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2023’s Best Online Social Work Degrees

2023’s Best Online Social Work Degrees

Being a social work professional lets you make a difference in people’s lives every day. Earning a social work degree online provides the specialized training this field requires in a convenient format that works with your schedule. Learn more about top-ranked online social work degree programs, how they work, and what they can do for your career.

If you want to work in a field where your contributions have a lasting impact, pursuing a degree and career in social work is a great option. Many accredited colleges now offer their social work degree programs online, giving more people the opportunity to get the training and education they need to join this important field. Social work is a hands-on profession, with plenty of face-to-face interaction. When you pursue an online social work degree, most of the classroom learning takes place online, while field experiences and practicums happen in-person and under the supervision of licensed professionals. Social work degree online programs serve students at all degree levels, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. 

Keep reading to find a list of top online social work degree programs for 2023, learn which social work degree is best for you, get answers to your pressing questions, and find other helpful resources that can help you make an informed decision before you enroll. 

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    Base Methodology for OnlineColleges.me’s 2023 Online College Rankings

    1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

    To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

    • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
    • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

    2. Assign Weightings

    After creating the list of eligible schools, OnlineColleges.me data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

    Online Program Availability

    • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. Because exact numbers change often and can be difficult to verify, we use a range-based scoring system: 0-5 online programs = 1 star; 6-10 = 2 stars; 11-15 = 3 stars; 16-20 = 4 stars; 21+ = 5 stars. In our design, laptop icons = stars.

    Affordability

    • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
    • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

    Support Services

    • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
    • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

    About Our Data

    OnlineColleges.me’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2022

  • Tuscaloosa, AL
    Public $$$

    The University of Alabama offers three online social work degrees. At the undergraduate level, there’s the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). Much of the coursework is online, but there are a few in-person requirements, including field experience and weekend skills labs. At the graduate level, there are the Master of Social Work (MSW) and Doctor of Social Work (DSW) programs. Like the BSW program, most classes are available through distance learning means, but there are on-campus and in-person field training requirements. Further specialization in the graduate programs are possible with children, adolescents and their families, and adults and their families, concentrations available in the MSW program and advanced clinical practice and organizational leadership tracks available in the DSW program.

    Program Highlights:

    Bachelor of Social Work

    • Credits: 120
    • Length: About four years
    • Cost: $385.00/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE

    Master of Social Work

    • Credits: 42-60
    • Length: Varies
    • Cost: $440.00/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE

    Doctor of Social Work

    • Credits: 45
    • Length: About three to four years
    • Cost: $440.00/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • Fort Collins, CO
    Public $$

    Colorado State University at Fort Collins has two online social work programs. Those seeking a full degree can enroll in the Master of Social Work program. The vast majority of course requirements can be completed online, but students will have to obtain a certain number of supervised field experience hours to earn their degree. Those who want to enhance their degree or experience in social work can consider the PreK-12 School Social Worker Graduate Certificate. This can easily be earned in less than a year and has no in-person field experience requirements.

    Program Highlights:

    Master of Social Work

    • Credits: 64
    • Length: About two to three years
    • Cost: $725.00/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE

    PreK-12 School Social Worker Graduate Certificate

    • Credits: 9
    • Length: Varies
    • Cost: $696.00/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: HLC
  • Columbia, MO
    Public $$

    The University of Missouri-Columbia offers the Master of Social Work online program to students who want to gain the credentials necessary to begin working as a licensed social worker. Almost all of the coursework can be completed online, with the primary in-person requirements coming in the form of supervised field experiences. Students can choose from advanced standing, regular standing, and part-time tracks. For students who already have a degree in social work, there’s the Graduate Certificate in Gerontological Social Work. This is well-suited for social workers who want to work with geriatric clients and can be completed 100% online with no in-person requirements.

