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The 10 Best Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs

Social workers are agents of change, improving society one life at a time.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, community and social service occupations are expected to grow 10% through 2024, which translates to over 250,000 jobs, from substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors to health educators and community health workers. For their part, social workers will see one of the largest employment increases, with the BLS forecasting 12% growth through 2024, about twice the average rate, and totaling 75,000 jobs.

Of course, as any professional social worker will tell you, a successful career begins with a thorough and rigorous education; and while a bachelor’s degree gets you in the door, clinical social workers need a master’s, plus two years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting and a state licensure. The master’s in social work, or MSW, is typically structured around a core curriculum, following the Council on Social Work Education accreditation standards, and program-long internships, field experiences, and practicum course work that places students in real-world environments to help develop skills and a practical understanding of day-to-day challenges.

MSW students should also note an important distinction between the the Advanced Standing MSW and the Standard/Traditional MSW. Advanced standing programs are designed exclusively for students who have received a bachelor’s in social work, meaning foundational courses are exempt from the curriculum. The standard track is for students with no previous academic background in social work, meaning that the degree includes foundational and advanced coursework. It also means the degree takes a bit longer, about 2-3 years compared to the advanced MSW’s 1-2 years. So, a simple distinction, but an important one!

Below, we’ve ranked our top 10 online MSW tracks, which combine the prestige and rigor of online MSW curricula with the flexibility of distance education. Most of the programs offer advanced standing and standard tracks, but for convenience and space, the specific classes listed tend to correspond to foundational course work. (Click the homepage link to read more details.) Read on to find the master’s in social work that suits your needs!

1) Boston University

Boston University, founded in 1839, has a total enrollment of 32,200, making it one of the largest private schools in the country, including students from all 50 states and 133 countries. US News, Forbes, Newsweek, Times Higher Education, and Washington Monthly also rank BU one of the top universities in the country. In particular, US News gives it high marks for overall value: 36% of full-time students receive some form of financial aid, and the average percent of need met is 88%. For a school of its size, Boston’s 12:1 student-to-faculty is exceptional, allowing for a balance of liberal arts intimacy with the vibrant atmosphere of a research institution. Nearly 60% of classes have fewer than 20 students and just 14% have 50.

Boston’s online MSW offers three tracks: advanced standing (40-43 credits), traditional (65 credits), and the Human Service Experience track (65 credits), the latter two of which can be completed over 9 semesters in 3 years. Online core requirements include Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Racial Justice & Cultural Intersectionality of Oppression, Social Welfare Policy, Social Work Research, Social Work Ethics, and Communities and Organizations. From there, students complete a range of clinical practice core and elective courses to gain real-world, hands-on experience in the field. All course work is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate adult learners and working professionals, and course materials are available 24/7 through Boston’s dynamic learning platform. Online students receive a variety of support services, including a personal advisor to review academic and career goals. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

2) University of Louisville

Founded in 1798, University of Louisville is a public institution with an enrollment of about 22,000, including 6,000 graduate students. US News, which ranks Louisville as a Tier 1 national university, also places it in the top 90 public schools and highly among high school counselors. The 16:1 student-to-faculty is a excellent considering enrollment numbers, and LU combines a vibrant, collaborative learning environment with individualized learning at an intimate scale. A third of classes have fewer than 20 students and less than 10% have 50.

Louisville’s online MSW offers both an advanced standing (30 hours) and a standard track (60 hours), with multiple start dates per year. Core requirements include studies in Human Behavior & the Social Environment, Social Justice Practice, Issues in Policy and Service Delivery, Research Methodology & Design, and Social Welfare Institutions, Policies & Services. From there, students complete several practicum and field requirements to gain valuable experience, plus a range of electives, either on a general track or in one of the following available specializations: Psychosocial Oncology, Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Counseling, Military Social Work or Gerontology. All courses are 100% online for maximum flexibility, and non-advanced students can transfer up to 6 graduate credits to accelerate completion time (advanced students take 2-5 semesters; standard take 4-8 semesters). The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

3) University of Missouri – Columbia

Founded in 1839, The University of Missouri – Columbia was the first public university west of the Mississippi River, and today includes satellite campuses in Rolla, Kansas City, and St. Louis. Classified as an R1 by the Carnegie Foundation, Missouri is widely regarded as one of the best public universities in the country, is a member of the Association of American Universities, and ranks among US News‘ best schools for value and military veterans. With a student enrollment of 33,000, Mizzou’s 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio supports both a collaborative educational setting and individualized instruction. 40% of classes have less than 20 students and just one in five have 50.

