How to Get a Social Work Degree Online

Pursuing a social work degree online offers a flexible and convenient way to enter a rewarding career dedicated to helping individuals, families, and communities. Online social work programs provide the same rigorous education as traditional on-campus programs while allowing students to balance their studies with personal and professional commitments. This guide will explore the steps to obtaining a social work degree online, including choosing the right program, understanding degree options, meeting admission requirements, and succeeding in an online learning environment.

Steps to Getting a Social Work Degree Online

1. Choose the Right Online Program


Ensure that the online social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Accreditation ensures that the program meets high educational standards and prepares students for professional practice. Graduating from a CSWE-accredited program is often a requirement for licensure.

Program Offerings

Research different programs to find one that aligns with your career goals and interests. Online social work programs may offer various specializations, such as clinical social work, school social work, healthcare social work, or community practice. Consider the curriculum, faculty expertise, and available resources when making your decision.

Flexibility and Format

Consider the program’s format and schedule. Some programs offer asynchronous courses, allowing you to complete coursework at your own pace, while others may require synchronous sessions, where you attend live virtual classes. Ensure that the program’s flexibility aligns with your personal and professional commitments.

2. Understand Degree Options

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is the foundational degree for entering the field of social work. It typically takes four years to complete and includes coursework in human behavior, social welfare policy, research methods, and social work practice. A BSW prepares graduates for entry-level positions in social work and eligibility for advanced standing in Master of Social Work (MSW) programs.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is required for clinical practice and higher-level positions in social work. An MSW program usually takes two years to complete for those with a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, students with a BSW from an accredited program may be eligible for advanced standing, allowing them to complete the MSW in about one year. MSW programs include advanced coursework in social work practice, policy, research, and fieldwork experiences.

Doctorate in Social Work (DSW/Ph.D.)

A Doctorate in Social Work (DSW or Ph.D.) is designed for those seeking leadership, research, or academic positions in social work. These programs typically take three to five years to complete and include advanced coursework, research, and dissertation requirements.

3. Meet Admission Requirements

Educational Background

Ensure you meet the educational requirements for the program you are applying to. For a BSW program, you will need a high school diploma or equivalent. For an MSW program, you will need a bachelor’s degree, and for advanced standing, a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program is required.

Application Materials

Prepare the necessary application materials, which typically include transcripts, a personal statement or essay, letters of recommendation, and a resume. Some programs may also require GRE scores, although this is becoming less common.

Relevant Experience

Gaining relevant experience through volunteer work, internships, or employment in social services can strengthen your application. Many programs value practical experience and may require it for admission.

4. Complete Coursework and Fieldwork

Online Coursework

Online social work programs offer coursework in areas such as human behavior, social policy, research methods, and social work practice. Engage actively in online discussions, complete assignments on time, and utilize available resources to succeed academically.


Fieldwork, also known as practicum or internship, is a crucial component of social work education. It provides hands-on experience in a supervised setting. Online programs typically help arrange field placements in your local community. Ensure you meet the fieldwork requirements and gain diverse experiences to prepare for professional practice.

5. Prepare for Licensure

Licensure Requirements

Licensure requirements vary by state but generally include completing an accredited social work program, gaining supervised experience, and passing the relevant licensing exam. Research the specific requirements in your state to ensure you meet all criteria.

Licensing Exams

Prepare for and pass the necessary licensing exams. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) offers exams at different levels, including the Bachelor’s, Master’s, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical levels. Your program may provide resources and support to help you prepare for these exams.

Tips for Succeeding in an Online Social Work Program

Stay Organized

Use digital tools such as calendars, task management apps, and note-taking software to keep track of assignments, deadlines, and study materials. Create a dedicated study space free from distractions and establish a regular study routine.

Engage Actively

Participate actively in online discussions, forums, and group projects. Engaging with your peers and instructors enhances your learning experience and helps you gain different perspectives on the material.

Communicate Regularly

Maintain open communication with your instructors and peers. Regularly check your email and course announcements, and participate in virtual office hours or one-on-one meetings with your teachers. Clear and consistent communication helps you stay informed and receive timely feedback on your progress.

Utilize Available Resources

Take advantage of the resources provided by your online program, such as virtual libraries, tutoring services, and study guides. These resources can help you succeed academically and provide additional support when needed. Additionally, explore external resources, such as professional organizations and online study groups, to supplement your learning.


Earning a social work degree online is a flexible and accessible way to enter a fulfilling and impactful career. By choosing an accredited program, understanding the degree options, meeting admission requirements, and engaging actively in coursework and fieldwork, you can successfully achieve your educational and professional goals. Embrace the opportunities that online social work programs provide and take the next step toward making a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, and communities.

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