The Online MSW degree is the most common online program within the Social Work area of study. In our database, there are 36 CSWE accredited Online MSW Programs in the United States. A Master of Social Work degree from a CSWE accredited program is required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or LCSW, in all 50 states within the United States.

Online MSW Programs / Master of Social Work

Reviewed by Anna Shull, MSW

The social work profession has long been a force of tremendous change in the United States, providing services and aid that have bettered the lives of individuals, improved community resources, and even influenced national policy. Those who are called to the social work profession are dedicated to making a demonstrable impact in others’ lives. If this is you, good news: it’s never been easier to pursue a career as a social worker, thanks to the large number of online MSW programs now available.

A Master of Social Work degree from a CSWE accredited program is required to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or LCSW, in all 50 states within the United States.

The most common online degree within the Social Work area of study is the Online MSW Program. The Online Master of Social Work is typically the degree people seek when they're interested in advanced licensure in clinical social work. For some, it's a path into the field of social work. For those already in the field with a BSW degree, it's the next step in career advancement and an opportunity to make a greater impact.

In Short, What is the MSW?

The MSW is a Master of Social Work degree, a graduate level program within the social work area. The MSW is typically required for LMSW (or similar) social worker licensure, and the MSW degree prepares individuals to enter the social work field using a framework that emphasizes social justice, human rights, and the improvement of society as a whole. Jobs may range from clinical work with adults, to school social work with children, to grief counseling with families following the loss of a loved one.

If you have your BSW already, consider an Advanced Standing MSW to accelerate your time to completion

While the MSW degree allows individuals to work in a variety of settings and with numerous populations, there are different ways in which the MSW may be completed. One of those ways is through the Advanced Standing MSW program. Advanced Standing MSW programs are not offered at all CSWE accredited institutions. However, many exist across the country in both on-campus or online formats.

It is important to note eligibility requirements for advanced-standing programs to make sure it's the right fit for you based on where you are in your career and education.

Online MSW Programs

girl online learningThe online version of the MSW degree may be quickly becoming one of the most beneficial degree programs available at this time. Online MSW programs include flexibility and versatility that may not be present in traditional degree programs, which is one of the reasons that upcoming students are more drawn to online options.

Online MSWs are a great option for working professionals who want to pursue their degree while holding their jobs.

Part-time options and flexible class time greatly eases the burden of graduate school on individuals in a variety of situations. If you have wanted to attend a graduate program but haven’t been sure you could make it work, it’s worth giving serious consideration to online programs.

Here is a quick list of online MSW programs.

  • Arizona State University: Online MSW: Advanced Generalist
  • Baylor University: Online Master of Social Work
  • Campbellsville University: Online MSW: Advanced Generalist
  • Florida State University: Online MSW program
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Online MSW, multiple tracks
  • University of Kentucky: Online MSW program

Consider a Featured Online Master of Social Work Program

There are a number of online MSW programs in our database, including multiple featured online MSW programs that are currently accepting applicants. The below programs are currently seeking applicants for their MSW program and are entirely online. We provide a quick reference for key points on the CSWE-accredited programs shown here, including advanced standing MSW options for those with a BSW. Click to go directly to their MSW program website to review more information about their admissions requirements and to get with their admissions department to ask further questions.

Why a MSW?

  1. More career opportunity: Masters in Social Work degree programs or even doctoral programs can provide students with even more professional opportunities – which can lead to more lives touched. Moving forward with a degree program can be greatly eased by the use of online degree programs.
  2. Campus and online program availability for adult learners: Since most people with the desire to get a higher degree cannot find the time or energy to do so, online degree programs are amplifying in popularity. Master's level social work degrees can be found in an array of online settings.
  3. MSW education helps the community and society: Online MSW degree programs are implemented in an effort to help future social work professionals apply a lawful understanding of social work to communities in need. These graduate level programs can help professionals identify more specific methods of critical thinking and evidence-based research related to their line of work, which can contribute to a better understanding of individuals and society.

MSW Curriculum

Most, if not all, online MSW programs include a curriculum that focuses on key practice areas, such as Child Welfare, Behavioral Health, Community Health, Welfare, and Public Health Administration.

These topics are extremely important to the field of social work, since most of the work completed in this field involves people, the community, and well-being. Most online degree programs allow students to take multiple courses at a time, with courses lasting anywhere from 7 - 10 weeks a piece.

Credit Hour Expectations

Most programs in an online setting require that students complete around 60 credit hours for completion of the entire degree. Depending on the university you choose - you may find that some programs require more or less than the standard 60 credit hour requirement.

Some schools even label credits as semester hours or quarter credits. These labels can be confusing initially, but each school can provide an explanation of their credit-acquisition process for you to review.

Top Focus Areas of Specific Study

Online MSW programs may also focus on theories of psychology, human growth and development, sociology, and behavior health to consider social functioning from an inside perspective. Students that have the option to pursue this type of program online can take part in high quality courses in a convenient online setting.

Keep an Eye Open for New Online MSW Programs

Universities and colleges around the nation are continuously bringing reputable MSW programs online.

For example, in May 2018, the University of Iowa brought their MSW program online. The Online MSW at the University of Iowa is a 3 year, part-time, online MSW Program, with no GRE requirements. There are some prerequisites, so check with the university on their website.

MSW Degree Specialties

At the master’s level, students can choose a specialty such as Mental Health, Clinical or Child/Adult Social Work. Most online Master’s degrees in Social Work require that students complete various research assignments alongside the standard discussions and quizzes.

