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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”. We list several of the most popular accredited online MSW programs below; but first, you may also want to:

  • View our “ultimate list” of Web resources for social workers. We’ve collected, reviewed and categorized over one hundred of the most useful sites for those in the social work profession. This is the most popular page on our Web site, and it has received hundreds of Facebook “likes” as well as many “retweets”.
  • Follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook. We follow, and post about, issues of interest to both social work professionals and students.

Popular Online MSW Programs

You can click on the college logo to request more information about any particular degree program.

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.

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.

Walden University — If you are interested in an online Social Work degree, Walden University has a several programs exploring the various fields of Social including medical social work, crisis and trauma, family matters, and working with military personnel and families. These programs are all doctoral degrees, require candidates to hold at least a master's and sometimes requiring experience in the field.

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.

Click here to learn about more Social Work colleges

Learn About MSW Online Programs

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.

How Long Does it Take to Complete an MSW Online Program?

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.

How Do I Find an MSW Online Program?

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.

Do I Have to Take the GRE for an Online Degree?

The majority of online degrees require the Graduate Records Exam (GRE), just as any traditional program would. Online programs that are part of a traditional school always require the GRE, but you may run across an online only school that does not require the GRE for students with a bachelor’s degree in a related field. As long as the school is accredited by a regional organization, you should feel comfortable moving forward with the enrollment process. The GRE gauges how a student will do in graduate school. For some traditional schools, the GRE is the portion of your master’s program application that matters most. The GRE can be taken far in advance and scores are sent from the test to the schools of your choice. You are allowed to retake the GRE, if needed, but you must sign up again and pay an additional fee. The GRE is also required for some PhD programs, and you are allowed to resubmit your past scores should you choose to continue with your education after receiving your master’s.

What Else Do I Need for an MSW?

In addition to the GRE, you may need a letter of recommendation and an essay or mission statement. These prerequisites vary from program to program. The only consistency for MSW applications is the GRE. Some schools require you have at least one year of social work experience before applying to a master’s program. This goes for both online only and traditional degrees. The purpose of this is that the program is not touching on fundamentals, but expanding ideas and practices of the field.

Is an Online Degree Accepted for a Career in Social Work?

Overall, online degrees at the varying stages are accepted in the social work field. Because most master’s programs require students to have work experience, many students continue to work while studying for their master’s degree. It is not uncommon for students to attend school part time, whether they’re participating in an online or traditional program. Online degrees have become increasingly accepted in many industries because of the proper accreditation and high quality of education provided to students.

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.

How Do Online Degree Programs Work?

The online MSW degree can begin with an orientation if the program is through a traditional school. You receive a syllabus outlining the course, its objectives, and any deadlines or important dates. For online only schools, this syllabus is issued online a few weeks before the course formally starts. During the beginning of an MSW, the program focuses on course work. You will have assignments, readings, and participate in online discussion forums covering the material you’re currently learning. For established programs, these discussions are extremely important as they are a vital tool for engagement during online courses. Often, instructors also participate in these discussions. Your syllabus will designate how often you’re expected to post on the message board. For many courses, this is a participation grade and ensures the student is actively studying and reviewing material though they are not formally required to show up to a classroom. The latter half of the MSW degree includes field work. This is similar to an internship, and involves shadowing someone in a social work setting or working as a volunteer at a non-profit or government social work agency.

How Am I Placed for Field Work?

Most schools place students with an agency based on their location. In the case of online only schools, students are sometimes required to set up their own field work. This can be simple if you are currently working with an agency or have worked with one in the past. It’s important to keep in touch with former supervisors and instructors, because you may need to network when finding a place to complete field work. Established MSW programs have relationships with local agencies and local outlets of federal agencies, and they place students with one of these places. Some may be based on your area of concentration in school, depending on availability.

What Are Areas of Concentration for Social Work Students?

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.

Do I Need a License for Social Work?

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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