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Although you can enter the social work field with a bachelor’s degree, earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) will qualify you for more job opportunities, including becoming a licensed clinical social worker.

For individuals who already have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), many schools offer advanced standing MSW programs that can be completed in one year of study. These programs are available both online and in-person, with online programs having advantages, including flexibility, accessibility, and lower costs.

This article reviews some of the best one-year online MSW programs and provides guidance for choosing the one-year online MSW that’s right for you. It also includes insight from Leslie Reyna, an admissions counselor for the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Social Work, regarding what to expect when applying to and enrolling in a one-year online MSW program,

How to Earn an MSW in Just One Year

One-year online MSW programs are typically designed for students who have a BSW. These programs are often referred to as advanced standing programs. Because students have already completed their foundational social work coursework as part of their undergraduate degree, they can immediately step into the advanced coursework required for an MSW.

However, students should note that when they completed their BSW may impact their ability to enroll in an advanced standing MSW program.  “Just as people change, so does the social work curriculum,” Reyna says. “If a certain amount of time has passed since a student earned their bachelor’s degree, students may not qualify for advanced standing status.”

The exact criteria vary by program, with most requiring students to have earned their BSW within the previous 5-10 years. Programs will also likely have a minimum undergraduate GPA threshold for students to qualify for advanced standing status.

Students who have credits from a previously attended MSW program may be able to transfer those credits to their new program, which can decrease the number of classes they have to take to finish their degree. If students have credits from an MSW program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), they should inquire with their new program about transferring those credits.

If you don’t have a background in social work, you will most likely need to complete a traditional MSW program, which includes both foundational and advanced coursework. These programs tend to take two years to complete, with the shortest programs taking 16 months.

Earning an online MSW in one year requires focus and motivation.  A one-year MSW can require anywhere from 30-48 credits and will include clinical field work requirements and online classes. The program’s pace will vary by school, but students should expect to take multiple classes per term to complete all requirements within one year.

Ensuring that you have the time and energy to devote to your studies will help you stay on track to complete your MSW within one year. Before enrolling in a program, speak to a faculty member or program representative to learn more about how much time you’ll have to dedicate to classes and homework. This will help you determine if you can accommodate the workload in your schedule and create a plan to ensure you don’t fall behind, which can add time to your program.

What to Expect in a One-Year Online MSW Program

Completing an online MSW in one year often means participating in a rigorous curriculum that combines coursework and clinical fieldwork experiences.

Courses may be offered in 8-, 10-, 12-, or 16-week terms, depending on the program. Students should expect to have multiple classes per term covering core social work competencies including assessment, intervention, and evaluation for various client populations, such as individuals, families, groups, and communities. Other courses cover social work policies, research methods, ethical practices, and different theoretical frameworks for social work practice.

Some programs also offer specialization options for students who want to focus on a particular area of social work practice. Students usually fulfill specialization requirements through elective courses. Specializations may focus on specific client populations, like children, the elderly, or individuals with developmental disabilities, or environments, like schools, correctional facilities, or medical settings.

Another key component of online MSW programs is the clinical internship. Accredited social work programs typically require between 400 to 900 hours of internship. In a one-year MSW program, students will likely complete internship requirements simultaneously with their coursework. Internship locations and hours of operation differ, so students need to keep this in mind as they plan out their graduation timeline. Students can expect to complete one to two semesters of internship, which may require a commute or for the student to work nights and weekends.

Some online MSW programs also require a thesis or capstone project, in which students synthesize the theoretical knowledge gained through coursework and practical knowledge acquired through their internship.

Courses in online programs are delivered either synchronously or asynchronously. In a synchronous program, students participate in live virtual classes, giving them an opportunity to engage with faculty and classmates. In an asynchronous program, there are no scheduled classes. Instead, students can access and complete lessons and assignments according to their own schedule, giving them more flexibility.

Reyna advises students to consider how they learn when determining which kind of online program to enroll in. “Online learning can make earning an MSW more accessible, but it’s not for every student,” she says. “Consider your learning style compared to standard online instruction methods, including pre-recorded lectures, videos, reading assignments, and independent work. Reflect on your self-discipline, motivation, time management, and organizational skills, as these are crucial to success in an online program.”

The 50 Best One-Year MSW Programs

Best One-Year MSW Programs Online badge

Columbia School of Social Work

Case Western Reserve University

USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

BU School of Social Work

Fordham Graduate School of Social Service

Indiana University

FSU College of Social Work

University of Central Florida

University at Buffalo School of Social Work

University of Houston

University of South Florida

University of Missouri

LSU College of Human Sciences & Education

Colorado State University

University of Arkansas

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville

University of Louisville

University of Alabama

University of North Dakota

University of Nevada, Reno

Simmons University

Texas State University

Saint Leo University

University of Texas at Arlington

Boise State University

University of New England

University of Alaska Anchorage

Cal Poly Humboldt - College of Extended Education & Global Engagement

OLLU - Worden School of Social Service


Arizona State University

Temple University

How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the country’s best one-year online MSW programs. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary institutions.

