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Master’s of Social Work Online: What You Need to Know

An MSW Online is a great degree if you want to take your social work career to the next level.

social worker meeting with boy

In This Article

A master’s of social work online is designed to help working professionals like you take their careers to the next level. The master’s curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including the following courses, depending on the focus you want your degree and your career to have.


You’ll take core courses—required of all master’s-level social work students—and electives that will let you customize your degree and prepare you for the specific career you’re thinking about. Some popular disciplines are Child and Family social work, overcoming the effects of Trauma and Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging. Every master’s of social work program will have its own focus and curriculum, so contact each school you’re considering to see which curriculum works best for you.

Here are some common courses that students find interesting:

  • Foundations of human behavior
  • The practice of clinical social work
  • Assessment and diagnosis of clients’ problems
  • Helping people with trauma and violence
  • Racism and oppression
  • Social welfare policy, and more

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Who Should Consider a Master’s of Social Work?


What kind of person does a master’s of social work? Mostly, it’s people who already have a bachelor’s of social work and want to take their careers to the next level. These people may already be in the workforce, or may be students who have just finished their bachelor’s degree and want to start a master’s right away. Others are students who did a bachelor’s degree in another field and now realize that they want to do social work instead. In both cases, a master’s is often required to get the job you want. Those with a master’s degree also tend to make more money.

And certainly, if you want to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a master’s of Social Work is mandatory.

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What You’ll Study

While it’s impossible to say what’s on the curriculum for every school of social work, there are some important classes you’ll take no matter which school you go to. Below is a list of some popular courses across various master’s of social work programs.

Core Social Work Courses
Models of Intervention Human Behavior: Children and Families at Risk
Cognitive and Behavioral Science Human Behavior: Mental Health
Couples Therapy Human Behavior: Adult Development and Aging
Death and Dying Social Work Practice with Groups
Psychopharmacology in Social Work Social Work in Educational Settings
Human Behavior and the Social Environment

You’ll want to take a close look at the course offerings at your school and consult with a program counselor to make sure that the courses you take are going to help you achieve your career goals. Keep in mind that not all courses will be offered every quarter or semester, and make sure to factor this in so that can finish your coursework and graduate on time.

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Accreditation of Master’s in Social Work Programs

According to the American Psychological Association, school accreditation provides assurance that your school meets national standards, that it undergoes continuous review and improvement of its programs, and that it is accountable for achieving what it sets out to do. Accreditation is also important because graduation from an accredited school may be necessary for you to find a job or get your social work license.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the primary accrediting body for social work programs. It has developed accreditation standards to make sure that schools of social work prepare their students for their future careers. Accreditation is a multistep process that involves program self-studies, site visits and CSWE Commission-on-Accreditation reviews. Only schools with the highest standards receive—and maintain—CSWE accreditation. Check that your school has—or will soon have—CSWE accreditation.

How Many Schools of Social Work Are Accredited in the U.S.?

As of February 2022, there were:

  • 542 accredited baccalaureate social work programs
  • 309 accredited master’s-level social work programs
  • 13 baccalaureate social work programs pending approval
  • 27 master’s social work programs pending approval

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Master’s in Social Work: Online vs. Hybrid Methods


Some online degree programs will be strictly online, while others will be “blended.” It’s up to you to decide which one is best for you.

For the strictly online Master’s of Social Work, there are two possibilities: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous online classes require you to logon and attend class at specific times and schedules. The lectures and discussions take place with the professor and students online at the same time, and participation will count as part of your grade.

Asynchronous courses are more flexible, and you can take them at any time that fits into your schedule. For instance, if you’ve got a job, you may want to relax after work and log on to take your class after dinner. Then you’ll have time to do your reading and homework, and can get up for work again the next day knowing that your classwork is done. That said, asynchronous courses do have a time frame during which you’ll need to complete your work so the class can stay on schedule.

Some schools also offer a blended, hybrid approach which lets you do part of your coursework online but requires you to go to a college classroom for certain classes. Many people like the blended approach because it lets them put faces with the names, both of their teachers and the other students that they’ve been studying with. Make sure that when you decide on a school, you know what their approach is (all-online, hybrid) and whether you’ll be able to make the on-site classes required for course completion.

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Top Master’s of Social Work Programs: Campus and Online

According to U.S. News and World Report, the top schools of social work are the following well-known universities:

  • #1:
    University of Chicago, Chicago
  • #2:
    University of California, Berkeley
  • #3
    New York University, New York

While these schools rank highly, they may also be far more expensive than other good programs at colleges that cost far less. The good news is that there are many other good schools of social work for your MSW. Here are some other well-regarded schools of social work to choose from:

University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work

The online master’s of social work at USC is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC).

USC offers three concentrations and one sub-concentration for their MSW:

Students learn developmental/preventive services, problem solving, crisis and remedial services, and protective services for children and adolescents.

Mental Health teaches students about psychosocial assessment of common mental-health problems, the design of intervention plans, and the delivery of preventive and rehabilitative mental health services. Students learn to deal with issues relating to outreach, advocacy, and organizational or governmental policies.

Community Organization, Planning and Administration prepares students to become administrators, planners and community organizers in urban settings. You’ll focus on large-scale service improvements and policy changes to help individuals and improve the well-being of whole communities. Students develop skills in management and finance, program development and evaluation, and community organization.

Military Social Work prepares students to provide a full range of human services to military personnel, veterans and their families. The military sub-concentration can be integrated with any of the three other concentrations.

Simmons School of Social Work

The Simmons School of Social Work’s Master of Social Work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and is the oldest provider of clinical social work training in the U.S.

This innovative online Master’s of Social Work offers live online classes limited to 15 students; self-paced coursework available 24/7; all-important field experience; and a choice of four career-focused specializations: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging.

The Simmons School of Social Work focuses on direct clinical practice so that students are prepared to have a direct impact on clients’ lives in a wide range of settings—from senior centers to child protection agencies, health care facilities or private practice.

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Why Should I Do an MSW?


Of course it’s up to you to decide how you want to approach your career…and then get the education you need to achieve your career goals. But if you’re compassionate, have good interpersonal human relationship skills, are an organized problem solver, and want to help others, an online master’s in social work might be just the ticket to get you into a rewarding career as a licensed clinical social worker. If this sounds like you, join the 600,000 other social workers in the U.S. and help make the world a better place.

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