Online Social Work Programs: Graduate Degrees

About Online Social Work Graduate Programs

Several traditional CSWE-accredited schools for social work offer online social work graduate programs. Accredited online social work degrees offer working professionals the opportunity to earn advanced credentials such as the Master of Social Work (MSW) without necessarily disrupting their schedules.

Online social work graduate programs may be available from the masters (MSW) to the doctorate (DSW and PhD), including post-graduate and post-masters certificate programs. Distance learning brings the classroom to you, so it may be more convenient to consider earning an online social work degree than attending class in person.

Grad Degrees in Social Work Online


In 2014, 47,894 degrees were awarded in social work. The most common degree is the MSW with 52% share of all social work degrees granted.[i]

What Types of Online Social Work Degrees Available?

If you are considering a career in social work, you should research how much education is required to address the types of problems and clients that you find most compelling. This may help you navigate the different graduate –level online

social work degrees to see which one aligns with your goals.

Online Graduate Certificates in Social Work

Online social work graduate certificates offer shorter term programming through a few targeted courses. You might learn how to address specific populations (children or the terminally ill for instance) as part of continuing education or take online social work courses for credits toward a Masters in Social Work degree.

Online MSW Programs

Masters degree in social work (MSW) programs are typically designed for students seeking to learn advanced skills for practicing and assuming leadership or clinical positions in the field. Online MSW programs involve fieldwork, as do their campus counterparts, although you may be able to fulfill these requirements in your local community. These internships enable students to prepare for state licensure examinations within their specialty. Current BSW level social workers might use the MSW degree to move from direct service and assistant positions into clinical roles. These students might enter an online MSW program as an advanced standing student and possibly complete their degree in less time (about one year). Students who have a Bachelors in sociology, human services, psychology, counseling or another discipline might use the master’s degree to initiate a social worker career. Time to completion is typically about two years although program duration is a variable.

Online DSW or PhD in Social Work

Graduates of MSW programs who desire to conduct scholarly or evidence-based research about social work issues and public policy, write, or teach at the postsecondary level might consider working towards a PhD in social work or Doctor of Social Work - DSW online. Earning a doctoral degree in social work may take students from two to five years although the time to completion varies. Usually students must research, write and defend their dissertation to be awarded their degree.  

Why Pursue a Social Work Graduate Degree Online?

Since many graduate schools for social work offer both campus and online programs the fact that you earned your MSW, DSW, PhD or graduate social work certificate online may not be noted on your transcripts. Earning a graduate degree in social work may lead to a variety of potential opportunities that might include;

  • Specialize. Clinical Social Workers (also called licensed clinical social workers) diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional disorders. Healthcare Social Workers are another example where a master’s degree is required. This type of social worker may also choose to specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work.
  • Supervise. If you aspire to lead (think ‘Director of Social Work) or potentially hold a more senior administrative role, a graduate degree is required.
  • Run a Private Practice. Many clinical social workers work in private practice. Again, graduate degree.
  • Research: If you are interested in social change or advocacy, a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or PhD in Social Work programs are both research-oriented.
  • Teach: Many DSW graduates go on to work as Postsecondary teachers.

Top States for Employment: Social Workers, All Other
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York5,150$65,460
South Carolina2,440$41,770

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Social Workers, All Other
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$89,150Not Reported
Springfield, MA-CT$88,01060
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX$84,900230
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$82,9001,190
Santa Rosa, CA$82,830250

Bureau of Labor Statistics

How are Online Social Work Graduate Programs Formatted?

There is no ‘one’ format or structure for online social work graduate programs. Ultimately you need to evaluate your scheduling needs as well as whether you are looking for a full-time or part-time commitment. A few things to consider as you evaluate online social work degree programs:

  • Some graduate programs in social work are 100% online, while other online social work degrees have some in-person (on-site) requirements.
  • With the proliferation of educational technology, distance-learning programs make use of an expanded set of digital tools.
  • Courses may be synchronous or asynchronous. This means that in some programs you may interact with professors live at scheduled intervals or participate in learning activities at your own pace.
  • E-learning may include watching presentations, listening to MP3 lectures, posting on online threaded discussion boards, or even videotaping yourself conducting social work duties.
  • Some social work grad students progress through their program with a supervisor with whom they are in regular contact.
  • There are variances in course formatting, sequencing, and pacing from one program to another. Some online social work graduate programs use the cohort model (Same group from start to finish), others use a flexible schedule.
  • Some MSW programs don't require applicants to take the GRE

Find CSWE–Accredited Online Social Work Graduate Programs

Before enrolling in an online social work graduate program, students should verify that their online schools of choice are regionally accredited. In addition to regional accreditation, students should look for specialized programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the predominant accrediting agency for social work degree programs. CSWE accreditation is evidence of the relevance and educational standards of a school's social work program. Students who forgo this step, may find themselves unable to sit for their state licensure examinations. For an accurate database of accredited online social work programs, visit the CSWE website.

Sources[i] |

Top 33 Online Graduate Schools with Online Social Work Graduate 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.
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