Question: Are There Part-Time Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs?

Answer: Yes, there are part-time online MSW programs and there are online MSW programs with flexible enrollment formats that accommodate part-time students. A traditional MSW program typically includes the equivalent of four semesters or two academic years of full-time coursework and field education. This generally involves taking four or more courses per semester. While some online MSW programs require a full-time commitment, there are many programs that allow students to carry a reduced course load of one or two courses per semester, thereby completing the program on a part-time basis. There are also online MSW programs that have designated full-time and/or part-time tracks, and programs that utilize a cohort model in which students progress through a sequence of courses as part of a group on either a full-time or part-time basis.

What Is a Part-Time Online MSW Program?

An online MSW program is a master’s in social work degree program that offers all or most of its coursework via the Internet using distance-learning platforms, often referred to as LMSs or learning management systems. A part-time online MSW program is a program designed to accommodate students who cannot or would prefer not to carry a full-time course load, such as students who have work or other significant commitments outside of school. These part-time programs typically advise students to set aside 15 to 20 hours per week for classes and coursework rather than the 30 to 40 or more hours that a full-time student might spend on school when classes are in session.

The Structure of Part-Time Online MSW Programs

Online MSW programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) provide the same practical training and didactic instruction as campus-based programs. This includes at least 900 hours of in-person field education at a site approved by the program. While there are variations in how programs are structured, a typical online MSW program might require students to complete a total of 60 credit hours of coursework and field education placements, or the equivalent of 20 graduate-level courses. Those credit hours might be broken down in to 51 credits accrued through core and elective coursework, and nine through field education placements, or 17 classes and two or three semester-long field placements.

Just as there is no universal system governing how credits are allotted in master’s programs, there is no formal definition of what constitutes full-time vs. part-time enrollment in a program. Instead, MSW programs provide a curriculum that meets guidelines for professional training in the field of social work as outlined in the CSWE’s 2015 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards for Baccalaureate and Master’s Social Work Programs. Programs are then largely free to set their own enrollment policies and to define what is considered full-time versus part-time enrollment.

Typically, full-time enrollment in a master’s program consists of earning enough credits per semester to graduate in roughly two years, or the equivalent of four traditional academic semesters. In a 60-credit online MSW program that allocates three credits per course, full-time enrollment may entail taking four or five courses per semester for four semesters and possibly a summer session. Part-time enrollment in this type of program would equate to taking two or three courses per semester for six, eight, or ten semesters, or three to four or more years with or without enrolling in summer sessions.

The table below provides an overview of what might commonly constitute part-time vs. full-time enrollment in an online MSW program that requires students to complete 60 credits and 900 hours of field education in order to graduate.

Type of EnrollmentFull-timePart-time
Courses per Semester4-52-3
Hours per Week35-4015-20
Total Semesters4-56-8
Years to Completion23-4

Types of Part-Time Online MSW Programs

There are different types of part-time online MSW programs with variations in format that may be relevant for students who are deciding between part-time and full-time programs. For example, in addition to programs that operate on traditional academic calendar, offering courses two or three times per year during 15-week semesters, there are programs that utilize alternate academic calendars, which may be structured to allow full-time students to take one or two courses at a time during shorter terms that may last six, eight, or ten weeks. A program that utilizes an alternate academic calendar might offer courses five or six times a year during eight-week terms. A full-time student in a program of this type might be able to graduate in 18 to 24 months by taking one or two courses per term without a summer break. In contrast, a student who opts for part-time enrollment in a program with this kind of structure might be able take one course per term without extending the time to completion beyond three years.

There are also part-time online MSW programs that utilize a cohort model, which places students in groups that begin and progress through the curriculum together. A cohort program imposes more structure on students than other types of online programs by providing a sequence of courses that students are expected to take in a designated order, according to a predetermined schedule that might include four or five courses per semester (full-time enrollment) or two or three courses per semester (part-time enrollment).

In contrast to cohort-model programs, there are flexible online MSW programs that allow students to complete required coursework and field placements at their own pace provided they graduate within five or six years. Many flexible online MSW programs support a range of full-time and part-time enrollment options, giving students the flexibility to choose the number of courses they take per term within certain prescribed limitations.

Finally, students who hold a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) may be eligible for Advanced Standing online MSW programs, some of which offer part-time enrollment options. Advanced Standing MSW programs provide graduates from CSWE-accredited undergraduate programs with a shorter pathway to earning a master’s in social work degree. An Advanced Standing curriculum has fewer course requirements than a traditional MSW program and fewer required field placement hours, allowing students to graduate is less time than it takes to complete a full MSW curriculum. While Advanced Standing programs vary in their structure and format, eligible students may be able to complete an Advanced Standing online MSW curriculum in roughly one year of full-time enrollment. Students who enroll part-time in an online Advanced Standing MSW program can typically complete their degree in roughly two years.

For additional details about Advanced Standing programs, see our Advanced Standing Online MSW Programs page. For more information about online MSW program curricula, enrollment options, admissions policies, and instructional methods, see our Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs page.


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