If your career goal is to become a social worker who helps people in a variety of situations, your first step should be to get the college degree that’s required for you to eventually become licensed. In most cases, that means completing a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree through a school that’s accredited by the proper accrediting agency. For social workers, that’s the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Fortunately, there are several reputable schools that are accredited by CSWE and can help you get the degree you need to get started in this field. Even better, many programs are offered entirely online so you have the flexibility to keep working as you get the education you need for your next career. Before you get ready to start filling out applications for schools, take a look at what you should know about CSWE accredited online MSW programs.
What Is CSWE?
The Council on Social Work Education is the only national accrediting agency that sets and oversees the standards on social work programs. This means graduates of CSWE accredited online MSW programs have the chance to get licensed in this field once they finish school. Those who attend MSW programs without accreditation will have trouble getting licensed to practice social work in most states. The good news is that more than 800 schools have accreditation from CSWE, and about 300 of them are master’s programs.
The Commission on Accreditation at CSWE is responsible for setting the standards and determining which schools get accredited by this agency, so you can be sure that all accredited online MSW programs have gone through a rigorous process to qualify. Schools that are interested in getting accredited by CSWE first have to fill out a form that states they want to become candidates for accreditation. They then must show that they meet several standards before they can get accredited.
An example of one of the standards to meet is that the social work program has been authorized by the CEO of the school. That school must also be accredited by a local agency that’s been approved by the Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Another standard all CSWE-accredited online MSW programs must meet is that the school they’re at is legally authorized to operate as a college according to the laws of the state. Additionally, the college must have an affirmative action policy in place, as well as a policy against discrimination of any form.
Finally, to be accredited by CSWE, all accredited online MSW programs must show that the college has a chief administrator with clear leadership ability due to experience with teaching, developing curriculum, or completing professional activities in the social work field. For master’s programs, the director of the social work program must have a Master of Social Work degree from a program that’s accredited by CSWE. And the college must show support for creating and further developing the social work program, getting faculty and staff involved in these endeavors whenever possible.
All CSWE accredited online MSW programs must go through the same accreditation process in order to earn this title. The Commission on Accreditation will oversee the process, which will start with requiring the social work program to email a Letter of Institutional Intent to show their interest in accreditation. The program will also need to send in a Candidacy Eligibility Application form, supporting documents, and fees.
Once the Commission on Accreditation receives these items from the social work program, it will decide whether to approve the application and continue with the process. At that time, the program will need to send in a document that states whether it meets all the benchmarks for accreditation. If it does, the CSWE will set up a site visit, and if that goes well, the program may be approved to become accredited. So as you look at accredited online MSW programs, know that all of those schools had to complete this process successfully, meaning you can rest assured they meet the strict standards put in place by CSWE.
What Is an Online CSWE Accredited MSW Program?
If you want the best chance of getting the proper licensing and certification to start your career in social work, you need to look at accredited online MSW programs. After all, there is little you can do in the social work field without getting a master’s degree. Simply stopping at a bachelor’s degree will limit your career options, as you cannot typically become a clinical social worker without a master’s degree and at least two years of experience in a clinical setting.
How Is the Average Online MSW Program Structured?
As you prepare to earn your master’s in social work, you can expect to spend about two years learning all the skills you’ll need to know to carry out your job duties helping individuals and families in difficult situations. Most accredited online MSW programs take place entirely virtually. This means you can usually complete most of the coursework on your own time, as you will read, take quizzes and tests and write papers online.
Many accredited online MSW programs also use video conferencing to teach students the knowledge they need to counsel people in the future. For example, they might hold mock therapy sessions in which other students role-play as adults or children who need a social worker’s help. The professor and classmates would then provide feedback on how each therapy session went and how to improve it.
What to Expect Beyond Coursework
Most CSWE accredited online MSW programs require students to get some field experience before they can graduate. This means they will practice using their social work skills in a supervised setting for a set number of hours per week.
Requiring work experience before graduation will give students a competitive advantage once they complete the program and start looking for jobs in social work. This is one reason that completing an accredited program is so important, as non-accredited programs don’t all adhere to the work experience standard that CSWE accredited online MSW programs do.
What Are the Benefits of a CSWE Accredited MSW Program?
Attending an accredited online MSW program is always a better choice than trying out a program that’s not accredited. Not only do you know accredited online MSW programs all meet the same standards so you get a quality education, but you can also expect to see the benefits of accreditation once you graduate and start looking for jobs.
