Choosing an Online MSW
Are all MSW online programs the same?
NO! There are over forty accredited online MSW programs currently available in the United States. The Council on Social Work Education has a partial list of other MSW online programs at: http://www.cswe.org/cms/39516.aspx. These programs vary a lot. Some only offer advanced standing and you must have a CSWE-accredited bachelor of social work degree to apply. Some are only available within the host state and others are regionally focused. Concentrations vary as well. Some offer concentrations in specific areas of practice such as child welfare. Others offer concentrations in clinical/mental health and/or management and administration. Our program offers the “advanced generalist” concentration for work in many areas.
Some programs are “cohort” and you must study with a specific group of other students. Some are almost complete synchronous and you meet online almost all of the time just as in a traditional classroom. Others are largely “asynchronous” and you work independently alone a large part of the time. Ours is a combination of both synchronous and asynchronous coursework. Field, of course, is “Live” in or near your own community.
We strongly suggest you look most carefully at a program in terms of what you want to study, what fits your schedule and budget, what you eventually want to practice in social work, as well as what is realistically available to you! “Fit” is tremendously important!
What about an online program that claims it is accredited but not by CSWE?
BEWARE of claims that you can practice social work with another degree. You often cannot. Some of the more questionable online degree programs will tell you that they offer accredited degrees. This is often true – their school may be accredited by a national organization - but unless the social work degree is accredited by the CSWE you may not be able to practice social work or gain licensure/certification as a social worker depending on the state. Lots of institutions and programs are accredited in lots of different ways, but most licensure boards rely on the CSWE programmatic accreditation as the indicator of acceptable training. For more information visit the CSWE website at cswe.org
What about licensure/certification?
Licensure/certification is regulated individually by states and no two are exactly alike. Some states have different levels of licensure/certification. For example, here in Indiana you may sit for the “LSW” or “Licensed Social Worker” examination when you finish your MSW. However, if you want to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) you must work for 3000 hours in a mental health setting under the supervision of a social worker with an LCSW. In addition, for both levels of licensure in Indiana you must take and pass separate examinations. For specific information contact the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) licensure/certification laws. In addition, go to your own state’s official website and search for the unit that regulates social work. Contact them for specific details. Do not rely on friends, faculty, or other sources! “They told me…” is no substitute for official information!
Can you practice social work with a doctoral degree in social work?
The direct practice of social work is regulated in every state. Anyone attempting to practice clinically with any degree other than the MSW (and usually, post-degree supervision) may be doing so at considerable personal risk, not to mention risk to clients.
Is the MSW degree the same as getting a master’s degree in another area such as human services or counseling?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! These other degrees are separate professional and semi-professional degrees. Some online degree programs in human services or counseling will tell you that you can work as a social worker if you get their degree but this may not be true in your state. “Social Work” programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). In order to call yourself a social worker you usually need a degree specifically in social work from a CSWE accredited program in many states. In some states you also need a license to use the title Social Worker.