Online Social Work Programs in California

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, California is the national leader in social work employment. The state's employment levels for healthcare social workers; mental health and substance abuse social workers; and child, family, and school social workers lead the United States individually in their specialized categories. The BLS projects 16% employment growth and 109,700 new jobs for the social work field through 2026. Now serves as a great time for prospective students to enter online social work programs in California.

California boasts the highest pay for seven of the top ten metropolitan areas that employ healthcare social workers. Salinas ranks second and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara hold third. For mental health and substance abuse social worker careers, the state's metropolitan areas also occupy seven of the top ten salary rankings. Vallejo-Fairfield hold the second position and Napa claims the third position.

Social Work Programs by Degree Level


Online Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

Online Master's in Social Work Programs


Education and Licensure Requirements for Social Workers in California

The Board of Behavioral Sciences acts as California's licensing agency for marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, professional clinical counselors, and educational psychologists. The 13-member board serves the state's population through the establishment, communication, and enforcement of standards in mental health practice.

Education Requirements

California requires Council on Social Work Education-accredited master's degrees for candidates pursuing the licensed clinical social worker credential. The state also requires additional coursework from a regionally accredited school. Courses include child abuse assessment and reporting, human sexuality, alcoholism and other chemical substance dependency, and 18 hours of California law and professional ethics. Some coursework hours can be earned at the undergraduate level. Applicants must complete a total of 3,000 supervised hours conducted over a minimum of 104 weeks.

Exam Application Process and Requirements

Applicants pursuing social work jobs in California must hold a master's degree and complete additional hours to earn the associate clinical social worker credential. Following a mandatory live scan, submitted electronically to the FBI and Department of Justice, and criminal background check, applicants must pass the California Law and Ethics Exam, which incurs a $100 fee. Candidates must complete a 3,000-hour supervised experience requirement before taking the clinical exam.

The Association of Social Work Boards owns and conducts social work licensing examinations year-round at secure test centers nationwide and abroad. The exam costs $260 and determines a candidate's competency to perform safely and ethically. Candidates can receive licensure after completing the clinical exam and all other requirements

Continuing Education and Licensure Renewal

Licenses are renewed, for a $120 fee, every two years during the licensee's birth month. California charges $170 for delinquent renewals and $70 for inactive license renewal. The Board processes applications instantly online. Applications submitted in person may take 4-6 weeks to process.

The state requires 36 hours of continuing education (CE) per renewal. Renewals for newly licensed social workers require only 18 CE hours. Hours cannot be counted twice, and candidates must complete the hours before submitting an application. Each license renewal requires six hours of law and ethics coursework.


Why Choose an Online Social Work Program in California?

Online social work programs in California deliver the typical flexibility and convenience of distance learning. This field demands innovative approaches to completing clinical hours in online degree programs.

An online doctoral program requires brief and limited residencies, and capstone projects may take the place of dissertations. A two-year program may cost up to $80,000; however, students who enroll on a full-time rather than part-time basis benefit from tuition savings. Virtual field practicums, approximately 200 hours in length, feature online simulations with an actor performing the role as a client. A bachelor's degree requires approximately 425 practicum hours completed on-site and near students' homes.

California's employment levels present substantial career opportunities. Healthcare social workers along with mental health and substance abuse social workers can command high salaries in many of the state's metropolitan areas.

Ranking Methodology

Here is our list of online social work degree programs in California as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. We cover online bachelor's in social work, online master's in social work, and online doctorate in social work programs. All programs are regionally and CSWE accredited, and all are available entirely online.


Online Social Work Programs in California

Brandman University

Brandman is a private institution with over 25 campuses and online programs. Established in 1958, the school now serves approximately 11,000 students and offers more than 50 academic programs, including one of the top social work programs in California. Its bachelor of arts in social work helps students develop well-rounded social, cultural, and political knowledge to serve diverse and underserved populations.

Brandman graduates often move on to careers in child and family social work, social and community service, substance abuse treatment, gerontology, and mental healthcare. Distance students can complete all required classes online or in hybrid formats.


Brandman's Bachelor of Arts in Social Work

  • Credits and Courses: Online learners need at least 120 credits to graduate, including general education requirements and program-specific courses. Core requirements for BSW students include diversity and justice in a global society, social work research practices, and social policy. Degree seekers can also choose two electives from classes such as military social work, child abuse, victim advocacy, and domestic violence.
  • Completion Time: Most BSW learners can complete the program in four years.
  • Field Education: Students must complete 400 supervised on-site field practice hours.
  • Exam Preparation: This program prepares students for the ASWB exam.
  • Transfer Policies: Brandman requires a new BSW student to possess 12 or more transferable baccalaureate-level credits from a regionally accredited institution.
  • Online Student Support: Support services include financial aid counseling, academic counseling, enrollment coaches, and career services.
  • Cost: $500/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: An incoming student needs a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA.

