Is An Online MSW Worth It?

master of social work msw worth it

Key Takeaways:

  • Online MSW programs offer flexibility and cost benefits
  • Accreditation, field placements, and career goals are critical factors in assessing the value of an online MSW


In its Accreditation Directory, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) lists more than 320 fully accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. Many of them are in online formats. Today, more online MSW programs are being offered, such as those at Howard University and Baylor University.

So, if you’re asking, “Is an online MSW worth it?” we must say that the increasing number of individuals enrolling in online MSW programs points to a single answer – Yes, it is.

Featured Programs

Of course, whether an online MSW is worth it in your case will depend on your specific circumstances.

Definition of an Online MSW

Online MSW degrees are graduate degrees earned through online academic programs from regionally accredited colleges and universities. Online graduate programs with programmatic accreditation have the same admissions criteria and process, curriculum and coursework, and academic quality as on-campus programs.


Students in accredited online MSW programs receive a well-rounded education and training. They become prepared for leadership roles, advanced social work practice, and licensure. As such, admission into the best programs can be selective. The general admission criteria include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in social work or related field
  • Competitive GPA, usually at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • Completion of prerequisite courses
  • Relevant work experience and volunteer experience
  • Resume
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • Competitive GRE scores

The program of study differs among online MSW programs, but the common components include:

  • Foundation courses
  • Core courses
  • Elective courses
  • Concentration courses
  • Advanced practice courses
  • Field experiences
  • Licensure-related courses
  • Capstone project or master’s thesis

Since the main difference between on-campus and online MSW programs is in their delivery, their graduates receive the same diplomas.

Demand for Social Workers and the Importance of the MSW Degree

If you’re planning on pursuing an online MSW degree, you will appreciate the high demand for social workers. The projected job growth for social workers is 7% – or about 63,800 openings every year, on average – in the 2022-2032 period. This is faster than average for all occupations. The high demand stems from domestic violence, mental health illnesses, and substance abuse.

With an MSW degree, you can be part of the solution in addressing the social issues that plague our modern society. You have the competencies to make a positive impact on kids, families, and communities. Your graduate degree is your tool for promoting social justice, addressing social inequalities, and empowering people.

Indeed, the improved career advancement opportunities and increased earning potential can be considered the icing on the cake when earning an online MSW degree.

Pros and Cons of an Online MSW Degree

But it’s also important to consider the pros and cons of online MSW degree programs before making your final decision.


The online MSW benefits contribute to the increasing popularity of their programs.

1. Flexibility for working professionals

You can maintain part-time or full-time employment, enjoy your social life, and meet your obligations while pursuing an online MSW degree. The courses are delivered through online learning platforms. You can attend classes from anywhere with your personal computer with an Internet connection.

2. Cost-effectiveness compared to traditional programs

You can save on indirect costs like transportation, books and supplies, and even facilities fees.

3. Diverse field placement opportunities

Your hands-on training opportunities can be in healthcare institutions, human services agencies, and community organizations.


But there are disadvantages that you should be aware of, too.

1. Limited face-to-face interaction with peers and instructors

Online classes mean your in-person interactions will be limited to field experiences. You may or may not thrive in the more impersonal learning setting.

2. Potential challenges in building professional networks

Since there are fewer face-to-face interactions, you may have more challenges in meeting new people and expanding your network. However, it can be resolved by participating in as many virtual and in-person networking events as possible.

3. Self-motivation and time management required

With less structure, especially in asynchronous courses, you must adopt effective time management, organization, and motivation skills to keep on track with your graduate studies. 

Factors to Consider Before Pursuing an Online MSW

Is online MSW valuable? Yes, it is, but only if you can leverage it to your personal and professional advantage. You must then carefully consider these factors in deciding whether it’s for you or not.

Career Goals in Social Work

Ask yourself, “What are my career goals in the field of social work?” If your career goals include many, if not most, of the following goals, then an online MSW degree is an excellent choice.

  • Become a licensed social worker.
  • Develop specialist knowledge, skills, and competencies in working with children, families and communities toward their welfare and empowerment.
  • Become an advocate for policy change, social justice, and research in social work and, in the process, contribute toward finding solutions for social issues.
  • Work in government, nonprofit organizations, and private practice in empowering marginalized and at-risk populations and creating safe spaces for them.
  • Collaborate with other professionals in providing effective and efficient social and human services for individuals facing personal challenges, such as terminal illness and domestic violence.
  • Pursue professional development and continuing education. These include professional certifications and a doctoral degree in social work.

Keep in mind that pursuing an online MSW degree requires significant investments in time, energy and money. Your career goals must justify these investments.

Accreditation and reputation of the online program

Always check the online MSW accreditation when considering degree programs. Programmatic accreditation demonstrates compliance with the standards set by CSWE, the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States. Plus, a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited agency is a common requirement for social worker licensure.

Field placement opportunities and support

While the didactic courses are essential, online MSW field placements are vital to skills development. Also known as internships, these field education experiences allow students to apply their skills to real-life situations.

You must ask yourself, “Will I be able to meet the field placement requirements?” when determining whether you’re a good fit. The number of hours required, the places of internship, and other field requirements vary between online programs.

But, in general, the number ranges from 900 to 1,200 hours. You may be required to work between 16 and 20 hours per week in the field agencies where you will be assigned.

Other important aspects when making an online MSW program comparison are their tuition and fees, curriculum and coursework, duration, and grade requirements. You may also want to check out online MSW success stories for reference and inspiration.

Impact of an Online MSW on Career Advancement

The online MSW career impact can be summarized as follows.

  • Improved job opportunities, particularly if you’re getting into clinical social work. You can also select from mental healthcare manager, school counselor, and medical social worker jobs. Your potential workplaces are just as varied, too, from federal government agencies to international relief organizations.
  • Increased earning potential as a licensed social worker. While social workers earn $55,350 in median annual wages, many more earn higher salaries, such as clinical case managers and policy directors.

In short, you will gain specialist knowledge, skills, and competencies that will put you in the best position for career advancement.


Recap of Key Points

Online MSW programs are just as selective in their admissions process and challenging in their curriculum as their on-campus counterparts. Prospective students must then carefully consider a good fit in their chosen programs.

Final Thoughts

Earning an online MSW degree will open career advancement opportunities not possible with a bachelor’s degree alone. But it’s also your sole responsibility to leverage it in your career.