How to Choose the Best Online MSW Degree

The article that follows explains why you should earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, and includes the types of MSW degrees, how to select a good program, options for joint degrees, accreditation information and and also information about requirements for graduation and career options.

What Is a Master of Social Work Degree?

An MSW degree is a graduate degree that is awarded to students who complete a two year graduate program in social work. For many social work professionals, the first step into the field is earning a bachelor’s in social work. That is what you need to begin your career, but to advance into leadership roles, and to work in more advanced social work areas such as clinical social work, you need to have your master’s degree.

Why Earn a Master of Social Work Degree?

Social work is a very rewarding field as you get to help people deal with the problems of their everyday lives. While earning a bachelor’s degree in social work will offer you plenty of job opportunities, the best social work jobs go to people with advanced degrees.

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For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median wage for social workers is $45,900, but the top 10% of social workers earn $76,000 per year. Virtually all of those high earners have a MSW or doctorate in social work.

Once you have earned your master’s degree in social work, you will have a very strong foothold in the field. Of course, to get there, you will need to figure out where you want to earn your degree. The type of degree that you earn, an MSW, is important, but equally important is the name of the school where you are getting your degree.

If you are going to get your master’s degree in social work, you will need to determine if you are able to go to school full or part time. Most people who earn their master’s do so full time and complete their studies in two years. If you go to school part time, earning your MSW can take three or four years.

You also need to determine if you want to earn your MSW online or on campus. These day, there are many good MSW online programs so that you can earn your degree and continue to work.

Choosing Your Career Path

After you decide if you are going to school full or part time, and whether you will learn online, you will need to figure out which speciality of social work is for you. There are many concentrations of social work you can choose as you get your master’s degree.

Some of the common MSW specialties include the following:

  • Child and family social work: This major field of social work focuses on the protection of children and helps families who need many types of assistance. They usually help families to locate services and housing, including childcare, and may help them to apply for a variety of benefits, including food stamps. Child and family social workers often will intervene when there are children in danger of abuse.
  • Clinical social work: This a licensed social worker who diagnoses and treats many types of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. Some of these conditions include anxiety and depression. Clinical social workers also provide group, family and individual therapy. They also may refer their clients to other services and mental health professionals as needed. Many clinical social workers work in private practice.
  • School social work: Work with parents, teachers and school administrators to come up with new and effective plans to boost the academic performance of students, and to also improve their social development. These social workers will often need to deal with a child’s aggressive behavior, bullying or absences from school.
  • Healthcare social work: You will help patients to understand their medical diagnosis and will help them to make changes to their lifestyle, healthcare or housing. They may help people to transition from the hospital back to their home after an illness. They also offer information on services that include home health care or support groups.
  • Geriatric social work: Help elderly people and their families deal with the problems of aging. You will help your clients to locate services, which may include programs that offer seniors meals and home healthcare. They also will provide information and guidance as needed about assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

Online Master of Social Work Degree Options

Arizona State University

If you have decided that earning a MSW is what you want to advance your social work career, the Arizona State University online MSW is a good choice. This two year full time program will elevate your career in social work by offering you the skills to find real world solutions to the most pressing issues in your community.

This highly praised program will give you a solid learning platform to engage online with the university’s highly respected faculty. They are experts in health and behavioral health, global social work, policy advocacy, and child welfare. The school also has expertise in forensic social work, gerontology and human trafficking.

ASU is one of the biggest social work programs in the US and is accredited by the highly respected Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). When you see this accreditation, you know that you are learning what you need to learn in your MSW program to succeed. You also can be confident that employers will regard your degree in high esteem.

This MSW program has a course sequence that is based upon a diverse range of national and international social concerns. It includes two professional seminars that have synchronous elements. This means that you will be taking these seminars in a live format with your classmates.

In addition to your coursework, you will be required to complete 960 hours of field work in social work. You will need to consult with the School of Social Work’s Field Education Office to locate a suitable internship site in your area that will meet both school and CSWE requirements.

