A Guide to Online Master of Social Work Programs

The field of social work is one that is recognized as being one of the most fulfilling to enter. Having the ability to help families and communities is incredibly rewarding and can put your skills and compassion to good use. But how does someone even get started in the field at all?

Many social work jobs require more than just a Bachelors degree to really break into. There’s a lot you need to know and do your job efficiently and effectively. Not to mention the wealth of specialization options that are available in continued education that can really help you hone in on your preferred area of the field. 

For optimal success, you’ll want to start looking into getting a Master of Social Work. Now what does that mean and how is it going to help? Don’t worry we’ll go ahead and break it down for you. 

What is a Master of Social Work?

Like most master’s programs, it is a continuation of your bachelor level work but to a higher degree. Essentially this degree will be your stepping stone to getting better career opportunities in the field, as well as giving a path to getting licensed as a clinical social worker. This program provides working knowledge of policy, research, clinical and behavioral practice, as well as detailing specific specializations within the field itself. 

Typically this program takes about 1-2 years and gives students a deeper understanding of what a career in social work entails. Furthermore, this program can open you up to careers in healthcare, clinical, administrative, or community social work. This program can be taken in person at an accredited university, or there are plenty of online options to choose from to get your degree. 

Why Choose an Online MSW Program?

Modern education has advanced to the point where access to quality continued education programs has extended to the virtual classroom. Students these days have the opportunity to enroll in an MSW from Universities all over the country without having to uproot their lives. This means not having to give up attending the program you want simply because you live in a different state. 

Online MSW programs also have the benefit of working around your busy schedule without having to sacrifice quality. Not to mention that cost plays a great factor in why an online MSW might be your best choice. Since students don’t have to worry about travel, room, and board, or on-campus access to certain amenities, many online programs are cheaper than traditional in-person degree plans. 

If you have other limitations such as your job, family, or even health issues, an online program can provide exactly the same experience in a virtual format. 

Is an Online MSW Accredited?

Most accredited universities these days have online degree plans that are equivalent to their on-campus options. As long as you are applying to an online MSW program that is provided by an accredited university, there’s no need to worry that your degree is invalid. Some of the schools with online MSW programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) are as follows: 

  • Baylor University (Waco, Texas)
  • Columbia University (New York, New York)
  • University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
  • University of Denver (Denver, Colorado) 
  • Simmons University (Boston, Massachusetts) 

These programs have been reviewed by the CSWE and validated as accredited programs to help further your career in the social work field. They all have entirely online degree plans for the MSW and have no GRE requirement or commitment to visit the campus in person. 

What Are the Admission Requirements?

These typically vary just a little bit from university to university, but there is a general set of admission requirements that are pretty universal. The first requirement is, of course, having received a bachelors degree from an accredited university. Though it isn’t specified in all admissions requirements, some schools will prefer applicants to have a specific minimum GPA, as well as a degree in a related field. 

Like most continued education applications you’ll need to provide a personal essay and few references. Some schools require a GRE score for applicants, but not every school requires it. It is important to do your research on the specific school you’re wanting to attend to know their individual admission requirements for online students. You may be caught off guard if a school you thought was entirely online requires you to visit on campus. 

Other than that, as long as you research and are prepared to provide your transcripts, essay, references, and whatever else your specific university requires, you should be good to go. 

What Curriculum Should You Expect?

Because you’ll be serving the public in most avenues of employment within the field, these programs want to prepare you for that. The curriculum varies by school but the major focuses of most programs are in social science, service, ethics, critical thinking, and proper trauma and crisis response. The curriculum is a balance between teaching you the skills you need to be able to serve in your position, while also providing virtual fieldwork. 

As said before, the curriculum varies greatly between schools but will typically represent both the scientific side of social work as well as the civil service side. 

What Specializations Are There?

When you’re thinking about social work you may not think of it as a broad field, but there are several specializations that can help you decide which path you want to go towards with your career. There are community social workers who specialize in serving underrepresented or at-risk communities. These workers typically find their home in the non-profit sector, advocating for communities that have been mistreated by their local officials or are struggling because of their socio-economic status. 

The more traditional route that you can take is the one that everyone typically thinks of when they think of social work, children, and family social workers. They specialize in at-risk or abused children and make an effort to provide resources to children and families who are suffering.

There are social workers who deal primarily with the rehabilitation of those with mental or substance abuse issues. They work with those who need help in turning their lives around and coming out of a dark spot. Much like the children and family workers counseling is a key component of what they do. 

Social workers can also specialize in veteran affairs, administrative work, policy, and many more topics. It can be difficult to find the one that is right for you, but with so many options you are bound to connect with a certain specialization as you’re learning. 

How Long Does it Take?

Like traditional MSW degree plans, online degree plans typically take anywhere from 12-18 months and possibly even longer depending on your individual pacing and the pacing of your program. Most online programs boast being a quicker route to your MWS, and some of them are very right about that. 

However, there are programs that help continuing education students reach a good balance between school and their other life commitments. So in most cases, you’ll get an estimate of when you’re likely to finish, but there are options for a more self-paced schedule. 

Are There Scholarships for Online MSW Degrees?

There are some specialized scholarships for people seeking a masters of social work, as well as some programs that will sponsor their students to aid with tuition costs. Here are a few of the scholarships available to MSW degree seekers:



  • Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship: Awards $4,000 in scholarship money to 10 MSW candidates working with Latinx communities or Native Americans. 
  • Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial MSW Scholarship: About $5,000 awarded to students who are focusing their degrees on mental health work. 
  • The Melanie Foundation Scholarship: About $2,500 to students who are also focusing their work in the mental health sector. 


There are also options for specific schools that are willing to sponsor masters students, but that will require a bit more research. 

To Wrap Up

An online masters of social work is an ideal option for the individual who is looking to better the lives of others through social service. Having the option to pursue your degree online from a university that you trust and admire is also a huge plus and shows how far we’ve come in the way of virtual learning. With such a wide array of specializations to choose from as well, it makes it far more enticing to those who may have thought that social work was a one-dimensional field of study. 

Finding your perfect niche while juggling your daily life is difficult, so expanding your career goals feels like it is out of the question. Online learning and access to accredited MSW programs make it easier for working professionals to further their goals without having to uproot their lives. If you have a passion for helping people and the skills to do so, do a little of your own research alongside this guide to find the best match for your lifestyle.