An online social work degree gives you many possibilities for your career. Understanding the various levels of online social work degrees and the career paths you can pursue with each can help you make a great career decision.
Types of Online Social Work Degree Programs
Online social work degree programs include the following:
The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is a beginning degree program. Depending on the online social work programs, students who pursue a BSW degree should have a high school diploma and a grade point average meeting the school’s requirements. Schools often require SAT or ACT scores. Admission requirements may include a completed application, high school transcripts, personal essays, and recommendation letters.
The Master of Social Work (MSW) is the next level of higher education for an online social work degree. Depending on the online social work programs, students who pursue an MSW degree should have a bachelor’s degree in social work. An MSW is the standard educational requirement for obtaining a license in social work.
An LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. They have a master’s degree, professional training, and experience in mental health counseling. LCSWs need to fulfill the requirements of coursework and internship to obtain licensure. They must also pass a national examination called the Association of Social Work Boards clinical exam.
A Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) prepares graduates for top social work roles. A DSW, however, is a practice-focused program, so a person pursuing a DSW intends to serve the needs of clients and communities with their clinical expertise. DSW students have a curriculum with in-depth research projects. Education is ongoing for DSW students, as it is for LCSW and BSW workers.
A Ph.D. student, like a DSW student, prepares for top social work roles. The difference is a Ph.D. student works toward an academic career, not necessarily a clinical career. Ph.D. graduates also have ongoing education.
A hybrid BSW or MSW program mixes online and on-campus learning. Different campuses have various requirements for defining hybrid courses and how often students must attend on-site courses.
Online Advanced Standing
An online advanced standing program from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program means you can skip requirements in the first stages of a master’s degree in social work.
Online Dual Degree
A dual degree in social work, such as a public health and social work degree, combines studies of different coursework. A public health and social work degree combines human and societal health with research skills and statistical analysis. You might learn about problems people have and what resources can help them. The example degree prepares students with coursework about statistics and applying these statistics to individual issues.
Online MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy)
Marriage and family therapy (MFT) is psychotherapy about family behaviors and how these behaviors affect individual family members and the family unit. MFT students study various problems such as marital and couple conflict and parent and child conflict. They also prepare to help people overcome alcohol and drug abuse. Sexual dysfunction, grief, distress, eating disorders, and weight issues are among the topics studied. For example, an MFT student may learn how to help people cope with a parent’s or grandparent’s dementia.
Someone with an MFT may work with children’s behavior problems and eldercare issues. Or they may work with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia and help mitigate the impact of these issues on families.
What Degree Is Needed for Social Work?
The degree you need depends on where you want to work. For example, if your goal is a career in academia, a Ph.D. would be an ideal degree for you. If, however, you want to work in a direct capacity, a DSW, LCSW, or other degrees outside of academic work might be better for you.
Are Online Accredited Social Work Degrees Important?
Online accreditation for the university you attend is essential because an accredited university gives your degree credibility. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is a nonprofit national association representing graduate and undergraduate programs. It is the only accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S.
CSWE accreditation means a higher education organization’s BSW and MSW coursework has met the highest standards for social work education. So, if you attend a CSWE-accredited university, you can be assured your coursework, assessments, and criteria for graduation meet high standards.
Criteria for CSWE accreditation focus on program mission and goals, core competencies, critical thinking, and ethical principles. The CSWE looks at implicit curricula such as diversity, student development, and faculty.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Social Work?
In general, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for social workers is better than average, with a 9 percent growth rate between 2021 and 2031. The projected employment change for a social worker between 2021 and 2031 is 64,000 jobs.
Someone who has a BSW can pursue several careers, including the following:
- Caseworker: Caseworkers help guide people as individual advocates. They provide people with information and assistance for their problems.
- Family Service Worker: Family service workers help families overcome tough times. They work for nonprofits and government agencies to provide family education and services.
- Habilitation Specialist: Habilitation specialists supply services to people with a mental disability to help them learn social skills and how to live independently.
- Mental Health Assistant: Mental health assistants help care for people with a mental disability and for emotionally disturbed patients. They teach patients daily living and coping skills.
