5 Social Work Programs for Masters, Online Learning, and More

Social Work Program

Getting qualified is the first step to becoming a professional social worker, and there are a lot of great learning opportunities to choose from.

If you’re motivated by the idea of helping individuals and communities to improve their quality of life, we’ve reviewed some of the best degrees and courses so that you can pick the best social work program for you.

Is a Social Work Program Right For Me?

Job opportunities in the community and social service sector are expected to grow 10% throughout the next ten years, and competent, driven, and qualified social workers are in high demand.[1]

It’s great news for anyone keen to make a positive impact as a social work professional – but where (and how) can you get started?

A well-designed, reputable course will offer you all the skills and knowledge you need to practice and put you on the path to licensing, certification, and registration.

There are a few pathways to becoming a social worker, and the following are the most common programs you can take to get qualified:

  • Bachelor of Social Work. A Bachelor in Social Work program (BSW) is generally considered the minimum requirement for a job in the sector, and graduates are great candidates for positions as caseworkers, mental health assistants, family service workers, and other entry-level roles.
  • Master of Social Work. For those with a Master of Social Work (MSW), employment opportunities open up to include leadership positions and one-on-one professional practice. Although they aren’t technically required for many roles in the field, they can often be a further step toward clinical or supervisory licensure.
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work. For those interested in working as a social work researcher, scholar, and educator, a social work Ph.D. program is a postgraduate learning opportunity that often involves coursework and a dissertation. Ph.D. graduates in this field are often qualified to work as mental health clinicians, medical social workers, or in academia as field researchers or university professors.

If you’re passionate about enhancing others’ quality of life by promoting social justice or shaping public policy, and if you’ve got what it takes to empathize with and engage clients, the right social work program can be a great way to advance your career.

A well-designed, reputable course will offer you all the skills and knowledge you need to practice and put you on the path to licensing, certification, and registration.

What To Consider

While the best social work program will depend on your career ambitions and learning preferences, here are three things to consider:

  1. Make sure your course is accredited. Accredited programs are vetted and approved by the Council of Social Work Education to ensure the curriculum offers a comprehensive range of relevant skills for practice.
  2. Offline versus online learning. There are many advantages to both in-person and online social work programs, so you’ll need to think about the learning modality that suits you best.
  3. Admission criteria. Different institutions have different requirements for entry into a Bachelor, Master, or Ph.D. program. Applicants with relevant work experience may qualify for course credits and graduate sooner, meaning it’s a good idea to look carefully when you weigh up your options.

To help you get started, we’ve reviewed a few of the best programs in terms of educational quality, curriculum, and reputation.

3 Accredited Masters Programs To Consider

A Master’s qualification is required to practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which then enables you to offer in-person and online counseling services to clients.

Here are three of the best Master in Social Work programs in terms of academic reputation, the flexibility of learning modalities, and the funding available to aspiring students.



Arizona State University logo red and whiteASU’s CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work program is 100% virtual and combines coursework with hands-on experience in the form of two 1-year field education internships.This program is designed to help students approach challenges that clients face and apply actionable solutions to improve their lives. A few focus areas include behavioral health, community practice, administration, and policy practice.
NameArizona State University Online Master of Social Work 
InstitutionArizona State University 
Good ForCheck website for admission requirements.
More infoArizona State University MSW



Columbia school of social work logo dark blueThis is a world-class MSW program that Columbia offers online and in person, with virtual learners being placed in a nearby facility to complete their fieldwork component.The coursework component includes in-depth coverage of three core topics, such as Human Behavior and the Social Environment, and three generalist practice courses, such as Foundations of Social Work Practice: Decolonizing Social Work. It is possible to complete the course over different time frames, starting with one year.
NameColumbia Master of Social Work 
InstitutionColumbia School of Social Work 
Good ForAll levels and professionals
More infoColumbia MSW



small UM logo yellow blue and whiteStudents of the University of Michigan’s MSW program can choose to study full-time, part-time, or online and complete the 60-credit-hour degree in 12, 16, or 20 months.It includes a range of pathways for different potential careers; a few examples include Interpersonal Practice in Integrated Health, Mental Health, & Substance Abuse, Welfare of Children & Families, and Policy & Political Social Work.    
NameUniversity of Michigan – Ann Arbor
InstitutionUniversity of Michigan School of Social Work
Good ForAll levels and professionals
More infoUniversity of Michigan MSW

3 Best Online Options To Become a Social Worker

Many reputable institutions also offer online learning opportunities for undergraduates, which can be a convenient option for individuals in the workforce who want to pursue a Bachelor’s degree.

