Bachelor of Social Work Online (Online BSW)

By Staff

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.

Table of Contents

Featured Online Programs

The Best Online Bachelor of Social Work Programs

Eastern Washington University

American Express Company founder Benjamin Pierce Cheney established EWU in 1882. The social work major dates back to 1959 as part of the university's Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work. Today, the university offers a partially online social work degree in the School of Social Work, featuring on-campus classes in Cheney, Washington.

Over two years, the partially online bachelor of social work (BSW) program prepares students for positions in criminal justice, public welfare, and school social work. Students take social work classes in research, data analysis, social policy, and assessments. While core courses typically are not available online, electives can be completed through distance learning. In their final year, BSW students complete three practicum placements at social work agencies.

Students interested in working with children can enter the Child Welfare Training and Advancement Program, with post-college positions available through the Department of Children Youth and Families.

The department accepts applicants with a 2.5 grade point average (GPA) or higher, 40 volunteer or work experience hours at a human services agency, and two professional or academic references.

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University of Louisville

This historic Kentucky university offers an online social work degree through its Kent School of Social Work. The program features a specialized track in drug and alcohol counseling.

Faculty advisors beginning at the new student orientation help students pick electives and a practicum that benefits their future careers.

Candidates pursuing a bachelor's in social work online complete 30 upper division courses in human behavior and social environment in addition to issues in policy and service delivery. The 120-credit bachelor of social work online degree also includes four practicum courses and two labs. Future drug and addiction counselors intern at treatment centers and take electives in mental health and substance use as well as substance use disorders.

Like traditional on-campus students, online learners complete a field experience under master's-educated social workers. Students may be able to satisfy curriculum requirements by performing fieldwork at their workplaces.

UofL accepts 60 transfer credits from community colleges and 90 credits from four-year schools.

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Wayne State University

Based in Detroit, Michigan, WSU offers 350 degree and certificate programs, including an online social work degree.

Students enroll in the bachelor of social work online degree through the Where Online Works (WOW) program. WOW accepts college juniors who have completed at least 60 credits at WSU or another accredited college.

While online classes follow the same schedule as on-campus courses, they offer more flexibility for students managing family and work obligations. Students take 51 core credits and nine electives over four terms, gaining the academic foundation required to become generalist social workers.

Classes cover research methods, social work practice, human behaviors and the social environment, and social welfare policy and services. Seniors complete 460-hour internships, working with at-risk communities and people of color.

While they study remotely, degree seekers can access support services such as online tutoring, mentoring, and academic advice.

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Northern Arizona University

NAU opened in Flagstaff 120 years ago and continues to put students first, having offered online programs for more than 30 years.

Distance learners take either synchronous classes at scheduled times or competency-based classes that operate on a self-paced basis. Competency-based online classes let students pay a six-month subscription fee and complete as many programs as they like during that time. Students who select the traditionally structured online program pay a per-credit tuition rate.

One of NAU's 86 traditional online programs, the bachelor's degree in social work features courses in research methods, crisis intervention, and information technology literacy.

The major requires 75-76 credits, including 12 credits of field study and a senior capstone. Candidates can take classes on Southwest indigenous populations, gender, and social and economic justice.

NAU's online programs feature multiple start dates.

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Liberty University

Founded in 1971, Liberty boasts an academic catalog of more than 450 Christ-centered distance education programs. The university also offers a bachelor's in social work online that holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.

Exploring human psychology from a Christian perspective, the 120-credit bachelor of social work takes about 3.5 years to complete. Liberty's generous transfer policy lets students transfer up to 75% of their degree from another institution.

Social work students learn counseling strategies and intervention techniques to better help people and communities. They test their classroom knowledge during field placements which take place in their local areas. Online learners must attend a five-day intensive at Liberty's Lynchburg, Virginia campus.

Proud to offer affordable education, Liberty provides fixed tuition and free electronic textbooks. Applicants should possess a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) or higher for admittance.