- Residential Case Manager: Residential case managers oversee the day-to-day activities of people in a shelter, group home, or other residential environments. By understanding these people’s needs, residential care managers help them get along and reach their goals.
- Activity/Workshop Director: Activity/workshop directors help people in institutions such as rehabilitation centers, halfway houses, nursing homes, and specialized schools. These professionals run activities and workshops to enrich, entertain, and educate people.
An online MSW can prepare you for many career paths, including the following:
- Families and Children Social Worker: Family and children social workers help families and children with behavior and relationship problems. These professionals work in medical centers, schools, youth programs, and shelters. The United States government and the healthcare industry are the largest employers for families and children social workers.
- Geriatric Social Worker: Geriatric social workers help care for older adults. They work as social services coordinators, patient advocates, medical social workers, clinical social workers, and social services directors. Geriatric social workers work at healthcare centers, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities. They help older people with financial organizing and planning, social activities, and access to food and other daily needs.
- Healthcare Social Worker: Social workers provide care and counseling for patient education and locate resources for service providers to offer psychosocial support for those coping with serious illnesses. These professionals offer case management and intervention strategies for wellness and disease prevention.
Licensed clinical social workers can work in a variety of settings and careers. They can work in mental health settings, as substance abuse counselors, and as marriage and family counselors. In school settings, they can work as education and school counselors. Medical and public health settings are where LCSWs can work as counselors. In addition, these professionals work in policymaking, research, and higher education.
A doctoral degree in social work helps prepare you for several careers, such as clinician, researcher, family therapist, professor, medical social worker, and community program administrator.
- A clinician works with people who need mental help.
- If you want a career in academia, you can teach social work at colleges and universities.
- Researchers discover new ways to teach and implement social work.
- A medical social worker assesses people’s needs and helps them connect to resources.
- Family therapists help families and couples with their problems.
- A community program administrator supervises, organizes, and manages programs, organizations, and institutions.
- People with DSWs also work as administrators at universities and other higher education institutions.
A Ph.D. in social work helps you with many career paths, such as these:
- Nonprofit Director/ Executive Director: Nonprofit directors/executive directors lead organizations to ensure programs are running smoothly. They work in different institutions and organizations, from helping the youngest with child welfare to helping older people. Heading organizations designed to help those with substance abuse or other mental health needs, directors keep organizations afloat.
- Professor: Professors work at the university level; they teach and train future social workers.
- Researcher: Researchers work in universities, governmental organizations, and private companies. They find better ways of implementing social work and helping people.
An online hybrid degree gives you the same benefits as an online degree for your career. The course of your career depends on the degree you earn, but not where you obtain your degree, either online or online hybrid.
Online Advanced Standing
An online advanced standing program from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program allows you to skip requirements in the beginning stages of a master’s degree in social work. This makes it easier to enter the job market quickly.
Online Dual Degree
With an online dual degree, you have many career options, such as the following:
- Behavioral Health Professional: Behavioral health professionals help people with addiction, mental illness, or physical handicaps. They recommend specialists who provide counseling about their problems.
- Crisis Counselor: Crisis counselors provide counseling to people who have had traumatic experiences such as being victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, or school shootings. Crisis counselors are often the first people to assess and help victims.
- Community Health Worker: Community health workers help people with healthcare and health education. They serve as counselors to people who are too young or impoverished to have access to proper health education and care. Community health workers also assess the needs of their community and may contact other agencies to assist in the distribution of sanitary items and medicine. They also work as advocates for people by communicating with local government agencies and requesting financial aid to build community centers and medical facilities.
Online MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy)
The following are some MFT careers you may want to pursue:
- Health Educator: Health educators help people make good diet, exercise, and mental health decisions. They work in schools, hospitals, or rehabilitation facilities.
- Marriage and Family Counselor: Marriage and family counselors help couples or families with challenges in their relationships. They help couples, children, and older people achieve healthier relationships.
