What is an Online Social Work Degree?

Online social work degree programs offer flexible coursework on how to help others. You may also pursue an in-person practicum or internship, which could be near home.

Social work programs cover areas like human behavior and diverse populations. They explore how to assist individuals with challenges like unemployment, addiction, and illness. And, they could help students prepare for roles in the fast-growing social work field.

Master of Social Work – Mental Health

Master of Social Work – Families and ChildrenM.S. in Human Services – Organizational and Social Services
This MSW program focuses on the mental health needs of adults across the lifespan. The program also covers foundations in social work, including professional competencies.This MSW program covers the needs of children, youth, and their families. You'll study core social work skill areas, plus ways to foster supportive social environments for children.This program focuses on improving quality of life for diverse populations. In the Organizational and Social Services concentration, you'll study how to manage resources and run programs that meet community needs.

Courses include:

  • Explanatory Theories of Health and Mental Health
  • Policy in Integrated Care
  • Research and Evaluation for Social Work

Courses include:

  • Social Work Practice with Children and Families Across Settings
  • Policy and Macro Practice in Child, Youth and Family Services

Courses include:

  • History, Multiculturalism, and Diversity in Human Services
  • Human Development and Human Behavior in Context
Program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)Program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)No specific program accreditation

Online Social Work Degree Programs

Online social work degree programs can be found at the Bachelor's, Master's, and doctoral levels. What each program has in common is a focus on others' wellbeing. You'll explore the needs of diverse communities and populations. And, you'll discover ways you could make a difference.

Online Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

In an online BSW program, you'll pursue a broad overview of the social work field. Courses in human behavior, psychology, and social policy lay the groundwork for more in-depth studies. Research and statistics may also be important at this level.

You may be able to choose electives or a focus area that interests you. Examples include addiction, criminal justice, healthcare, and child welfare.

Courses you could take include:

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment
  • Ethics in Professional Helping
  • Chemical Dependency
  • Diversity and Multiculturalism
  • Social Work Research
  • Victimology
  • Working with Aging Populations
  • Introduction to Field Work

Although coursework is online, programs usually feature in-person field work and practicums. 400 to 600 hours of field work is typical for a BSW program. This is a chance to apply your knowledge in a social work setting, with professional supervision.

Online Master's in Social Work Programs

An online MSW program delves deeper than a BSW and may help students prepare for clinical, specialist, and advanced practice career paths. (A BSW is not needed to pursue an MSW degree program. But, students with a BSW could pursue Advanced Practice MSW programs and potentially earn the degree in less time.)

Coursework explores various applications and settings for social work, like schools and mental health clinics. Expect to study not just social work practice, but the theory and policies that inform practice. And, you could choose a specialization like Clinical Practice or Policy, Planning & Administration.

Courses you could take include:

  • Social Work History and Welfare Policy
  • Diversity and Oppression
  • Program and Strategic Planning
  • LGBT Psycho/Social/Political Issues
  • Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees

Finally, fieldwork plays a big role in most MSW programs. 900 hours of field education is typical. You could pursue this experience at a local hospital, community health agency, school, or other facilities.

Online Doctorate in Social Work

Online doctorate programs emphasize social work theory, policy, and advanced topics. They usually require a dissertation or research project in the candidate's area of interest.

You may encounter two main types of social work doctorate. A Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program is usually practice-based. It may be aimed at those pursuing clinical or administrative roles. A PhD in Social Work program focuses more on research and qualitative methods. It may be ideal for those interested in academic career paths.

How Long Does It Take to Social Work Degree Online?

Earning a BSW degree takes about four years for full-time students. These programs are usually around 120 credits long.

An online MSW program calls for around 36 to 60 credits. Program length depends on whether you have earned a BSW and are eligible for Advanced Standing. Advanced Standing students could earn an MSW in as little as one year. If you didn't earn a BSW and you don't qualify for Advanced Standing, it could take two or more years to earn your MSW.