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Angelo State University

Located in west Texas, ASU houses six colleges and boasts more than 100 majors and minors. ASU's Archer College of Health and Human Services offers a completely online bachelor's degree in social work that prepares students to take the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners test.

Transfer students and current ASU degree seekers must complete a pre-social work program before starting the 120-credit online social work degree. Prerequisites include an introduction to social work course, at least 30 general education credits, and 20 volunteer hours. The bachelor of social work online program emphasizes a biopsychosocial approach, with classes that explore biological, social, cultural, and psychological theories.

Students explore social work theory and evaluation methods during field education experiences. The internship, spread over two semesters, requires students to complete 500 hours. Online learners must get malpractice insurance before beginning fieldwork.

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Troy University

Troy opened in 1887 and continues to expand, with four campuses across Alabama and 123 online programs for students anywhere in the country.

The online bachelor's degree in social work lets students customize their studies with minors in case management and human services. In their freshmen and sophomore years, students declare social work as their major and begin taking prerequisites. Candidates need a 2.5 grade point average (GPA) and a minimum of 30 credits to apply for the program.

Incoming juniors take introduction to social work before enrolling in major courses like social work with individuals and families. Students must complete 400 internship hours by their senior year.

Coursework and field experience prepare graduates to sit for the Alabama licensure exam. Students also attend political events where they can witness social workers influencing policy. Candidates who earn their bachelor of social work online find jobs as healthcare social workers, marriage and family therapists, and mental health and substance abuse social workers.

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Spring Arbor University

One of the top Christian colleges to offer a degree in social work, Michigan's SAU has provided Christ-centered education since 1873.

Candidates who pursue the 124-credit online social work degree explore social work theory as they develop the practical counseling skills needed to help vulnerable communities. A faculty mentor guides online learners throughout the program. To graduate, distance learners must complete a 400-hour internship.

Along with classes like social work in research design and assessments, students take courses covering biblical perspectives and the Christian faith. Most classes operate asynchronously, but students can also attend live Zoom lectures. Qualified Michigan residents can apply for the child welfare endorsement, and graduates may apply for state social work licensure.

The program is open to students with at least 58 transferable credits. Graduates work for family and child services, domestic violence prevention, and community development. More than 95% of bachelor of social work candidates are accepted into SAU's graduate program.

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Misericordia University

This small public college draws on its history of Catholic service to offer a 121-credit online social work degree.

The program includes a flexible fieldwork requirement that can be completed in the evenings and on weekends. Learners earning their bachelor of social work online take courses such as comparative sociology, fulfilling both major and general education requirements and leaving them free to pursue minors. Misericordia offers minors in gerontology, addictions counseling, psychology, and religious studies.

The two-year program consists of mostly online courses, with a hybrid format option. Graduates can pursue social work licensure in Pennsylvania and several other states. Classes begin in the fall and students proceed through their studies alongside the same cohort of learners.

The admissions process begins with an interview in a student's sophomore year. Prospective social work majors need at least 45 credits and a minimum 2.5 grade point average (GPA).

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Aurora University

AU is a private school that offers more than 50 majors and minors. The university offers affordable tuition and ample financial aid, with about 98% of students at AU receiving financial awards.

Candidates enrolled in AU's online social work degree program benefit from free digital textbooks and materials through the Open Education Resources program. While students may pursue their bachelor of social work online, they can also take classes in person at AU's Woodstock Center.

This 40-credit degree takes 2-4 years to complete, depending on a student's previous college experience. Eight-week classes cover counseling techniques for groups, communities and organizations, and individuals and families. Degree seekers integrate their learning experiences in two field internships.

Graduates can apply for AU's master of social work program and earn advanced standing. The School of Social Work requires prospective students to hold an average 2.5 grade point average (GPA) and complete 60 general education credits. AU's application process is free.

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Bemidji State University

Founded in 1919 with 38 students, BSU now serves about 5,100 undergraduates through more than 65 majors.

