There are many opportunities today to earn a master’s degree, leading to a career that both pays well and lets you help others. The master’s of social work (MSW) is one such degree. After obtaining your MSW degree, you will be qualified to operate independently or as part of an organization to promote social welfare and mental health.
A rewarding career as a social worker will enable you to help others with social services. There is a wide variety of MSW programs available that can help you on your career path. There are also more online offerings than ever before, making your career goals focused and convenient.
|1||Indiana University||Bloomington, Indiana|
|2||University of Arkansas||Fayetteville, Arkansas|
|3||University of Nevada||Reno, Nevada|
|4||University of North Dakota||Grand Forks, North Dakota|
|5||University of Central Florida||Orlando, Florida|
A Review of MSW Careers
Earning your master’s degree will better position you to have as many excellent career options as possible. In 2020 alone, there were 715,600 social work jobs in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average job landscape for social workers is projected to grow by 12% in the next decade, faster than the average for all other occupations.
BLS statistics also project an average of 78,300 job openings yearly for this market. This surge is due to the number of professionals transferring to other occupations and those retiring from the labor market. In 2021, the recorded median pay for social workers was $50,390 per year. This translates to about $24.23 per hour.
Benefits of online MSW programs
As an aspiring graduate student, you will find many degree programs that may interest you. An MSW degree will help you to gain in-depth understanding of your chosen field of social work. Furthering your studies can offer you expertise ranging from school social work and counseling to social welfare policy and child welfare.
Earning an MSW degree offers the path to a very fulfilling career. Many professions offer expertise in fields such as finance or business. However, a career as a licensed clinical social worker lets you help others.
It’s a wonderful way to blend your personal values and desire to make a difference in the world with a way to make a living. Especially with today’s focus on social issues, this is a great career choice.
Benefits that online degrees offer graduate students
There are a vast number of benefits to online degrees. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the importance of being able to operate from home. An online degree gives you the ability to complete classes, communicate with others, and conduct business virtually.
Online programs are also very convenient for those pursuing an advanced degree. These types of students are often working adults who have hectic schedules with their jobs and families.
Graduate students can usually complete online classes at the times of day that work best for them. Much of the classroom material is self-paced. This adds to the convenience of attending classes and completing assignments.
Considerations when choosing an online MSW program
When deciding which type of program will work best for you, it is important to know your individual needs and the current demands on your time. Be honest about the time you have to devote to the program and what you hope to achieve.
Depending on your undergraduate degree or the courses that you’ve already completed, you may be eligible already for an advanced-standing MSW. These programs are for students who have already gotten their BSW or BASW in social work recently.
If you do not qualify for an advanced MSW, don’t worry. It just means that you may have to finish a few additional semesters to complete core classes related to social work. Most online MSW programs are flexible and offer options for both part-time and full-time students.
Cost savings of online MSW programs versus in-person MSW programs
Earning your MSW degree online offers a lot of opportunities for cost savings versus going to school in person. The decision to earn a degree online lessens concerns and the costs of a commute. You may be able to find some of your class resources online for free or cheaper compared to campus stores.
Enrolling in an online program should still give you access to the free resources that in-person students enjoy. Some of these include advising, career fairs, writing labs, and tutoring services.
Start with a firm commitment on your part to see the program through. Be sure that this is your chosen field of interest and that it’s a career path you can see yourself on for a long time. Be sure that you have the time available to devote to your studies, whether you are going back to school part-time or full-time.
Many students are in a hurry to complete their master’s degrees quickly after earning their bachelor’s. But please be aware that there are other options available.
You may choose to start an entry-level job in your chosen career to see whether this is truly where your passion lies. You may also be able to find an employer who will pay for some or all of the tuition costs associated with an MSW degree.
Getting started with an online MSW program
Once you’ve made the exciting decision to begin an online MSW program, you can research the best programs for you. A good place to start is to research options available at your previous school. Talk to an adviser, or visit the graduate studies website to see what types of programs the college offers.
If you already have a specific school in mind, that’s great. You can quickly research their requirements and begin to apply.