Research assignments at this level urge learners to become involved in the community in different ways in order to truly grasp the concept of the social environment.

Different Types of MSW Degrees

  • 100% Online MSW Programs – Online Master of Social Work programs, where courses are offered 100% online in either an asynchronous or synchronous format.
  • Advanced Standing MSW Programs – for Bachelor of Social Work degree holders, an Advanced Standing MSW can be a fast track to a Master of Social Work degree.
  • One Year MSW Programs – MSW programs that are less than 12 months. One Year MSW Programs are usually an Advanced Standing MSW program for BSW degree holders.
  • MSW Programs with No GRE Requirement – MSW Program that does not require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) prior to admission to their program. Other programs may grant a GRE waiver for qualified applicants.
  • Clinical MSW Programs – If you are considering pursuing a social work career in a hospital or private practice, the Clinical Social Work area of study is likely the best fit.
  • MSW Degrees by State – View different MSW programs in each state.

Broad Categories and Types of Social Work Practice Areas

Social work can be split into three separate practicum areas (then divided into further subcategories). At the most broad level, here are the major areas:

1. Micro

Direct practice with individuals or families.

2. Mezzo

Intermediate based, within small groups or communities.

3. Macro

Large-scale, systemic and community-based or larger care.

What Can You Do With an Online MSW Degree?

Since social workers will work primarily in the public sector, students are encouraged to properly analyze and report on specific aspect of the community through essays and research paper assignments.

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Students are provided access to a plentiful supply of resources, both for research and for information regarding the course. Students are regularly required to take part in online discussions, which can compare and debate opinions of students in a respectful and scholarly fashion.

Top 5 Sample MSW Courses

(Review the CSWE Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards for a comprehensive list of what CSWE-accredited programs cover.)


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Reviews CBT theories, helps students develop an understanding of required technique and development of case conceptualizations.

Advanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This course provides advanced learning that covers specific protocols and cognitive behavior therapy interventions for various disorders.

Addictions and Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Thoroughly examines the relationship of addiction and other mental health disorders. Focuses on assessment and intervention of multiply diagnosed patients.

Clinical Research

Teaches students the user of quantitative and qualitative research methods and statistics that will be used in clinical research.

Clinical Management

Teaches students the concepts of leadership and management in a clinical setting. Touches on strategic planning, program design and financial management.

CSWE Accredited Social Work Certificates

Based on data from the CSWE Annual Survey of Social Work Programs (PDF), the below areas are the top studied certificate programs at the MSW level.
47 programs
Aging/ Gerontology
42 programs
School Social Work
23 programs
21 programs
Nonprofit Management
19 programs
Child Welfare

What Can You Do With an MSW Degree?

Social workers assist with making society more productive by providing their clients with resources and contacts within the community environment. They also master human behavior and how it relates to a public lifestyle. Professionals in the social work field can be found in almost every aspect of the public domain. Social workers are present in hospitals – helping families with healthcare planning and referring patients to helpful community resources.

They are also found in state and government agencies – providing vital healthcare, food assistance, and welfare management for families in need. In the judicial system, social workers play an important role in child and adult welfare and mental health services. The social worker works hard with the client’s well-being in mind, regardless of the sector.

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The hard work and determination that goes into pursuing a degree in social work pays off not only for the individual that is being served, but also for society as a whole. There is truly no better option for professionals that have a passion for helping people and making a notable difference within their communities.

Social worker salary data and job outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $50,390 for social workers across the board. However, the salary ranges for social workers vary depending on your area of specialization as well as your specific workplace (such as a nonprofit vs. a government agency, a private mental health clinic vs. a school, etc.).

  • Child, family, and school social workers earn a median annual wage of $54,880 per year, with those in the top 90th percentile earning $78,710 or more. In New Jersey, the highest-paying state for these specialists, the mean annual salary is $75,410.
  • Healthcare social workers earn a mean annual wage of $62,310, with the top 90th percentile earning $86,820 or more. Washington, D.C. is the highest-paying state for healthcare social workers, who earn a mean annual salary of $87,000.
  • Mental Health Social workers mental health social workers earn a mean annual wage of $49,130. The top 90th percentile of these workers earn $97,300 or more. The top-paying state for mental health social workers is also New Jersey, where the mean annual wage is $99,390.
  • All other social workers outside of the above categories earn a mean annual salary of $63,010. Those in the top 90th percentile earn a mean annual wage of $93,540.

Social workers can feel confident that there will always be a need for their services. The BLS reports strong job growth estimates for social workers overall, at a projected rate of 9% by 2031. This number grows to 12% for community and social service specialists. The upshot for social workers in any sector is that work opportunities will continue to increase over the next decade.


Can I become a social worker without a master’s degree?

Not really. While there are entry-level positions in social work organizations open to non-master’s holders that can provide a good introduction to the profession, in order to take on the full responsibilities of a social worker, one must earn their master’s. To become a clinician, one must go one step further and become an LCSW.

Is it possible to complete an MSW without field work?

No. The field work component of a master’s program is an important part of your social worker education, allowing you to gain firsthand experience of a particular issue afflicting individuals or communities as well as the role of a social worker in response to it. This will provide essentially your first work experience, making it an invaluable part of the MSW process.

Is it possible to qualify for an advanced standing MSW without a BSW?

No. Advanced standing (one-year MSW) programs exist because those who have attended BSW programs have already completed much of the coursework provided in a master’s program. If you hold a bachelor’s degree in another subject, you will not have the educational background needed to accelerate your degree program.