Online Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

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Earning a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the first step on an exciting career path that emphasizes advocacy and helping others. Social workers are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 16% increase in social work jobs by 2026 -- nearly double the national average. A bachelor's social work degree introduces foundational concepts in sociology, psychology, ethics, and public policy. Many social work programs also include supervised internships or fieldwork components, which present hands-on opportunities to work with diverse populations and improve conditions in nearby communities.

Many individuals with a bachelor's degree in social work practice at the macro level, helping policymakers and organizations make improvements to programs and policies. Others take on administrative roles in community-based, nonprofit, and government organizations. Some graduates view a BSW as a stepping stone to becoming a clinical social worker and working towards a master's degree in social work (MSW). A degree is also associated with higher wages. As the table below demonstrates, education exerts a strong influence on earning power.

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What to Expect From an Online BSW Program

All bachelor's of social work online programs are different, and curricula, cost, and course offerings vary from school to school. In this section, we'll take a look at the major aspects of online BSW programs, and how you can select a degree that fits your goals and interests.

How Much Is an Online BSW?

The cost of an online social work degree depends on several factors, including program length, whether you enroll full or part time, residency requirements, and any transfer credits you may hold. Individuals earning an online degree often pay lower tuition rates than their on-campus counterparts, and some charge the same for in- and out-of-state students. In addition, distance learners avoid many of the additional costs associated with campus life, including transportation, housing, parking fees, and meal plans. Online degrees are also an economical choice for parents, eliminating the need for childcare.

While pursuing a BSW online degree is often more affordable than enrolling in a traditional program, there are certain other factors to consider. Some schools charge technology and distance education fees along with tuition, and students seeking credit for experience may need to pay for their evaluations. Learners completing an internship are responsible for transportation to the work site and purchasing professional attire.

Many school websites provide a tuition calculator on their website, which can help you estimate the cost of attendance and develop a budget. However, the most accurate way of determining a program's cost is to contact the school's admissions or financial aid office.

What Will I Learn in an Online BSW Program?

Distance learners can choose from hundreds of online BSW programs, offered by schools around the country. This broad spectrum of courses and concentrations makes it easy for online students to find a program that aligns with their interests and career objectives. While course offerings vary between institutions, the following examples are commonly included in undergraduate curriculums.

  • Social Policy: Lectures explore the process of developing and implementing social policies at the local, state, and federal levels. Students learn how social policy impacts individuals and communities, as well as strategies for enacting beneficial policy changes. Coursework presents concepts integral to government and nonprofit organizational roles.
  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Understanding human behavior is central to social work, and this course presents a thorough study of human experience within the social context. Coursework also explores the development of morals and values, cultural diversity in society, and the influence of systemic structures and power dynamics.
  • Social Work Methods: In this applied course, learners develop approaches to social work practice by implementing various methodologies related to relationship building, collaboration, and self-reflection. By completing service-oriented exercises, students practice techniques for client assessment and evaluation, problem solving, and project development.
  • Research Methods: Coursework presents a broad survey of research methods and design, as well as how research is applied to social policy. Students analyze research papers to determine the strengths and weaknesses of various methods used in program development and social policy. Hands-on assignments aid in developing evidence-based interventions and program evaluation.
  • Social Work History and Contemporary Issues: Class participants gain context for their studies by examining the history of social welfare and social movements in the United States. By examining the historical and contemporary impacts of privilege and oppression, students acquire a broader understanding of the factors influencing social and systemic change.

Social Work Internships and Fellowships

While fellowships and internships share some similar aspects, there are several major differences between the two positions. Fellowships are paid opportunities intended for advanced degree candidates. Internships, however, are a common element of undergraduate online social work degrees, and involve a period of unpaid work-study. Providing a chance for students to synthesize and apply their knowledge, internships ensure that learners receive thorough, standardized training. Along with introducing candidates to the social work environment, internships present many networking, job placement, and career advancement opportunities.

On average, a bachelor of social work degree requires around 500 hours in a supervised internship. Students pursuing a BSW online are assigned internship placements at approved work sites. Some schools maintain ongoing agreements with local facilities, while others require that students find a site in their community. Typically, distance learners work with a program adviser to find an appropriate internship and develop a project or work plan that meets program requirements. Online students receive ongoing guidance from both their internship supervisor and program adviser. Work-study programs also receive regular reviews from the school's accrediting body, to ensure that the experience contributes to students' academic and professional development.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Social Work?

