Question: Are there any fully online MSW programs?
Answer: Yes. There are numerous fully online MSW programs, which are defined as online MSW programs that do not require any campus visits for lectures or other didactic instruction. MSW programs with 100% online instruction can be advantageous for individuals whose work schedules make it difficult to travel, or for those who would prefer to keep their travel costs to a minimum while they pursue their degree. Prospective students of fully online MSW programs should keep in mind that all CSWE-accredited MSW programs–campus, online, and hybrid–require students to complete field education in-person at an approved site, under the supervision of an advanced social work professional.
Currently, there is no set definition that schools must use when they classify their programs as online, hybrid, or on-campus. Therefore, it is not uncommon for some “online” programs to require students to make multiple trips to campus throughout their studies. MasterofSocialWork.com defines an MSW program as online if the program delivers all or the majority of its course content online, and does not require more than two visits to campus annually. We use this definition so that students can easily understand any potential travel requirements of programs listed on the site.
For example, there are online MSW programs that may require students to travel to campus for an orientation, or for a campus-based intensive (or intensives) wherein students meet faculty and peers and engage in learning activities. As long as the program requires less than two of these visits per year, it is classified as an online program. If it requires more than two visits per year, it is classified as a hybrid-online or hybrid program depending on how many campus visits are required.
In contrast, 100% online MSW programs do not require such visits, thereby enabling students to complete all of their MSW curriculum requirements (except for their field practicums) online. These fully online programs can be beneficial for students who want to maximize the flexibility of their program in terms of their location as they complete their courses, such as those with a demanding job or family responsibilities.
There are a wide variety of fully online MSW programs with numerous concentrations, including but not limited to concentrations in child welfare, adult mental health, military social work, clinical social work, trauma, substance abuse and addictions, and community leadership in social work. In addition, there are numerous fully online MSW programs that offer both traditional and advanced standing tracks. While traditional standing MSW programs accept applications from individuals who do not hold a BSW degree, advanced standing MSW programs require students to have earned a BSW from a CSWE-accredited institution.
Note: As noted above, all MSW programs, regardless of their mode of instruction (e.g., fully online, online, hybrid, on-campus), require students to complete field education hours in person at a local social services agency.
Examples of Fully Online MSW Programs
The following are examples of fully online, CSWE-accredited MSW programs:
- Case Western Reserve University’s Online Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA) requires no campus visits, allowing all students to complete their course requirements fully online. This program features specialized courses in Children, Youth, and Families; Mental Health with Adults; and Community Practice for Social Change.
- Columbia University’s Online Master of Social Work is 100% online (though students are welcome to visit the New York campus), and features specialization options in Advanced Clinical Practice; Policy Practice; and Social Enterprise Administration. Students can also choose between courses in Family, Youth and Children’s Services; Mental Health and Disabilities; and Health.
- Fordham University’s Online Master of Social Work is a fully online MSW programs with flexible concentration options: students can either design their own concentration, or select from the concentrations in Individuals and Families; Organizations and Community, Evaluation; and Policy Practice and Advocacy.
- George Mason University’s (GMU) Online Master of Social Work is a fully online MSW program that integrates empowerment practices and principles into its courses that teach students to support and advocate for vulnerable populations, as well as employ clinical social work interventions.
- Our Lady of the Lake University’s (OLLU) Online Master of Social Work is fully online with courses on developing individual, group, and community interventions to serve underprivileged populations, with a particular emphasis on advocating for Hispanic communities.
- Regis College’s Online Master of Social Work is a fully online MSW program with a strong clinical social work focus, featuring courses in social work practice with families, policy in clinical practice, and clinical assessment and diagnosis.
- Simmons University’s Online Master of Social Work is a fully online program with a clinical social work focus and specialization options in Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Health and Aging, and Mental Health and Addictions. This program enables students to complete part of their field practicum through a virtual Field Education Lab before embarking on their advanced in-person practicum.
- The University of Southern California’s (USC) Online Master of Social Work is fully online and offers specializations in Adult Mental Health and Wellness; Children, Youth, and Families; and Social Change and Innovation. It also offers students the option to complete a small portion of their foundational field practicum online through a Virtual Field Practicum.
- University of Kentucky’s (UK) Online Master of Social Work is fully online with a specialization in Advanced General Practice. This program incorporates courses both in clinical and micro social work practice and macro-level social welfare issues such as poverty, social inequality, and social injustices.
- University of Denver’s Online Master of Social Work is a completely online MSW program that offers two concentrations: Health, Equity, and Wellness; and Mental Health and Trauma. The focus of this program is on integrating different key social work skills to prepare students for clinical work as well as broader social justice projects.
- Winthrop University’s Online Master of Social Work is fully online and trains students to use empowerment practice to support vulnerable populations, employ key social work interventions, and advocate for community improvements and support.
Examples of Online MSW Programs with Limited Campus Visits
In addition to the fully online MSW programs listed above, there are online MSW programs that require a limited number of campus visits, as well as programs that have optional campus intensives and events for students who wish to attend in person. For prospective students who think that they might benefit from in-person interactions to supplement their online coursework, online MSW programs with limited campus visits provide that option. Below are two examples of online MSW programs that require limited campus visits:
- Temple University’s Online Master of Social Work, which has Clinical and Macro Practice concentrations, requires only one campus residency that students attend between their first and second years in the program. This program features synchronous and asynchronous instruction, and specialized classes in Health and Mental Health, and Children and Families.
- Florida State University’s Online Master of Social Work, which features a clinically focused curriculum with dedicated faculty support, requires students to attend two on-campus weekend intensives to hone their social work skills and apply concepts they have learned to hands-on activities.
Field Education for Online MSW Programs with 100% Online Instruction
As mentioned previously, even if an MSW program is fully online, it nevertheless requires students to complete most or all of their field practicum hours in-person at an approved practicum site. Typically, online MSW programs allow and encourage students to find field practicum sites that are near their place of residence or place of employment. Online MSW programs vary in terms of how they handle the field practicum placement process: while some programs actively match students to practicum sites and potential supervisors in their area, others ask students to connect with sites and supervisors, make their own independent selections, and subsequently apply to their program for approval of their chosen site and supervisor.
Online MSW programs are continually working to make field practicum experiences both supportive and more accessible for their students. Some programs, such as Our Lady of the Lake University’s online MSW program, offer options for students to complete a portion of their field practicum experience at their current place of employment, as long as it meets certain stringent social work practicum criteria. Other programs, such as USC’s online MSW program and Simmons University’s online MSW program, enable students to complete a small portion of their field education hours in an online/virtual setting.
When considering different fully online MSW programs, prospective students should keep in mind that each state’s social work licensing board has different standards for clinical social work licensure. It is therefore very important for students who wish to become licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) to research what the licensing requirements are in their state and to choose a program whose field education requirements align with those of their state board of social work.