Social Work Masters Programs (MSW, Online)

Can I Get a Master's in Online Social Work?

There are many online Master's in Social Work programs to choose from and has provided 41 accredited programs below. Online Master's in Social Work programs are typically designed for working professionals who have already obtained their BSW and wish to study in a more convenient and flexible format.

Whether you are a current social worker seeking a terminal practice degree or are looking for a career change, earning a masters in social work online may help you fulfill part of the requirements to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). In fact, one of the things to keep in mind is that an online masters in social work (MSW) is not easier or of less value just because you take social work courses in a virtual classroom.

Masters Degrees in Social Work Online

About Online MSW Programs

Online MSW programs are offered by traditional graduate schools so your transcript will not necessarily show how you earned your degree and there is no ‘one’ set of standards for what an online MSW looks like.

Degree requirements, course format and distance instruction methods vary by school. You might enter an online masters in social work program with either a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from an accredited program or with a degree in human services, counseling psychology or a related field. Specific prerequisites should be identified on a school by school basis.

Advanced Standing Students

For students who have earned their Bachelor of Social Work from a CSWE accredited program, some graduate schools for social work may offer students the opportunity to enter an MSW online program as an “advanced standing student”. This type of accelerated online program means that the first year of classes (foundation classes) are typically waived and the time to degree completion is shorter.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Masters in Social Work?

Most full-time online MSW programs can be completed in approximately two years, compared with two and a half to four years for part-time programs.

Students interested in earning an MSW online might have options for how much time they commit to their degree. Some online schools may offer both full-time and part-time options, while others may only have one type or the other. This is a criterion you might use to distinguish one online Master of Social Work from another.

  • Full-time MSW Online Programs might take approximately two years to complete for traditional standing students and about one full year for advanced standing students. Advanced standing students have usually entered an online MSW program having graduated with a BSW and thus completed some of the basic courses.
  • Part-time MSW Online Programs might take two and a half years to four years for traditional standing students and about one and a half years for advanced standing students.
  • Advanced Standing Programs are offered if you already have a bachelor’s degree in social work. You may qualify for advanced standing as a master’s student and several online social work degree programs offer this option to enable those with a strong background in the field to move through a program more quickly. Some programs may be completed in as little as 12 months.

Potential Curriculum for Online MSW Programs

Students enrolled in online MSW programs take courses, electives, and participate in field internships. Course curriculum is often dependent on a student’s emphasis of study (specialization). This might be either clinical (e.g. clinical social worker) or non-clinical (e.g. social advocacy). All online MSW programs include a field practicum requirement where students typically have to work at a social services of health service agency in their community.


When asked about their education level, 57% of clinical social workers responded they had a master’s degree[i]

Format Options for Online MSW Programs

When reviewing online MSW programs, take note that distance learning might take on different formats and structures.  Sometimes classes are completely online but sometimes they can be low residency programs which means that you might be required to attend a few classes throughout the semester or program length.

  • MSW Online Programs (100% online): If a graduate school lists an online social work masters degree program as completely online, this usually describes a program that does not require students to travel to their campus.
  • MSW Online Programs (campus requirements): Some schools offer students the opportunity to take most of their courses online except for a few campus visits which are clearly stipulated. These might be anything from a short conference, workshop, evening, week or weekend depending on the school. These are sometimes called low residency programs.

Does it Matter Wher I live for Online MSW Programs?

First and foremost, know that if you live in close proximity to a campus offering an online msw program, you might have to complete part of the program on campus. If you are fully committed to an online program, double-check that there aren’t any in-person requirements.

Some online msw programs are open to residents of any state, but many have residency requirements. The primary reason for this is that the curriculum for most programs is designed to help students obtain a license in the same state in which the university is located – or perhaps in a neighboring state. Because state licensure requirements vary quite a bit, it may be difficult – if not impossible – to become licensed if you live in an entirely different part of the country or if you plan to work in a different region once you graduate. Moreover, the influence of the local social and cultural environment on a particular program might make it a poor match for you if you do not plan to work in or around that same place. You need to become familiar with the challenges most often faced by the people you will be helping in your career, not by a distinctly different population.

How Are MSW Online Programs Structured?

Online social work degree programs vary widely in the options they offer their students. Some are almost entirely self-guided, featuring asynchronous classes which are completed online at the student’s own pace. Others require at least some courses to be taken in a sequence and may involve some specific hours spent working and communicating with faculty and students in an online environment. Many are designed for part-time students, but some offer full-time study options. Many can be completed without any campus contact, but some require occasional face-to-face meetings.

Online MSW programs do vary in their structure and learning delivery. Here are a few potential features to consider in your search;

  • Cohort Model: The cohort model is one where the same group of students take a course and proceed through their program together.
  • Scheduling: The flexible course scheduling model is one where students choose their courses without the set structure of taking specific courses at set intervals.  
  • Synchronous Course Delivery: Some online Master of Social Work programs may offer synchronous instruction. This requires students to log in and attend their courses at specific times, and classes are given in real-time. There is a level of participation through technology such as webcams that may simulate an on-campus experience.
  • Asynchronous Course Delivery: Some online MSW programs offer asynchronous delivery of courses. Students do not attend classes in real time, rather, are able to log into their course management system when they have the time, although they must still respect assignment deadlines. This type of program offers flexibility to students who are able to make their own schedules.  

Why Consider an Online Social Work Masters Degree?

Choosing to pursue a masters degree in social work online might be beneficial for graduate students who:

  • Are busy gaining real time work experience and don’t want to let it go, but your job hours don’t mesh with the campus schedule.
  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and have had some human service component and practice.
  • Live to far geographically from accredited online MSW programs
  • Find the on-campus schedule is impossible to commit to

Potential Next Steps for MSW Graduates

Earning your MSW online may have several potential benefits;

Potential Career Paths: MSW graduates may be prepared for specialist and advanced practice career paths;

  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Child and Family Social Workers
  • Clinical Social Workers
  • School Social Workers
  • Healthcare Social Workers

Top States for Employment: Healthcare Social Workers
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York9,790$60,230

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Healthcare Social Workers
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Yuba City, CA$79,83030
Salinas, CA$78,860160
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$78,750810
Bakersfield, CA$78,500200
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$77,300520

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Continued Education: The Master of Social Work is considered the prerequisite for doctorate social work degrees such as the Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and PhD in Social Work.

National Accreditation by CSWE Online MSW Programs

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency in the United States for all social work education including online programs. Choosing an accredited online MSW program helps to ensure the quality and educational standards are verified.

The most important thing to find in an online social work degree program is accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The CSWE goes to great lengths to ensure that its accredited programs will prepare students to become licensed social workers. In many cases, if you do not attend an accredited program, you may not be able to get your license once you graduate – and that means you may not be able eligible to work or advance your career in the field. To be sure that your prospective online msw program is accredited by the CSWE, you should check both with the school and with the organization’s list of currently accredited programs. There are also different licenses available such as the LSW. licensed social worker or LCSW, licensed clinical social worker.

sources: [i] | [ii] | [iii]

Top 41 Online Graduate Schools with Online Masters in Social Work (MSW) Programs 

  • Accredited online university.
  • Capella University offers doctoral programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession.
  • Competency-based curriculum delivers both foundation knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.
  • GRE scores are not required to apply.
  • Complete the online MSW program in as few as 18 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • There are two online MSW program tracks: traditional and advanced standing.
Find Schools