Social workers provide holistic support to help their clients overcome complex challenges. They bring together resources to help families experiencing displacement or issues of addiction, with both immediate intervention and strategies for long-term improvement. Each social worker must earn a license in the state where they work, and most states require a minimum of a bachelor of social work (BSW).
Social work offers opportunities to work in many different settings, such as government agencies, schools, or hospitals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 11% increase in social work employment from 2018-28, with social workers reporting a median salary of $49,470 in 2018. Some specialties, such as healthcare and mental health, receive even more robust employment projections.
A social worker intending to offer mental health services must earn a master of social work (MSW) degree in clinical social work. Your online bachelor's degree in social work prepares students for entry-level social work careers and sets them on a path for master's coursework in the future. This resource can help you identify the best school for your needs and explore career opportunities after graduation.
Online learning offers enrollees a rich, interactive learning experience that applies the same rigorous curriculum as in-person programs. Students must complete the same course requirements, usually 120 credits for a bachelor's degree, as their on-campus peers.
Schools and faculty make their online programs more flexible, however, through asynchronous scheduling and innovative course schedules. Often, classes provide assignments with scheduled due dates. Online learners must possess excellent time management skills and the self-discipline required to stay up on current tasks.
Many schools offer online accelerated bachelor's degrees in social work through eight-week terms. Students focus on fewer classes at a time and complete more credits each year than they could through traditional, part-time enrollment. Accelerated schedules allow students to graduate 1-2 semesters earlier. Most bachelor's degrees require four years to complete.
What Will I Learn in an Online BSW Program?
Your online bachelor's degree in social work includes an introduction to different types of social work. Students explore various cultures and diverse communities, learn about research and policy, and practice various forms of intervention through fieldwork and hands-on learning opportunities. General education courses in English, history, and science support the social work curriculum and develop analytical abilities.
Learners can specialize in micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level social work. These fields within the discipline focus on the needs of individuals, small groups or neighborhoods, and community needs, respectively. Many schools offer electives that develop a greater understanding of a chosen concentration. These programs may also support continued study at the graduate level.
Social Work Internships and Fellowships
Hands-on learning opportunities enhance a bachelor of social work online curriculum. Many schools help students arrange for practicums, internships, and fellowships with agencies and organizations near their homes. Internships allow learners to apply the concepts and theories discussed in class, build professional relationships, and demonstrate practical competencies. Some schools offer internships as capstone experiences, while others provide opportunities based on student interests.
While similar to internships, fellowships often require MSWs or advanced coursework. They may last a year or more, while internships typically follow a semester schedule. Both types of field experiences may offer students pay or stipends, though some programs offer only academic credit.
Are Online BSW Programs Accredited?
Choosing an accredited school ensures that you receive the best possible education. Accreditation, a quality-control process used by independent agencies to review school policies and confirm that an institution meets the highest academic and ethical standards, applies to both online and on-campus programs.
Schools may receive regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation, which agencies award to academically focused nonprofit institutions, holds more esteem. Private, for-profit trade and vocational schools tend to receive national accreditation. Seven regional accrediting bodies evaluate online and on-campus schools:
Higher Learning Commission
Middle States Commission on Higher Education
New England Commission of Higher Education
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
Individual programs can also hold specialized accreditation. Social work programs receive accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and licensure is reserved for graduates of CSWE-accredited programs. Before selecting an online social work degree, each student should verify the program's accreditation status through the CSWE database.
Licensure With an Online BSW
Each licensed social worker must hold at least a bachelor's degree, complete a period of supervised work experience, and pass an exam. While a license qualifies social workers for independent practice, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) must meet additional requirements. Because LCSWs can diagnose and treat clients, they must hold an MSW degree before applying for licensure. Regardless of educational level or license, all candidates must pass an exam offered through the Association of Social Work Boards.
Specialized Certifications for BSW Degree-Holders
Some social workers choose to pursue specialized certifications and credentials. Offered through professional organizations, certifications allow social workers to demonstrate their expertise in a particular area, such as addiction counseling or gerontology. While many credentials require only a BSW license, a period of supervised experience, and an exam, others are reserved for LCSWs.