While students earning an online bachelor's degree in social work at BSU complete most of their coursework through a digital learning platform, they must visit the university's Minnesota campus one Saturday a month.

This hybrid program, called the Social Work Integrated Model, welcomes 20-person cohorts. Students take 2-3 classes every semester and finish each term with an orientation to prepare them for a 480-hour internship. Part- and full-time internships offer practical experience over two semesters in the student's local community.

Online learners who complete their internship in a county- or tribal-level child welfare program, along with taking specialized courses, can become a child welfare scholar through the Title IV-E Child Welfare Scholars Program. At the same time, graduates hold the tools and practical skills to work as generalist social workers. An optional addictions certificate prepares students to become licensed alcohol and drug counselors.

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Huntington University

Chartered in 1897, HU offers 90 majors and minors that emphasize spiritual growth. The school's online bachelor's degree in social work stays true to this mission with a curriculum based in Christian principles.

The curriculum emphasizes the Council on Social Work Education's 10 core competency areas. Candidates learn ethical and professional behavior as well as how to advance human rights and engage in policy practice. Degree seekers develop specialized skills by taking classes on child welfare, addictions, and social policy.

Online learners log more than 400 practicum hours — 80 fewer than on-campus students. Prior to beginning their field placement, students must pass a three-part exam with written, oral, and case study components.

HU reports an 87% job placement rate among graduates. Bachelor of social work (BSW) students pursue careers in youth and family services, schools, and rehabilitation centers.

Individuals interested in earning a BSW online must submit a professional portfolio.

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University of Arkansas at Little Rock

UA Little Rock began in 1927 as a junior college. The university's 120-credit online social work degree is open to Arkansas residents.

Candidates can earn their bachelor of social work online or take a combination of online and in-person courses. Degree seekers gain a firm understanding of social welfare policy, statistics, research methods, and addictions in social work.

Online learners synthesize and apply their classroom experience during their senior year internship. This field experience places students in a human services agency, where they work under a licensed social worker for about 16 hours a week. Classmates get the chance to discuss their internships during concurrent field seminars.

New students begin class in the fall and attend their courses in cohorts. Social work majors must complete prerequisites in psychology and the human experience, introduction to sociology, and introduction to social work. Admission also requires academic advising.

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University of North Dakota

UND opened in 1882, prior to the state's founding. The university's Department of Social Work began offering an accredited undergraduate program in 1974. Today, social work students can attend classes at UND's 521-acre campus in Grand Forks or online.

Students who pursue a bachelor's in social work online prepare to become licensed social workers in North Dakota. Candidates acquire research skills, explore advocacy opportunities, and learn to drive social change.

Synchronous online classes typically take place on weeknights. The program lasts 2-4 years, depending on a student's prior college experience. Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in another field can earn their bachelor of social work online degree in one year.

The degree requires 120 credits, including two field placements in which students work 40 hours a week. Optional minors in gerontology and chemical dependency prepare students to help senior communities and individuals with drug and alcohol addictions.

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Millersville University

Millersville offers a two-year bachelor's in social work online for students who already hold an associate degree in human services or social services.

The broad curriculum explores social work research, law writing, and social welfare policy. The program includes 45 major courses and 15 electives and general education credits, along with 450 fieldwork hours. Classes occasionally meet online at set times, but otherwise function asynchronously, with students completing coursework on their own 10-15 hours a week.

Graduates find careers as healthcare social workers, probation officers, and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors. Online learners gain specialized work experience through minors in gerontology and social justice, which require about 15-18 additional credits.

Associate degree holders or those who have earned 60 credits can apply. This program does not accept bachelor's degree holders. New cohorts begin in the fall and spring.

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What to Expect From an Online BSW Program

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.

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

  • 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

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.

Mean Salary: $37,050

Social Worker

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.

Mean Salary: $61,750

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

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.

Mean Salary: $51,030

Healthcare Social Workers

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.

Mean Salary: $59,300

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselors

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.

Mean Salary: $51,670

Professional Organizations for Social Workers

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.