Brandman University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Brandman University's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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California State University, Chico

Established in 1887, Chico State is home to one of the oldest campuses in the California State University system. This public institution offers 125 bachelor's degrees, including a bachelor of arts in social work degree completion program. Chico State undergraduate students prepare for roles in human services careers in a variety of interdisciplinary fields.

Social workers can find employment as administrators, policymakers, and lobbyists. Students with an interest in more hands-on careers may work directly with families, children, and individuals facing social, political, and economic challenges. Graduates often find employment in areas such as healthcare, child protective services, mental health, and rehabilitation.


Chico State's Bachelor of Arts in Social Work

  • Credits and Courses: Chico State students can complete courses in a hybrid format. Depending on the course, enrollees can attend on-campus classes during 2-3 weekends per semester. In total, students need to complete 120 credits for graduation.
  • Completion Time: Most BSW students can complete the degree in 2-3 years. Learners can choose between an accelerated two-year program or a part-time three-year program.
  • Field Education: Students must complete two hands-on practica.
  • Other Requirements: As a degree completion program, each incoming student needs at least 60 credits to transfer toward the degree.
  • Exam Preparation: This program prepares students for the ASWB exam.
  • Transfer Policies: An incoming student may transfer up to 70 credits toward this social work program in California.
  • Online Student Support: Chico State offers online professional development coaching and workshops, online tutoring, and personal counseling.
  • Cost: $2,699/1-6 credits, $3,905/6.1 or more credits in-state; out-of-state students pay an additional $373/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: Each incoming BSW student needs to complete eight prerequisite courses, including three classes in social work. Students may take these classes at Chico State or another accredited institution, and they must earn a "C" or better in all prerequisite classes. Candidates also need to submit their SAT or ACT scores and official transcripts.

California State University, Chico is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). California State University-Chico's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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Touro University Worldwide

TUW offers one of the best social work programs in California. Located in Los Alamitos, TUW is a Jewish-sponsored nonprofit institution and part of the Touro College and University System. Distance students can take advantage of its online bachelor of arts in social work. Enrollees learn to support individuals, groups, families, and organizations with social work counseling, emotional guidance, practical resources, and professional referrals.

Through a series of fieldwork experiences in senior centers, counseling centers, and schools, bachelor's students at TUW develop the skills needed to serve clients of all types. TUW alums may move on to careers as medical social workers, case managers, permanency specialists, and youth counselors.


TUW's Bachelor of Arts in Social Work

  • Credits and Courses: In total, each student needs 120 credits to graduate. The curriculum combines hands-on field courses and online coursework.
  • Completion Time: Full-time students can complete the program in three years.
  • Field Education: Students can complete two separate field education experiences at approved facilities in California.
  • Exam Preparation: This social work program in California prepares students for the ASWB exam.
  • Transfer Policies: An incoming bachelor's student may transfer up to 45 credits of general education classes and 45 credits of social work classes from an accredited institution.
  • Online Student Support: Enrolled learners enjoy various services through the student success center, including educational advising, career preparation services, and online tutoring.
  • Cost: $400/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: First-year students need a minimum 2.3 GPA for consideration, while transfer students should possess a GPA of at least 2.0. Each applicant must submit their official transcripts and an online TUW application.

Touro University Worldwide is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Touro University Worldwide's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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California State University, Northridge

CSUN — a public institution established in 1958 — boasts one of the largest campuses in the California State University system and offers more than 130 bachelor's and master's degrees. The school serves approximately 39,000 students and offers one of the best social work degree programs in California. CSUN's urban setting allows MSW students to work with at-risk populations and clients from diverse backgrounds.

CSUN generates culturally sensitive social workers who can thoughtfully engage with communities, families, and individuals from all walks of life. Aside from field education experiences, distance students can complete the required courses for this graduate program entirely online.


