For people who work in or hope to work in human services professions, getting a Master’s in Social Work can be the key to getting to the next level of a career helping others. Some people start with a BSW, while others may be switching careers because they want to contribute to the well-being of people in society. Social workers work towards social justice and help individuals, families, and communities to handle problems of different types. An MSW allows for the next level of practice, with the ability to get licensed as an LCSW and open an independent practice with additional experience. Without an MSW, many of the most fulfilling jobs and levels of licensure in social work are simply not accessible.
Online MSW Programs: What You Need to Know
There are many areas of specialty that an online MSW can prepare students to enter: medical/health fields, substance abuse and treatment, mental health, military social work, schools, advocacy, crisis and trauma management, child welfare, and many more possibilities. Online MSSW or MSW programs allow people already practicing social work to continue to the next level of education while maintaining current employment, residence, and sometimes even doing their field work with a current employer. Human services offer many possible jobs, from administrative positions to direct practice with individuals, working in the government, non-profit agencies, or in private companies.
Online programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) will have many similar features: all will require supervised field work placements and online courses that may be synchronous (“live”) or asynchronous. Programs vary in the required number of hours per week required for studying and many will require your field work to be performed during standard business hours, making it hard to hold down a fulltime job while pursuing an MSW. All of the programs will be rigorous and require a similar amount of credit hours, usually around 60-65 credits for a traditional program. Most programs do not require on-campus visits, and many offer a cohort model where students work with the same peer group throughout their program, developing strong professional relationships.
Admission is often competitive. Most programs have some requirements for the types of undergraduate courses included in your bachelor’s degree; most often, liberal arts like humanities, biology, and statistics courses are required. Applicants with a BSW and work experience in social service may apply to one of the advanced placement options, which usually require 30-39 credits of work and can be completed in a shorter amount of time. The GRE is usually not required, and some programs accept only students from a few states, while others accept all states and international students as well.
Though programs contain many similar features, each program offers different strengths, different time expectations, and different delivery options. Some concentrate on a particular area of social work, like working with Latino populations, while others may offer a Christian perspective. When you are choosing a program, look at the faculty specialties, the schedule options, and the special concentrations of the schools. Costs can vary widely, so explore your options for financial aid and scholarships. It may be that the very best program to fit your needs is in a different part of the country or a state you have never visited! With online MSW education, the connections are through the computer, so physical distance is not important. Choose the best program for your needs, your goals, and your passions. Plus, the program must be approved by your state licensure agency for your education to be recognized where you live and work. Verify that your chosen program is approved by your state board before enrolling!
What is CSWE Accreditation?
The Council on Social Work Education is the organization that oversees bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in social work. The CSWE is the only organization recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation to investigate, site visit, and approve the programs and paperwork at schools who offer these degrees. In fact, most MSW programs will require that your BSW came from a CSWE-accredited program to offer you advanced standing. Many employers will not accept a credential from a non-CSWE program, so it is quite advantageous to choose a CSWE approved program.
To become accredited by the CSWE, programs are required to submit extensive review information and have experienced social work educators visit their programs to observe the programs in operation. MSW programs must have appropriate curriculum, values, mission, organization, policies, and assessments in place. The educational program must include training in the core competencies for social workers, including ethics, advancing human rights, research-informed practice, assessment, intervention, and evaluation. Faculty must have the right credentials and experience to conduct classes and engage with students. As a whole, social work programs, especially online MSW programs, will demonstrate high standards and deliver solid education if they have gone through the CSWE accreditation process.
There are different types of accreditation for schools, so don’t get confused. The CSWE is the programmatic accrediting agency for social work schools, specific to this subject. You wouldn’t want an agency that knew nothing about the profession to investigate the educational program for your specialty. What would an engineer know about social work, for instance? But universities also get regular accreditation, either through regional bodies or national accreditation agencies. The regular accreditation looks at the whole university—policies, practices, finances, ethics, and more—to make sure the whole school is sound. So look for both types of accreditation to make sure you attend a solid, well-respected university.
What Are the Benefits of CSWE Accreditation?
