Compare Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs - CSWE Accredited
Updated: January, 2020
A master’s in social work from an accredited online program can set you up for an exciting career change. There are many career options in social work and with the proper accreditation even more opportunities open up, including licensure and a higher earning potential.
This comprehensive list of online schools was curated to provide the most accurate and helpful information on all types of CSWE accredited master's in social work degree programs online. In order to help you find the right MSW program for you, we’ve listed all programs on five different factors, including GRE requirements and campus visit requirements.
Why do we only list CSWE-accredited social work programs?
CSWE-accredited programs have been recognized by the educational community and the public as having satisfactory levels of performance, integrity and quality. With this accreditation, students can be confident that the social work program they are investing in, whether it be in person or online, will be able to prepare them for the next steps in their careers. In fact, most state licensing boards require that social workers earn their degrees through CSWE-accredited degree programs.
Even in states that don’t mandate it, CSWE accreditation can make the licensure process simpler through its standardization of educational criteria. Employers may require or prefer their candidates to hold degrees from CSWE-accredited programs.
All Online MSW Programs - School Insights
Address injustice from a strengths-based perspective
Specialize in clinical practice or community practice
Ethically integrates faith and social work practice
1 Additional factor information retrieved from College Navigator - National Center for Education Statistics 2 Arizona State University’s graduation rate and percent of online graduate students numbers were calculated as an average of five different campuses: Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic, Skysong, Temple, and West.
1 Additional factor information retrieved from College Navigator - National Center for Education Statistics 2 Indiana University’s graduation rate and percent of online graduate students numbers were calculated as an average of eight different campuses: Bloomington, East, Kokomo, Northwest, IUPU Fort Wayne, IUPU Indianapolis, South Bend and Southeast.
Advanced Generalist Master’s in Social Work Online
What is an advanced generalist program?
Advanced generalist programs are designed for students who wish to engage in both micro and macro social work, and who want to learn about and gain training in a number of different social work fields.
In general, this type of program prepares students to implement interventions at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels, and to work with both individual clients and larger communities. In this way, advanced generalist programs may be considered an intermediate between direct practice/clinical social work programs, which typically focus on individual work with clients, and community planning and organization programs, which focus mainly on larger communities and macro-level change.
Prospective students who wish to enroll in an advanced generalist program should research the exact curricula and course offerings of the programs that interest them in order to choose a program that meets their academic and professional goals.
Curriculum Details for Advanced Generalist Programs
Accredited online advanced generalist programs have the same curriculum structure, courses, and field education requirements as on-campus programs. As with other types of MSW programs, advanced generalist programs are generally comprised of a core set of foundational courses, and a set of concentration or elective courses (also known as advanced standing courses). While course titles and content vary across programs, sample classes may include:
Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Human psychological, emotional, and social development across the lifespan. How humans interact with different social environments (ex. family, school and work settings, friends), and how these environments in turn affect human thought, behavior, and development.
Social Welfare Policy: The history of social services and social welfare policy in the United States. Current social work and welfare policies are analyzed from historical, political, and economic perspectives. How current policies affect social workers’ practice.
Foundations of Advanced Generalist Practice: The fundamental concepts, principles, and methods of working with individuals, groups, and larger communities to address a variety of common social, psychological, emotional, and cultural issues. Professional ethics, communications skills, and therapeutic methods are discussed and applied to different client scenarios.
Social Work Practice in School Environments:
The principles and methods of social work practice in a school setting.
The different federal and state laws that impact school settings and school social work practice.
Understanding school communities as a whole, and how to work with students and school personnel to address different issues on and off campus that affect student learning.
How to counsel students at different grade levels and help them with such challenges as learning disabilities, bullying, poverty, truancy, and family conflict.
Advanced Clinical Practice with Families:
How social workers can help address common emotional, psychological, and social issues that family members face individually and as a unit.
Addressing spousal, parental, and sibling relationships, marital conflicts, different emotional disorders (ex. depression, anxiety) and how they affect the family unit, domestic abuse, and child neglect.