We’ve reviewed three of the best.



University of North Dakota logo green and whiteUND’s undergraduate online program is an accredited Bachelor of Science in Social Work (B.S.S.W.) with admission dates in both spring and fall.Students will learn the knowledge, values, skills, and cognitive and affective processes required for generalist social work practice, and applicants with a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field can potentially finish the online course in one year.
NameUniversity of North Dakota Bachelor of Science in Social Work (B.S.S.W.) 
InstitutionUniversity of North Dakota
Good ForCheck website for admission criteria
More infoUniversity of North Dakota B.S.S.W



University of Utah logo small black and whiteThe University of Utah BSW covers a comprehensive curriculum of subjects such as Social Work Research and Evaluation and Social Work as a Profession, as well as two semesters of practical experience in the field.Their interactive online learning program involves email communication with course instructors, virtual discussions, group assignments, and peer reviews of others’ work. The major-specific internships and coursework can be completed in three or four semesters.
NameUniversity of Utah Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
InstitutionUniversity of Utah
Good ForCheck website for admission criteria
More infoUniversity of Utah BWS



NAU logo blue and yellowNAU is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, with a BSW that focuses on the professional knowledge and skills needed to help those with challenges related to abuse, poverty, trauma, and similar.Admissions typically take place in December for new freshmen and in March for transferring students. Graduates of this course will be qualified to pursue numerous careers, including child social work, probation officers, and community service managers
Name Northern Arizona University Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
InstitutionNorthern Arizona University
Good ForAll levels and professionals
More infoNorthern Arizona University BSW

Ph.D. Programs for Graduate Learners

Doctoral programs in social work can take anywhere from three to six years to complete and are best suited to those with an interest in conducting, publishing, and presenting research to shape the field.

Applicants generally need to have completed an MSW or approved equivalent and can choose to specialize in a particular area of interest on completing their studies.

Social work Ph.D. programs are offered by many of the established institutions we’ve looked at already, plus a few more:

Recommended: Social Workers Toolbox: 6 Best Interventions & Software

Where Does a Social Worker Work?

Although completing a degree doesn’t automatically allow you to work directly with clients, it does open up many opportunities. Once you have successfully completed your fieldwork hours and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Examination for State Social Work licensure, the variety of settings you might be interested in working in is wide.

One of the most popular pathways for graduates with a social work Master’s is to work in a counseling private practices as a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or LCSW.[2]

As an LCSW, this involves implementing interventions to support clients with challenges through mental health services, crisis intervention, or counseling. An LMSW’s role might involve more practice admin, including client intake, billing, and assisting with treatment plan designs.

Here’s a list of more settings where social workers play a valuable role:[3]

  • Community development and medical outreach agencies, e.g., as a Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW) or Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC).
  • Educational institutions, e.g., working as student or family counselors
  • Hospitals and other healthcare settings, e.g., supporting patients and their families in medical settings as a Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (CHP-SW)
  • Government agencies, e.g., in mental health, social services, child welfare, or criminal justice as a Certified Social Work Case Manager (C-SWCM)
  • E-clinics or as self-employed professionals using social work apps to interact with clients.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a social worker takes time and hard work, but it can be a truly rewarding career if you’re genuinely excited about supporting others in the community and society at large.

Hopefully, this article has given you a few good ideas of what your next steps will be. If you’re ready for a closer look at what it’s like to work as a social worker, start your $1, 30-day Quenza trial and try designing your own intervention or treatment plan!


About the author

Catherine specializes in Organizational and Positive Psychology, helping entrepreneurs, clinical psychologists and OD specialists grow their businesses by simplifying their digital journeys.

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