and group experiencing discrimination and oppression.
The online MSW program is only available to students living in Florida, Georgia and Virginia. The program includes an internship. Students are required to attend one weekend seminar on the Saint Leo campus in the summer. The Master of Social Work online program takes two years to complete. Students with a BSW degree from a CSWE accredited program can take the accelerated one-year program.
#10 Northeastern University (Boston, MA)
In 2011, Northeastern University was ranked #8 in U.S. News & World Report‘s list of Up-and-Coming-Schools. The Northeastern University online Master of Science in Human Services program prepares students for careers with nonprofit organizations, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The online program allows students to master skills in a flexible and highly interactive manner.
The program includes a core curriculum and electives. Students choose one of the following specializations: Organizational Communication, Leadership or Global Studies. The program includes work-based applications and a capstone service-learning project. Part-time students complete the Master of Science in Human Services program in three years and full-time students complete the program in two years.