Today, more than 600,000 social workers across the United States are making a difference in schools, hospitals, social service agencies, foster and elder care residences, veterans facilities and private practice. By 2024, that number will swell to more than 720,000 as communities respond to the needs of aging baby boomers, the impacts of the Affordable Care Act and changing social conditions.
Master of Social Work
SocialWork@Simmons is an innovative, online Master of Social Work (MSW) offered through the Simmons School of Social Work (SSW), the nation's oldest school of social work. Combining live classes taught by renowned SSW faculty, internships in or near students' own communities and the same rigorous curriculum as the on-campus MSW program, SocialWork@Simmons prepares clinical social workers for direct, real-world practice with individuals, groups, families and communities.Learn More About SocialWork@Simmons
Courses of Study:
Individualized Course of Study; Child and Family; Mental Health and Addictions; Trauma and Interpersonal Violence; Health and Aging
The advanced standing and accelerated programs can be completed in 15 months. The full-time program can be completed in 23 months. The average time to complete the extended program is 32 months.
Start Dates: January, March, May, September and November. Advanced Standing: January, July and September. Accelerated Program: January, May and September.
Master of Social Work
Designed for social workers who want to make a difference in their communities, the MSW@USC is the University of Southern California's accredited Master of Social Work — delivered online. The program features live online classes and hands-on field experiences in students' own communities. All classes are taught by supportive USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work faculty in an engaging, collaborative online classroom.Learn More About MSW@USC
Mental Health; Families and Children; Community Planning, Organizing, and Administration; Health; Social Work and Business in a Global Society
The full time program can be completed in less than a year for advanced standing students and in as little as one year and four months for traditional students. Students can also complete the program in a part-time extended program in 3 or 4 years.
Start Dates: Traditional Program: January, May, August and September. Advanced Standing: January, June and September.
Social Work Job Growth
Bar chart showing % growth for each sector from 2014-2024. Data from BLS Total: 12%; family and school social workers: 6%; mental health and substance abuse social workers: 19%; health social workers: 19%;
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Online MSW Programs
Online master in social work (MSW) programs prepare students to work as social workers serving a variety of populations. A key component to many social work programs is fieldwork, which gives students hands-on experience in their area of interest, but advanced coursework is also essential in preparing students for higher-level roles in social work.
Admissions requirements vary among schools and between traditional and advanced standing programs.
Advanced standing programs require less time to complete and have stricter admissions criteria than traditional programs. Advanced standing programs typically require:
- A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) earned within the last five years from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited program
- Letters of recommendation from an administrator in the applicant's BSW program and their field education supervisor
Traditional programs are designed for students from diverse undergraduate fields and may require:
- A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
- Letters of recommendation
Both advanced standing and traditional programs may also require:
- Official transcripts
- Personal essay
- Application and application fee
- Good academic standing
Many online MSW programs don't require a GRE.
Again, admissions requirements vary, so prospective students will want to carefully check each program's requirements regarding minimum GPA, work or volunteer experience and letters of recommendation. Applicants should also be aware that MSW programs seek candidates who are committed to core social work values such as social justice and individual dignity. This commitment may be demonstrated by volunteer or work experience or the personal essay.
To accommodate diverse backgrounds and career interests, most MSW programs offer traditional and advanced standing curriculum tracks, part-time/full-time program options and a choice of specializations.
Traditional Program vs. Advanced Program
Traditional programs are designed for students with a bachelor's degree in a field other than social work. Advanced standing programs enable students who have earned a BSW from an accredited university within the last five years to earn an MSW degree more quickly.
Provides a year of foundational coursework in human behavior and social work theory, research and practice methods before students move into advanced courses and training in a selected concentration.
Part time and full time
57–66 credit hours. Full-time students can complete their MSW in two years. Completion time varies for part-time students.
Field education requirements:
Advanced Standing MSW
Moves directly into advanced coursework and focuses on advanced coursework with specific areas of interest such as military, health and aging, or children and families.
Part time and full time
Credits/completion time: 30–48 credit hours. Full-time students complete their MSW in 12–15 months. Completion time varies for part-time students.
Field education requirements:
Advanced Coursework enables MSW students to deepen their expertise in a specific area of social work with a specific population. Focus areas of advanced coursework include: mental health and addictions; families and children; community organization, planning and administration; health and aging; social work and business in a global society; trauma and interpersonal violence; and military social work.
Community-Based Field Placement, also referred to as the Field Practicum, is an essential part of social work education, enabling students to apply classroom knowledge in a supervised environment. At least 900 hours of field training are required in CSWE-accredited MSW programs.
Characteristics of the Best MSW Programs
When comparing programs, applicants will want to consider what sets the top MSW programs apart:
Accreditation: The highest-quality social work schools' online programs are accredited and therefore recognized by the profession and employers as institutions that produce graduates who are prepared to succeed.
In the field of social work, Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation is the accepted standard of excellence. CSWE accreditation indicates a program's classroom curriculum and field experience cover the core competencies, practices and ethical principles of professional social work. CSWE-accredited online MSW programs enable graduates to more easily meet the education requirements for social work licensing in most states.
Faculty: Social work practice constantly evolves to meet society's changing needs. Faculty in the best MSW programs drive that evolution through research, active involvement in the field and a willingness to mentor the next generation of social workers.
Live classes: Connecting with faculty and fellow students is essential to an effective social work education. The best online programs offer live face-to-face classes where students learn from the experiences of faculty and peers while probing society's most complex issues.
Fully online; no on-campus requirement: Hybrid MSW programs/blended MSW programs differ from fully online programs, requiring either several campus visits per year or a combination of on-campus and online classes. Fully online MSW programs, such as those powered by 2U, have no on-campus requirements — saving students time and travel expenses.
Dedicated field placement staff: Students considering MSW online programs may focus on finding suitable field placements. In top online MSW programs, dedicated field education coordinators identify placements aligned with students' career interests and near their own communities. Coordinators also ensure that all field placements meet CSWE-accreditation standards, such as on-site supervision by a master social worker.
2U-Powered Social Work Programs
2U partners with top universities to offer their degree programs online, including master's programs in social work. Students in 2U partner programs benefit from the highest-quality online learning platform available, with access to an online campus from anywhere they have an Internet connection. University faculty lead all academic issues related to programs, including instruction and curriculum development. 2U-powered programs feature:
created by faculty and available 24/7.
in a collaborative online classroom.
between students and universities.
at field placements or immersions.
from application through graduation.
Career Paths and Licensing
Depending upon career goals, an MSW graduate may choose to become a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Licensing requirements vary by state, but the overview below gives an idea of typical requirements and career paths.
Licensed Master Social Worker Qualifications
Licensed master social workers typically provide case management, consultation and other services in hospitals, mental health or community centers, and social service agencies. They may also work at the systems or macro level — advocating for social justice, organizing communities or developing social policy. To provide psychotherapy or counseling services, LMSWs must be supervised by an LCSW or licensed psychotherapist.
An LMSW is required to have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program and to pass a national examination administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) or an equivalent state exam. Post-degree work experience is usually not required.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Requirements
Licensed clinical social workers provide psychotherapy and counseling services to individuals, families and groups. Depending upon specialization, they may treat individuals suffering from mental health problems, substance abuse, trauma or the challenges of aging. LCSWs work in a wide range of settings, including private practice, schools, hospitals and drug treatment programs.
LCSW licensing in most states requires:
- An MSW from a CSWE-accredited program
- Passing scores on a national LCSW exam administered by ASWB
- Two years of post-MSW clinical social work experience