Compare School Options

Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

Earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) can open doors to clinical social work positions, increased earning potential, and doctoral-level study.

MSW programs design curriculums based on students’ previous social work experience. Traditional MSW programs deliver foundational and advanced coursework for students who don’t have a social work background. Advanced standing MSW programs cater to those with a bachelor’s degree in social work and relevant experience.

This article will explore the specifics of advanced standing MSW online programs, including eligibility criteria, curriculum, and how to choose the program that’s right for you. Leslie Reyna, an admissions counselor for the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Social Work, also provides her insights into the benefits of this type of degree.

What Is An Advanced Standing MSW?

An advanced standing MSW is designed for students who have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or similar degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This national organization monitors social work programs to ensure they adhere to the highest academic standards.

The curriculums for advanced standing MSW online programs are designed for students who already completed their foundational social work courses and clinical experiences in a BSW program. Because of this, students can immediately jump into advanced-level coursework upon entry into an advanced standing MSW program.

This also means that advanced standing MSW programs require fewer credits than traditional ones. While the exact number of credits varies by school, most advanced standing MSW programs require 30-40 credits. Many of these programs are designed to be completed in one year of full-time study.

Students with a BSW have multiple options regarding how quickly they enroll in an advanced standing MSW program. Some schools offer “4+1” programs, in which students earn their BSW in four years and matriculate directly into the MSW program, which they finish in one year. Conversely, some advanced standing MSW programs require students to have some professional social work experience before they’re eligible to enroll.

Students should also note that some advanced standing programs have eligibility criteria regarding how recently students received their BSW degree. “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. It’s common for programs to want students to have earned their bachelor’s within the last 6 years to ensure their knowledge is current.”

The 50 Best Advanced Standing Online MSW Programs

Best Advanced Standing MSW Online Badge

University of Southern California

Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service

Simmons University

Boston University

University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work

Our Lady of the Lake University

Adelphi University

Syracuse University

George Mason University

Case Western Reserve University

Delaware State University

Columbia University

Pennsylvania Western University

Ohio State University

Tulane University School of Social Work

University of California

University of Louisville

Texas State University

How We Rank Schools

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

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and 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 online advanced standing MSW programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, such as U.S. News & World Report, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What to Expect in an Advanced Standing MSW Online Program

The curriculums for accredited advanced standing MSW programs are designed around nine key social work competencies. Coursework covers assessment, intervention, and evaluation for various client populations, including individuals, families, groups, and communities. Students also learn about social work policies, research methods, ethical practices, and different theoretical frameworks for social work practice.

Depending on the program, students may also have the option to specialize within an area of social work. This may mean working with a specific client population, like children, the elderly, or individuals with developmental disabilities, or in a particular setting, like schools, correctional facilities, or medical settings.

Advanced standing MSW programs also have clinical fieldwork requirements just like a traditional MSW program. However, because of their prior education and experience, students in an advanced standing MSW will likely start their clinical experiences sooner than they would in a traditional MSW program. Settings for clinical fieldwork in advanced standing MSW programs include medical and psychiatric hospitals, inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, government agencies, community centers and programs, schools, and more.

Students may also be required to complete a thesis or capstone project as part of their graduation requirements.

Tips for succeeding in an advanced standing online MSW program

According to Reyna, students who thrive in an advanced standing online MSW program are those who are determined to advance their careers and able to effectively balance the needs of family and job with the demands of a rigorous academic program. She offers the following tips for succeeding in this type of program.

  • Manage your time wisely: Develop a realistic and achievable timetable that allows you to fulfill professional and personal responsibilities while making adequate time for classwork. Consider attending graduate school part-time if you have other significant responsibilities.
  • Utilize your school’s student support services: If you fall behind in a class, inquire about tutoring help. If you’re struggling with prioritizing responsibilities, find out if an academic counselor can assist you in setting a realistic schedule. Your school should offer you opportunities similar to those that in-person students have, so take the time to get to know your way around campus virtually, exploring options such as library resources and academic counseling.
  • Take advantage of your professors’ online office hours: Introduce yourself to instructors so they know you’re serious about your studies. Most professors will help students who demonstrate that they are willing to invest time in doing what it takes to learn the material.
  • Connect with your fellow students: Creating study groups can be a useful way to engage other students in your program. If you find some material challenging, it’s probable that other students do too and would welcome being approached to work together to master the topic.