Advanced Clinical Practice with Older Adults:
How social workers can assist elderly individuals from multiple economic, social, and cultural backgrounds.
Helping elderly clients navigate the process of applying for government benefits, addressing elderly abuse.
Helping the families of elderly individuals manage long-term elderly care.
Community Planning and Administrative Leadership:
The essential concepts and theories of effective community planning and organization.
How to use structure, leadership, education, and program development to create positive change at the community level.
What’s a Cohort Model in Online Master’s in Social Work?
The majority of online Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs use a cohort model of instruction where students enter as a group and take a predetermined schedule of classes. There are very few online programs that have flexible scheduling that allow students to pick and choose which classes they take each quarter or semester. With the exception of programs that offer multiple concentrations or electives, where students have the option to customize their degree program during the advanced standing year.
Advantages of the Cohort Model of Instruction
A cohort functions as a student’s support group during the program, allowing them to form closer bonds with their classmates, and often starts their professional network following graduation. In addition, several programs that use a cohort model have some class sizes and limit the number of students per cohort to create a cohesive student group. Finally, with a set curriculum of classes, students do not have to worry about getting the classes they need to graduate.
Disadvantages of the Cohort Model of Instruction
The main disadvantage of the cohort model is that all classes in the program may not be offered every semester or quarter. Therefore, if a student needs to take a leave of absence for personal reasons, they may have to wait sometime before continuing their degree program. This is especially true for online MSW programs that only accept incoming students once a year. This is not as much of a concern for programs that have multiple start dates as there is a higher chance that courses will be offered more than one time per year.
For students who are considering attending a full-time online MSW program, we definitely recommend asking an admission advisor what happens if a student needs to take some time off during the program for an unforeseen circumstance. One other disadvantage of the cohort model is that students typically cannot take more classes each semester in order to graduate early. Students must follow the set curriculum as they proceed through the online degree program.
Synchronous VS Asynchronous Instruction
For students who are not familiar with the terms synchronous versus asynchronous, online programs typically use one of three methods for instruction:
Synchronous Instruction: Programs that use synchronous instruction methods require students to log on at specific times to attend classes in “real-time”. Some programs require students to log on for a set schedule of classes each week, while others may only require students to log on for real-time instruction a couple of times per semester. Students typically know well in advance when they are required to log on for classes.
Asynchronous Instruction: Programs that use asynchronous instruction methods do not require students to log on at specific times to attend classes. Students are given deadlines to watch lectures and complete assignments. For these programs, students can still interact with teachers and classmates through their school’s online learning portal.
Combination of Synchronous and Asynchronous Instruction: Several programs actually use both types of instruction method depending on the class and professor. Again, students typically know well in advance when they are required to log on for real-time classes.
Some students may prefer classes with synchronous instruction so that they can interact with professors and classmates. Other students may enjoy the flexibility of asynchronous instruction; however, they require more discipline to stay on track and keep up with coursework and assignments.
For students who are not sure which method is right for them, we suggest reaching out to a couple of schools to ask more questions about the different methods.
Are there any online MSW degrees with a children, youth, and family counseling concentration?
Yes and no. The majority of programs that focus on counseling are actually online MSW programs with a clinical social work concentration that have a sub-specialization in children, youth and family counseling.
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) who work primarily with children and families provide a combination of social services and mental health support to their clients. For example, they may help families find the government support that they need (such as food stamps or child care benefits), while also diagnosing and treating clients’ mental, emotional and behavioral disorders as they face certain challenges such as poverty, divorce, or substance abuse struggles.
Accredited MSW Programs vs. Masters Programs in Counseling or Clinical Psychology
Master’s degrees in counseling or clinical psychology can also prepare individuals to provide therapy to children and families. However, these types of programs differ from MSW programs in that they generally do not train students to help clients find and use social support systems within their community, as counselors and clinical psychologists generally focus exclusively on diagnosis and therapy.