Online DSW or PhD in Social Work programs may require 42 to 52 credits. They take about two to 3.5 years to earn.

Online Social Work Degree Programs That Could be Completed in 24 Months or Less

School# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to Complete
Simmons University65516
University of Southern California37 (Advanced Standing)Multiple12
University of Louisville60324

How Much Does an Online Social Work Degree Program Cost?

Last check, social work students paid median in-state public tuition of $6,912 per year. Out-of-state private tuition was $29,900 per year.

Often, online social work degree programs charge by the credit. Compare the cost per credit at these colleges and universities with online social work programs:

School# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Regis College60$875$52,500
Northcentral University60$2,163 (per course)$43,260
Purdue University Global45420$18,900

Top Schools for Social Work Degree Online Programs

According to the most recent data, 755 schools offered social work programs. From those schools, 52,122 degrees were awarded to students. The majority (53.2%!) of these were Master's degrees.

School2016 Total Grads/Degrees2017/18 (Out of State Unless**)
University of Southern California1,438$56,225**
Rutgers University – New Brunswick756$26,919
The University of Texas at Arlington677$26,533
New York University619$51,828**
Fordham University618$52,687**
CUNY Hunter College523$14,852
Wayne State University485$27,991
University of Maryland – Baltimore472$37,314
Aurora University465$24,260**
Columbia University in the City of New York460$59,430**

*Estimated for full-time, beginning undergraduate students

Choosing an Accredited Online Social Work Program

The Counsel on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits Bachelor's and Master's programs in social work. Accreditation is based on many factors, like faculty qualifications and student diversity.

Accredited programs must have a curriculum that teaches at least nine social work competencies. These include demonstrating ethical and professional behavior, advancing human rights, and more.

In other words, choosing an accredited program can help you ensure the quality of your education. You can also look for regionally accredited colleges and universities. Attending an accredited school is needed to qualify for federal financial aid. (Financial aid may be available for those who qualify.)

What Can I Do with a Social Work Degree?

Social work graduates in the workforce numbered 725,950 in 2016. This number is increasing by 6.14% (one-year growth). In fact, projected job growth for social workers is over twice the average for all occupations. 16% more jobs are expected to be added between 2016 and 2026.

Do you fit the profile of a social work degree-holder? The majority (87%) are female. And, the average age of a degree-holder in this field is 43.2.

Top Salaries by State for Social Workers

The following data is for Child, Family, and School Social Workers. The numbers will differ for other social work career paths.

Top Salaries by State For Social Workers*

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New Jersey5,470$66,610
District of Columbia2,100$64,800
Rhode Island1,520$61,530

*May 2017

Careers with a Social Work Degree

Social Workers

This is the umbrella term for individuals who may work in schools, health care institutions or directly with people struggling with various psychological troubles. The requirements for employment are different from one institution to another, but the commonality is that all social workers actively try to assist people and find the help they need to overcome everyday problems.

  • See the BLS for median annual salary information
  • Job growth through 2022: 19 percent (faster than average)
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree or higher

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

These professionals specifically assist victims with addiction and those with behavioral issues that may affect bodily and psychological health. They put together programs and provide treatment and support for individuals to put them on a track toward recovery. Advising individuals may continue long after behaviors have been successfully modified.

  • See the BLS for median annual salary information
  • Job growth through 2022: 31 percent (faster than average)
  • Entry-level education: High school diploma or equivalent

Social and Community Service Managers

The public and private organizations where social workers are employed must be managed somehow. That's where an administrative staff of social and community service managers comes into play. These professionals focus on the bigger picture, coordinating social service programs and directing staff that provide assistance to the broader public. They direct where funding for the organizations goes and put together outreach programs to raise awareness and get people the help they need.

  • See the BLS for median annual salary information
  • Job growth through 2022: 21 percent (as fast as average)
  • Entry-level education: Bachelor's degree