- Residential Counselor: Residential counselors provide counseling services to adult residents of a healthcare or community-based institution. They help with mental health issues, offering advice and referrals to connect people with resources.
- Case Manager: Case managers facilitate communication between patients and healthcare providers. They identify resources to connect people with food, shelter, employment, or other needs.
- Substance Abuse Counselor: Substance abuse counselors help people with addictions make healthier life choices. These professionals work with people struggling with addictions to alcohol or drugs, eating disorders, or other challenges. Substance abuse counselors offer therapy services, educational materials, and access to additional recovery resources. They make referrals to rehab facilities or meetings with a trained psychiatrist.
- School Counselor: School counselors work with students with such issues as classroom behavior or academic performance. They give guidance about careers, help students with mental health challenges, and may refer students to resources outside the school.
Social Work Degree Salary
According to Career Explorer, the career salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in social work is $29,854. After five years of experience, the average wage goes up to $32,169.
Social workers with master’s degrees have higher salaries, according to Mastersofsocialwork.org:
- Licensed clinical social worker’s salary: $42,384–$59,142
- Clinical therapist’s salary: $36,694–$48,958
- Medical and public health social worker’s salary: $36,174–$52,540
- Child, family, or school social worker’s salary: $42,935–$60,096
- Nonprofit organization executive director’s salary: $55,000–$84,160
Benefits of Earning an Accredited Social Work Degree Online
Earning an accredited social work degree online means you can fulfill your dream of helping people without many of the hassles of going to an on-site school. Some benefits of earning your degree online are:
- Flexibility: The number one benefit of online social work programs is flexibility. Students can work whenever they have time and from wherever they have internet access.
- Cost Benefits: An online social work degree typically costs less because online programs are less expensive than on-campus programs. Some schools offer the same tuition rate to all students, regardless of state residency.
- Self-Learners Excel: Self-directed and independent learners can excel in online programs. Students can often get ahead in their coursework quicker than their peers.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Social Work Degree
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing social work online courses.
Does an Online Social Work Degree Cost as Much as an On-Campus Social Work Degree?
According to a U.S. News and World Report, the tuition for online BSW programs costs an average of $48,000 to $53,000. This is much less than tuition for on-campus programs, which usually have additional fees such as housing, student center, parking, transportation, and other fees. Similar savings are available for online master’s degrees and doctorate degrees.
Social Work Degree Scholarship Information
Social work scholarships are a great way to reduce tuition costs. Scholarships are renewable or annual awards based on merit and need. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average cost of a university degree is $25,281 per year. You can find social work scholarships through your school of social work, researching scholarships on the internet, professional social work organizations, and your high school guidance counselor.
Online Social Work Program Accreditation
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and its Commission on Accreditation, is the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States and its territories. Founded in 1952, the CSWE sets standards for online and on-site accreditation for universities.
Common Courses in an Online Social Work Degree Program
Students with bachelor’s degrees have courses in general education, such as math, English, and other basic courses. They have social welfare policy, government, psychology, and human behavior courses. Social environment, psychopathology, and other social welfare topics are essential to a bachelor’s degree.
Similarly, social work students who earn a master’s degree in social work take courses related to social welfare policy. Social work master’s degrees require students to pursue fieldwork or a clinical practicum. They gain social work experience as supervised interns at hospitals, nonprofits, schools, government, and social service agencies before taking their license exams.
In a CSWE-accredited online DSW program, common courses are complex organizations and systems, financial management, and leadership and management. Public policy issues in social work and social work history and theory are essential. Clinical aspects of social work are studied, such as psychopharmacology and psychopathology.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Social Work Degree?
Earning a bachelor’s degree requires four years. A master’s degree takes at least two years to obtain. After your master’s degree, you must go through a clinical internship, which is usually 900 hours or 37.5 days of supervised clinical work. The length of time you need for licensing may vary according to state licensing requirements.
Quicker options instead of two years of a master’s degree program are an accelerated program to allow you to take more credits than those in a regular or advanced standing program. An advanced standing program from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program allows you to skip preliminary requirements in the beginning stages of a master’s degree in social work.