You’ll Be Better Prepared for This Field
Attendance at one of the many accredited online MSW programs will ensure you learn the skills you’ll need for a career in social work. Whether you decide to become a case manager, school social worker, substance abuse counselor, mental health therapist or any other position that requires an MSW, you can be confident that the program you attended prepared for you this job.
After all, accredited online MSW programs have to meet high standards when it comes to the quality of their professors, support staff, curriculum and school overall. So no matter which accredited program you choose, you can rest assured that you’ll feel prepared when you get your first job in social work.
Employment of social workers is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2020 and 2030.
And the more prepared you are, the better, as this is a growing field that you’ll want to get into soon for the best chances of taking advantage of the faster-than-average job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of social workers is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2020 and 2030, making it worth your time to get the right education for this industry.
You’ll Be Eligible To Get Licensed for This Career
Another reason to make sure you’re only considering accredited online MSW programs is the issue of licensure when you graduate from college. The majority of social work positions that require a master’s degree also require you to be licensed as a social worker.
One example of a popular career choice for people with an MSW is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), which—as the name suggests—means you need a license for this position. You typically take the test offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). In order to get the licensing test, you must have graduated from one of the many accredited online MSW programs available. So by choosing such a program, you vastly improve your chances of entering into a rewarding career in social work.
Accreditation Standards [9 Core Competencies Addition]
The Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Accredited Master’s of Social Work programs emphasize nine core competencies of social work education. These competencies encompass knowledge, values, and skills that provide a framework for effective practice and form the basis of professional behavior.
The nine core competencies relating to Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities are to:
- Conduct Research-Informed Practice and Service Evaluation
- Apply Professional Ethics
- Engage in Policy Practice
- Utilize Technology
CSWE-accredited online master’s degree programs equip students with the essential knowledge, values, and skills needed to meet the demands of the profession and provide quality services to underserved populations. Through their MSW program studies, students gain an understanding of how to apply these competencies in areas ranging from case management and clinical interventions to policy analysis and advocacy.
How long does it take to earn a CSWE Accredited MSW?
Earning a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) typically requires two to three years of full-time study. This time frame may vary depending on concentration, the number of credit hours completed each semester, and other factors.
For students enrolled in a traditional MSW Program, courses are typically held during weekday daytime hours; however, some universities offer evening and weekend classes. Additionally, some programs now offer online learning options that allow students more flexibility in their course load.
A CSWE-accredited MSW program will provide students with an education in the core competencies of social work, some of which include: Human Behavior and the Social Environment; Social Welfare Policy and Services; Research; Clinical Practice and Intervention; Program Evaluation, Management, and Administration; Diversity, Oppression, and Advocacy; and Professional Development. Students will also complete hands-on field experience as a requirement for graduation.
Graduates of a CSWE-accredited MSW program will be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue fulfilling careers in the field of social work. MSW online programs with no GRE requirements – finding a program with no GRE requirement is a great way to get started, especially if you have a bachelor’s already.
With the demand for qualified social workers growing rapidly, earning an MSW can open up many career opportunities.
How much does a CSWE-Accredited MSW program cost?
The cost of a CSWE Accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program will vary depending on the school you choose and the state in which it is located.
Generally speaking, tuition for an MSW program can range from $20,000 to $50,000 or more, depending on your choice of institution and the number of credits you need to complete your degree. This estimate does not include additional fees such as housing, food, textbooks, and transportation, which may add up to an additional $20,000 to $30,000 over the course of your program.
Additionally, financial aid and scholarships may be available to qualified applicants to help offset the cost of attendance. Prospective students should take time to research various programs and consider their financial options before making a final decision on which program best fits their budget.
What to look for in a CSWE-Accredited Online MSW Program
Choosing an online Master of Social Work (MSW) program is an important decision that requires careful consideration. Your choice of school and program can significantly impact your academic and professional future, so it’s important to do thorough research.
One crucial factor to consider when researching MSW programs is accreditation. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the only nationally recognized accrediting body for social work programs in the United States. An online CSWE-accredited program ensures that your degree meets the highest standards of quality and relevance in social work education.
This section will provide information about what to look for in a CSWE-accredited online MSW program, including admission requirements, staff-to-student ratios, job placement, and more.
The admission requirements for an MSW program are usually based on educational history, relevant work experience, and volunteer work. It’s important to look for CSWE-accredited programs that have clear admissions guidelines, as well as information on the acceptance rate, needed applications, and any entrance exams or recommendations. Knowing the program’s admissions requirements can help you prepare and ensure you’re eligible for acceptance.