For example, while a clinical psychologist might identify and treat a child’s depression and anxiety, licensed clinical social workers may provide similar therapy, while also assisting their clients in addressing such challenges as child custody battles, incidents of child abuse or neglect, and finding resources to combat poverty.
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Coursework in Clinical Social Work MSW Programs with a Specialization in Child and Family Counseling
For the majority of these programs, the curriculum is divided into a set of core courses that cover certain social work fundamentals, and a set of concentration courses that cover the area of work that students would like to pursue post-graduation. Thus, in addition to foundational courses in human behavior, social work policy, and psychological diagnosis and treatment, accredited online programs that focus on child and family counseling typically have advanced classes that specifically address child and family issues.
While specific course titles and content may vary across programs, online clinical social work MSW programs with a specialization in child and family counseling may include classes such as:
Advanced Family Dynamics and Therapy: Understanding family dynamics and how healthy relationships develop within a family unit. Common conflicts that arise within the family unit and how they can be addressed holistically. The principles and essential methods of family and marital counseling, including relationship assessment and conflict mediation/resolution.
Clinical Practice for Adolescents: Common psychological, developmental, and social issues that adolescents face, and how the clinical social worker can support youth who struggle with such challenges. How to help adolescents develop effective action plans to accomplish their goals and address their challenges at school and within their families and social groups.
Policy, Planning and Research in Family and Youth Settings: How government policies affect families and child development, and the role the government should play in the maintenance of the family unit. The government resources that are available to parents and children, and how social workers can help clients apply for and receive the government support they need.
Identifying and Treating Child Trauma: The different types of trauma that children may experience, including child abuse, neglect, bullying, school violence, and family tragedies. How the clinical social worker can provide psychological support and address such mental and emotional issues as depression and anxiety. How to help families (and if applicable, school personnel) plan and implement effective interventions that help children overcome emotional, social, and psychological challenges.
Full-time MSW programs typically take two years to complete online, while part-time MSW programs can take two and a half years to four years to complete. Students with a BSW can complete an advanced standing MSW in as few as 12 months.
What are the differences between Online and On-Campus MSW programs?
Differences between online and on-campus MSW programs depend on the university. Most of the time, an online program is exactly the same as it’s on-campus counterpart. Online programs are typically more flexible -- a student’s geographic location does not matter and they can complete coursework at their own pace.
Which MSW program is the best?
While searching for the best program, you may be considering a few factors, such as your personal interests, online options, and admissions requirements. We’ve listed some factors that might help you narrow down which program might be best for you.
Which programs don’t require GRE?
Admissions requirements vary depending on the university. Some traditional and advanced standing MSW programs require students provide GRE test scores if a student’s GPA is low. There are also MSW programs that do not require the GRE or any other tests for admission.
What are the GPA requirements for MSW programs?
It depends! GPA requirements for MSW programs may vary depending on the school. Universities typically require a GPA of 3.0 or higher for most programs. However, some programs require at least a 2.5 and if the student’s GPA is lower, the university may request a GRE score.
Can you study for a MSW without a BSW?
Students without a BSW should still apply for a MSW if they meet the university’s requirements. Typically, MSW admissions program requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited school along with certain prerequisite courses, minimum GPA, and standard application documents, such as a personal statement, undergraduate transcript, and letters of recommendation.
What are the advantages of a MSW over a BSW?
A BSW prepares students for entry level social work. Professionals with a MSW typically enjoy greater career options and a higher salary on average. Many master’s programs offer opportunities to explore specializations such as substance abuse or public health.
What are the different licenses and certifications for MSWs?
Licensure typically depends on education specialization. Generally, professionals with a master’s can become a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) or become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). MSWs can also earn certifications in hospice and palliative care and as school specialists.
What does a typical MSW curriculum look like?
A typical curriculum has required core courses including foundations of social work, research methods, and human behavior. Students also select electives and request field placement that aligns with their interests. The field work component gives students the opportunity to work in professional settings, such as hospitals and community centers.