If you need to do more research, just make sure your initial timeline allows ample time for you to meet all deadlines. If you miss one, you could have to wait until the next semester or even the next year to apply.
Remember that many advanced degree programs require you to pass an entrance exam, such as the GRE, as the first step to applying. You will need to find the time and costs of any needed tests and work within the deadlines for your school application. There are a number of online prep courses that can help you with entrance tests if you need them.
Choosing your major within the social work discipline is also, of course, very important. You may even want to try an internship or two to see what type of social work works best with your values and career goals. If you have not already begun to network with others in your field, now is the time to do so.
Getting a master’s in social work online
To earn your MSW online, you will usually spend between two and four years. It will depend on your program, focus of study, credits, and status—full-time or part-time.
Part of the program should be online classroom work, and part will probably involve fieldwork or practicum hours. Your master’s degree should help you to begin your career soon afterward, unless you are entering a very specialized field. If you wish to be a counselor, for example, this may require you to earn a PhD.
What to Expect When You Earn an Online MSW Degree
Each school’s online MSW program offerings are different, and there are so many specialties within the field. Thus, there is no one set track to earn an MSW degree online.
They should all have similar entrance, credit hour, and schoolwork requirements. Let your adviser know if you have any type of professional or volunteer work that may offer credit toward any of your hours.
Remember that you will probably have to write a master’s thesis at some point. These can be very demanding and time-consuming. Thus, make sure to factor in enough time to devote to research and writing in addition to your work.
If you have to write a thesis, choosing a topic that is current in your field can be incredibly rewarding. It also is a great idea because it will add to your résumé.
Even with an online MSW program, remember that you will need to complete some fieldwork. Each program will have its own focus, but you should find yourself working with a field instructor in a social environment at some point.
Fieldwork is a large part of completing the needed credit hours for this degree. This type of instruction is so valuable in helping you gain real-world professional experience. It can also help you make connections for your future job.
When you complete fieldwork, you are also adding to your experience. It may even help you network or find a future job. Make sure to take advantage of all opportunities while you are completing your master’s degree.
To this end, you will need to be clear up front as to what your field practicum will look like. Ask whether there are any virtual options for any of the fieldwork. Also ask whether the practicum must be done in person.
You may be working either part-time or full-time in the field of social work already. This could really help you. You may be able to combine some of your practicum with your work.
What is interesting about online MSW programs is that there are more options for online fieldwork than ever. When exploring options for virtual fieldwork, keep in mind that much of your social work will revolve around building relationships. Meeting with a prospective client online is just as valuable as working with someone in person.
Workload expectations for online MSW programs
The workload of online MSW programs will vary according to what degree you have upon starting. For example, the University of Central Florida offers an online MSW program with a three-year program for students who are not advanced learners. But with the same program, advanced degree candidates would only spend two years (a total of four semesters).
If you find that you have multiple or similar interests related to your field, you may also be able to find programs that offer dual degrees. With these types of programs, you can earn two master’s degrees, sometimes taking one class that can count for both degrees.
A dual degree program shortens the time it would usually take to earn two advanced degrees. For example, you could complete an MSW while also earning a master’s degree in psychology.
Likewise, there may also be dual programs available in social work education. If you are interested in working with children, you may be able to combine the dual interests of school counseling and child welfare. Depending on your interests and future plans, this may well present interesting combinations of opportunities for you to explore.
Most-affordable online MSW programs
Those in the dynamic profession of Social Work can advance their career with an MSW degree that can be earned entirely online at Indiana University. Advanced Social Workers can be employed in a wide array of settings including community mental health agencies, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, employee assistance programs, family service agencies, and community service agencies. These professionals can work in all levels of government and education. Not only is the program accredited but the institution itself, Indiana University, is known for its exceptional online curriculum. Students are admitted to the online MSW program three times a year.
University of Arkansas
A MSW earned from the University of Arkansas allows graduates to practice independently and be employed in leadership positions within their careers. To apply to the online MSW program students must hold a bachelor’s degree in social work, and be able to commit to attending online full-time. Students can still be employed but need to be aware that their courses will be a full load each term. The one year online MSW programs mirrors the same on-campus programs that students enroll in. Students will learn from the same expert faculty and learn the same material taught on campus. Students are enrolled into cohorts where they learn from peers and network with others as well as have opportunities for internships.