CSUN's Master of Social Work

  • Credits and Courses: The department subscribes to a cohort learning style, in which pupils progress through courses together. Students follow a fixed, 60-credit schedule and often work on group activities with their classmates. Required classes for this major include social welfare policy and services, family crisis and trauma, and social work research methods.
  • Completion Time: Master's degree students typically need 2-3 years to complete the program.
  • Field Education: Students must complete approximately 1,200 field education hours.
  • Other Requirements: The department recommends that enrollees enter the program with work experience in the field or a related area.
  • Exam Preparation: This program prepares students for the ASWB exam.
  • Transfer Policies: A master's student may transfer up to nine credits from another graduate program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
  • Online Student Support: The program features a designated program manager who offers ongoing support throughout a student's enrollment.
  • Cost: $752/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: Each applicant should possess a bachelor's degree with a 2.5 GPA or higher. They must also submit official transcripts along with three letters of recommendation. Prospective students who do not meet this GPA requirement must submit GRE scores.

California State University, Northridge is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). California State University, Northridge's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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California State University, San Bernardino

CSUSB is a public institution and part of the California State University system. Established in 1965, the school now offers more than 60 master's programs, including an online master of social work. This intensive program best serves students who can enroll as full-time learners. During the second year of the program, online students can choose from one of several concentration areas based on particular social issues, client populations, or fields of practice.

Each student must also complete a thesis or research project to graduate. A learner looking to write a thesis based on original research must plan accordingly with their academic advisor. The department recommends that a student should complete a thesis if they plan on pursuing a research-based career or further education in a doctoral program.


CSUSB'S Master of Social Work

  • Concentrations: This social work program in California offers concentrations in homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, HIV-AIDS, the poverty of public welfare, racism and ethnocentrism, sexism, and spirituality. Learners can also focus on client populations such as immigrants and refugees, rural populations, minority ethnic groups, and children. Concentrations in specific fields of practice, such as gerontological social work, correctional services, and international social work, are also available.
  • Credits and Courses: An MSW student needs to complete 90 credits for graduation. At least 38 credits must come from the student's chosen concentration area. Foundational courses include advanced micropractice, human behavior and social environments, social work research techniques, and fieldwork methods.
  • Completion Time: Online students who follow the department's Pathway Distance Education Program graduate in three years.
  • Field Education: Each student can complete two different field education experiences in California.
  • Transfer Policies: An incoming master's student with a BSW may be eligible to transfer classes toward their degree. Up to 45 credits may come from an outside accredited school.
  • Online Student Support: Distance students enjoy technology support, full-text library access, online tutoring, and one-on-one student success advising.
  • Cost: $1,388/0-6 credits; $2,392/6.1 or more credits in-state; out-of-state students pay an additional $264/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: An incoming student must possess a 3.0 GPA or higher. Learners with a documented history of social service experience and strong overall applications may also apply if they have a minimum 2.8 GPA. Applicants need not submit their GRE scores.

California State University, San Bernardino is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). California State University, San Bernardino's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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California State University, Stanislaus

Located in Turlock, California, Stan State is a public university that offers more than 30 master's degrees. Established in 1957, the school now offers an online master of social work program for distance learners. The department prides itself on offering training in socially minded clinical social work methods that prepare students for many fulfilling careers.

Faculty members deliver courses in a hybrid format. In-person classes take place on one Saturday per month. Students can complete their required, full-time field practica over two summer semesters. Learners can take two courses at a time in eight-week sessions during the spring and fall semesters.


Stan State's Master of Social Work

  • Concentrations: The program offers a specialization in integrative clinical practice in health and behavioral health settings.
  • Credits and Courses: The program uses a cohort learning format and students need to complete 60 credits for graduation. The diverse curriculum includes classes that focus on socially minded practices, research methods, and human behavior studies.
  • Completion Time: Most distance learners can complete this accelerated program in 24 months.
  • Field Education: Field internships during two summer semesters require 40 hours per week for three months.
  • Transfer Policies: The registrar considers transfer credits on a case-by-case basis. Eligible classes for transfer into this social work program must have been completed with a "C-" or better.
  • Online Student Support: Distance students can take advantage of online career coaching, tutoring, and academic advising through the academic success center. The school also offers a dedicated writing lab to help distance learners with the writing process, editing, and revision.
  • Cost: $583/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: An applicant should possess a 2.5 GPA or higher. They should also have completed coursework in the behavioral and biological sciences and possess a history of voluntary or paid experiences in human services. Prospective social work students must submit their GRE scores.

California State University, Stanislaus is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). California State University, Stanislaus' online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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Humboldt State University

Established in 1913, Humboldt State is a public institution located in Arcata, California. The school serves approximately 8,500 students and offers more than 10 master's programs. Distance students can pursue its master of social work online. Students may enroll as full-time or part-time learners. In an attempt to diversify mainstream social work education practices, Humboldt State's curriculum prepares its students to work with rural and indigenous communities.