Numerous factors may influence the amount of time it takes to complete a BSW degree online. A bachelor's in social work degree typically consists of 60 credits of general, major, and elective coursework, and requires two to four years of full-time study. Program structure and pacing also affect degree length. Asynchronous, self-paced courses allow students to complete coursework as quickly as they like, with no or few required times to be online. In contrast, cohort-based programs feature set schedules and predetermined course sequences, and the program's duration is fixed. Unfulfilled prerequisites, minors, and internship requirements may lengthen a degree, while transfer students may graduate early.

Are Online BSW Programs Accredited?

Choosing an accredited school ensures that you receive the best possible education. Accreditation is a quality-control process used by independent agencies to review school policies and confirm that the institution meets the highest academic and ethical standards. Both online and on-campus programs may receive accreditation.

Schools may be either regionally or nationally accredited. The most highly regarded designation is regional accreditation, which is typically awarded to academically focused, nonprofit institutions. Private, for-profit trade and vocational schools tend to receive national accreditation. There are seven regional accrediting bodies that evaluate online schools:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • 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 may also gain specialized accreditation. Social work programs are accredited 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, it's important to verify the program's accreditation status through the CSWE database.

Licensure With an Online BSW

All licensed social workers 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, clinical social workers must meet additional requirements. Because clinical social workers are permitted to diagnose and treat clients, they must hold a master's 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.

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 licensed clinical social workers.

The National Association of Social Workers offers the following certifications to BSW:

  • Certified Social Work Case Manager
  • Social Worker in Gerontology
  • Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Social Worker
  • Military Service Members, Veterans, and their Families -- Social Worker
  • Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker

What Can You Do With a BSW Degree?

Graduates of bachelor's in social work online programs take on a variety of positions and work in many different settings. Some work in the healthcare industry, while others find employment with family services organizations, government agencies, and mental health and substance abuse clinics. Social workers must possess strong communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills, and often encounter heavy caseloads, understaffed organizations, and emotionally stressful situations. The following occupations are highly rewarding as well as challenging, and provide many opportunities to help others.

Social and Human Service Assistant: Working alongside licensed social workers, these assistants are employed in client services and programs. They assess clients' needs, help individuals obtain benefits, and document cases. An advanced degree is not required for this role, but may present additional employment opportunities.

Social Worker: BSW and MSW generalists work in relief services, government agencies, and care facilities. While social workers perform a wide spectrum of duties, most provide client and community support, develop policies, and serve as advocates for individuals facing a variety of challenges.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers: These specialists are employed in both social service and school settings, where they assess the needs of at-risk children and families. Some specialize in foster care and adoption placement, while others advocate for abused children.

Healthcare Social Workers: While many of these social workers play a strong role in healthcare policy development, others support patients and families experiencing chronic or terminal illness. They promote health measures, counsel caregivers, and strive to make care accessible for all.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselors: Working in rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, or private practice, these counselors assess and treat people struggling with addiction and mental health challenges. Depending on their area of specialization, they may provide therapy, design prevention initiatives, and or work in crisis management.

Social Workers' Salaries by Experience

  Entry Level (0-5 Years) Mid-Career (5-10 Years) Experienced (10-20 Years) Late Career (20+ years)
Social Worker $40,000 $46,000 $51,000 $55,000
Case Manager $34,000 $39,000 $42,000 $61,000
Social Services Director $41,000 $49,000 $52,000 $55,000
Social Work Supervisor $46,000 $51,000 $57,000 $66,000
Source: PayScale

Professional Organizations for Social Workers

Whether you're currently earning a bachelor's of social work online or have recently graduated, professional organizations have plenty to offer. 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. You may be interested in joining one of the following associations.

  • Council on Social Work Education: CSWE serves to promote 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 needed to promote social justice and equality in the field. Student, transitional, and full members gain access to extensive benefits and discounts, including career development resources, ethics consultations, and local chapters. hip levels are available.
  • School Social Work Association of America: The SSWAA unites school social workers under the banner of public policy development. While members receive a variety of benefits, including liability insurance and access to the SSWAA digital library, the association functions primarily 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.
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