MSW Programs by State: Campus, Hybrid and Online MSW Programs

With advances in Internet technologies and learning management systems, Master of Social Work (MSW) programs are now available in numerous formats that each have their advantages and disadvantages. Students can pursue an MSW through an on-campus program, entirely online, or through a combination of online and on-campus instruction (e.g. a hybrid program). While it is possible to layout the pros and cons of each in general terms, in reality, they are dependent on the needs and learning styles of each individual student. For example, an online program may be the only option for students who do not live near or who cannot commute to campus for weekly lectures and discussion sections and for whom relocation for graduate school is not an option.

On the other hand, students who benefit from the structure of attending classes, study sessions, and office hours on campus, and who prefer accessing campus resources in-person, may prefer a campus-based program. When determining the ideal format in which to complete their MSW program, prospective students should thoroughly assess their learning preferences, professional and personal obligations, and ability to commute or relocate before deciding on a program.

MasterofSocialWork.com currently classifies MSW programs into four different categories in order to help students understand the face-to-face requirements for each program listed on the site. It is important for students to understand that these classifications are based on how programs handle didactic instruction and are not related to field education, which requires students to complete field practicums in person typically at a site or agency within commuting distance to their place of residence. All Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited master’s in social work programs require students to complete at least 900 hours of field education hours. For more information on the field education requirements of CSWE-accredited MSW programs, please refer to Field Education: Translating Pedagogy Into Practice page.

Programs in the site’s comprehensive directory of CSWE-accredited master’s in social work programs are categorized as follows:

  • On-Campus MSW Programs: On-campus programs require students to attend all classes in-person on a physical campus. These programs typically offer face-to-face instruction as well as on-campus office hours, seminar discussions, and study sessions. With the advent of new learning technologies, it is not uncommon for campus-based programs to include some online instruction; if a program offers only one or two courses online, or has online exams but required campus-based courses, MasterofSocialWork.com classifies it as an on-campus program.
  • Hybrid MSW Programs: Also described as blended MSW programs, hybrid programs feature both online and campus instruction. The degree to which a hybrid program uses campus vs. online instruction varies, and as a result there is a wide range of programs within this category. For example, programs that combine fully on-campus courses and fully online courses versus programs that are mainly online but which require several campus sessions annually (e.g. one per month), are all categorized as hybrid programs on the site.
  • Hybrid-Online MSW Programs: Programs that are largely online, but require three to six visits to campus per year are classified as Hybrid-Online programs. These programs have some of the flexibility of an online MSW program, but with regular in-person meetings and learning activities with faculty and peers. Many hybrid-online MSW programs require students to visit campus one to two times per term.
  • Online MSW Programs: To be categorized as an online program on the site, an MSW program must offer all or almost all of its instructional content online, and require two or fewer visits to campus annually. Within this definition are programs that require zero campus visits (i.e. 100% online), and online MSW programs that require only one or two campus visits per year.

The categories above allow students to better understand if programs offer online instruction and if so, how much of the program can be completed online. This is especially important for students who are considering online programs outside of their commuting distance, as on-campus sessions require travel and additional costs that are typically separate from a program’s tuition and fees. For example, a student considering an out-of-state online program who wishes to meet classmates and professors in person may want to explore an online program with limited campus visits. However, a hybrid-online program may require too many visits to campus for it to be compatible with this student’s schedule. On the other hand, a local student who would like the flexibility of online education may have no trouble attending one to two on-campus sessions per semester in a hybrid-online program.

As mentioned above, each format has its own advantages and disadvantages, which are largely dependent on each individual student, his or her specifics needs, and his or her ideal learning styles. For more information on each type of program, continue reading below.

Note: Regardless of program format, all MSW programs require students to complete their field education requirements in-person at a qualifying social work, social justice, or human services site (specific requirements for field practicum site and supervisor vary across different programs and MSW specializations). As a result, even students of 100% online MSW programs must factor in commute times and in-person work to fulfill their field practicum hours.

On-Campus MSW Programs

As mentioned previously, MSW programs categorized as campus-based programs offer all or most of their coursework in-person on a physical campus. Within this definition are a wide variety of both full-time and part-time programs that offer varying degrees of scheduling flexibility. For example, there are some MSW programs that only offer full-time enrollment and/or which offer their classes mostly during the day, which might require students to modify their daytime schedules to accommodate lectures and course discussions. There are also MSW programs that offer evening classes and both full-time and part-time options in order to provide flexibility for students who are working during the day or who have daytime family or personal obligations. In general, students must live close or within commuting distance to campus in order to attend classes.

While they are a less flexible option in relation to other program formats, on-campus programs offer numerous benefits for students who feel that in-person lectures, seminars, office hour discussions, and study sessions provide helpful structure and support. These in-person interactions can also help students feel a stronger sense of community, which can enhance their learning experience and result in positive professional and personal connections. Moreover, some students may find it easier to access campus resources, such as the library, writing center, career counseling, tutoring, field education office, and other student services, when attending a physical campus.