    Program Highlights:

    Master of Social Work

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: Varies
    • Cost: $531.50/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE

    Gerontological Social Work Graduate Certificate

    • Credits: 12
    • Length: One to two years
    • Cost: $531.50/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: CSWE
  • Iowa City, IA
    Public $$

    The Master of Social Work program from the University of Iowa strives to obtain a balance between the convenience of online learning and the organic learning that comes from face-to-face interaction. As a result, most of the classes are online, with live classes meeting on Zoom once a week. However, students are also required to meet with their learning communities a few times a year. And each summer, students will attend the Summer Institute, which meets on the University of Iowa main campus. To accommodate this in-person and online learning schedule, the Master of Social Work is a part-time program and based on the cohort model. This is to facilitate professional connections between classmates.

    Program Highlights:

    Master of Social Work

    • Credits: 54
    • Length: About three years
    • Cost: $12,564.00/year (in-state); $31,511/year (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE
  • Silver City, NM
    Public $

    Western New Mexico University offers two social work degree programs. First, there’s the Bachelor of Social Work. Most classes can be completed online from any location where you have a broadband internet connection. However, students will have two field placement courses where they work in a social work organization under the supervision of a social worker. Second, there’s the Master of Social Work. The course format is similar to the BSW program in that classes can be completed online except for the in-person field experience requirements. To better accommodate students in both programs, most field placements can be completed at an approved site close to where the student works or lives.

    Program Highlights:

    Bachelor of Social Work

    • Credits: 120
    • Length: About four years
    • Cost: $5,235.90/semester (in-state); $9,379.35/semester (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE

    Master of Social Work

    • Credits: 30-51
    • Length: Varies
    • Cost: $3,3364.11/semester (in-state); $5,807.61/semester (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: CSWE
  • Columbus, OH
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    or

    Base Methodology for OnlineColleges.me’s 2023 Online College Rankings

    1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

    To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

    • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
    • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

    2. Assign Weightings

    After creating the list of eligible schools, OnlineColleges.me data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

    Online Program Availability

    • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. Because exact numbers change often and can be difficult to verify, we use a range-based scoring system: 0-5 online programs = 1 star; 6-10 = 2 stars; 11-15 = 3 stars; 16-20 = 4 stars; 21+ = 5 stars. In our design, laptop icons = stars.

    Affordability

    • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
    • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

    Support Services

    • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
    • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

    About Our Data

    OnlineColleges.me’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2022

  • Casper, WY
    Public $

    The Associate of Arts in Social Work degree from Casper College is specifically designed for students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work as a transfer student. For added learning convenience, students can take many of their associate degree classes online. After earning their degrees, graduates can seamlessly transfer to the University of Wyoming at Casper Bachelor of Social Work program. From there, they can spend another two years in school, which includes completing a 450-hour supervised field practicum. After earning their four-year degree, they can begin practicing as social workers. An added bonus for interested students is that there are no pre-requisites they need to complete before enrolling in the program.

    Program Highlights:

    AA in Social Work

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: About two years
    • Cost: $4,410.00/year (in-state); $10,710.00/year (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: HLC
  • Killeen, TX
    Public $

    Central Texas College offers a variety of online degrees and courses in social work. One such program is the AAS with a social work specialization degree program. Many of its course requirements are offered online through the Blackboard Learning Management System. Some of the courses may be offered on campus or online. Of the online classes, both synchronous and asynchronous classes are available, allowing students to attend class from anywhere there’s a broadband internet connection. Another flexible learning aspect of this program is that during the second semester of their first year, students can choose to take a course load that includes an in-person practical/clinical and focus on child and adolescent issues. Or, they can take courses on crisis intervention and general psychology.

    Program Highlights:

    AAS in Social Work Specialization

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: About two years
    • Cost: $100.00/credit (in-district); $250.00/credit (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • Mesa, AZ
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    The Associate of Arts with an emphasis in social work program from Mesa Community College doesn’t result in licensure or certification. It exists to provide those who have an interest in social work the knowledge foundation they’ll need for future education and training in the field. In fact, the curriculum in this program has been constructed so that graduates can quickly and easily transfer to a four year college or university and earn a bachelor’s degree in social work and begin practicing as social workers. Besides offering many classes through remote learning, students can choose to enroll at a full-time or part-time pace, making it easier to juggle their academic and professional obligations.

