The following article is a review of 21 Best Online Social Work Colleges. Successful Student always completes these reviews from the perspective of the student, and for this ranking, the main factors we considered were academic reputation, variety of courses and accreditation.
Social work is a noble profession which relies on the skill, dedication, and the heart of an individual committed to improving the lives of others. The responsibilities of a social worker can be broad – everything from supporting people who have experienced distressing events or environments, difficult situations, or emotional trauma, to recognizing and diagnosing various kinds of clinical disorders – be they emotional, behavioral, or related to mental health.
There are many avenues available when considering a career in social work. A person may choose to focus on one particular issue or sect of the population. Some examples might include the elderly, military and veterans, substance abuse, or children.
Most online BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) programs require some prerequisite courses be completed before admittance. To that end, it can be wise to complete an Associates of Arts (AA) degree in social work or human services, or even an Associates of Applied Science (AAS).
Some may choose to further their education and career with a Master of Social Work (MSW), which seems to be what the industry is trending towards in terms of a standard degree for social work. It is typically required to have attained an MSW in order to work in healthcare, school systems, or doing clinical social work. Typically, those with a BSW can complete their MSW in around 30 additional credit hours.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that social workers employed in children and family welfare earned a median salary of $42,120 in 2014. The salaries ranged from about $27,500 up to around $72,500. School systems tended to offer some of the higher salaries for social work. The future of the industry employment is favorable, as the BLS has predicted a six percent growth in the area of child and family social workers between 2014 and 2024. This translates to around 19,000 new positions in that ten year period.
Required certification and licensure can vary from state to state, so be sure to research your state’s social work requirements according to each State’s Board of Education.
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The Master of Social Work at USC can be fully completed by participating online through their Virtual Academic Center while working with real-life clientele through one of USC’s selected agencies or organizations in your community – there is no need to relocate to campus. US News and World Report named the MSW at USC one of the top twenty Schools of Social Work in 2016. A student may choose to focus in one of several specializations, including but not limited to:
• Mental Health
• Community Organization
• Planning and Administration
• Families and Children
• Military Social Work
The MSW at USC is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC).
2. Boston University (Boston, MA)
BU is a private research university, and the school of social work from Boston University has been in existence for nearly a century. BU offers two online MSW majors: Clinical Social Work (CSW) and Macro Social Work. Clinical Social Work focuses on developing social workers to operate in hospitals, child welfare, children’s services and more. Macro Social Work develops skills necessary to champion change initiatives and tackle the root causes of social problems.
BU has several track options to the MSW degree depending on the level of experience and education of the applicant. Each involves online classroom credit hours and a rigorous field education within or near your geographic area.
The BU MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
3. Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ)
Ranked in the top 12% of “Best Grad Schools” by US News and World Report, Rutgers offers one of the nation’s largest schools of social work. They do not require the GRE for admission, and offer an Advanced Standing track, which allows qualified students to complete their degree in four semesters. Some course offerings include Psycopathology, Social Welfare Policy and Services and Field Education Practicums. Rutgers now offers an online Violence Against Women and Children certificate, which is also offered as an area of specialization.
The Rutgers MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
4. Fordham University (Bronx, NY)
Fordham University’s online MSW program is offered to students in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, because while the classes are online, the field experience and requirements are throughout that specific region. Fordham also offers a hybrid program through a collaboration with Molloy College that combines the traditional classroom experience at the Molloy campus with online courses. The current online program was designed by the faculty of the then-ranked #11 in the nation traditional MSW program.
Fordham offers either a full- or part-time option for completing their degree, which includes concentrations in Clinical or Leadership and Macro Practice. There is also an “advanced standing” option for students who have related experience or degrees from other accredited programs. Each course is eight weeks, and students may enroll in up to four courses in the fall and spring, and as many as two courses over the summer. According to those timelines, a student may complete the MSW in two to four years.
5. University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)
The University of New Hampshire offers a 28-29 month long MSW program, with a requirement of 62 credit hours to completion. Each credit hour comes at a cost of $770 to $845 per hour. The degree can be completed through online courses and two required nine-month field internships, which can be within your geographical area. Most of the courses offered can be completed at your own pace, but some of the courses are offered as a live class, which would require virtual attendance at a certain time each week.
