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Online Master's Degree in Social and Community Services

Get info about online programs in social and community services. Read about program requirements, course topics and degree levels, and check out career and continuing education options.

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Essential Information

Master of Social Work (MSW) degree programs are available entirely online, although there are some programs that require students to complete an on-site practical experience and/or one to two campus visits. Online programs in this field are often designed for students who hold bachelor's degrees in fields other than social work and want to transition into this career, though there are often separate, fast-track programs for those with undergraduate social work degrees.

Clinical social workers must be licensed in all states, and other kinds of social workers must be licensed in some states; check for state-specific requirements when choosing a degree program.

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Master of Social Work

A Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program prepares individuals to work in public and private agencies. Online MSW programs take anywhere from to 2-4 years to complete and require anywhere from 30-60 credit hours. Completion of this degree may be a required step in gaining licensure, depending on a student's state of residency.

Information and Requirements

Some schools offer separate degree programs for students admitted with a bachelor's degree in social work. These programs are often shorter than programs designed for students with bachelor's degrees in other subject areas. The traditional track is geared toward individuals with a bachelor's degree in a field other than social work. Graduates with an undergraduate major in social work may be eligible for placement in the advanced standing track.

Coursework, testing and communication in such online programs are generally completed through electronic means, although students may be required to complete one or two campus visits, depending on the track they are pursuing. Students may also be required to complete on-site practical experience sessions.

List of Social Work Courses

From research methods to intervention planning, courses in the Master of Social Work program cover a wide range of topics. In online courses, students learn to evaluate and conduct research and explore the impact of social interaction on human behavior and development.

Research Methods and Analysis

In basic and advanced research courses, students learn what it takes to design and implement interventions and assess the outcomes. Basic courses include analysis of sociological and psychological research, including qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Human Behavior

This course focuses on how individuals behave in social situations, whether in families, groups or communities. Students explore diversity issues, theories of human development, and the roles of biology, psychology and social interactions. The roles of ethics and values in social work are discussed, as are behavior and social interaction. Human behavior courses may be available at both a basic and advanced level.

Social Welfare and Policy

This course discusses the history of the social welfare system in America and its impact on the field of social work. Students learn about ethical issues in social policies, with an emphasis on how policy affects family life and social work practice.


Career Information

Requirements for licensure vary from state to state, but in most cases, a bachelor's degree and successful completion of a licensure exam are the minimum qualifications for jobs in social work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that agencies, whether public or private, may require advanced training. Earnings for this field vary depending on a social worker's specialty.

The BLS notes that social workers working with schools, children and families earned anywhere from $27,690 for the lowest-earning ten percent to $73,400 for the highest-earning ten percent as of May 2015. For those working in public health and medical social work positions, the BLS reports that the annual wage ranged from around $32,000 to more than $77,000 (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education Information

Individuals interested in teaching postsecondary social work courses may choose to pursue a doctoral degree in social work. This terminal graduate degree program may be available online or on-campus. This degree also prepares students for positions of leadership in the field of social work.

Overall, online MSW programs can meet the needs of individuals who want to redirect their careers toward social services, as well as those who already have a background in the field and want to pursue more advanced coursework. Students can expect to take courses that cover a wide range of topics, from human psychology to government policy.

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