To be considered for admission into this competitive MSW program, you need to have the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Three recommendations
  • Personal statement

Courses that you will be required to take are:

  • Human Behavior and Social Environment
  • Social Policy and Services
  • Diversity and Oppression in a Social Work Context
  • Research Methods in Social Work
  • Assessment of Mental Disorders
  • Ecological Approach to Practice with Children and Youth

Boston University

For almost 100 years, Boston University School of Social Work has been strongly committed to furthering social and economic justice, and to ensure that oppressed groups can be empowered. Boston University’s MSW program is online and it welcomes both students who have a bachelor’s degree in social work or a bachelor’s in an unrelated field.

This hybrid, online MSW degree provides a new generation of social workers the chance to earn their advanced degree from a highly respected institution at one of the top private research universities in the world.

Students may select to study either clinical social work so that they can become health care or clinical social workers; or macro social work. This program is a good fit for those who want to fight for major change initiatives to deal with the root causes of serious social problems.

Boston University has three different tracks that recognize various academic and professionals backgrounds:

  • Traditional: This track has 65 credit hours and may be completed in 36 months over nine semesters. Students take their foundation and advanced classes online, and attend live classroom sessions on campus on Sundays and Mondays, and also complete to internships in the field.
  • Human Services Experience Track: If you have at least two years of full time human services experience, this may be the appropriate track for you. This program also has 65 credit hours and is completed over 36 months. Foundation and advanced courses are online, and you must complete one, 1000 hour field internship.
  • Advanced Standing Track: This track is open to those who have a CSWE-accredited bachelor’s degree in social work. You may put 22-25 credit hours towards the MSW degree. This program consists of live and in person classes, and a 1,000 hour internship in social work.

Required courses include:

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment
  • Racial Justice and Cultural Intersectionality of Oppression
  • Social Welfare Policy
  • Introduction to Social Work Research
  • Social Work Ethics

Admission requirements are:

  • Three recommendations
  • Current resume
  • College transcripts
  • GRE scores if your GPA is under 3.0

Louisiana State University

The Master of Social Work at Louisiana State University has been designed for students who want to enjoy a rewarding career that allows them to change lives. You will be able to offer your expertise to those in need in the areas of child welfare, substance abuse treatment, gerontology and domestic violence.

The online courses in this program are in modules of seven weeks, and each are taught by highly regarded LSU faculty. This is a direct concentration degree program that will teach you how to work with groups, communities, and individuals. You may complete the degree in two years if you are taking two classes each term. Or, you may complete this degree in a year if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in social work.

The first year of this CSWE-accredited program is referred to as the foundation year. It will provide you with instruction in diversity and oppression, social work practice, history, research, policy and human behavior.

After all foundation work is finished, you may complete the advanced courses in the program. The courses in the advanced section include advanced direct practice, advanced social policy, advanced field internship, and community and agency contexts for direct practice.

This program has both a thesis and a non thesis option. In place of a thesis, you are required to complete a capstone experience that features an examination, portfolio of representative work, and an integrative seminar.

Admission requirements are:

  • 0 GPA in undergraduate work
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Current resume
  • Letter of intent
  • GRE scores required if GPA is under 3.0

Joint Social Work Degree Options

If you want to work in social work but are thinking about another field as well, you can pair your degree with another advanced degree:

  • MSW/JD: You will be a top candidate to assume leadership roles in social policy and law, and you also may consider practicing as an attorney on behalf of a social services organization.
  • MSW/Master of Public Administration (MPA): An MPA is an excellent degree to consider if you want to work in government service, and your social work background will make you a strong candidate for leadership roles in social service government organizations.
  • MSW/Master of Public Health (MPH): You can use your expertise in social work to help deal with public health problems in the neediest communities in America.


Before applying to any MSW program, you should check the accreditation of the program. With a proper accreditation, you know that the education that you are getting is of high quality and will be valued by potential employers.

As noted earlier, the best accreditation for the social work field is offered by the Council on Social Work Accreditation (CSWE). Their Commission on Accreditation (COA) is responsible for determining if a program meets the requirements.

The CSWE works with the requirements set forth by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the CSWE Office of Social Work Accreditation (OSWA) to determine the university’s accreditation.


Selecting the best MSW degree takes some work and research, but there are many excellent programs available in well paying specialties where you can make a difference in the lives of many.