Online MSW Programs with a Specialization in Military Social Work

Counseling and assisting active duty service members, veterans, and their families is an area of specialized practice in the field of social work. Social workers who practice in this area contend with the challenges faced by those serving in the military, including combat stress, anxiety, and trauma, and with the unique features of military culture. They also direct members of the military and their families to additional services to help with the everyday complications that come with having to relocate and transition between military and civilian life. In addition, these social workers are trained to engage with retired service members who may suffer from ongoing trauma and chronic physical and psychological disabilities. In order to provide care, support, and counseling in these contexts, social workers must be familiar with military culture, combat-related disorders, and the network of health and human services programs that serve active and retired members of the military.

What is an MSW in Military Social Work Degree Program?

The MSW (Master of Social Work) degree is designed to prepare students for the professional practice of social work in a variety of areas, and in many cases for eventual licensure in clinical social work. Training in military social work incorporates elements of clinical and macro practice. Students in MSW programs with a designated military track learn core proficiencies for the professional practice of social work as outlined by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the body that accredits master’s and baccalaureate social work programs. In addition to this core training in areas like research and program evaluation, theories of social development, and assisting individuals and families in need, MSW programs with a military focus include coursework and field education that prepares students to navigate military bureaucracies and engage with retired service members who may be coping with a variety of challenges.

Online MSW Programs with a Military Social Work Concentration

For students who want to earn an MSW in military social work, there are only a few schools that offer specific concentrations in the field. Online programs offer the same training and instruction as their campus-based counterparts, and provide students who do not live near a school that offers a military social work concentration the option to pursue this specialization without having to relocate for graduate school. An online MSW program provides all or most of its coursework online through a learning management system (LMS). An LMS is a distance-learning platform that allows lectures and other course materials to be accessed by students from anywhere with a secure Internet connection. Students may also contact instructors, submit assignments, and participate in online discussion groups through an LMS. Students in an online MSW program with a military track must also complete field education requirements at a local facility where social services are provided to service members and veterans.

Identifying MSW in Military Social Work Programs

Military social work is a highly specialized area of social work. MSW programs that offer a track or concentration in military social work are clearly designated as such. There are two key features of these programs. The first involves specialized didactic instruction in military culture, military institutions, and the unique social, economic, physical, and psychological challenges faced by service members, veterans, and their families. This is usually covered in two or more courses devoted to the practice of military social work at the clinical and macro level. The second component of a military social work program is a field placement in a setting where members of the military and/or veterans receive social services, mental health care, and other assistance related to the practice of social work.

How OnlineEducation.com Classifies Online Military Social Work Programs

Through independent research of online MSW programs, OnlineEducation.com identifies and classifies programs that offer a clearly defined track, concentration, or specialization in military social work. These programs must fit four criteria; they must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities; they must have programmatic accreditation from the CSWE; they must offer a curriculum that includes courses and field education in the area of military social work; and they must offer all or most of their classes online. MSW programs that require more than two campus visits per years are considered hybrid programs and are not currently included on the site.

What Students Learn in an Online MSW Program with a Military Social Work Specialization

The master’s in military social work curriculum is essentially the core MSW curriculum as outlined by the CSWE plus two or more specialized courses in the practice of military social work. Students begin an MSW program by cultivating knowledge and skills in areas that include: theories of behavioral development and social environments; the structure and administration of social welfare programs; social science research methods; and the ethical practice of social work with individuals, families, and groups. They then move on to advanced coursework in specialized areas of clinical and macro social work, including classes that address issues specific to the practice of social work with active-duty military, veterans, and their families.

As mandated by the CSWE, MSW programs must provide students with at least 900 hours of field education through placements that align with their area of specialization. For students in a military MSW program, placements may range from US Department of Veteran Affairs programs and military hospitals, to veterans advocacy programs and community organizations that assist service members and their families.

Online Military Social Work Courses

The following table provides an overview of typical courses in core MSW subjects as well as in specialized areas of military social work. The course descriptions and titles are derived from actual online MSW programs with a military social work track.

Course Title
Course Description
Human Behavior & the Social EnvironmentTheories of human psychology and behavioral development in the context of social environments.
Social Science Research & MethodologiesThe design and interpretation of social science research for the evidence-based practice of social work.
Theories & Concepts of Military Social WorkThe application of accepted theories of social work to military social work, including the special challenges of practicing among active-duty and retired service members.
Clinical Practice with Military FamiliesThe delivery of clinical social work services to the families of military service members.
Clinical Practice with Service Members & VeteransThe direct practice of social work with individuals and groups of active-duty and retired service members.
Military & Veterans Policy & Program ManagementAn overview of the various federal, state, and local policies and programs that provide social services, healthcare, and other types of assistance to military members and veterans.
PsychopathologyAn examination of common types of mental disorders, including anxiety, stress, depression, and trauma, and the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.
Substance Abuse & AddictionA scientific exploration of the causes and symptoms of substance abuse and addiction in adults.
Trauma & Grief CounselingSocial work counseling applied to situations that involve trauma and/or grief.

Admissions to Military Social Work Programs

Admissions criteria and requirements for military social work programs do not differ significantly from those of most other MSW programs. At a minimum, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs may have a minimum GPA requirement (2.5 or higher is common), and there may be undergraduate course prerequisites (statistics, biology, and a social science course are typical). The submission of standardized test scores (GRE or MAT) may be a requirement, particularly for students whose undergraduate GPA is below 3.0. Along with undergraduate transcripts, programs typically ask applicants to submit a personal goals statement and up to three letters of recommendation.

Online Program Formats

There are several structural components that may be import to consider for prospective MSW program applicants. These factors can affect the relative flexibility and convenience of an online program and may make some programs more preferable than others. The three main areas of format variation include online instructional methods, enrollment options, and campus visits.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: Synchronous instruction is one of two primary ways that online coursework is presented. In programs that utilize synchronous instruction, students should be prepared to be online in order to participate in lectures and other course activities at scheduled weekly meeting times. Asynchronous instruction is more flexible in that it does not include a real-time component. Instead, students are able to log on to an LMS at their convenience to view lectures, complete assignments, and participate in discussion groups. Asynchronous instruction has the advantage of not causing scheduling conflicts, which may be helpful for students who are working while enrolled in an MSW program. However, asynchronous instruction often requires more self-discipline, as students are responsible for keeping up with coursework and submitting assignments on time.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: A typical MSW program can be completed in four semesters, or slightly less than two years, by students who enroll full-time and complete the equivalent of 15 credits (five courses) per semester. However, many online MSW programs are offered part-time or have a part-time enrollment option that allows students to take fewer than five courses per semester, thereby extending the time to graduation by one-to-two years. Prospective applicants who have significant commitments outside of school and would prefer to take a lighter course load may prefer the flexibility afforded by a part-time program. Those who prioritize earning a degree in two years or less should look into programs with a full-time enrollment option.

Campus Visits: Many online MSW programs offer all of their coursework online and do not require students to attend any on-campus sessions. However, some online MSW programs include a limited number of campus-based sessions as part of their instructional curriculum. These campus visits, which can last from a couple days to a full week or more, often include orientations, lectures, seminars, and other instructional activities. They are generally an opportunity for students to meet face-to-face with instructors and classmates, and they can be a useful addition to an online program. However, campus sessions require travel and students may incur expenses in addition to tuition costs while attending these sessions. Students who can not or would prefer not to travel to a campus during their MSW program should look for programs that do not require campus visits. OnlineEducation.com does not include online MSW programs that require more than two campus visits per year.