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

 Social workers with a master's degree can pursue leadership roles like managing child welfare agencies and directing service departments. Check out our favorite online master's programs.

Taking two years of full-time study, an online master’s degree in social work prepares students to serve their communities during times of great challenge. While some social workers apply their skills to counseling individuals and couples, others use their expertise to advocate for change in the social welfare system. Social workers can also land postsecondary teaching positions or perform research aimed at creating equality for all.

After several years of professional experience, social workers can secure leadership roles, directing social services departments or managing child welfare agencies.

A positive career outlook can be another motivating factor for these students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 8% job growth for social workers between 2019 and 2029. These professionals earn a median salary of $51,760.

Additionally, some related occupations, such as school and career counselor, marriage and family therapist, and rehabilitation counselor, offer even higher projected growth rates and incomes.

What Can I Expect From an Online MSW Program?

Typically requiring 48-60 credits, an online master’s degree in social work provides learners with advanced knowledge in human behavior, social policy, and clinical practice. Master's students build on their prior education and experience by taking classes in leadership and development, organizational theory, social advocacy, and clinical intervention strategies.

“Being able to apply what you are currently learning and having a group setting to share and process with was very rewarding.”

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) states that graduates of MSW programs must have a minimum of 900 hours of supervised field instruction. This field experience enables students to apply their advanced theoretical knowledge to social work practice in supervised settings. Degree-seekers learn to integrate the skills and concepts they’ve studied in the classroom to work with real clients.

Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC, explains that "Practice and programming classes were beneficial to take alongside working at an internship. Being able to apply what you are currently learning and having a group setting to share and process with was very rewarding."

Additionally, students may choose to center their studies around the micro, mezzo, or macro levels of social work. The micro level focuses on helping individuals, the mezzo level involves working with groups and organizations, and the macro level aims to address large-scale issues in the social work field.

Once students understand which level of social work they’re most interested in, they can choose the concentration that makes most sense for their career goals. Though every program varies in specific offerings, common MSW concentrations include the following:

Clinical/direct practice social work

Advanced generalist

Administrative and community development

Addiction/chemical dependence

Children’s mental health specialist

Medical social work

Trauma Specialist

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Social Work Program?

Social Welfare Policy

This course examines the history and purpose of social welfare, as well as the role and evolution of government in social welfare policy. Students explore current social welfare issues and the underlying values that support different perspectives while learning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our current social welfare system on different levels.

Interventions in Clinical Social Work

In this course, students apply theoretical concepts and intervention strategies to practice experiences with diverse patient populations in supervised settings. Coursework delves into ethical standards in social work, emphasizes the use of evidence-based practice, and covers the importance of cultural competency and sensitivity in a clinical setting. In addition, students will review and practice concrete clinical skills in the classroom and during their field placements to master theoretical concepts.

Poverty and Inequality

With a focus on recent historical trends, this course explores how poverty is defined and measured in the United States. Learners study the political, economic, and philosophical foundations of the nation’s social welfare system, become familiar with current welfare policy controversies, and analyze different perspectives on poverty and inequality.

Human Behavior in the Social Environment

This course explores theories surrounding how people and communities develop, behave, and interact. Degree-seekers examine lifespan development from conception to old age and study how social influence impacts development and community outcomes.

Social Work Research

Social work research courses provide an overview of qualitative and quantitative research methods, causation, measurem

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