    Program Highlights:

    AA in Social Work

    • Credits: 60-64
    • Length: About two years
    • Cost: $241.00/credit
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: HLC
  • Fort Dodge, IA
    Public $

    The Associate of Arts in Social Work is considered a “transfer major” at Iowa Central Community College. This means students typically enroll in this program because they want to transfer to a four-year program offered by a college or university. So it’s no surprise that Iowa Central Community College has articulation agreements with the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa. This allows graduates of the social work program from Iowa Central Community College to continue on and earn a bachelor’s degree, most likely in a social work, counseling, human services, and child and family services. To make learning as convenient as possible, many of the academic credits at Iowa Central Community College can be completed online.

    Program Highlights:

    AA in Social Work

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: About two years
    • Cost: $192.50/credit (in-state); $284.25/credit (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Partially online
    • Accreditation: HLC
  • Wesson, MS
    Public $

    Copiah-Lincoln Community College may not be the most well-known college or university in the United States, but that doesn’t stop it from offering a host of online learning options. In fact, it has 33 associate degree programs that are fully online, including an associate degree in social work. This makes it possible for students to earn their degree without ever having to set foot on campus and allowing them to work or meet their family obligations while in school. Copiah-Lincoln Community College uses Canvas as its online learning management system to allow students to access their course materials and interact with classmates and professors.

    Program Highlights:

    Associate Degree in Social Work

    • Credits: 63
    • Length: About two years
    • Cost: $160.00/credit (in-state); $260.00/credit (out-of-state)
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • Newtown, PA
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  • Bethlehem, PA
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  • Reading, PA
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  • San Antonio, TX
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Which Online Social Work Degree Is Right for You?

Your professional goals and education background will be the primary factors that determine which online social work degree program is best for you. Like any social work student, you may have your own, personalized professional goals, so it’s important to pursue the degree that will help you meet that goal. Social work degree levels lead to different career opportunities, earning potential, and overall return on investment.

Online Associate Degree in Social Work

The online associate degree in social work has two main purposes. One purpose is to train students for entry-level positions as assistants and aides to social workers. The online associate degree in social work also serves as a starting point for students to earn their bachelor’s degree in social work. 

For example, some online BSW programs accept transfer students. While an associate degree in social work isn’t usually required for acceptance, it’s a smart option as this degree helps students meet the general education requirements for graduation and requires students to complete many prerequisite and foundational courses BSW students must take to earn their undergraduate degrees.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)

For most budding social workers, the bachelor’s degree in social work is the most sought-after degree. This is because for most employers and in most states, the BSW degree is the minimum needed to become a licensed social worker. Like most bachelor’s degrees, the online social work bachelor’s degree curriculum typical requires four years to complete. 

As a student in these programs, you’ll learn a general overview of the social work. Upon graduation, you’ll be eligible to develop policy and programs as a social working in entry-level positions. However, in most states, an individual will need a graduate degree to offer clinical treatment options to clients.

Online Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)

The master’s degree in social work makes it possible to take classes online while also continuing to work full-time as a social worker. This is important because many MSW students already have a BSW and/or are working in social work positions. 

The online MSW degree is designed to prepare students for clinical work or give them additional training in a social work specialization. While some concentrations are available at the bachelor’s degree level, it’s not until the master’s level that social work students have a broad selection of concentrations to choose from when designing their personalized curriculum.

Online Social Work Doctoral Degree

There are two main types of online doctoral degree options in social work: PhD and Doctor of Social Work (DSW). 

