Social work is a practice-based field that encompasses a broad range of activities and functions within the health and human services sector. One of the primary goals in social work is to help individuals and families in need overcome hardships by providing practical support, counseling, and access to programs that offer additional assistance. Social work also encompasses research, advocacy, and the creation and implementation of policies that address societal problems, empower communities, and deliver services to those in need. The populations targeted for assistance in social work include communities affected by socio-economic stress, joblessness, alcohol and drug abuse, and various kinds of trauma. Social work also has a strong presence in schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, and institutions that provide assistance to veterans, senior citizens, children at risk, and other demographic groups facing acute and/or persistent challenges.
The practice of social work is built on foundational knowledge in the social and behavioral sciences, including psychology and sociology. Social workers learn to apply theories of human behavior and social development to the process of helping people cope with and overcome various challenges, including mental and physical illnesses, poverty, joblessness, and racial and gender discrimination. Students in social work degree programs study social welfare policies, social science research, and the social service initiatives that emerge from this body of knowledge. In addition, clinical social workers receive specialized training in counseling individuals, families, groups, and other targeted populations, including children, military veterans, and the elderly.
Instruction and training in social work takes places at different levels of higher education, in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Many of these programs are offered online using distance learning technologies that allow students to receive all or most of their classroom instruction through a computer with an Internet connection. OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research and evaluates online social work degree programs based on clear criteria to ensure that programs are offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities; that they have programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) (where applicable); and that they offer training in social work primarily through online instruction.
CSWE accreditation is particularly important for clinical social workers seeking eventual state licensure. In most states, those wishing to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) must graduate from a CSWE-accredited master’s in social work program. At the bachelor’s and master’s level, the CSWE is the only body that accredits social work programs.
OnlineEducation.com categorizes social work programs based on degree level, area of curricular focus, and other factors, such as entry requirements. Currently, OnlineEducation.com includes master’s-level and Doctor of Social Work (DSW) degree programs. Programs are grouped into the following categories:
Programmatic accreditation is an important factor to consider when researching online degree programs in social work, particularly at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. Students who attend a bachelor’s program in human services or social work that is not accredited by the CSWE may not be eligible to apply to Advanced Standing MSW programs. Similarly, students who graduate from non-accredited MSW programs may not be eligible for licensure in many states. CSWE accreditation ensures that a program meets certain curricular standards, including provisions for a minimum number of field education hours – 400 hours in BSW programs; 900 hours in MSW programs.
The CSWE does not accredit DSW programs or master’s in human services programs. However, there is a separate body that assesses and offers voluntary accreditation to human services programs: the Council of Standards for Human Services Education (CSHSE).
In addition to researching and classifying online programs, OnlineEducation.com offers a range of other resources for students interested in pursuing an online degree. Our social work and human services section includes detailed information about different types of programs and various social work specializations. We also provide information about online instructional methods and online program formats, and offer detailed answers to commonly asked questions about education, training, and careers in social work and human services in our FAQ section.
A guide to Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs, including detailed information about master’s level coursework, field education, admissions requirements, licensure eligibility, and online instructional formats.
A guide to online Advanced Standing MSW programs, which admit graduates from CSWE-accredited BSW programs and offer a shortened path to earning an MSW degree, with fewer required course and less field instruction than a traditional, two-year MSW degree program.
A guide to online clinical social work MSW programs, including clinical social work coursework, field education requirements, admissions policies, and online instructional formats.
An overview of online DSW degree programs, the coursework associated with a doctorate in social work, and other program details, including admissions criteria, online instructional methods, and program format options.
A guide to online macro and community practice MSW programs, the typical coursework in a macro/community practice MSW curriculum, and field instruction requirements and admissions criteria for these programs.
A guide to online master’s in human services degree programs with a focus on typical master’s level coursework, online instructional methods, enrollment options, and admissions requirements.
An overview of online MSW programs with a military social work concentration or specialization, with details concerning typical coursework, field instruction requirements, admissions policies, and online instructional methods.