If you are a compassionate person that is looking for a career that puts you on the forefront of improving the lives of those in your community, then a Social Work degree can help you achieve that goal! Through direct interaction with clients and their families, those in the field of Social Work help individuals who are struggling with mental health or social concerns find assistance to improve their lives.
Now more than ever, adult students are left juggling work and family obligations while trying to complete their education. Online degree programs in Social Work have been a popular option for those who need the flexibility to schedule classes around their busy lives and still receive a reputable, quality education.
Careers in Social Work
The field of Social Work is broad, and there are a number of different career paths you can take once you have earned your online degree. Whether you want to work in the field as a child or family social worker or you hope to provide one-on-one counseling with clients, the various degree programs available can be customized to help meet your goals.
For an idea of the occupations available in Social Work, see the list below with examples of popular career paths and their median annual salary:
|Job Title||Job Summary||Median Annual Salary|
|Social Worker||Works with patients and families to assess and treat a variety of mental health and social concerns.||$47,803|
|Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)||Professionals who offer psychological counseling, therapy, and assistance for a variety of mental conditions.||$59,402|
|Case Manager, Social Services||Manages client caseloads and works to address client issues and meet their needs.||$40,490|
|Mental Health Therapist||Uses a variety of psychological methods to help patients overcome behavioral and psychological obstacles.||$48,457|
|Medical Social Worker||Responsible for administrative medical tasks pertaining to high-quality client interactions.||$56,462|
*Job and salary data provided by Payscale.com
While you may not earn a six-figure salary as a social worker, the typical annual pay for those with advanced education and licensing is well above the national average across all occupations. Depending upon your own personal skillset and experience, you may make more or less than the numbers listed above when pursing one of these rewarding career paths.
Types of Online Social Work Degrees
There are several online degree programs available in Social Work from respected universities, from associate’s programs up through graduate degrees. The program that you choose depends largely upon your long-term career goals as well as your state’s specific social worker licensing requirements.
Every state has different requirements for social work licensing, and it is essential to check into the laws and regulations where you live to ensure that you are enrolling in an online degree program that meets these requirements. In states such as Pennsylvania, Licensed Social Workers are required to have completed a minimum of a master’s program from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education in order to become licensed. Other states, such as Arizona, offer licenses at the baccalaureate level. Regardless of your state’s educational requirements, you will likely have to sit for comprehensive examinations in order to successfully obtain your license as a social worker.
Online Associate’s Degrees in Social Work
If you are interested in working with children or as an assistant social worker, an associate’s degree in Social Work can be a good starting point to get a jumpstart in your career. Many students also use this degree as a foundation for higher level degree programs that offer the potential to work as Licensed Social Workers.
At this time, an Associate’s degree in Social Work is not offered online; however, there are a few universities offering online degrees in psychology which provide an excellent foundation for an online Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Social Work.
Throughout the duration of your online associate’s program, you will receive career-focused training to help you prepare for working directly with clients and their families. A few of the topics that will be covered in your online classes include:
- Multicultural Issues
- Behavior Modification
- Social Welfare and Concerns
Completion of an online associate’s degree in Social Work will allow you to continue on with your education knowing that you have a solid foundation in the basic principles essential to working in the challenging world of social work.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work
Having a bachelor’s degree in Social Work is often the minimum educational requirement that allows for licensing in select states. Even if your state does not license at the bachelor’s level, you may have the opportunity to work within the field through rewarding careers in anti-poverty programs, corrections, or criminal justice. It is important to note that some online universities require a minimum number of previous college credits or an associate’s degree in order to enroll in the bachelor’s of Social Work completion program.
There are a number of courses that you may take throughout your online bachelor’s in Social Work degree program, including:
- Human Behavior in the Social Environment
- Social Work and Aging
- Diversity and Ethical Considerations
- Social Welfare Policy
- In-depth Research Courses
Although your courses can be completed online at a pace that suits your lifestyle, some programs also require on-site field practicums in order to learn the advanced skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
Online Master’s Degrees in Social Work
When you are ready to go beyond the basics and earn a graduate degree to pursue work as a licensed social worker or other high-level position, a master’s degree in Social Work is the next step. This online degree program will help prepare you for supervisory roles within a clinical practice and is often a prerequisite for obtaining a license through the state.
During the course of this program, you will take a number of advanced classes that cover the following topics:
- Cultural Competence and Diversity
- Advanced Research Skills
- Integrative Technology
- Human Behavior and the Social Environment
- Advanced Interventions for Mental Health
Additionally, your online master’s program will likely require you to successfully complete a number of practicum courses that provide practical-skills training in the field.
