CSWE Accredited Online MSW Programs

Social workers provide help to countless individuals of all ages and backgrounds who are in need. Social work aims to assist those struggling with mental health, substance abuse, or financial issues. The broad scope means that social workers work throughout state and local governments, school districts, hospitals, family service agencies, and private practices, just to name a few. Their services are essential to clients during times of need.

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For those interested in social work careers, the first step is to obtain a accredited Master of Social Work (MSW), which provides the education and practical training necessary to start making a positive difference in people’s lives. CSWE accredited online MSW programs are widely available due to the ongoing need for the services that MSW graduates provide.

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Requirements Prior to Pursuing an Online MSW

All MSW applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, and although some choose to earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) before pursuing a traditional or an online MSW, it’s not required. One benefit of a BSW is that while most MSW programs take two years to complete, BSW graduates may be able to apply for a one-year advanced standing program.

Some online MSW programs without a BSW prerequisite include additional introductory courses. Furthermore, some online MSW programs require students to take the GRE before applying.

Bachelor of Social Work

To break into the field of social work for general practice or entry-level positions, a BSW is the minimum level of education required. A BSW is traditionally a four-year degree consisting of about 120 total credit hours and 400 hours of supervised work experience. When selecting a bachelor’s-level social work program, it’s important to only consider programs that are certified by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the national association representing social work education in the U.S. If the program is not CSWE accredited, potential employers and MSW programs may not view the degree as legitimate.

A BSW program typically covers the following core subjects:

  • Mental health
  • Diversity training / understanding diversity
  • Community organizations
  • Social policy
  • Family social work
  • Social work practice and research

The field of social work covers numerous areas and various demographics. Given its breadth, many universities offer BSW concentrations so that students can focus on a specific area. Examples are:

  • Direct practice
  • Policy practice
  • Social justice
  • School social work
  • Clinical social work
  • Health care
  • Gerontology

Most students have a career path or an area of interest in mind when selecting a BSW concentration.


The second potential prerequisite before being able to enroll in an online MSW program is the GRE, a standardized exam that tests analytical writing, verbal skills, and quantitative analysis. The GRE is often compared to the ACT and SAT; some universities use it to determine whether a student has the necessary qualifications to successfully complete an MSW program, but many don’t require it.

CSWE Accredited Online Master’s in Social Work Courses

A master’s in social work online program generally takes two years at most CSWE-accredited universities. Again, you should only consider CSWE-accredited online MSW programs to ensure the legitimacy of your degree.

The following courses are examples of what an online MSW programs traditionally offer: 

Chemical Dependency

In a chemical dependency course, MSW students examine how alcohol, drug, and other substance abuse can negatively impact individuals and their families. Students learn about the patterns of behavior and symptoms of substance abuse, along with a wide array of prevention and treatment methods.

Health Policy

In a health policy course, MSW students learn how policies are created and their impact on individuals, communities, and society. This course is especially important for those who are aiming to go into the government or health care side of social work. 

Leadership in Social Work

In a leadership in social work course, MSW students receive preparation for spearheading big ideas and bringing teams together to effect positive change. Leaders in social work must be ethical, selfless, and excellent communicators.

Program Evaluation

In a program evaluation course, MSW students learn how to properly evaluate the effectiveness of a social or health program. Using hard data and community feedback, students can then determine how programs should be adjusted to improve it.

 Social Work Ethics

In a social work ethics course, MSW students are taught to be ethical and make morally conscious decisions. Working with vulnerable people and communities is common in social work, and establishing solid social work ethics is of the utmost importance.

Social Work Practicum

All accredited online MSW programs require practical experience so students can exhibit that they’re competent and possess the skills required to enter the field. Typically, an MSW program will place its students in a social work position, not unlike an internship. The number of hours required varies by program, but is at least 600 total hours of specialized training and on-the-job experience.

During a social work practicum, students should expect to work with individuals, groups, and families under the guidance of established social workers. Community centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and mental health facilities are all potential places an MSW graduate student may work during a social work practicum.  


MSW Online Degree Concentrations

MSW programs allow students to prepare for their intended career paths, both educationally via coursework and through hands-on practical experience. MSW online degree concentrations fall into three major categories. 


Micro pertains to social work on a clinical or direct practice level, meaning that MSW students specialize in working with people one-on-one or in small groups to overcome emotional, behavioral, or psychological problems.


Macro pertains to social work that handles large-scale issues. Rather than focusing on one-on-one treatment, graduates will help develop policies, lead teams, or help educate and develop entire communities. Macro-level social work emphasizes team effort and working alongside community leaders and state or local agencies.

Micro and Macro

A micro and macro concentration combines the micro and macro concepts of social work and is also known as advanced generalist. This is the most popular concentration in MSW programs; however, a student who has a career path in mind may prefer to pick the applicable macro or micro concentration. 

Accredited MSW Online Benefits

Several universities offer accredited MSW online programs in addition to traditional on-campus programs. Online MSW programs can be taken on a full-time or part-time basis. Full-time students are on a two-year timetable while part-time students may take anywhere from 2½  to 4 years, depending on their schedule and the speed at which they work. Both the full- and part-time online MSW programs offer the following benefits: 

  • Convenience. Students can comfortably work remotely from anywhere with a reliable internet connection and set up a study environment that best suits their learning style.
  • Flexibility. The online option is fantastic for those who can’t adhere to a strict schedule due to work or family obligations.
  • Access to learning resources. Many lectures are prerecorded, which means that students don’t have to rely on copious note-taking. They can review classroom materials and lectures as often as they need to.

Although the majority of coursework is done online, some aspects — specifically, the practical portions — must be done in person.  

Steps to Become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Earning an MSW online degree will open many doors in the field of social work to the graduates. However, to qualify to perform clinical work — which generally leads to higher-paying positions — MSW graduates must be licensed according to their state’s guidelines. Licensure requirements vary, but generally require the following three elements:

  • MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited university
  • Two years of supervised clinical work experience
  • Passing grade on the clinical exam (administered by the Association of Social Work Boards)

Some states may have additional requirements, such as specific coursework completion or certifications to qualify for state licensure.


How Much Do Online MSW Graduates Make?

The world of social work offers numerous career paths. Salary is influenced by several factors, including degree type, experience, area of social work, and region. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earned a median annual salary of $51,760 in 2020. The field is projected to grow by 13% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the projected average for all other occupations.

According to March 2021 salary data from PayScale, the median annual salary for social workers is $48,500. In comparison, LCSWs make $58,983.   


MSW Career Options

An individual with an online MSW will be able to choose from several career paths in social work. Although a state license isn’t required, it does yield a higher salary and allows the person to conduct clinical work, such as being a mental health counselor, marriage and family counselor, or addiction counselor.

 Not unlike choosing a social work concentration, choosing a career in social work boils down to personal interest and can pertain to any one of the following:

  • Rehabilitation and overcoming addiction
  • Social justice and diversity programs and policy
  • Child and family-based social work
  • School counseling
  • Social services and community outreach
  • Health care
  • Mental health
  • Gerontology

Online MSW graduates are needed in each of these fields and can expect a long, rewarding career of assisting individuals and their families on a micro or macro level.

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