Why earn a master's degree in social work online?
Prepare for a Clinical Career
Gain in-field clinical training that will give you the real-world expertise you need before you graduate.
Specialize Work with Specific Populations
Learn the latest in social work field in a flexible, online format that features a blend of live classes & engaging asynchronous coursework.
Connect with Likeminded Peers
Find a university and a student and faculty network that aligns with your values, without having to worry about where it's located.
What does a social worker do?
So, you want to become a social worker. Social work is a broad field, but at a high level, social workers are professionals who want to improve the well-being of the people and communities they serve.
Social workers serve different populations, and they may work in a variety of settings, such as schools, hospitals, and mental health clinics. However, there tend to be common values in people who choose this type of work, such as the belief in worth and dignity for every person, the desire to further social justice and equality, and the drive to help individuals improve their life situation.
Social workers may choose to work with specific populations, including:
children and adolescents
couples and families
individuals suffering from addiction
refugees and immigrants
those experiencing poverty or homelessness
those who have experienced complex trauma
those who are incarcerated
Regardless of specialization, social workers advocate for people in communities who are often overlooked or underrepresented. That is why empathetic, active listeners who lead with unconditional positive regard are often a great fit for this field.
Admission requirements for an MSW program
Admissions requirements for MSW programs vary by school. As with most accredited master of social work programs will typically require you to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. And most programs prefer a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, however, this is not always required.
A statement of purpose with evidence of personal characteristics and goals that align with the social work profession are also usually preferred, if not required.
The best way to learn about the specific requirements for any given program is to request information from the universities you are interested in, or visit their admissions pages to learn more.
Social work curriculum
Your MSW curriculum will vary depending on the program you choose. There is usually a standard or traditional MSW program track. This track option allows you to complete the program part-time, while continuing to work and meet your personal responsibilities while earning your degree. Some programs offer an accelerated or advanced MSW program track, which allows you to earn your degree in less time but will most likely require you to attend school full-time and/or have previous relevant courses completed. Some programs offer fast-track options and there are also one-year online MSW programs.
A master's program worth your time and investment will feature rigorous and engaging class instruction led by accessible faculty. The program should feature courses that discuss essential or foundational topics, including human behavior and social justice, and specialized or elective courses that cover how to cater your social work practice to different populations. In an online MSW program, you can also learn to apply a variety of social work theories.
An essential component of the curriculum is the practical training or field experience opportunities where you can apply what you are learning in class with real clients. This component is done under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker, and it will give you hands-on experience working with clients and understanding how to serve their unique needs.
When reviewing your program options, review the course list to see if any topics stand out to you and see if any specializations you might be interested in are available.
Master of social work salary
People pursue a master’s in social work for a variety reasons, but salary expectation is still an important consideration when choosing to pursue any career path. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in May 2021. ¹
The top industries for social workers in May 2021 were individual and family services, state government, ambulatory healthcare services, and local government. The median salary in May 2021 for social workers working in local government – excluding education and hospitals – was $61,190.¹
Explore affordable online MSW programs
What is the highest social work salary range?
The salary of a social worker can range depending on the field, tenure, and education achieved. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest 10% of social workers made more than $82,840 in May 2021.¹
How to become a social worker online
A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level nonclinical social worker positions; however, social workers who want to do clinical work typically need to earn a master’s degree in social work. Your master’s program will need to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Browse online MSW programs with no GRE requirement.
Luckily, the search for an accredited online MSW program has never been easier – when you explore our MSW degrees, you are choosing from renown colleges and universities, and you can search by specialization and location, too. Explore HBCU online MSW programs.
But, before you find the right online MSW program, you will want to consider the attributes programs are usually looking for in future students. Important qualities to have, include:
Active listening: Clients talk to social workers about big challenges in their lives. To provide effective help, you must be attentive, listen without judgement, and when appropriate, provide guidance.
Empathy: Social workers often work with people who are in stressful, difficult, and even traumatic situations. To develop strong relationships, you will need the capacity to hold space for others and genuinely care for their well-being.
Communication skills: Social workers must be able to work and communicate effectively with different groups of people. To foster healthy and productive relationships with clients, you must be open to meeting people where they are and communicating in a way that is best for each individual.
Problem-solving skills: Social workers must analyze their clients’ complex situations and develop practical solutions. You will learn more about appropriate solutions during your MSW program, but it is helpful to go into the program and profession with curiosity and can-do mentality.
Organizational skills. Social workers must help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment. You will have an easier time both as a professional, as a student in an MSW program, if you stay organized.
Have all of these skills? Great. In addition to having the right attributes schools are looking for, and finding the right program, you will also want to consider licensure. All clinical social workers need a license from the state in which they practice. Licensure requirements vary by state.
Find the best online MSW program for your social work career
To find your program, start by considering what you want to do in the field of social work. Do you want to work with a specific population? Is there a topic in the field that interests you above others? Or perhaps you have certain values that you want your future university to embody. Here are a few prompts to help you get started:
My values are ____________.
I want to go into social work because ____________.
I would love an online MSW program that ______________.
I am looking for clinical placement working with _____________.
I am looking for a university that __________.
Here are a few questions you can either reference while reading online MSW program information, or you can also ask them directly to a program’s admissions team:
What is the university’s mission?
Is this a CSWE-accredited MSW program?
Does the online MSW curriculum match the curriculum of its on-campus equivalent?
What are the topics covered in the curriculum? Do you offer specializations?
Can you tell me about field experience component of the program?
Frequently asked questions
Application requirements vary by program. There is a common misconception that universities may only want applicants who have earned their BSW, but many programs are flexible and accept students from a variety of educational backgrounds.
Most of your master’s in social work can be completed online, however, you will need to complete supervised field training as part of the program. You will discuss emerging topics in social work with faculty and classmates during live, online classes, and then apply what you learned in class with real clients in or near your own community.
If you want to do clinical work, yes you do need a master’s in social work. And your master’s program will need to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
MSW programs generally take two years to complete. If you choose an accelerated track you might be able to complete the program in less time.
Social work is a fulfilling career path that’s rooted in the greater good, and it’s also an industry that’s growing rapidly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.¹ If you feel called toward a career in service to others, a master’s in social work might be a worthwhile step in that direction.
Pursuing your MSW is a substantial investment in your career. Online MSW programs vary in cost. The best way to learn about tuition for a specific program is to explore their website or request more information from their admissions team.