DSW programs are designed for those looking to expand their practices or take on administrative or supervisor roles, there’s the Doctor of Social Work degree. These programs are designed for professionals who want more knowledge and training to enhance their social work practice or desire a change of pace, such as moving into research or teaching at the postsecondary level. 

The curriculums of PhD in social work programs place a greater emphasis on research skills and theoretical knowledge, so they’re more suited for those looking to shift their clinical work to applied research contexts.

Going Beyond Your Degree: Social Work Certificates and Credentials

Certificates offer a cost- and time-efficient way for social work practitioners to take the next step in their current field of practice or obtain knowledge to shift into a different specialty within the social work realm. 

The majority of online social work programs tailor their certificate programs for current students seeking a master’s degree in social work or social work professionals with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Students must have at least a minimum level of practical experience. Certificates are a popular way to obtain knowledge and skills in a particular area without having to commit to a full degree.

Online Undergraduate Certificates in Social Work

Online undergraduate certificates are intended for individuals who have a bachelor’s degree and one or more years of experience as a social worker. One great example is the online certificate programs found at the University of Buffalo

Often, one or more of the courses taken in an undergraduate social work online certificate program can transfer to a master’s degree program. The exact transfer process and limitations will depend on the school offering the master’s degree in social work. 

If you’re earning a MSW from the same school you earned your certificate from, you can usually expect a seamless transfer process where your certificate credits are accepted as either course or elective transfer credits in the MSW program.

Online Graduate Certificates in Social Work

Online graduate social work certificates are quite popular. These programs are usually designed for experienced social workers who either have a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience in social work or are already enrolled in a MSW program. 

An example of this latter situation can be found at the University of Kentucky School of Social Work. Here, MSW students at the University of Kentucky replace their MSW elective requirements with courses from their certificate program of choice. Alternatively, the social work certificate program could be set up for students who already have an MSW degree, which is the case with Dominican University.

Post-Degree Social Work Credentials

A common way for a social worker to specialize in a particular area is to earn a degree or certificate that makes it possible to take classes in that concentration. But what happens if a social worker already has the knowledge and skills, but lacks the degree or certificate to “prove” it? That’s where post-degree credentials come in. 

One of the most prominent in the social work field is the NASW Social Work Credential. These are available in many areas, like education, gerontology, addiction, case management, military, hospice, and healthcare. 

To apply, social workers must meet basic eligibility requirements such as having a particular social work degree, a number of years of relevant experience, and have taken a minimum number of continuing education classes in the relevant specialization.

FAQs About Online Social Work Degrees

Before you send your application to  online social work degree programs, you’ll benefit from learning as much as possible about these degrees. Conduct thorough research and you can make the most informed decision about not just which program to apply to, but your overall decision to enter the profession. We’ll help you start your research by answering a few common questions prospective students have about online social work degrees.

  • Are online social work degrees accredited?

    When choosing between online social work degrees and programs offering them, look for at least one of two types of accreditation. With regard to schools, there’s institutional accreditation. This comes from regional or national accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. As for programs, confirm that the department at the school providing the online social work  degree has programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Not only does accreditation confirm you’ll receive a quality education, graduating from a CSWE-accredited program is often necessary to getting licensed, job, or earning acceptance into a graduate social work program.

  • How much does an online social work degree cost?

    The cost for your online social work degree depends on several variables, such as the type of program you’re enrolled in (in-state versus out-of-state) and the type of degree. Generally speaking, the higher the level of your degree, the more you can expect your degree to cost, at least in terms of dollars per credit hour. 

    Keep in mind that a master’s degree or a graduate certificate will require fewer credits than a bachelor’s. So don’t be surprised if the total cost of one of those degrees is lower than a bachelor’s, even though the cost per credit hour for a bachelor’s degree could be much less. 

    As for whether online social work degrees cost more than on-campus degrees, it depends on the school. Some schools charge a special distance learning tuition rate which may or may not be higher than the on-campus tuition rate. Many of these schools will also charge the same remote learning tuition rate regardless of the student’s state of residency.