Online Doctorate Degrees in Social Work
For those interested in reaching the pinnacle of their social work education, a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program is the best option. Select universities now offer this competitive program online, and the intensive courses are designed to prepare students to be advocates for social justice and trailblazers for public policy changes.
To successfully complete a DSW program online, there are likely to be several components involved, including:
- In-depth online coursework
- In-person workshops and seminars
- Participatory research courses
- Professional dissertation
While the majority of your DSW program can be completed online, it is important to understand the on-site requirements of your school’s program before committing to enrollment.
Social Work Career Outlook and Salary Information
Those employed in the community and social service field are valued within society, and skilled professionals are always in high demand. Before determining the online Social Work degree that is right for you, it is important to look at resources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to find information on the career outlook and projected salaries of your future occupation.
The BLS projects that the overall employment for social workers between 2019 and 2029 will grow 13%, which is faster than the average across all occupations. However, the projected outlooks can vary based upon specialty. For example, child, family, and school social workers are expected to experience a 12% growth rate while healthcare social workers can expect 14% employment growth. Across the board, the overall median annual salary for social workers is $50,470 as of May 2019.
View a list of the top 40 Social careers to compare jobs and salaries in this field.
Is an Online Degree in Social Work Right for me?
There are several factors to consider when determining if an online Social Work degree is right for you. If you are a self-motivated individual who needs flexibility in scheduling, then an online program may be the right option to help you balance the demands of your daily life.
Some of the many advantages that come from completing a Social Work degree online include:
- Ability to log-on to classes at your convenience
- Options to complete your coursework at an accelerated pace
- Flexible on-site practicums that can be scheduled around your busy life
- Ease of transferring credits to graduate Social Work degrees
Social Work vs. Counseling
The fields of social work and counseling have many overlaps, and it is helpful to understand the unique roles of each position before deciding on a program of study. Both mental health social workers and counselors can provide psychotherapy to clients, and licensed social workers with advanced degrees may even work at their own private practice. However, social workers also tend to play a role in adapting a client’s environment to suit their needs with support services and other assistance.
When deciding between a degree in social work or counseling, it can be helpful to look into the specific laws that govern those careers in your state. The licensing requirements and scope of practice can vary between states, and understanding these regulations will help you decide which career path best suits your long-term goals.
Interested in learning more about counseling? Check out our in-depth discussion of counseling degrees and programs offered online.
Comparing Top Social Work Degree Programs
With the rise in the popularity of online education, many of the nation’s top universities are offering competitive online Social Work degree programs. However, it is still important to do your research to ensure that you are not enrolling in a “degree mill” school with a poor professional reputation.
Earning a degree through an accredited college or university is highly recommended to ensure that you are receiving the highest quality education and a degree that will be recognized by future employers. By undergoing a voluntary review process by a recognized accrediting agency, a school can help support their student body by ensuring that their degree programs and services meet top quality standards.
There are many recognized accrediting agencies in the U.S., and the U.S. Department of Education endorses a number of regional agencies. Additionally, you are likely to come across the following names of other recognized agencies throughout your research into prospective schools:
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
If you are unsure if the accreditation of a school is recognized in your field of study, take a look at the U.S. Department of Education’s website for a full list of recognized national and regional agencies.
Student to Faculty Ratio
Having a low student to faculty ratio in your online Social Work degree program is essential to getting the most out of your educational experience. With small class sizes, your professor will be able to provide one-on-one feedback and support to students that helps ensure their success within the program.
It is especially helpful to have a favorable student to faculty ratio when it comes to graduate degree programs in Social Work that require intensive, advanced courses. By ensuring that your school supports small class sizes and employs skilled faculty members, you can have peace of mind that you will be enrolling in a high-quality degree program.
Academic Advising and Student Services
Completing the demands of an online degree program in Social Work can be made easier when your school goes above and beyond to offer academic advising and student services to support you throughout your journey.
When researching online degree programs, take a look at which services your school offers to their distance learning students to see if it is a good fit for you. Some of the services that help top colleges stand out from the crowd may include:
- Advising support to help you choose the Social Work degree path that is right for you
- Flexible practicum and residency programs for graduate Social Work students
- Extensive online resources, including full library access and research materials
- Interactive educational technology that puts you in touch with top Social Work experts
If you are looking for a rewarding career with great potential for growth, then a degree in Social Work may be the right step to get you started! Whether you want to learn advanced skills to supplement your current job position or you are interested in earning a graduate degree to open your own clinical practice, there are a number of diverse degree options available to help you make a difference in the world of social services!