The Online Master’s in Social Work
- Top Online Master’s in Social Work
- An Overview of the Online Master’s in Social Work
- Social Work Practice Areas
- Online Social Work Master’s Degree Concentrations
- Social Work Curriculum and Courses
- MSW Degree: Expectations and Timeline
- The Inside Scoop: Insight from an MSW Grad
- Career Options for Graduates of Online Master’s in Social Work
- Employment Projections for Careers in Social Work
- Alternative Career Options for Social Work
- Search Tool
Social work is a profession focused on helping others, with the goal of improving the well-being of individuals, families and the community. Studying human behavior in social, cultural and financial contexts, this interdisciplinary field spans multiple areas of expertise, from sociology and psychology to health and counseling.
Social workers may specialize in crisis intervention, child welfare, behavioral issues, mental health, substance abuse, public policy, education, clinical practice, community organization and other areas. With such a diverse range of occupations, students can narrow down their studies to a particular career path and develop a unique program to meet their needs. Through a graduate program in social work, students can develop advanced knowledge of how human development, social institutions, cultural influences and social forces interact, positioning them as agents of change in their local communities.
This guide explores the online master’s in social work degree, examining application requirements, concentration subject areas, curriculum and coursework, as well as career options after graduation.
Top Online Master’s in Social Work
As more professionals head back to school in the pursuit of graduate degrees, colleges and universities have stepped up to the plate, and have begun offering a wider array of programs to allow busy students a way to fit in earning their master’s degrees into their lives. The below list details the schools that stand above the rest when it comes to their master’s in social work programs.
The Inside Scoop: Insight from an MSW Grad
Stephen Black ’s primary goal was always to become a licensed clinical social worker. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in social work, he immediately applied was accepted into an online MSW program.
Although accepted with advanced standing, Black chose to work while earning his degree and enrolled as a part-time student. During the two years it took him to complete his MSW coursework, he served as a case manager and supervisor for an agency, providing support services to families referred to Child Protective Services.
Today, as a youth clinician for LMSW, he provides individual therapy to children as well as case management services.
Black shares his advice to potential MSW students and future licensed social workers:
“If you know you eventually want your master’s degree,you should definitely do your undergraduate and graduate studies back-to-back,” he recommends.
What does he wish he would have done differently? Black says, “I wish I hadworked at some type of social work agency while in school.” He explains that not only could he have taken that work experience and related it back to his studies, but it also would have been a positive addition to his resume.
Finally, Black advises MSW graduates to take the licensing exam immediately. “Take the test as soon as possible after your graduation while everything is still fresh in your mind,” he says, noting that once an individual starts a job, their work experience can affect their test answers.
Career Options for Graduates of Online Master’s in Social Work
Social work is one of the most popular graduate degrees in the U.S. In 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 23,000 students graduated with a master’s in social work. The average tuition was approximately $14,000 – making master’s programs in social work an affordable option. Prospective students should consider the potential return on their educational investment, especially when reviewing possible social work concentrations. As degree specializations are intertwined with career outcomes, the field of social work can impact future earnings.
National median salaries for social workers as an occupational group was approximately $48,000 in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The table below shows the national salary range for social workers in 2013:
As a complex and diverse profession, social work has a range of concentration and certification areas, with salaries varying widely. Factors that influence salary include employment sector, location, years of experience, skill sets, employer and case load. With this in mind, the National Association of Social Workers published its most recent salary guidelines in 2012. Below is their recommendation of salaries for both bachelor’s in social work (BSW) and master’s in social work (MSW) graduates, both based on years of experience:
The top-paying states for healthcare social workers in 2013 included California ($68,380), Nevada ($64,710) and Connecticut ($62,600). For child, family and school social workers, the top states were New Jersey ($62,380), Connecticut ($61,800) and Rhode Island ($60,170). For mental health and substance abuse social workers, Connecticut ($57,740), Wisconsin ($56,300) and New Hampshire ($56,100) topped the list.
Employment Projections for Careers in Social Work
Social work has a bright employment outlook as an increasingly in-demand occupational field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19 percent national increase in career opportunities between 2012 and 2022. Below is a table of the national employment projections by social work employment group:
Alternative Career Options for Social Work
For students wondering about career paths outside of social work, the skills and knowledge gained in a master’s program translate well to other fields. Social workers develop experience in diverse areas such as case management, public policy, counseling and education, all of which lend themselves to alternative professions. Here is a list of three occupational fields that graduates from online programs in social work may want to consider.
A background in social work facilitates a smooth transition into human resources. The human resources field requires a blend of various skills and abilities, including interpersonal skills, conflict resolution and high ethical standards, all of which reflect social work principles. The HR field also requires a balance between employee support and organizational needs, which social workers are well-equipped to manage.
At its core, social work is focused on making a difference in the lives of others. The educational field offers a complementary opportunity, allowing social workers to move into a caring, student-focused occupation. Skills in communications, critical thinking and decision making are helpful in the K-12 educational setting.
Understanding human behavior is a fundamental component of marketing, which means social workers are uniquely suited for this career. They can choose from various roles, such as marketing specialist or marketing research analyst, which allow social workers to leverage their broad skill set.