What are the MSW concentrations?
Social work is incredibly broad and many professionals specialize in a particular field of interest. Some MSW concentrations include children, youth and family social work, administrative leadership, mental health and adult social work, community social work, and community organization.
Are there any internships available for MSW students?
MSW internships give students hands-on social work experience under the guidance and supervision of an instructor. It’s important to speak with the university’s field education department and ask if the university is partnered with any agencies as well as specific field education requirements for the program you’re interested in.
Is financing available for online MSW programs?
An online program doesn’t have to be a huge financial burden and there are some financing options available. Some employers give prospective students tuition assistance, universities offer scholarships, and there may be other student loan options available. It’s important to research as many options as possible and choose a program with a cost you are comfortable paying.
Who should consider a DSW?
If you currently hold an MSW or a master’s degree in a similar field, you may consider earning a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW). A DSW is an advanced degree that typically focuses on administration or clinical social work. It’s a good option for those interested in pursuing a leadership or management position.
What is CSWE Accreditation?
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a partnership of educational and professional social work institutions, social welfare agencies and private citizens. The CSWE is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency in the United States for all social work education. CSWE accreditation signals that an undergraduate or graduate social work program satisfactorily meets the council’s standards for student competencies, institutional policies, curricula and more.
Specifically, CSWE accreditation entails:
Parity regardless of delivery: Accredited programs offer coursework that meet the same standards and criteria, regardless of their delivery in person or online.
Practical competency: CSWE-accredited programs have a proven track record of preparing their students to meet the practical challenges of professional social work practice.
Sound policy: Accredited social work programs pursue goals that reinforce the values of the social work profession.
Requisite curriculum: CSWE-accredited programs offer the courses necessary for students to receive adequate social work preparation.
Qualified licensure: Accredited social work programs grant degrees mandated by most state licensing boards for social work licensure.
Proficient employment: CSWE-accredited programs grant degrees required or preferred by employers of social workers.
Best Online MSW Factors
Online Class Type
- Live/Synchronous: Students are able to meet classmates and their professors, virtually, face-to-face, exchange ideas in real time and have live discussions. - Not Live/Asynchronous: classes operate independently of set meeting times. Assignments will have designated due dates but each student is to participate on their own.
Live classes may offer a more realistic mirror of on-campus programs.
Mobile App Accessibility
Online learning is often sought after because of its flexibility. What more can an ideal online MSW program offer if not a mobile application that is offline accessible. This could mean less worry or concern on participation, reading assignments or submitting discussion questions.
Having a mobile app available offline means non-stop learning.
Graduate programs will typically require the completion and passing score on GREs. However, some online graduate social work programs do not require a GRE for admission. We place precedence on these programs for admission processes that require one less step and measurement of future academic achievement.
Leave room for passion in your application with no GRE requirement.
Campus Visit Requirements
You are looking for online social work programs for a reason. Whether it's the flexibility that comes with the coursework or the learning environment. Required campus visits are typically paid for by you, the student, for on-campus courses, workshops or seminars. Programs that do not require on-campus visits allow you to attend top named schools from the comfort of your home or office.
You may find continued flexibility with no campus requirements.
Field Placement Support
Online MSW graduate programs that offer field placement teams to specifically meet the needs of online students across the country take priority in our list over those programs that do not. This service and resulting clinical experience is an integral part of your online master's in social work program for post-graduate licensure and practice. Ensuring that you are placed at a center, hospital or school closest to you can bring more value to your online social work program.
Specialized understanding of your locale and field placements.
The order in which they are organized is determined by the amount of factors that each online MSW program has met: live classes, offline accessible mobile app, no GRE requirement, no campus requirement and a field placement team available for online students. For any online master of social work degree program that meet the same number of factors, the universities are listed alphabetically.
For example, since Boise University's online MSW program has no live classes, required wifi for their mobile application, has no GRE requirement, needs no campus visits and has a team available for their online students, Boise meets three out of five factors.