Cost and Financial Aid
It’s important to research the cost of each program so that you know what fees you may be responsible for, such as tuition, books, labs, housing, and other associated fees. Many online MSW programs offer financial aid and scholarships to help you reduce your total cost of attendance. Make sure to do your research and look at the financial aid opportunities offered by each school, as they can greatly reduce the cost of attending an MSW program.
An essential part of research into CSWE-accredited MSW programs should include the staff-to-student ratio. It’s vital to ensure that each student has the opportunity to receive sufficient guidance and advice from a qualified staff member for the successful completion of the program. Try to find out the staff-to-student ratio for the program you are interested in and make sure it is reasonable enough for each student to be able to receive adequate support.
Researching a school’s job placement rate can help you determine to what extent the program’s alumni have been able to find employment following graduation. The post-graduation employment rate is particularly important if you are considering a program with a specific career goal in mind, such as clinical social work or working in the public sector. Check to see what percentage of alumni have found jobs after completing their program, as this could indicate the quality of instruction at the institution.
CSWE Accredited Online MSW Curriculum
The CSWE Accredited Online MSW Curriculum is designed to equip social workers with the knowledge and skills to provide best-in-class services to those in need. Students can expect to learn from a curriculum that covers a broad scope of topics, including human behavior theory, clinical assessment, evidence-based practice, and ethical decision-making. Additionally, they will gain experience through field placement opportunities, enabling them to apply their learning in real-world contexts.
The online MSW program is delivered using an asynchronous format, allowing students to access course materials anytime, anywhere. Through this flexible approach, students are able to work at their own pace while still maintaining connections with classmates and faculty.
Some of the courses included in a CSWE-Accredited Online MSW curriculum may Include:
- Social Work Practice with Children and Families: This course explores the application of social work practice to serve children and families in various cultural contexts. Topics include family dynamics, child development, parent-child relations, and interventions.
- Theory & Application: This course explores the major theories of human behavior and how applying theory enhances social work practice. Through critical thinking and problem-solving, students will be able to develop effective solutions for their clients.
- Research in Social Work: Students will learn how to use qualitative and quantitative research methods to evaluate social problems, interventions, program design, and outcomes for clients. This course will highlight best practices in research analysis.
- Clinical Practice: This two-part course focuses on building and maintaining a therapeutic relationship with individuals and families while providing trauma-informed clinical help. Topics will include, but may not be limited to, trauma assessment, differential diagnosis, treatment planning, mental health assessment, goal setting, and suicide prevention.
- Field Education: The Field Education course will involve supervised field placements in student-selected settings that reflect their chosen interests. Students will have the opportunity to gain professional experience while building essential practical skills.
- Social Work Research Methods: This course covers the methods and skills necessary to conduct independent research projects in social work. Students will further learn how to identify research problems, develop hypotheses, write a research proposal, and use research findings to inform practice.
Online MSW Specializations
With the rise of online programs, Master in Social Work (MSW) specializations offer aspiring professionals a unique opportunity to tailor their education to meet their own career aspirations.
Online MSW specializations provide students with a flexible and convenient way to develop their professional skills and gain the knowledge necessary to thrive in today’s interconnected world. The variety of specializations available allows students to hone in on their desired field or explore interdisciplinary options.
With an understanding of the specialization options available, students can have confidence that they’re selecting the best specialization for them. In this section, we will discuss the different types of MSW specializations available in the realm of e-learning.
Clinical Social Work
Clinical social work focuses on providing psychological treatments to help individuals and families struggling with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, or grief. A qualified clinical social worker has the knowledge, training, and skills to help people cope with their individual hardships and to empower them to make positive changes in their lives.
Mental health refers to the overall well-being of an individual. A program that focuses on mental health provides students with the opportunity to understand how mental health issues such as substance abuse, depression, or anxiety can affect individuals and communities and how these issues can be addressed and treated.
Child, Adolescent, and Family Social Work
As the name suggests, this specialization focuses on helping children and families in vulnerable or difficult situations. It equips students with the skills to help children and young people who are experiencing family breakdowns or facing other complex social issues, as well as working with families struggling with addiction or mental health problems.
Substance Abuse and Addictions
This specialization focuses on helping people and families who are battling substance abuse or addictions. Students learn practical methods to treat patients, including how to work toward prevention, intervention, and treatment.