University of Nevada
The University of Nevada – Reno offers one of the few MSW programs that is solely structured around advanced generalist practice. This prepares social workers to be more capable and versatile to meet the challenges and opportunities in their careers. As a generalist social workers can work and support in a vast array of professions including psychology, public health, education, business and medicine. Like many other schools there are two pathways offered, a traditional 62 credit hour program for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field, and an advanced standing program that is 32 credit hours for those holding a bachelor’s degree in social work. Students of the advanced standing program can complete in as little as 15 months, one of the fastest programs in the country.
University of North Dakota
Earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of North Dakota enables students to work independently in various settings such as case management, crisis intervention psychotherapy, and event planning. Students considering applying for the online MSW program will need to have a bachelor’s degree in social work or complete the online foundation if they have a degree in a related but different field. Students can complete the program in three semesters when they attend full-time. The entire online program is designed with the full-time working professional in mind. The advanced generalist emphasis prepares students for practical settings including clinical social work.
University of Central Florida
The online MSW program at the University of Central Florida is specifically designed for students that desire to earn a MSW but do not hold a bachelor’s degree in social work or they earned it over 5 years prior to enrolling in this advanced degree program. This unique online 62 credit hour program offers options for clinical specialization and experience through field placement. Students learn how to promote social and economic justice, human rights, and overall well-being. With greater need to serve the underserved and minority populations, students will have opportunities to make a profound difference in the lives of those they work with. As they do this they will help individuals through some of the most difficult obstacles of their lives. For those ready to make a difference today, enroll now.
Humboldt State University
For those rooted in their communities, Humboldt State University offers a flexible online MSW program that will take students where they want to go in their careers, personal development and as community leaders. There are currently two pathways to consider when enrolling in Humboldts’s online MSW, one part-time path that takes students 3 and a half years to complete and is meant for those who do not have a bachelor’s degree in social work but hold a bachelor’s degree in another field. The other is an accelerated program that can be completed in two years and is designed for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in social work already. Aside from a 4 day in person orientation the entire program is in an engaging online format that maximizes flexibility and is designed for working professionals.
California State University at San Bernardino
The MSW program at California State University at San Bernardino is fully accredited and meets the standards set by the Council on Social Work Education. To accommodate the needs of the diverse students enrolling in the MSW program there are three different pathways to earn a MSW. The first is a two-year program that consists of 4 semesters of full-time online courses. This is designed for students that can focus their attention and time to completing coursework full time. The second option is a three year, six semester program, that works great for students that are needing to remain employed in their career while they earn an advanced degree. The third option is the Pathway Distance Education Program that allows students to complete everything online. This program is designed for working professionals that need flexibility. .
California State University
Social Work is a rapidly growing field and California State University at Chico provides an accredited MSW program with the courses meeting the standards of the Council on Social Work Education. The program is a concentrated two year program that students can specialize in one of two areas. The first area is Social Work Practice in Mental Health Services. The second is Social Work Practice in Families, Children and Youth Services. The online model generally takes three years to complete and includes 59 to 61 units of coursework and 1200 hours of field education practicum experience.
California State University at Northridge
California State University at Northridge offers a top ranking MSW program that gives students a unique perspective and opportunities to work with some of the most vulnerable and at risk populations in the country. Students can attend fully online in one of two formats, a two year accelerated format or a three year part-time format. Every class, except field classes, are offered in a flexible asynchronous format. Courses are designed and taught by expert faculty members at CSUN and are the same professors that are on campus delivering the same high-quality instruction and preparation. These two programs are fully accredited by both Western Association of Schools and Colleges as well as by the Council of Social Work Education.