The UNH degree offers four fields of practice:
- Health and Mental Health
- Addictions and Substance Abuse
- Children, Youth and Families
The UNH MSW was ranked at #23 in the top 25 online MSW programs by the Social Work Degree Guide. No campus visits are required at any time, and MSW students may concurrently earn a certificate in Intellectual and Development Disabilities.
UNH is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and the UNH MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
6. Baylor University (Waco, TX)
Baylor started a new online MSW program in 2014 which could be a good fit for students on an Advanced track (having already completed a BSW), or students who have already completed their first year of MSW study at another CSWE accredited school. The online degree offers two concentrations: Clinical or Community Practice concentrations. Courses are completed online at designated times. Baylor does not require applicants to have taken the GRE.
Baylor integrates faith into their curriculum, and their courses incorporate a Christian worldview, though a student’s faith (or non-faith) is not a requirement.
The BU MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
7. University of New England (Biddeford, ME)
The University of New England (UNE), which has been recognized by the US News & World Report as one of the “Best Universities in the North”, offers both a full- and part-time option for earning their 100% online MSW. The program is offered in two tracks – “Traditional”, which requires no prior experience or education, and “Advanced Standing”, which is intended for students who have already completed a BSW. Within the tracks are three concentrations: Clinical, Community and Integrated Practice. Their courses are asynchronous, meaning there is not a set time students are required to log in for particular classes.
The UNE MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
8. Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)
IU calls their online MSW program the “MSW Direct”, and offers a both full- and part-time options for “Advanced” (having completed a BSW within the past five years) and “Regular Standing” students. Advanced standing students must complete 39 credits, and regular standing will complete 60. Students are allowed five years once they have entered the program to complete it.
IU requires one initial orientation visit to campus. Other than that, the program is completed entirely online and through practica. All required courses are offered in each sixteen-week semester and thirteen-week summer semester, which allows for a student to “step out” of the program, then step back in if need be.
The IU MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and has maintained that accreditation continually since 1923.
9. Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
FSU was the first school to offer an online MSW, and is ranked the #1 MSW program in the state of Florida. They are also recognized by US News & World Report in the top 50 grad schools. There are two degree options: Advanced, which is tailored to students who have completed a BSW from a CSWE accredited school, and Traditional, for students with a bachelors degree in another concentration.
Their degree is clinically focused, and allows for asynchronous course work. The Advanced degree requires 39 credit hours and is typically completed in an average of two years, and the Traditional, 61 credit hours and a three year completion time. These courses are completed two per 16-week semester, or 12-13 week summer semester. The Advanced degree requires one field placement, while the Traditional route requires two field placements, and two total weeks on campus during a student’s second and third semesters.
Tuition is broken down between the two types of programs and for in-state and out-of-state residents.
- 39 credit hours
- In-State: $560/credit hour, approximately $21,800 annually
- Out-of-State: $625/credit hour, approximately $24,400 annually
- 61 credit hours
- In-State: $559/credit hour, approximately $34,100 annually
- Out-of-State: $625/credit hour, approximately $38,100 annually
The FSU MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia is the largest private, non-profit university in the nation, and the largest university in Virginia, with a total enrollment of over 110,000 students. Online enrollment makes up over 94,000 of those students.
The university offers a faith-based, online BSW which requires one “intensive” time period on campus. The degree has a total of 120 required credit hours, some of which include core courses like Intercultural Communication and Engagement, Chemical Dependency, and Ethics in Professional Helping. The degree also requires nine hours in the category of “Christian Life and Thought”.
11. Humboldt State University (Arcata, CA)
Humboldt State offers online options for both bachelor and masters degrees. HSU calls online course work “DL”, or Distributed Learning. Distributed Learning students follow the structure of the traditional courses offered on campus, and additionally participate in an online weekly class at a specific time once per week during the semester. All students accepted into the DL program are required to attend a one-week orientation that is on the HSU campus in Arcata, California. Students are also required to attend annual Campus Intensives every January.