Social Change Leadership and Innovation
This specialization focuses on understanding the role of social workers in creating change in their communities. Students explore the history of social work in regard to social change and develop the knowledge and skills to become champions of social justice by identifying areas where change is needed, crafting policy solutions, and leading sustainable social movements.
Notable CSWE Accredited Online MSW Programs
University of Iowa
The CSWE MSW Program at the University of Iowa offers an innovative curriculum designed to prepare students for impactful social work practice. The program allows students to specialize in either Social Work Clinical Practice or Social Work Leadership Practice, allowing them to deepen their expertise in their chosen area.
With the implementation of the new curriculum, students can now complete their MSW in fewer semester hours, saving time and money. The program is offered on the university’s main Iowa City campus as well as at two additional learning centers in Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa. Additionally, a CSWE-accredited online MSW program is available for those seeking a more flexible learning option.
University of Central Florida
The MSW Program at the University of Central Florida presents an outstanding virtual educational opportunity for students passionate about creating positive change within the social work domain. This program, duly recognized by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), equips learners with the essential expertise and competencies to address prevalent national and international health concerns and mental well-being issues affecting individuals, families, collectives, and communities. Through a comprehensive and thought-provoking curriculum, students acquire a profound comprehension of the intricate interconnectedness of social predicaments and develop the necessary skills to foster favorable transformations for forthcoming generations.
The online Master of Social Work (MSW) program at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work at Falk College is designed to empower the next generation of social workers who will shape the profession’s future across various practice settings. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), this CSWE-accredited online MSW program is specifically designed for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than social work.
The curriculum focuses on advancing human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice, and it encompasses themes such as military culture and mental health practice, trauma-informed care, social justice, leadership, and social work in the digital age.
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
The Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is available in person as well as online; the program is designed to educate students about culturally relevant and ethically sound social work practice in an ever-changing global context. The CSWE-accredited online MSW program places great importance on understanding the personal, social, economic, and political needs of vulnerable and high-risk populations within a person and environment framework.
The CSWE-accredited online MSW program at Yeshiva University holds prestigious accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), guaranteeing a comprehensive and top-tier social work education. The program ensures adherence to rigorous standards of excellence, preparing students for successful careers in this field. Through its online platform, the program offers flexibility and accessibility, accommodating students’ personal and professional commitments while they pursue their Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.
University of Maryland
Whether focusing on clinical or macro social work, students will develop advanced-level skills to make a meaningful impact. The specific curriculum requirements and study plans vary depending on factors such as student status (traditional or Advanced Standing), program entry, campus location, and enrollment status (Part-Time or Full-Time). To guide your journey, you can refer to the curriculum overviews from the year you entered, sample plans of study, and explore the diverse course offerings and descriptions.
Portland State University
With program options available online and across various locations in the state, including our downtown Portland campus, you have the flexibility to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree that suits your needs. For those seeking advanced study, our innovative Ph.D. program in social work provides a progressive path for scholarly inquiry.
As a student, you will have access to valuable internships in social work and child, youth, and family studies and exciting research opportunities through our renowned Regional Research Institute for Human Services, Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services, and Center for Interdisciplinary Mentoring Research.
University of Michigan
The CSWE-accredited online MSW program at the University of Michigan provides students with a comprehensive and diverse education in social work. The program offers specialized concentrations, including the Interpersonal Practice method for those interested in clinical social work. While a thesis is not required, students engage in research and evaluation courses to develop research skills. Additionally, the school allows for international or out-of-state field placements through special programs like the Global Activities Scholars Program and the Jewish Communal Leadership Program.
MSW Salary and Career Outlook
Salaries for professionals with an MSW vary widely depending on role, level of education, location, and employer. The following examples, with salary ranges based on data from Payscale in 2023, demonstrate some of potential career opportunities for social workers.
Roles and Potential Salary Ranges
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Clinical Social Workers provide direct services to individuals with mental, behavioral, or emotional difficulties.
Potential salary range: $48,000 – $85,000, according to Payscale.
Medical Social Worker
Medical social workers provide support and advocacy to patients in healthcare settings and facilitate communication between patients and care providers.
Potential salary range: $48,000 – $78,000, according to Payscale.
Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance Abuse Counselors assist individuals struggling with alcohol or substance addictions.
Potential salary range: $33,000 – $59,000, according to Payscale.
Case Managers coordinate care plans for individuals and work to ensure quality and continuity of services.
Potential salary range: $34,000 – $78,000, according to Payscale.
School Social Worker
School Social Workers help students and families by providing counseling, case management, and psycho-educational services.