Boise State University
Recognized for its value and flexibility, Boise State University offers an affordable online MSW program with low tuition rates regardless of residency. Currently Boise State offers two routes to earning a MSW, the Full Program MSW and the Advanced Standing MSW Program. The Full Program is designed for students that already have a bachelor’s degree in another field of study. The Advanced Standing Program is designed for students that already hold a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from an accredited school. Each program is fully online. The program works with students and takes the lead to identify high-quality field placements within their community. Find more details here.
Western New Mexico University
A small institution, Western New Mexico University, offers personalized attention to students both on campus and online. Students can earn their MSW through two different pathways; the standard path is for students that hold a bachelor’s degree but not in the field or social work. The second pathway is the advanced path for students that already hold a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited institution. The first takes about three years to complete while the second can be completed in two years or less. Students can begin their degree at the beginning of fall, spring, or summer terms.
University of South Dakota
As one of eleven universities in the nation to implement the Path to Licensure program, the University of South Dakota’s MSW program prepares individuals to provide competent and ethical social work services to their communities through a blend of online learning and hundreds of hours of hands-on field education. This unique preparation for licensure enhances the students’ credibility, provides support to the social work community and enforces ethical practice standards. The program is designed to meet the requirements to be licensed in South Dakota, if you are a student from another state be sure to research the requirements for social work licensure within your resident state. USD provides two paths for students seeking an online MSW degree, a traditional path designed for those without a bachelor’s degree (60 credit hours) and an advanced path for those who already possess a bachelor’s degree in social work (36 credit hours). The program is fully accredited by CSWE since 1974.
University of Texas Arlington
The University of Texas Arlington provides a comprehensive award winning cohort style online MSW program where students enroll in cohorts and complete courses as such. This model allows for collaboration, discussion, and networking while students can maintain the flexibility of the online delivery format. With a few different pathways to earn a MSW every student will find the right path for them, from advanced standing that allows them to complete the MSW program in one year to a regular online program that takes approximately 26 months to complete. Whether students have a degree in social work or another field there is a pathway for both. There are also expanded online offerings in Direct Practice with Children and Families, Direct Practice in Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Direct Practice in Aging.
Texas State University
Those already holding a bachelor’s degree can pursue an MSW at Texas State University in a flexible online format. The MSW degree is built on a liberal arts perspective. The online degree is taught by the same core faculty with the same materials used in the on-campus MSW program. Students also have a variety of electives to choose from such as social work and healthcare, school social work, international social work, social work with older adults, spirituality, adventure therapy, veterans, and more. The online MSW meets the standards for accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education.
A private Christian institution, Campbellsville University has been ranked as one of the most affordable Chirstian institutions in the nation. With their affordable online MSW program, more social workers are able to advance their careers in as little as one year with options to focus on various clinical specializations. There are two pathways offered, a standard path for those holding a bachelor’s degree in a different field and an advanced standing pathway for those who already hold a bachelors in social work. Areas that students can choose to focus on include psychopharmacology, change theory, and theories of social work practice. Graduates are able to work with individuals, families, communities and other groups of people across various settings.
Colorado State University
Colorado State University offers a nationally recognized MSW program featuring an accredited, advanced generalist curriculum that will prepare you to become a social work practitioner in a variety of settings. You will learn to advance health and well-being, challenge inequities, and promote social justice and human rights for individuals and communities. The program is offered in a variety of formats including the standard two-year program, advanced standing for students who already hold a BSW, part-time hybrid options, and an MSW/MPH dual degree.
University of Missouri Columbia
The University of Missouri Columbia offers an entirely online MSW program at a very affordable cost. Like many other MSW programs there are two pathways for students to earn their MSW. Those holding a bachelor’s degree in another field can enroll and will take foundational social work courses, this path requires 60 credit hours. The advanced standing path is designed for those already holding a bachelor’s degree in social work and requires 39 credit hours to be completed. It is important to note that the MSW degree is for residents of Missouri and the following contiguous states (Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois.)
There are many affordable online programs that will enable you to earn your MSW. Because there are so many options, it is important to find one that works best with your current schedule. You also need to find one that offers the timeline you are seeking.
At first, you may be overwhelmed with information. However, it is worth a few weeks of research to ensure that you choose the program that will set you up for success in your future career.
