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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for social workers will increase faster than most fields over the next decade, with 64,000 new social workers needed to meet the demand by 2031. If you have been considering a career in social work, now is an excellent time to take the plunge and earn your bachelor’s degree to take advantage of this trend.

Social work is a rewarding field that allows you to help those in need to better function in their families, schools, and society. Social workers earn a median pay of $50,390 a year, with the possibility to earn more as they gain experience and increased responsibilities.

If you are looking for the fastest way to become a social worker, you may be interested in accelerated degree programs. These programs fast-track your educational experience so that you are learning to be a social worker on a condensed schedule. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.

How Do Accelerated Degree Programs Work?

An accelerated program works by condensing class material into a shorter period. You will still learn everything that you would in a regular college-level program, but in a shorter period of time. Classes often take about half the time of a regular class. While most college classes last 14-16 weeks, a class in an accelerated program may take as little as five weeks to complete.

You will still need to complete the same number of credit hours, though. Many standard bachelor’s programs require 120 credits, and that is also true of accelerated bachelor’s programs. But while a traditional 120-credit program will take four years, an accelerated program could take you as little as two years.

The caveat: those two years will feature intensive classwork and study. While a full-time student in a regular program might also hold down a part-time (or even full-time) job or have intensive family responsibilities, such as young children to care for, it would be challenging to manage these responsibilities and the extensive study needs of an accelerated program.

You will need to spend between two and four hours studying, reading, and doing homework assignments for every hour you spend in class. So, if you take 15 credit hours, a full load at the graduate level, you will also need to spend an additional 30-60 hours each week on schoolwork.

Other Ways to Earn Your Social Work Degree Faster

If an accelerated program is not for you, don’t despair. There are other ways of earning your bachelor’s degree in less than four years, and they might be right for you. The rewards are great since they will get you into the workforce more quickly, so it makes sense to explore possible strategies that will allow you to earn your undergraduate degree in less than four years.

For example, many high schools offer dual credit programs, which allow you to take college classes while you’re still enrolled in high school. These classes count for both high school and college credit.

You can also earn your degree in less time by utilizing prior learning assessments, or PLAs. If you can prove that you are already familiar with the material that will be covered in a course, you may be able to earn that credit by taking an assessment or exam and skipping the course itself. There are several ways to earn college credit through PLAs, including:

Examinations

There are several examination options that test your knowledge and may allow you to eliminate some of the credit requirements for your social work degree program. The most popular are AP (advanced placement) exams, standardized tests that measure your proficiency in the subject. In the U.S., these are administered annually by the College Board and are taken in May. In most cases, these are the final exams for advanced placement courses, high school classes that have college-level material.

Other examinations worth exploring include IB (international baccalaureate) exams. Like AP exams, these tests are the culmination of high-school-level courses that feature college-level materials. IB classes generally have two types: standard level and higher level, and colleges are more likely to accept higher-level credits than the standard level. As is true of AP courses, IB education is rigorous and requires students to master oral and written assignments showing their knowledge of the subject.

A third type of test is the college-level examination program known as CLEP. CLEP exams are held in a range of subjects, including literature, science, languages, and more. Many schools accept them, but you should be sure to check with your chosen school to see if CLEP test scores are acceptable.

Military experience

If you served your country as a military member, you may also be able to earn credits that will reduce the time it takes to receive your degree. Every school has its own regulations regarding military prior learning assessment. In general, you may be able to earn college credits based on competencies or military training that you have attained during your service.

If you served in the Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Navy, you can obtain a copy of your Joint Services Transcript (JST), similar to a college transcript, and can be presented to your proposed school. Air Force veterans who attended the Community College of the Air Force may also receive transcripts.

Another program is the Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support (DANTES), which provides no-cost education and career-planning programs for military service members. Many institutions of higher education accept DANTES exams.

Different schools have their own requirements, so it’s important to check with your institution to determine if an honorable discharge is necessary and how long you need to have served. These factors can vary depending on the school.

Work experience

Some schools will assess your previous work experience and may award you credits toward your degree for professional time spent in the social work field. If you have social work experience or have earned any type of certificate in the field, be sure to let the admissions counselors know when you apply.

You may be required to take a PLA or CLEP exam to ensure that your work experience has given you an adequate grounding in social work theory and practice. If you pass, you can be awarded credit for foundational courses, shortening your educational time and saving money as well.

Another option for assessing your work experience is the DSST exams, which are accepted at more than 1,900 institutions in the U.S. DSST exams include topics such as substance abuse, the fundamentals of counseling, and health and human development. Passing a DSST exam may allow you to opt out of courses in your social work program.

Our Research

This list features some of the country’s fastest online social work 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 fastest online social work 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.

The 19 Best Advanced Standing Online MSW Programs

Fastest Online Social Work Programs Badge
01

Liberty University
01

Campbellsville University
01

University of Arkansas at Little Rock
01

University of North Dakota
01

Brescia University
01

Aurora University
01

Indiana Wesleyan University
01

Briar Cliff University
01

Angelo State University
01

University of Alaska
01

Ursuline College
01

Malone University
01

Eastern New Mexico University
01

Northwestern State University of Louisiana
01

University of Utah
01

Western New Mexico University
01

Millersville University
01

Washburn University
01

Spring Arbor University