We evaluated tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and each program’s reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of the best one-year online MSW programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, such as U.S. News & World Report, to simplify your search. We pored through these rankings, so you don’t have to.

How to Choose the One-Year Online MSW Program That’s Right for You

Confirm that a one-year online MSW degree program is right for you

While a one-year online MSW program may be an attractive way to earn your graduate degree and advance your career, it requires a significant commitment of time and energy. Before enrolling, it’s important to determine if you can make this commitment, as falling behind in courses or failing to fulfill clinical requirements can add to your degree completion time. Many schools offer part-time online MSW programs with lighter per-term course loads that may be more manageable for students working full-time or juggling multiple responsibilities.

You should also reflect on your career goals and decide whether to pursue a social work specialization, such as aging, child welfare, justice and corrections, developmental disabilities, or public policy and advocacy. This will help you identify programs that align with your interests and guide your options for your clinical internship.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve established some parameters for what you seek in a one-year online MSW program, you can begin researching schools and narrowing your options.

The first thing students should confirm is the accreditation status of the programs they’re considering. According to Reyna, “Students should always choose an online MSW program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.” To qualify for a state-issued clinical social work license, students must earn their MSW from a program with CSWE accreditation. “If students pursue a degree from an unaccredited MSW program, they run the risk of not being able to pursue licensure,” Reyna says. Students should also confirm that the institution they’re attending is accredited by a regional accrediting agency.

Students who plan to pursue LCSW licensure should also review their state’s education requirements and confirm that the programs they’re considering fulfill those requirements. This is particularly important for online students who may be attending a program based in a state different from where they plan to practice.

Each student has their own priorities when it comes to researching schools, but some common questions students should ask include:

  • Who are the faculty, and what are their social work areas of expertise?
  • What specialization options are available in this program?
  • What are the clinical requirements for this program? Are students responsible for finding their own clinical internships, or are internship sites assigned?
  • How do online students interact with classmates, faculty, and staff?
  • What type of technical, academic, career, and mental health support services are available to online students?

To learn more about advanced standing online MSW programs, visit the school’s website, speak to admissions counselors and program representatives, and attend virtual open houses or information sessions when available.

Prepare and submit your application

Application requirements for one-year online MSW programs vary by program. For the most accurate information, speak to an admissions counselor or program representative from the schools you’re considering.

You’ll also want to review eligibility criteria to ensure you’re qualified for the programs you’re considering. Most one-year online MSW programs require students to have a BSW from a CSWE-accredited school that they earned within the last 5-10 years. Others may accept students from different educational backgrounds but require that they complete prerequisite coursework before enrolling.

Other standard requirements for an online MSW application include:

  • Completed application and fee
  • Official undergraduate transcripts
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Resume or CV
  • GRE scores

Be mindful of application deadlines and start terms. Some programs enroll students multiple times yearly, while others only have one or two start terms per year. Failing to complete your application by due dates can impact your ability to start the program when you want.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Ideally, you’ve taken cost into consideration when choosing which program you’ll attend. During your research phase, you should speak to a financial aid counselor to learn more about tuition and fees, as well as financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, military discounts, fellowships, and tuition assistance benefits from your employer.

If you need student loans to help pay for your degree, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools use this information to determine eligibility for federal student aid, including loans, as well as institutional need-based aid. We strongly encourage students to do extensive research into student loans and repayment options before committing to borrowing money to fund their social work degree.

What You Can Do With an MSW

Many social workers earn an MSW to become licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). An LCSW works directly with clients, providing assessments and treatments for various roles. An MSW is one of the prerequisites for obtaining the state-issue license an individual needs to practice as an LCSW.

LCSWs have more career options than non-clinical social workers, as they can work in settings like private practices, medical and psychiatric hospitals, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, government agencies, and more.

Clinical social workers also earn more than non-clinical social workers. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average for an LCSW salary is $94,158. By comparison, those without a license earn an average of $76,266 annually.

However, according to Reyna, “Students who earn a master’s in social work are not limited to just counseling careers. An MSW provides a foundation in project management, community outreach, service navigation, program evaluation, and nonprofit management. Many jobs want to ensure that you can be resourceful and help not only navigate the complex service systems in the U.S., but create bridges between the service provider and the communities they are trying to serve.” An MSW will help students develop their skills in these areas.

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