Potential salary range: $41,000 – $70,000, according to Payscale.
Geriatric Social Worker
Geriatric Social Workers focus on helping elderly people or those suffering from degenerative conditions manage their daily lives and access necessary resources.
Potential salary range: $41,000 – $78,000, according to Payscale.
Employment of social workers in the U.S. is projected to increase by 9 percent between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The growth rate for social worker employment is faster than the average for all occupations.
MSW Education Requirements
The first educational requirement to become an MSW is to obtain an accredited master’s degree in social work (MSW). This degree prepares individuals to effectively assess and provide services to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, disabled individuals, children, and those dealing with substance abuse.
The most commonly accepted form of education for an MSW is to earn an accredited master’s degree in social work. Although some states may accept an equivalent 60-credit bachelor’s level program, many states require an MSW for licensure eligibility.
State Authorizations and Clinical Social Work Licensure
Aspiring clinical social workers must meet the licensing requirements of the state in which they wish to practice.
State authorizations enable MSW program graduates to become licensed social workers in the state upon completion of their programs. Depending on the state, an MSW degree may be required to obtain a license or other relevant credentials. In addition to completing an MSW degree, applicants typically must pass a licensing exam and have a minimum amount of work experience.
Clinical social work licensure is a requirement to practice independently as a mental health clinician, and it enables social workers to diagnose and treat mental health issues. To obtain clinical social worker licensure, practitioners must meet additional qualifications per their state’s regulations.
MSW FAQ Section
Are MSW programs hard to get into?
Unfortunately, admission into MSW programs can be quite competitive, depending on the program and the number of applicants. However, it is possible to gain admission with a strong academic background and relevant experiences.
Do MSW programs require a dissertation?
That depends on the specific program you are applying to. Some MSW programs require a dissertation, while others do not. Generally, if the program focuses more on practice-oriented education, it will not have a dissertation requirement.
Can I earn my MSW entirely online?
Yes, there are many CSWE-accredited online MSW programs available for students today. The flexibility of an online program makes it an attractive option for many students.
Can I earn an MSW part-time?
Yes, most CSWE-accredited MSW programs allow students to complete their degrees part-time while working. There may also be options for students to complete the program on a full-time or accelerated schedule.
Do I need a BSW to study for an MSW?
Typically, students must possess a Bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW) from a CSWE-accredited program to apply for admission into an MSW program.
No, an MSW degree does not qualify someone for licensure as a social worker. Licensure is typically earned by completing an approved post-graduate supervised experience in the profession and then passing a licensure exam. However, earning an MSW can be a big step toward licensure.
How is a CSWE Accreditation MSW Program Reviewed?
Self-Study Report: CSWE-accredited MSW programs compile details regarding their purpose, objectives, course offerings, professors, assistance for students, practical training, and evaluation techniques. The self-evaluation report forms the basis for the accreditation assessment.
Site Visit: A group of CSWE evaluators, comprising professors from other approved social work programs, pays a visit to the university to conduct an on-site evaluation of the program. They engage in discussions with faculty, staff, students, and community collaborators, examine program materials, observe lectures, and assess the program’s overall excellence and efficacy.
Compliance with Standards: The CSWE reviewers assess the program’s compliance with the CSWE’s accredited MSW programs accreditation standards. These standards cover areas such as curriculum content and structure, student support services, faculty qualifications and engagement, diversity, and social justice integration, field education opportunities, and program evaluation and continuous improvement.
Evaluation and Decision: Following the site visit, the CSWE-accredited MSW programs reviewers compile their findings and submit a report to the CSWE Commission on Accreditation. The commission carefully reviews the report, considers the program’s compliance with the accreditation standards, and decides on the program’s accreditation status.
Follow-Up Actions: Based on the accreditation outcome, the program may need to undertake certain measures to tackle identified areas of attention or enhancement. The program is obliged to furnish proof of ongoing evaluation and continual enhancement endeavors to uphold its accredited standing.
CSWE Accredited Schools in the US
- Standard and accelerated online programs available
- Programs usually take one to two years to complete
- MSW degree program can be completed entirely online
- Prepares graduates to sit for licensure exam from ASWB
- Provides essential training for popular careers like licensed clinical social worker
- Offers opportunities in the high-growth social work industry
- Can be completed in as little as 12 months with an accelerated online program
- Graduates with an MSW degree are in high demand
- A high number of scholarships and grants are associated with the MSW degree
- Program costs are highly variable depending on the school
- Programs can cost as little as $5,600 per year