Finding Affordable Online MSW Programs
There are several options to find the most affordable online MSW program that will work well for you. You can rely mainly on internet research, doing your due diligence to find details about affordable MSW degree programs.
You can go one step further and contact the organization or department you are interested in working for. They may be able to provide recommendations or guidance.
Cheapest MSW programs
There are some recent compilations of lists that detail a number of affordable online programs, starting with the least expensive options. However, as with anything, always keep in mind that all programs are not necessarily created equal.
Even though a more robust program may cost more, it may be worth the investment if it offers a number of other benefits. Choosing a program that has a stellar reputation or one that has very high career placement rates may be worth a higher cost.
How to pay for online MSW programs
Like with your previous studies, you may be able to get funding assistance to attend graduate school. Some programs (such as the one offered by the University of Washington’s School of Social Work) also offer funding for students. This can take the form of grants, assistantships, work programs, or traditional financial aid.
If you have the time to invest, there are ways for you to be creative and find alternate sources to fund your education. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to paying for your graduate studies. It can even be fun!
Once you have found the school or schools you are interested in applying to, contact their admissions and financial aid offices to find your options. There may be pending deadlines to apply for grants or funding. Thus, you need to be sure you are able to apply for aid within the range of when your first school payment would be due.
If you can apply far in advance, that is the ideal option, especially if you are on a loan plan that sends payments only occasionally. This will allow you to get ahead and stay ahead.
Ways to budget for an online MSW program
Budgeting for an online program (or any educational need) is similar to budgeting for just about anything else. This is a big step in your career. Thus, it is important to find the right balance between a program that delivers your career needs and one that is at a price you can truly afford.
The more funding pieces that you can put in place (by both finding money and lowering your costs) before you begin your program, the better off you will be. This will also save you some headaches in the long run.
Start by drawing up two budgets. The first one will be the ideal you would like to be able to afford. Include living expenses while you are going to school and any other costs that you can think of.
The other one should be a slimmer budget of the lowest educational costs possible to get you started. This also includes any savings that you have now and any job you may have while you go to school. Also think about how you feel about debt. Will you be able to apply for financial aid, or does the thought of going into debt upset you?
Start by securing the educational costs in the lower budget you’ve created. You can use savings or earnings. Find scholarships, and explore financial aid options, such as grants or loans.
It may bother you to think about debt. If so, you may be willing to stretch out the time it takes to get your degree. Thus, you may want to work part- or full-time and go to school part-time, paying as you go as much as you can.
After you’ve secured the lowest amount of funding to get started, you can then work to add to your educational fund. This will help you pay for further costs associated with finishing your MSW degree.
Remember that there will always be expenses you do not expect. There could be travel expenses for fieldwork, the cost of a new suit to go to interviews, fees to secure licensing, and so forth. Sticking to your original budget as closely as possible will help keep you on track as you work toward your master’s degree.
How to use various loans to pay for online MSW programs
When exploring options for paying for college, there are a number of financial concerns and options for you. Even if you qualify for financial aid, there may still be out-of-pocket expenses that you will have to pay for. Even if you get a loan, it is very important to stick to your established budget as closely as possible.
As you are seeking funding, be sure you understand application and tuition deadlines. Find out whether your loan payment will go directly from the lender to the school. If it doesn’t, you may have to make that payment from your account.
Learning the details of your financing may be a bit boring, but don’t skip this step. You don’t want to be left scrambling to get a tuition deadline met right at the beginning of a semester.
Scholarships available for online MSW programs
The field of social work offers a wide range of available scholarships for qualified and interested students. Also, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) should have resources to help you in your bid to secure funding. You can also check with any state or local social work licensing boards.
Be sure to explore all resources offered by the financial aid department of your chosen schools. You may even end up choosing your final school based on the level of aid or scholarships they offer.
Finding scholarships is truly worth your time. There are many scholarship funds available each year that go unclaimed. Do some research, and you may be surprised at what you find.
Even a modest scholarship offering can help you offset your educational costs. Any grant that helps keep you from spending money out of pocket will bring you one step closer toward achieving your goals.