Certified hospice and palliative care social worker
Military service members, veterans, and their families -- social worker
Certified children, youth, and family social worker
Salary and Jobs With a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work
Earning an online bachelor's degree in social work accredited by the CSWE prepares graduates for multiple human service careers. BLS data indicates that social workers made a median salary of $49,470 in 2018, with a projected 11% job growth rate from 2018-28. Graduates can also continue their education and prepare for specialized careers in counseling or in serving a specific population.
Social and Human Service Assistant
These assistants help social workers, therapists, counselors, and others provide direct care to clients. They may help to organize resources or develop plans to overcome challenges. They often work in residential care facilities, schools, or individual service organizations.
Social workers must each gain a state license before offering client services. Industries that employ the highest number of social workers include federal agencies, local governments, state governments, individual service organizations, and community relief services.
These specialists work with children and families to address parenting needs, facilitating adoption services, finding foster homes, or identifying resources for academic success. Social workers may work for schools, state or local governments, or social advocacy organizations.
Hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and home healthcare providers rely on healthcare social workers to help clients with serious illnesses coordinate services. These social workers may provide education and counseling for patients and families. They also refer families to community resources to address barriers to healthcare access.
Social workers with advanced clinical training help their clients overcome mental illness, addiction, or emotional disturbances. These social workers can provide clinical services while also helping to address comprehensive client needs, like healthcare access, housing, or education. Most mental health social workers work for outpatient care centers.
Whether you're currently earning a bachelor of social work online or have recently graduated, professional organizations offer many benefits. Along with providing access to a national network of peers, exclusive career services, and continuing education materials, these organizations host networking opportunities, such as conferences and seminars.
Council on Social Work Education CSWE promotes professionalism and academic excellence in social work education. Membership is open to both individuals and accredited degree programs, and affiliates receive monthly newsletters and access to the CSWE career center. The association also hosts an annual conference and regular networking events.
National Association of Social Workers This organization offers students and professionals the tools to promote social justice and equality in the field. Student, transitional, and full members can access extensive benefits and discounts, including career development resources, ethics consultations, and local chapters.
School Social Work Association of America The SSWAA unites school social workers under the banner of public policy development. Members receive many benefits, including liability insurance and access to the SSWAA digital library, but the association primarily functions as an advocacy group.
American Clinical Social Work Association This organization offers support and resources for practicing and prospective clinical social workers. Along with access to a community of like-minded peers, members receive liability insurance, blog hosting services, and free publications.
Society for Social Work and Research Consisting of social work students, professionals, and faculty, this organization promotes scholarly research and inquiry. Membership benefits include free journals, a job board that links researchers with opportunities, and a doctoral student support center.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does an online BSW cost?
Undergraduate students attending in-state public universities paid an average of $8,804 in tuition and fees in 2017. Online students can save on college costs by not having to pay for transportation or room and board expenses. Many schools offer tuition discounts for online students, such as waiving out-of-state fees or not charging some campus-based fees.
What is the best online college for social work?
When choosing an online bachelor's degree in social work, accredited programs offer advantages for employment and graduate school applications. Your selected program should meet your state's licensing criteria. Consider the specializations available at your school, any areas of research supported by the faculty, and opportunities for internships or fieldwork.
How long does it take to get a bachelor's degree in social work online?
Most online bachelor's degrees in social work comprise 120 credits. A full-time student can often complete a degree in about four years. Schools offering accelerated programs allow enrollees to graduate sooner. Institutions offering transfer credit for prior college-level coursework or professional experience can shorten the time needed to graduate, as well.
Is getting a bachelor's degree online hard?
Earning your bachelor's degree online requires commitment, time management, and self-discipline. Students must maintain communication with faculty and complete assignments on time. Many schools provide online learners with academic support, such as academic advisors, online tutoring, or research assistance. These resources can help online students succeed in their educational programs.