How To Choose the Advanced Standing MSW Online Program That’s Right for You

Confirm that an advanced standing online MSW degree program is right for you

Consider your educational and professional background to determine if you meet the basic requirements for an advanced standing MSW program. If you don’t have a BSW, you’ll want to investigate traditional MSW programs.

If you are eligible for advanced standing online MSW programs, reflect on your career goals to determine if there’s a specialization you want to pursue as part of your MSW program. Common social work specializations include child welfare, substance misuse and recovery, aging, healthcare, justice and corrections, and developmental disabilities. Identifying an area of specialization can help you narrow your search to programs that offer your preferred concentration.

Lastly, consider whether an online MSW program is the best fit for you. Says Reyna, “Online learning can make earning an MSW more accessible, but it’s not for every student. 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.”

Research schools and programs

Before you begin researching advanced standing online MSW programs, it’s helpful to set some parameters to narrow down your options, including:

As you begin exploring programs, a key thing to look for is accreditation status. “The biggest consideration students should have in mind when choosing an advanced standing online MSW program is that the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education,” Reyna says. “If students pursue a degree from an unaccredited MSW program, they risk not being able to pursue licensure.” State regulatory boards require students to earn degrees from accredited programs to ensure their education meets industry standards for career preparation. Students should also confirm that the institution they’re attending is accredited by a regional accrediting agency.

Other important considerations when collecting information about schools include:

  • Who are the faculty, and what are their social work areas of expertise?
  • What type of social work specialization options are available in this program?
  • What are the clinical requirements for this program?
  • 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

Although requirements for entering an advanced standing MSW program vary from school to school, a standard eligibility requirement is having a BSW from a CSWE-accredited school. Other common application requirements include:

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

Students should contact an admissions counselor to confirm application requirements and deadlines. Some programs enroll students multiple times yearly, while others only have one or two start terms per year.

The number of advanced standing online MSW programs you apply to is a personal choice. Some students choose to apply to multiple MSW programs to increase their odds of getting accepted, while others may select a specific program based on faculty, specialization options, or cost.

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 extensively research student loans and repayment options before committing to borrowing money to fund their social work degree.

Social Work Salary and Career Outlook

One of the biggest advantages of earning an advanced standing MSW is the new career opportunities this degree unlocks.

With an MSW, “Social work students can become licensed clinical social workers by fulfilling their state’s supervised clinical practice hours and taking a licensure exam,” Reyna says. “As students become licensed, they can earn upwards of $75,000 to $90,000 per yea, depending on the state where they practice. I’ve also seen many social workers create their own counseling centers and non-profits after achieving licensure.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that overall employment in the community and social services occupations will grow at a faster-than-average pace through 2032. According to the agency,  there will be approximately 281,600 new jobs, on average, per year in the social services sector.

Specific jobs within the social work field that students with an advanced standing MSW qualify for include:

  • Social workers — Help individuals, groups, and families prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives.
    • Median annual salary: $61,420
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 7%
    • New jobs projected: 63,800 per year
  • Marriage and family therapists — Work with individuals, couples, families, and other groups to diagnose and treat cognitive, behavioral, or similar disorders in relationships and interpersonal dynamics.
    • Median annual salary: $56,570
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 15%
    • New jobs projected: 5,900 per year
  • Licensed mental health counselors — Help individuals cope with and recover from a range of issues, including depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, behavioral disorders, and more.
    • Median annual salary: $49,710
    • Projected employment growth (through 2032): 18%
    • New jobs projected: 42,000 per year

Other Social Work Degree Resources

Compare School Options