Seattle Masters in Social Work Online Degrees (MSW)

Why Consider Online MSW Programs?

Online MSW programs are typically designed for working professionals interested in pursuing a  Master of Social Work degree without disrupting their lifestyle. Whether you are a current social worker seeking a terminal practice degree or are looking for a career change, earning a masters in social work online may help you fulfill part of the requirements to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). In fact, one of the things to keep in mind is that an online masters in social work (MSW) is not easier or of less value just because you take social work courses in a virtual classroom. 

Online Social Work Masters Degree Program Information

Online MSW Programs: Overview

Online MSW programs are offered by traditional graduate schools so your transcript will not necessarily show how you earned your degree and there is no ‘one’ set of standards for what an online MSW looks like. Degree requirements, course format and distance instruction methods vary by school. You might enter an online masters in social work program with either a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from an accredited program or with a Bachelor degree in human services, Bachelor in counseling psychology or a related field. Specific prerequisites should be identified on a school by school basis.

DID YOU KNOW? When asked about their education level, 57% of clinical social workers responded they had a master’s degree[i]

Advanced Standing Students

For students who have earned their Bachelor of Social Work from a CSWE accredited program, some graduate schools for social work may offer students the opportunity to enter an MSW online program as an “advanced standing student”. What this might mean is that the first year of classes (foundation classes) are waived and the time to degree completion, shorter.

How Long Might It Take to Earn an Online Masters in Social Work?

Students interested in earning an MSW online might have a few options for how much time they commit to their degree. Some online schools for social work may offer both full-time and part-time options, while others may only have one type or the other. This is a criterion you might use to distinguish online one online Master of Social Work from another.

  • Full-time MSW Online Programs might take approximately two years to complete for traditional standing students and about one full year for advanced standing students. Advanced standing students have usually entered an online MSW program having graduated with a BSW and thus completed some of the basic courses.
  • Part-time MSW Online Programs might take two and a half years to four years for traditional standing students and about one and a half years for advanced standing students.

Online MSW Programs: Potential Curriculum

Students enrolled in online MSW programs take courses, electives, and participate in field internships. Course curriculum is often dependent on a student’s emphasis of study (specialization). This might be either clinical (e.g. clinical social worker) or non-clinical (e.g. social advocacy). All online MSW programs include a field practicum requirement where students typically have to work at a social services of health service agency in their community.

Online MSW Programs: Format Options

When reviewing online MSW programs, take note that distance learning might take on different formats and structures.

  • MSW Online Programs (100% online): If a graduate school lists an online social work masters degree program as completely online, this usually describes a program that does not require students to travel to their campus.
  • MSW Online Programs (campus requirements): Some schools offer students the opportunity to take most of their courses online except for a few campus visits which are clearly stipulated. These might be anything from a short conference, workshop, evening, week or weekend depending on the school.

How Are MSW Online Programs Structured?

Online MSW programs do vary in their structure and learning delivery. Here are a few potential features to consider in your search;

  • Cohort Model: The cohort model is one where the same group of students take a course and proceed through their program together.
  • Scheduling: The flexible course scheduling model is one where students choose their courses without the set structure of taking specific courses at set intervals.  
  • Synchronous Course Delivery: Some online Master of Social Work programs may offer synchronous instruction. This requires students to log in and attend their courses at specific times, and classes are given in real-time. There is a level of participation through technology such as webcams that may simulate an on-campus experience.
  • Asynchronous Course Delivery: Some online MSW programs offer asynchronous delivery of courses. Students do not attend classes in real time, rather, are able to log into their course management system when they have the time, although they must still respect assignment deadlines. This type of program offers flexibility to students who are able to make their own schedules.  

Who Are Online Social Work Masters Programs For?

Choosing to pursue a masters degree in social work online might be beneficial for graduate students who:

  • Are busy gaining real time work experience and don’t want to let it go, but your job hours don’t mesh with the campus schedule.
  • Hold a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and have had some human service component and practice.
  • Live to far geographically from accredited online MSW programs
  • Find the on-campus schedule is impossible to commit to

Potential Next Steps for MSW Graduates

Earning your MSW online may have several potential benefits;

Potential Career Paths: MSW graduates may be prepared for specialist and advanced practice career paths;

  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Child and Family Social Workers
  • Clinical Social Workers
  • School Social Workers
  • Healthcare Social Workers

Continued Education: The Master of Social Work is considered the prerequisite for doctorate social work degrees such as the Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and PhD in Social Work.

Find CSWE Accredited Online MSW Programs

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency in the United States for all social work education including online programs. Choosing an accredited online MSW program helps to ensure the quality and educational standards are verified.

Take the Next Step

Enrolling in an online MSW program may be a great way to earn your graduate degree without leaving the comfort of your own community. Browse our sponsored program listings to find the online Masters of Social Work Program that aligns with your goals. Our on-page navigation makes it easy to request info from prospective online graduate schools, so take your next step now!


sources: [i]onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1023.00 | [ii]bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm | [iii]bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm

Find Schools