The Council on Social Work Education
The CSWE was founded in 1952. It is the leading US council that represents social work. It is the authority organization that regulates and advances social work education in America. If you are not already familiar with the CSWE, you will need to do some research to learn about the programs it offers and oversees.
The CSWE accredits universities offering MSWs. Make sure the CSWE accredits your school before you even apply. If you do not, you may find that you will have to pay additional money and invest even more time in securing proper licensing.
You may wish to choose your program (or at least start your search) based on the lists of programs detailed on the official website. If not, it will at least give you further information. Knowing all the guidelines and recommendations set in place by the CSWE will be a must in your career.
This will set you up for success. It will ensure that you are aware of any licenses or documents you need to practice in your chosen specialty. Joining with the CSWE will also prepare you for your job and will offer you a great deal of career placement choices.
CSWE regulation and accreditation in the field of social work
The field of social work tends to be highly regulated. Thus, if you complete your education but end up as a provider without a license, you can be taking on a great degree of personal and career risk.
Choosing a school on the CSWE list ensures that you will emerge as a competent, trained worker after you earn your advanced degree. Standards to register vary state by state. If possible, you will want to choose a school in the state where you want to practice.
What you can expect from a career in social work
Before beginning your exciting graduate studies, it is important to have a true view of what your chosen career will look like. Think about what you want. Talk to others in the field to get their views. One of the benefits of an MSW is that your degree will open up a wide range of career choices for you.
Do you want to take a job as an independent social worker? Or are you planning on becoming a practitioner in a hospital, school, or counseling setting? Do you think you would prefer to work for a state agency or a private company?
Specialties in the field of social work are numerous and varied. This is one of the aspects that makes this form of work so appealing to graduate students. It can lead to both a fun and rewarding career.
You may wish to work with children, adults, or the elderly. You may choose to work one on one with people only or large groups of people at once.
If you don’t yet have the answers as to what you want to pursue, that’s OK. You can meet with an adviser or teacher to find out more about how to narrow down your focus as you go along. But you should have a fairly good idea of what you want your career to look like before you choose your final program.
Summary of Affordable Online MSW programs
There are a number of great online choices to help you earn your MSW degree. Just make sure to do your research. Find a school on the CSWE list, and set smart goals that are in-line with your time, budget, and career needs.
A career in social work offers numerous opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives across their lifespan. Many people think social workers are employed in only foster care program settings or child protective service programs, the truth is many careers benefit from a Master’s degree in Social Work such as policy makers, drug rehabilitation specialists, family counseling, school counselors, as well as foster care agencies and child and family protective services. Affordable online master’s in social work programs provided advanced education and increased career opportunities for many individuals employed in the above mentioned fields. The online pathway is becoming more desirable for professionals returning to earn an advanced degree as it does not require them to pause their career, many are able to continue their employment while attending courses online and earning their degree.
An affordable online MSW program makes dreams of advanced degrees a reality. Many of the benefits of earning an advanced degree online include an asynchronous format that allows necessary flexibility, many programs offer accelerated pathways to complete the program faster which in turn saves money, and many offer practicum experiences in the student’s area of residence. Online MSW programs have become the best way to advance careers in a variety of fields while maintaining employment or meeting other personal obligations. The U.S. Department of Labor shows the median income for social workers is $50,470 per year with an estimated growth of 12% in the next decade.
A few things to research before applying to an online MSW program include the school’s and programs accreditation, license options, specializations, and of course cost. With many professionally licensed social workers able to work in a private practice and able to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders it is important to be aware of what programs offer in regards to specializations and licensing following graduation.
Each one of these schools and online MSW programs is fully accredited. For those seeking to advance their career in one to three years, an online MSW degree will prepare graduates to be leaders in social work across the nation. For those wanting to help people change their lives for the better and build a healthier and safer community an advanced degree in social work is the first step. Affordable online MSW programs are more available and accessible than ever before. Enroll today to start building a better future for your community tomorrow.
Programs are ranked according to a matrix using the cost of the program, graduation rate, and the number of pathways to earn an MSW degree.
Please contact us if you have any questions about the information listed above!