HSU offers an Advanced and a Traditional option for earning their BSW degree online. In addition, each of those offers both a full- or a part-time option. The Advanced program requires two field placements of 240 hours each, for a total of 480 hours. Traditional Students participate in four 240-hour field placements for a total of 960 hours. For each degree path, students are assisted by HSU professionals in finding a placement in their own community.
- Full-time degrees can be earned in one year (three semesters), with an estimated cost of $11,500
- Part-time students can earn their degree in two years (six semesters) at an estimated cost of $22,200
Traditional “Full” Degree:
- Full-time can be completed in two years (four semesters) at an estimated cost of $16,800
- Part-time, the degree can be earned in 3.5 years, or ten semesters at an estimated cost of $38,250
The BASW degree at Humboldt State University is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
12. Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, IN)
Indiana Wesleyan offers their traditional BSW program in an online format in order to best meet the needs of their students. Their program has a Christian focus, and is comprised of a combination of “classroom” experience, volunteer activities, and field work.
The degree requires a total of 400 field hours for graduation, 120 semester hours and 30 hours of general education. The online option has multiple start dates to best accommodate the student. Some of the social work classes include Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Social Research, and Social Welfare Organization.
Indiana Wesleyan’s BSW has been accredited by CSWE for over 25 years.
13. Wayne State (Detroit, MI)
Wayne State University requires a minimum of 120 credit hours to be completed for their degree. Two-thirds of those hours are professional courses, and one-third are co-requisites and electives. The program is centered around four main focuses:
- Values and ethics
- Social justice
- Oppression and discrimination
Those four topics are the over-arching concepts of the program that guide the curriculum of the program. The curriculum is made up of the five following areas:
- Human behavior and social environment
- Social work practice
- Social welfare policy and services
- Research methods
- Field education
The program has been ranked as the number one program since 1995 by the Gourman Report.
14. Union Institute and University (Cincinnati, OH)
Union boasts a licensed and experienced faculty and field practitioners available to online students as mentors and instructors for the duration of their time in the program. The Union BSW has an intense focus on social justice and change, while emphasizing core concepts regarding human behavior, social welfare, human diversity and research, among others.
The program, which offers January, May or August start dates, requires 120 credit hours to be completed for graduation in either a full- or part-time format and some field work. The Union BSW is accredited by CWSE.
15. The Catholic University of America
The Catholic University of America offers the top MSW program in the nation’s capital, and is also ranked at #52 in the US News and World Report list of graduate social work schools.
The degree is completed through 18 courses, or 54 credit hours. Throughout the curriculum, a student will find various aspects of clinical practice – working with individuals, families, couples, and children, among other groups of the population. As a part of the curriculum, the faculty works to prepare students for the Licensed Graduate Social Work Exam, and their students currently have a first-time pass rate of 95%.
The online experience has a typical class size of less than 25 students, allowing for relationships to develop among students and with faculty. The Catholic University of America field placement team also works closely with its students to find field work both within an appropriate geographic area, and also in the career field a student is interested in pursuing.
The MSW at the Catholic University of America is accredited by the CWSE.
16. Palo Alto College (San Antonio, TX)
Palo Alto College is a community college which was chartered in 1983, and held its first classes with 231 students in high school and military bases in September of 1985. The campus in San Antonio then opened in 1987, and over half of the enrollment is a Hispanic population.
Palo Alto College offers an Associates of Arts degree with a concentration in Social Work that can then be transferred to a four-year institution in order to earn a BSW. Palo Alto College has partnerships in place with both Texas State and Our Lady of the Lake Universities, but a student’s transfer opportunities are not limited to those specific universities.
The AA certification is equivalent to the first half of a BSW, and it requires a total of 60 credit hours to be completed.
17. Our Lady of the Lake University (San Antonio, TX)
Our Lady of the Lake is one of three MSW programs in the US with a specific emphasis on the Hispanic population. The program was the first of its kind in Texas, and in 2009, was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence, which is given to one school each year out of the 500 who offer social work programs.
OLLU’s MSW program can be completed through two tracks: MSW Concentration (for those who have already completed a BSW), which can be completed in two to two and a half years, or MSW Foundation, which is for those who have an undergrad in another field. This program can be completed in three to three and a half years. The Concentration degree track requires 30 credit hours, and the Foundation requires 57.