  • Can I get financial aid to help pay for my online social work degree?

    As a social work student at an accredited institution  you should have access to most of the financial aid opportunities any other student studying any other field is eligible for. This includes student loans, work study, grants, fellowships, and scholarships

    Social work students may be eligible for more scholarships or grants than some other fields because many social workers are hired by public interest organizations working to improve society. Therefore, you may be eligible before student loan forgiveness and grant programs from the government or private organizations. 

  • How much can I earn with a social work degree?

    How much you can expect to earn with a social work degree depends on the type of degree you earn, which determines the type of work you can do. If you get an associate degree in social work online, you’ll be limited to support roles. For example, a human or social service assistant can expect to earn a median annual income of $37,610

    In contrast, a social worker’s median annual income is $50,390, but you’ll need to earn bachelor’s degree in social work. Earning a social work master’s degree online further increases your earning potential. For instance, the median annual income of a social and community service manager is $74,000.

  • Are college graduates with a social work degree in high demand?

    There’s a strong demand for these professionals. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average growth rate from 2021 to 2031 for all occupations is 5%. However, the growth rate for the same time period for social workers is 9%. Those working as substance abuse, behavioral, and mental health counselors can expect 22% growth, while social and community services managers will grow by 12%. The bottom line is that if you graduate with an online degree in social work, you can expect an easier time finding employment compared to the average profession.

  • What skills and traits will help me succeed in a social work degree program?

    Many of the traits and skills that can help you succeed in college or graduate school will also help you in your online social work degree program. Because you’ll be earning your degree through distance learning, it’s a bit easier to fall behind your peers if you’re not conscientious and disciplined. You’ll need self-motivation to keep up with the reading, lectures, and assignments because you don’t have a traditional class schedule to “remind” you to do your school work. So organization is key to your educational success. 

    Another skill that will help you in school and in practice is maintaining a work-life balance. Classes and exams  can also be stressful and taxing, so take care of yourself. If you  burn out, you can’t  study well. 

Additional Resources for Prospective Social Work Students

You might be ready to apply to an online social work degree program. We compiled some helpful resources that can help you during the application process. Read on to learn about admissions, how to stand out in your application, and what you need to know before you go.

Association of Social Work Board (ASWB)

The ASWB represents the interests of all social work professionals within the context of ethical and professional standards. Specifically, they help develop, promote, and implement social work standards to improve the help given to clients. The ASWB has several resources for prospective social workers, including a database of licensing and continuing education requirements in all relevant jurisdictions. 

Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

When it comes to programmatic accreditation, the CSWE is the primary accrediting body. Practically all social work degree online programs that have programmatic accreditation will have it from the CSWE. The CSWE website has plenty of educational and professional resources. Especially helpful to prospective social work students are the scholarships and fellowships page and directory of CSWE-accredited social work programs.

National Association of Social Workers (NASW)

The NASW is the largest and most prominent professional organization for social workers. An international organization, NASW promotes policies that improve the social work profession and the clients served by social workers. The NASW offers professional growth, learning, and networking opportunities for its members.

Social Work Subreddit

This is the subreddit for anyone already in the social work profession or thinking about starting a career as a social worker. This is a great place for prospective social work students to ask questions. Topics range from getting accepted into an accredited social work program to finding a job after graduation, to requesting support for challenges faced as a social worker.

Social Work Test Prep

This organization sells social work licensing exam preparation materials for a variety of licensing exams, such as the LSW, LGSW, LMSW, and LCSW. Many of the services offered require a fee, but there are also free study tools, including a free practice test. 

UBuffalo Social Work YouTube Channel

This is the YouTube channel for the University of Buffalo School of Social Work. Videos cover many topics and questions that anyone interested in a career in social work are likely to ask. Topics covered include differentiating between types of social work degrees, application tips, and hearing the thoughts and opinion of actual social work students.