This social work program in California prides itself on training students to work with their local communities and explore contemporary social issues with a global perspective. Graduates can find careers as adoption caseworkers, school social workers, residence counselors, group home counselors, and special education teachers.


Humboldt State's Master of Social Work

  • Concentrations: The program focuses on advanced generalist practices in social work with indigenous and rural communities.
  • Credits and Courses: Required synchronous courses help students explore the social, economic, historical, and spiritual factors that influence human behavior as individuals, groups, and larger societies. In addition to completing field work at an approved location, students must attend one four-day on-campus session per year. MSW students complete at least 43.5 credits before graduating.
  • Completion Time: Full-time students can complete the program in two years. Part-time students take up to 3.5 years.
  • Field Education: Students can work with advisors to navigate the field placement process. MSW students need to complete at least 240 hours of field education per semester.
  • Transfer Policies: An incoming student may transfer up to nine credits toward their MSW.
  • Online Student Support: Online students can take advantage of advising services through the academic and career advising center. Distance learners also have access to a general tutoring lab, academic workshops, writing assistance, and supplemental instruction opportunities.
  • Cost: $510/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: An incoming student needs a bachelor's degree earned with a 3.0 GPA or higher from an accredited institution. Applications also include letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and GRE scores.

Humboldt State University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Humboldt State University's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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San Jose State University

Founded in 1857, SJSU is the oldest public university on the West Coast. Today, the school serves approximately 33,000 students. It established a hybrid MSW program in 2016 to help students acquire a transcultural perspective on social work. The department focuses on several key elements that it deems critical for impactful work in the field, including cultural competency, privilege and oppression, self-reflexivity, and respectful partnership.

An MSW student can develop a strong generalist social work approach that allows them to empower families, communities, and individuals. Enrollees can also learn to support at-risk populations, communities of color, and marginalized individuals.


SJSU's Master of Social Work

  • Concentrations: All MSW students follow a curriculum that concentrates on transcultural multi-systems practices.
  • Credits and Courses: MSW degrees consist of 60 credits. Students can typically complete 2-3 classes at a time. Required courses include social policy analysis, human behavior in the social environment, transcultural generalist practices, management and human services, and research methods and design.
  • Completion Time: This hybrid social work program in California typically takes part-time students two years to complete. The school does not offer a full-time enrollment option for hybrid students.
  • Field Education: Each student can complete a field internship, which may last as long as 24 weeks. Enrollees spend 16 hours a week completing field education during the academic year.
  • Other Requirements: To graduate from this program, each student must maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher, meet the university writing competency requirement, and finish requirements within seven years.
  • Exam Preparation: Alums may sit for the LCSW and ASWB examinations.
  • Transfer Policies: An incoming student may transfer in up to 12 credits toward their MSW.
  • Online Student Support: Online students can participate in the social work graduate student association, which offers workshops, advisory committees, guest speakers, social events, and social work forums. MSW students also have access to online tutorial materials and technical support.
  • Cost: $475/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: An MSW student needs a minimum 2.5 GPA. As of June 2019, the program only accepts students residing in or willing to relocate to California. Interested learners do not need to submit their GRE scores.

San Jose State University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). San Jose State University's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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University of Southern California

A private research university in Los Angeles, California, USC serves approximately 46,000 students. The school offers full-time and part-time MSW degree options for distance students, preparing students for leadership roles in the field.

Distance pupils can prepare for rewarding careers without relocating to California through intensive field education experiences and a rigorous online curriculum. USC social work graduates can find work at mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, substance abuse recovery facilities, community outreach organizations, and veterans affairs offices.


USC's Master of Social Work

  • Concentrations: This MSW program offers three concentration areas: adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; and social change and innovation.
  • Credits and Courses: Online students enjoy seminar-style classes with live chats, online discussion tools, and class discussion opportunities.
  • Completion Time: Full-time students can complete the program in two years. Part-time students may enroll in three-year or four-year tracks. Additionally, the program offers an advanced standing program that learners can finish in one calendar year, provided they already possess a bachelor's degree in social work.
  • Field Education: All online students can complete field experiences in their local communities with no on-campus obligations.
  • Transfer Policies: An incoming student may transfer up to 12 credits from previously attended accredited schools.
  • Online Student Support: Distance students can take advantage of online library services, tutoring, writing coaches, and one-on-one academic advising sessions.
  • Cost: $1,928/credit.
  • Admission Requirements: A prospective student needs to submit an online application with a professional resume, statement of purpose, GRE or GMAT scores, two letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

The University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). The University of Southern California's online social work programs are CSWE accredited.

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