Missouri’s online MSW includes regular and advanced standing track, at 60 and 39 credits, respectively. Foundational courses include Social Work Administration, DSM V Psychopathology, Advanced Foundations of Human Behavior for Administrators, Management of a Social Agency, Evaluative Research in Social Work Planning and Administration, and professional practice seminars and field work for hands-on experience. To tailor the curriculum to career interests, students then complete concentrations in either Advanced Clinical Practice or Policy, Planning and Administration. Finally, additional electives round out the degree. All courses deliver 100%, and practicum requirements can be completed within the student’s area at a supervised and approved area. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

4) University of Alabama

Founded in 1831, The University of Alabama is a public research university annually ranked among the top public schools in the nation by Washington Monthly, Forbes, and US News, which also ranks Alabama 76th in the nation for overall value, 68th for veterans, and 90th among its high school counselor rankings. With a total enrollment of 37,000, the university’s 23:1 student-to-faculty ratio combines aspects of a vibrant research institution with the intimate, personal feel of a smaller liberal arts school. More than a third of classes have less than 20 students and only 20% have 50. Among the distinguished alumni include 15 Rhodes Scholars, 16 Truman Scholars, 32 Hollings Scholars, 6 Boren Scholars, and 47 Goldwater Scholars. In 2015-16, 11 Alabama students accepted Fulbright scholarships to study abroad.

Alabama’s MSW, offered since 1965, includes online standard and advanced standing tracks, ranging from 42-60 credits. Foundational courses include Social Welfare Policy, Human Behavior and Social Environment, Research Informed Practice, and Social Work Practice with Families, Groups, and Communities. In addition to hundreds of field work and practicum hours, students also have the opportunity to tailor the degree via concentrations in Adults and their Families or Children, Adolescents and their Families. Besides face-to-face skill labs, classes are primarily online and designed to accommodate non-traditional students, i.e., adult learners, working professionals, and others. All students have access to a variety of support services, from counseling and enrollment assistance, to tech support and test-proctoring. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

5) Colorado State University

Founded in 1870, Colorado State University has a total enrollment of 32,000, including about 6,000 graduate students. US News places CSU among the best schools in the country for value and high school counselor rankings; it also appear on lists by Forbes, Washington Monthly, Princeton Review, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and Consumers Digest. The 18:1 student-to-faculty is ideal for a school of its size, allowing for a combination of personalized instruction and collaborative learning in a vibrant setting. Over a third of classes have fewer than 20 students and less than 20% have 50. Finally, the school’s online division has delivered distance education programs for 50 years.

CSU Online’s MSW features a 60-credit curriculum for standard students and a 40-credit track for advanced standing students. Core requirements include Principles and Philosophy of Social Work, Small Client Systems, Large Client Systems, Social Welfare Policy Analysis, and several rounds of research methodology, field practice, and practicum course work. Students can also customize the degree via six potential concentrations: Individual Practice, Group and Family Practice, Community Practice, Organizational Practice, Social Welfare Policy, and Organizational Research. Graduate certificates in Advanced Clinical Behavioral Health, Conflict Resolution and Mediation, Military and Veteran Culture, Nonprofit Administration, and PreK-12 School Social Worker are available as well. Courses are designed to accommodate adult learners and working professionals, and the cohort model promotes peer-to-peer learning and collaborative opportunities. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

6) Fordham University

Fordham University, founded in 1841, is a private Jesuit institution with a total enrollment of 15,500, evenly divided between undergraduate and graduate students. US News ranks it among the best schools in the nation, with additional high marks for veterans (29th) and among high school counselors (49th). Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Washington Monthly, Forbes, and Kiplinger’s all rank Fordham highly as well. The university’s 14:1 student-to-faculty ensures intimate, personalized instruction, plus a tight-knit learning community that supports collaboration. Half of classes have fewer than 20 students and just 1% have 50.