The benefits of a CSWE accredited Master’s program in social work are many. Your education will be recognized by more employers and educational institutions. There are not many programs that can operate without this accreditation, so you should make sure that CSWE accreditation is either in place or in process for any school you consider. The following list of schools all have current accreditation by CSWE, so you can be sure they all offer quality, even though details may vary.
To become licensed at any level as a social worker, most states have specific requirements about training and field work, and also require an exam and background check. Not all states accept all programs, so you need to check in with your state about the type of social work license you wish to obtain to make sure you attend the right MSW program and the right type and length of field work. There is some informal reciprocity between states about licensure and educational credentials, but it is always good to check!
The range of prices for online MSW and MSSW programs is testament to the fact that CSWE accreditation doesn’t make your education more expensive. Different programs may offer different class sizes, faculty qualifications, and breadth of support, making their programs more expensive. Social work schools with established reputations for excellence may also cost more, but that can be worth it when you go to apply for jobs in the field. Basically, you should check to make sure that the program you enroll in will get you where you want to be—and this can vary. But all social work careers will benefit from obtaining an MSW from a CSWE accredited school. And if you can do it online, you save money, time, and you are able to continue with your present life while you get your education. There is no downside to a CSWE-accredited online MSSW or MSW program!
CSWE Accredited Online MSW Programs
The following programs all offer CSWE accredited coursework that can be completed 100% online. Some programs also require an in-person practicum that is completed at a work site of your chosing. Check with your state’s board to ensure that your chosen program will meet licensing requirements.
1. Boise State University (ID)
- Tuition: $450/credit hour
2. Boston University (MA)
- Tuition: $825/credit hour
3. California State University, Northridge (CA)
- Tuition: $752/credit hour
4. Campbellsville University (KY)
- Tuition: $559/credit hour
5. Case Western Reserve University (OH)
- Tuition: $1,385/credit hour
6. Catholic University of America (DC)
- Tuition: $940/credit hour
7. Columbia University (NY)
- Tuition: $1,504/credit hour
8. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (PA)
- Tuition: $500-550/credit hour
9. Fordham University (NY)
- Tuition: $935/credit hour
10. Indiana University (IN)
- Tuition: $557-695/credit hour
11. Louisiana State University (LA)
- Tuition: $539/credit hour
12. Metropolitan State University of Denver (CO)
- Tuition: $455-637/credit hour
13. Morgan State University (MD)
- Tuition: $667/credit hour
14. New Mexico State University (NM)
- Tuition: $583-1,796/credit hour
15. Our Lady of the Lake University (TX)
- Tuition: $907/credit hour
16. Portland State University (OR)
- Tuition: $456-660/credit hour
17. Rutgers University (NJ)
- Tuition: $900/credit hour
18. Salisbury University (MD)
- Tuition: $750/credit hour
19. San Jose State University (CA)
- Tuition: $299-695/credit hour
20. Simmons College (MA)
- Tuition: $1,030/credit hour
21. University at Buffalo (State University of New York) (NY)
- Tuition: $713-777/credit hour
22. University of Arkansas
- Tuition: $420/credit hour
23. University of Central Florida (FL)
- Tuition: $487/credit hour
24. University of Denver
- Tuition: $911-947/credit hour
25. University of Houston
- Tuition: $376-934/credit hour
26. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne
- Tuition: $579/credit hour
27. University of Louisville
- Tuition: $714/credit hour
28. University of Missouri
- Tuition: $360/credit hour
29. University of New England
- Tuition: $920/credit hour
30. University of New Hampshire (NH)
- Tuition: $770-845/credit hour
31. University of North Dakota
- Tuition: $383/credit hour
32. University of South Florida
- Tuition: $348-431/credit hour
33. University of Southern California
- Tuition: $1,800/credit hour
34. University of Tennessee at Knoxville (TN)
- Tuition: $626-701/credit hour
35. University of Texas of the Rio Grande Valley
- Tuition: $444/credit hour
36. Western New Mexico University
- Tuition: $266-331/credit hour
37. Widener University (PA)
- Tuition: $850/credit hour