The OLLU MSW is accredited by the CSWE.
Capella University offers an online MSW. The curriculum is comprised of online course work, a residency for learning typical skills required of a social worker, and field work. The program focuses on integrating both valuable leadership skills and innovative forms of technology to equip their students for the work force.
The intent of the Doctorate of Social Work is to develop students to lead social service programs, develop future social workers, and advocate for social justice, among other things. Capella University offers curriculum that can be completed in three years, if the student has attained a MSW from a CSWE accredited program. The degree is intended to be completed in a particular order, allowing a student to get well-acquainted with his or her “class” of peers.
The program’s curriculum includes a one-week long face-to-face event for working on dissertations, and also one particular course centered around group research.
As a well-respected online university, over 36,000 students are working towards some sort of degree with Capella University right now.
Another degree that crosses over into social work is the PhD in Social and Community Services, like the one offered at Capella University. However, this specialty is not designed to prepare a student for Social Work licensure. This degree will work toward developing community leaders, and the curriculum is largely based in research of social sciences, and issues in social work and major communities. A candidate may select individual electives to develop particular interests. The degree teaches individuals the proper methods for research in social environments using valid and appropriate methods.
Walden University offers an online MSW that is intended to meet the needs of a non-traditional student. The program can be completed one of three degree options, on a schedule that is most conducive to each student. The curriculum is made up of both written and video case studies, in-person residencies, and field experience. The program offers four concentrations:
- Advanced Clinical Practice
- Military Social Work
- Social Work in Healthcare
- Social Work with Children and Families
Walden University’s MSW program is accredited through CSWE.
Walden University offers a Ph.D. program called “Human and Social Services”, which is offered either as a course-based curriculum, or in a self-directed format. The course-based program is built on a more structured schedule, and students are able to collaborate with peers online and complete in-person residencies. The self-directed course is less structured, and focuses more on the individual side of research, with the assistance of a faculty member.
The program offers two academic tracks to match a student’s background and experience. The first track is designed for students who have earned a masters degree in social work, human services, counseling or psychology from an accredited university, and is a shorter path to degree completion than the second track. The second track is for individuals who have a bachelors or masters degree from an accredited university. Individuals on the second track have the opportunity to incorporate earning a Masters in Human Services on his or her way to a Ph.D.
Tuition for this program costs approximately $82,700, and the average student will complete the program with 101 or 102 credits (depending on which elective courses are selected) in 62 months. In order to attain the degree, an individual must serve in four doctoral residencies. A student may select from either the General Program, or one of fourteen specializations.
Brandman University offers a 100% online Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW), which prepares students for careers in child welfare, community mental health, and criminal justice, among other things. In order to earn the degree, a student will compete 400 hours of field practice and a minimum of 120 credit hours. The university is available to assist in a student’s field practice placement.
Brandman’s intention since it was founded in 1958 is to serve adults with a flexible education, and to that end, they offer flexible start schedules and eight-week class sessions. Students may choose from elective courses including domestic violence, youth-at-risk, victim advocacy and military social work, among others.
The BASW degree at Brandman University is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
21. Kaplan University (Urbandale, IA)
Kaplan University offers a Bachelor of Science in Human Services in Youth/Family Services and Administration, which can be completed with 180 program credits, and the degree will cost an average of $45,000. Kaplan offers multiple start dates to accommodate their students in a timely manner.
The intent of the degree at Kaplan is intended to equip students to determine the needs of clients, identify and equip community leaders, and serve as an advocate and problem solver for your clients’ needs. The curriculum is a unique combination of both classroom theory and real-life experience, and fulfills the requirements for a student to take the certification test for Human Services – Board-Certified Practioner. Some of the classes required for the major include Child Welfare and Family, Advocacies for Family and Youth, Family and Domestic Violence, and Juvenile Justice.
21 Best Online Social Work Colleges
This article was written by Sarah Aholt. Sarah enjoys researching and writing about education. She is an Industrial Engineer from Oklahoma State, and has spent her career working in manpower analysis and oil and gas (primarily the midstream sector). Sarah resides in Oklahoma with her husband and their two young children.