Another potential benefit of campus-based MSW programs is that, depending on the school and specific program, they can sometimes offer more specialization options than their online counterparts. For example, while a school of social work might have a campus-based MSW program with specializations in Adult Mental Health, Trauma and Substance Abuse, Child and Family Welfare, and Macro Social Work, this same school might only offer its Adult Mental Health and Child and Family Welfare specializations online. This is largely due to the fact that online and hybrid MSW programs are still relatively new, and schools of social work need time and resources to transition all of their programs online.

Hybrid MSW Programs and Hybrid-Online MSW Programs

Hybrid and hybrid-online MSW programs combine on-campus and online instruction. As a result, their advantages and disadvantages can be similar to both campus programs and online MSW programs, depending on the ratio of campus-based to online coursework and how close students live to campus.

On MasterofSocialWork.com, hybrid MSW programs are defined as MSW programs with online instruction that require more than six visits to campus annually. As mentioned previously, this includes MSW programs that have classes that are both fully on-campus and classes that are fully online, programs that have courses with both online and campus-based components, and programs with mostly online coursework that require students to attend campus intensives more than six times per academic year. It also includes programs that are mostly campus-based but which have a substantial degree of courses that are available online. The advantages of hybrid MSW programs include increased flexibility (though not as great as that of online or hybrid-online programs) while still allowing for helpful structure, support, and community by way of regular in-person meetings with faculty and peers.

Hybrid-online programs are similar to online programs in that they provide the majority of their coursework online. However, hybrid-online programs require more campus visits than online programs, and therefore entail more of a travel commitment, which should be taken into account both in terms of time and budget. Programs are classified as hybrid-online if they require three to six campus visits per year, which often means that students must travel to campus at least once per academic term (and multiple times a year). The benefits of hybrid-online programs are similar to hybrid programs, with the addition of providing increased course scheduling flexibility and the ability to attend classes from anywhere, as students are not required to be on-campus as much as for hybrid programs.

When deciding between campus, hybrid, and hybrid-online programs, students should assess how much they value in person interactions versus increased flexibility. They should then choose a program that best fits their needs.

Explore Campus, Hybrid, and Hybrid Online Programs by State

Online MSW Programs: Fully Online and Limited Campus Visits

In contrast to campus-based, hybrid, and hybrid-online MSW programs, online MSW programs provide the most access and flexibility to students. With the advent of new learning management systems and accompanying technologies, students of online MSW programs are now able to attend lectures and engage in remote seminar discussions and office hours, as long as they have an internet connection and a computer with a camera and microphone (some online programs even have smartphone apps for accessing lectures and course discussions). Furthermore, the ability to access classes from anywhere opens up more options for students who do not live near a campus program. Before online programs, these students would have been forced to relocate to attend an MSW program. Finally, online programs provide students with additional options for choosing MSW specializations, especially if local programs only have limited options.

MasterofSocialWork.com classifies a program as online if it requires two or fewer visits to campus per year (campus visits are often referred to as on campus intensives). Within this classification are programs that are fully online (no campus visits required) and programs that require limited campus visits. A campus visit is defined as a consecutive period of time that students are required to be on campus or at a third-party location for face-to-face instruction. So if a program requires students to be on campus for one week during the summer, this is counted as one campus visit. If a program requires students to be on campus for two weeks during the summer and the weeks are not contiguous, then they are counted as two separate visits. Visits are defined in this manner to help students understand travel requirements for online programs.

For students who need maximum flexibility but want to meet instructors and classmates in person, online programs with limited campus visits can be a good option, especially compared to hybrid-online programs that still require several visits to campus each year. On campus intensives can include in-person lectures and seminar discussions with faculty and peers, learning activities such as practice client interviews or assessments, and social events that enable students to connect on a more personal level with their instructors and peers. These campus intensives can be highly beneficial for students by giving them a chance to immerse themselves in an academic community while also applying some of the concepts and skills they have learned in classes to hands-on activities and projects. However, they do require time and travel costs that are typically separate from tuition costs and fees.

Online MSW programs typically employ a combination of asynchronous and synchronous instruction. Asynchronous instruction includes pre-recorded lectures, course modules, and other instructional content that students review on their own time. Synchronous instruction is defined as instructional content that students must attend in real-time, and includes live video lectures and seminar discussions, as well as examinations, team projects, and assignments that all students must complete simultaneously. Online MSW programs vary in terms of how much of their curriculum is asynchronous vs. synchronous. Students should also keep in mind that even with programs that offer 100% asynchronous online instruction, students typically must still abide by assignment, discussion forum, and examination deadlines.

While online MSW programs may not provide the same campus community that campus and hybrid MSW programs offer, they nevertheless seek to cultivate a sense of community amongst online students through various means. Such means may include optional or required synchronous panel discussions with faculty, guest speaker events that students can also attend online, and campus visits that allow students to meet their instructors and peers in person. For online MSW programs that do require campus visits, these events are often strategically placed within the academic year in order to foster connections and also help provide guidance to students regarding important aspects of their program, such as field placements.

Students considering an online MSW program should note that, though these programs are more flexible, they are just rigorous as their on-campus counterparts, offering the same course content, assignments, and field education requirements. Moreover, online programs can pose an additional challenge in that, due to their flexibility, students must have the discipline to stay on top of course lectures and assignments, and for this reason, online programs are not ideal for all students, especially those that need structure to keep up with course materials.

Check out our Online MSW Programs page for a comprehensive list of available programs.