Guide to Online MSW Programs

The number of accredited online MSW programs available is growing by leaps and bounds. Why? More and more schools recognize that distance learning is a valuable option for students who need to balance their education with family and work obligations. Many students who need flexibility in their class schedule enroll in these online degree programs. It’s a practical choice that allows them to pursue the degree they want, without putting work, and the rest of their life, “on hold.” Our website offers information about specific degree programs, in addition to information to these commonly asked questions::

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Popular Online MSW Programs

University of Southern California — The University of Southern California offers a Master's of Social Work. The program is in the top 10 in the nation. To get into the program you need to complete an online application and include your resume, statement of purpose, recommendation letters, supplemental form and official transcripts.

Our Lady of the Lake University — The Master of Social Work program from Our Lady of the Lake University is designed for working professionals and students interested in social services leadership and advance direct practice. The program also emphasizes service to Hispanic families and communities. OLLU is a private, Catholic college located near San Antonio and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Walden University — If you are interested in an online MS in Social Psychology, Walden University has a program that can be completed in as few as 18 months. In this program you will explore the way individuals socially construct thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, and gain an understanding of how this affects behaviors.

University of New England — The Master of Social Work at the University of New England has an online option that offers comprehensive curriculum presented by compassionate, experienced faculty with the expertise and real-world knowledge to help you succeed. Courses include: Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Social Work Research I and II, and Social Welfare Policy and Programs.

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Types of Social Work Degrees

The Master of Social Work degree is for students looking to work in high level positions for non-profit organizations or schools. Social workers typically obtain a bachelor’s degree in the subject and work in the field for a few years before seeking a master’s. As online degree programs have become more popular, the MSW degree has been added to the list of accredited programs many schools offer.

Depending on your background in social work, there are accelerated programs intended for those who have completed their undergrad in the subject and have work experience. Most programs include hands-on work that must be completed in order to receive a master’s in the field. Field work is a major part of any MSW program, whether completed through the traditional classroom or online.

Most programs take one or two years to complete. This depends on your own background in social work. Many established schools, whether online or traditional, offer accelerated programs that fast track a student through a master’s degree. These programs take a year to complete, when the student is attending full time. Other programs take two years and it can take longer depending on how many course hours you commit to each semester. Online programs are usually available full or part time, although a select few that are available through traditional schools require students to attend full time during the first half of the program. This is during the coursework, which is completed during the first part of a master’s degree plan. Once field work begins, students usually have the freedom to complete the hours according to their schedules.

Overview of Online Social Work Degrees

Start by researching schools you would like to attend. The prerequisites for an MSW program vary greatly, so it’s important to find a school that will likely accept you. It is also essential the school is accredited by a regional organization or the Council of Social Work Organization. As previously mentioned, there are many online programs that are extensions of traditional schools. These programs are accredited by the same organization that accredits the regular classroom version of the MSW degree the school offers. For online-only schools, set up an appointment with a school advisor to learn more about the program. Ask about the program’s instructors and how experienced they are with the online teaching medium.

Experienced instructors know how to create an interactive classroom online, where students are engaged and actively participating on a daily basis, much like a traditional class. Do not underestimate an MSW online program. The curriculum is the same and requires the same time commitment and planning as the traditional MSW degree. The average student applies to anywhere from three to six master’s programs; research online programs extensively before making a decision. You want an accredited program with an experienced staff, and resources and classes that fit you.

The curriculum is not altered to require less of a student; it is simply modified to for the online medium. While this is a fairly new way of conducting classes, some programs have been offered for as long as a decade. Instructors and professors are quickly learning of the opportunities that come from being an effective online teacher. Students have the same level of engagement and interact with instructors and other students for tutorials or general discussions for online programs.

Areas of Concentration in Social Work

There are many different areas of concentration in social work, and depending on the program, you can choose to focus your studies on one particular area. Common areas are:

  • Family issues
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Education

The latter two are the fastest growing areas. Geriatrics is especially important. The baby boomer generation is aging and this means many elderly people will need help learning about their options for housing, Social Security, retirement, and medical treatment. Education is also an area that is experiencing growth due to education reform. There are many charter schools and underprivileged schools and organizations that social workers are assigned for teaching positive morale exercises, teamwork, leadership efforts and other programs and workshops for students. Those with an MSW are also eligible to work as career or guidance counselors in the public school system.

A license is required in all states to practice social work. When applying for a license, students must show their proof of education from an accredited school. That’s why the research stage for the appropriate online MSW program is important for your career. In most states the minimum education for social workers is a master’s degree. Some states require the student have a certain number of hours of field work (usually 15-20) in areas such as domestic abuse, human sexuality, substance abuse, and geriatrics. This varies by state, but the areas for hours of work is not specific to an area of concentrated study and is the same for students across the board in that respective state.

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