Fordham’s online MSW includes three potential plans of study — Advanced Standing, Standard, and Hybrid. Example classes might include Human Rights & Social Justice, Human Behavior & the Social Environment, Social Work Practice, Policy & the Profession, and Generalist Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups,
Organizations & Communities. In order to tailor the degree, Fordham offers specializations in either Clinical or Leadership and Macro Practice, and a certificate in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling is available, as well. Field experiences are incorporated throughout the program to help develop real-world skills, and online classes are designed for maximum flexibility to fit students’ schedules, including part-time and asynchronous options. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

7) University of New Hampshire

Founded in 1866, University of New Hampshire is a public institution with a total enrollment of about 15,300. Ranked among the top schools in the country by US News, UNH is also recognized for its veteran’s services and overall value; Forbes, Washington Monthly, and several other publications give the school high rankings, as well. With a 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio, students enjoy a tight-knit educational community that combines individualized instruction with collaborative learning opportunities. Over 40% of classes have fewer than 20 students and less than 1 in 5 have 50.

New Hampshire’s standard online MSW consists of 60 core requirements, which can be completed in as little as 28-29 months. Courses include History of Social Welfare Policy, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Social Welfare Policy, Research Methods, Statistics, and Race, Culture and Oppression. Students also complete two field internships to gain real-world, hands-on experience and develop essential skills. Courses deliver in accelerated 8-week blocks, and most are asynchronous to fit the schedules of working professionals and adult learners. Student services include tech support, library access, a writing center, and transfer assistance (up to 6 transfer credits are allowed). The program is accredited by the CSWE.

8) University of Tennessee

Founded in 1794, University of Tennessee is one of the oldest universities in the country, with a total enrollment of over 28,000. US News ranks UT 46th in the nation among public schools, 62nd for veterans, and in the top 100 for value and high school counselor rankings. The Financial Times, Princeton Review, Forbes, and Washington Monthly rank it highly, too. The 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio is excellent for a university of its size, allowing UT to combine the vibrant atmosphere of a large research institute with the personalized, intimate feel of a smaller liberal arts school. A third of classes have fewer than 20 students and just 13% have 50.

Recently awarded the “Innovative Credit Programming Award” by the Tennessee Alliance for Continuing Higher Education, UT’s online MSW features standard, advanced standing, and extended study programs. Example classes include Macro Social Work Practice, Direct Social Work Practice, Lifespan and Neurophysiologic Development, Social Work Research, Social Welfare Policy & Programs, Psychopathology, Culturally Relevant Practice, and Leadership Skills & Knowledge. All students complete field practice requirements, and concentrations in Evidence Based Interpersonal Practice and Organizational Leadership are available to tailor the degree to areas of professional interest. (For those interested, certificate programs are offered in Gerontology, School Social Work Licensure, Trauma, and Veterinary Social Work.) All classes deliver 100% online for maximum flexibility, and combine synchronous and asynchronous coursework to accommodate students’ schedules. The program is accredited by the CSWE.

9) University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, founded in 1871, has a student enrollment of 27,000, with nearly 7,500 students enrolled in online classes. US News ranks Arkansas among the top public schools in the nation, with additional high marks for veteran services, overall value, and high school counselor rankings; Princeton Review, Forbes, and Washington Monthly all place Arkansas on lists, as well. Despite its large student population, the school has a student-faculty-ratio of 19:1, which means intimate classes and peer-to-peer coursework opportunities. Half of classes have less than 20 students and less than 20% have 50.

Arkansas offers an online Advanced Standing MSW that consists of 39 credits and can be completed in one year. With a cohort-based delivery model, students enjoy a highly collaborative program, and flexible online classes are designed to accommodate working professionals and adult learners. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, the MSW requires intensive an 22-hour-per-week internship, which students can complete from wherever they live, following approval by the school. Applicants should have earned a BSW with a 3.0 GPA, but no GRE scores are required for submission. It is accredited by the CSWE.

10) Florida State University

Florida State University, founded in 1851, has a total enrollment of 40,000. US News ranks FSU among the top public universities in the country, and numerous publications have highlighted the school’s impressive affordability, from the Princeton Review and USA Today, which rank it fourth overall in value, to the Fisk Guide to Getting into College, which has named FSU a “Budget Ivy.” With a 25:1 student-to-faculty ratio, classes are vibrant but manageable and promote personalized instruction; a third have fewer than 20 students, and less than one in five have 50.

Florida State’s online MSW offers an advanced standing track (39 credits) and a traditional track (60 credits), which respectively can be completed in two and three years. Core requirements include Introduction to the Social Work Profession, Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Social Work With Groups and Communities, Social Work Policy, and Social Work Research and Practice. From there, students complete several field experience rounds to gain valuable, hands-on work and develop essential skills, and built-in electives help to tailor the degree toward areas of professional interest. Asynchronous course work allows for self-paced, flexible learning, and the program is designed to accommodate both adult learners and working professionals. The program is accredited by the CSWE.