There are a multitude of online MSW programs that provide a smooth transition for students starting social work for the first time. Online MSW degree programs can provide learners with the opportunity for independent learning, as well as strengthening their self-discipline with completing assignments in the online course room.

MSW Programs for those without a BSW Degree

Reviewed by Anna Shull, MSW

If you’ve decided to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) but already hold a bachelor’s in an unrelated subject, fear not: there are many excellent master’s programs designed for students just like you. In fact, most MSW programs are designed from students who come from other areas of specialization, encouraging a diversity of skills within the field and allowing anyone with a bachelor’s degree to pursue the education and training needed to become a social worker.

Even those who have no prior experience in the social work arena can qualify for top-ranking MSW programs.

social worker in office

The Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program is a preferred option for students with the drive to obtain direct service positions after graduation. Universities that provide this degree option to students often have various expectations for admissions, most of which consist of course prerequisites, grades and performance, and undergraduate accreditation.

Some MSW programs (such as an Advanced Standing MSW) require a BSW degree (Bachelor of Social Work) as a pre-requisite for entry to their program.

However, there are a number of MSW programs that do not require a BSW for admissions: they are commonly called a Traditional MSW program.

Why Consider a MSW Program?

If you are interested in a career that allows you to positively impact the lives of people in marginalized communities, this could be the degree program for you to enroll in. The MSW can prepare you for careers in the booming healthcare field, social services, education, or even private practice.

MSW Specialization Tracks

Most MSW programs also consist of mental health and counseling oriented course work to provide you with a solid foundation for future one-on-one work with clients in need. Earning an MSW always involves supervised clinical experience, a critical step toward meeting the requirements to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW).

Depending on which college you choose for your program, the courses required for graduation may hold different names or even include focus into different specializations.

social worker helping

Finding MSW Programs with No BSW Requirements

Students that have already completed a bachelor's degree program may be curious about whether or not their degree program can lead them into a MSW program at the university of their choice.

Since MSW programs do not require students to hold a Bachelor of Social Work, any bachelor's degree can meet the admissions requirements for an MSW.

Online MSW Degree Options

There are a multitude of online MSW programs that provide a smooth transition for students starting social work for the first time.

Most universities offering online MSW programs do not have entry restrictions for students outside of the social work major. In most cases, the available programs outline social work or related fields as acceptable degree programs - which would include disciplines such as Human Services, Psychology, Sociology, or even Criminology.

If you choose an online degree program for your education, you can enjoy the benefits of flexible learning. Online students can continue working a full schedule at their current jobs and possibly even better manage time at home with their families.

Online courses also give students the opportunity to schedule homework and assignments at times that do not interfere with other daily responsibilities. Some students currently enrolled in online MSW programs complete their work on the weekends, early morning, or even late at night.

Bringing your expertise to your MSW program

Even if you don’t hold a BSW, it’s likely that the education you received as an undergraduate will benefit your social work studies. Social work is an interdisciplinary practice that draws heavily from other academic disciplines, including psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Since these approaches inform other academic subjects as well, such as English, history, and other social science courses. Some specializations within the social work profession also draw from particular disciplines – for example, it can help for medical social workers to have a science background.

In fact, it’s important that social workers bring a variety of skill sets and disciplinary approaches to the profession, as there are so many different roles social workers can play. A diversity of specialists allows for more complete and nuanced care to be provided in the many contexts in which social workers are employed. If you were worried you didn’t have the right background to pursue an MSW, think again.

Social Work Licensure

You don’t need a bachelor’s in social work to enroll in an MSW program. In fact, a bachelor’s degree in any field will meet the admission requirements.

The undergraduate degree you hold will have no impact on your eligibility for a license or the  process you’ll go through to become licensed.

As you work through a master’s program, you will have opportunities to engage in supervised practicum and independent field work under a supervisor to contribute to your licensure requirements. Earning a bachelor’s-level license is not a requirement for master’s-level social work licenses. And not having a BSW will not affect the future licensing of a student pursuing a traditional MSW.

In order to be considered for social work licensure, your master’s program should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). You can verify your degree’s accreditation either through your university or through the CSWE website. Confirming this accreditation can help you rest assured that your program meets your state’s licensing standard.

The reliability of your degree program is not the only component considered during the licensure process. Most states require that you also engage in fieldwork requirements, which are usually embedded within your degree program.

A test of your abilities in the field of social work can be your final step towards working with clients in the field. This examination can consists of topics learned in your MSW program, as well as practical knowledge gained while in the field. Successful completion of this test can help you fast-track the licensure process in your state.

home social worker

MSW Career Outlook

The social work field can essentially be a mixing bowl of opportunity for graduates of the MSW program. Social work positions can be found in some of the most popular career fields, such as healthcare and social services.

As a social worker, you can have the skills needed to assess the needs of your clients, develop a client-centered plan, and help people get in touch with services that can improve their quality of life.

Some of the most prominent employers of social workers are hospitals, social service organizations, the court system, and mental health facilities. In any environment in which people are served, social workers can be helpful professionals to help guide individuals along the way.

Gaining real world, hands-on experience under the supervision of an LCSW through clinical practicums is a fundamental component of any MSW program.

With more supervised clinical experience and additional certifications, MSW holders can move toward higher levels of licensure. The LCSW is the license held by clinical social workers with the unique set of skills it takes to provide clients with mental health counseling services.

Overall, the field of social work can be an incredibly diverse career field for professionals interested in pursuing a wide range of goals throughout their experience. If you are the type of person that can maintain multiple responsibilities, work with diverse clients with different needs, and provide unique care depending on your client’s needs, the MSW may be the right choice for you.

Social worker salary range and job growth

Across the social work profession, job growth estimates are promising. The BLS reports that social workers can expect an estimated job growth rate of 9% by 2031. This number is even higher for community and social service specialists, who show a projected job growth of 12%. These numbers are much higher than the national averages for other professions, showing that social workers can anticipate steady careers ahead of them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures salary data for social workers by specialty. Child, family, and school social workers earn a mean annual wage of $54,880 per year, with the top 90th percentile earning $78,710 or more annually. Healthcare social workers earn a mean annual wage of $62,310, while the top 90th percentile earns $86,820 or more per year. Mental health social workers earn a mean annual wage of $49,130, with the top 90th percentile earning $97,300 or more. The mean annual wage for all other social workers, meanwhile, is $63,010, with the top 90th percentile earning $93,540 or more annually.


Who is qualified for an MSW degree program?

Anyone who holds a bachelor’s degree of any type is eligible to apply for a Traditional MSW, which will give you the grounding and skill development you need to take on the responsibilities of a social worker. Even if you have no prior background in a field related to social work, you’ll leave your MSW program with the complete body of knowledge you need to become an effective social worker.

If I don’t hold a BSW, can I still qualify for an Advanced Standing MSW?

No. The Advanced Standing MSW (sometimes known as a one-year MSW) is only offered to those who hold BSWs, as they have completed the same coursework during their undergraduate studies. If you hold any other bachelor’s degree, it means you must apply for a traditional MSW program.

Are Traditional MSW programs only available in on-campus models?

No. “Traditional MSW programs” in this context refers to master’s programs that do not move at the accelerated pace of an Advanced Standing MSW. However, though they are traditional in their structure, they are as readily available in online contexts as in-person ones.