Your Complete Guide to

Online Social Work Degrees

The best social work and services programs, list of universities, rankings, FAQs and everything you ever wanted to know.
Grant Aldrich on March 14, 2023

Why We Love Them

  • Gratifying Work
  • Public Sector Demand
  • Interesting Casework

Since you’re here, it’s likely you want to join the millions of Americans pursuing higher education so that you can pursue your dream of a better life.

While deciding to go back to college is somewhat easy, the real challenge for many is determining what degree to go after. After all your degree will not only determine your career path but also how you spend the next two to four years.

If you are someone that has always wanted to make a positive impact in people’s lives, then a degree in social work may be the perfect plan for you. Figures released by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) show 60,000+ students pursuing undergraduate social work programs and around 63,000 in Master’s programs in the field. This shows growing interest in the subject area.

Why do so many students go after a degree in social work? Beyond their desire to help others, these individuals know that social workers never need to worry about spending months after graduation looking for a job. The field of social work has a variety of career opportunities and skilled, compassionate candidates are always in demand! How in demand? Keep reading, we’ll share some fantastic statistics from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in just a bit.

In this article, we’re going to explore everything you need to know about earning a social work degree. We’ll go over what we feel are the best social work degrees that offer the biggest career potential, compare online programs with traditional programs, and take a look at the differences between Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees.

SPOILER ALERT: You will want to read this ENTIRE article because we’re also going to tell you how you can save a LOT of time and money toward your degree.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in…

6 Best Online Social Work Degrees

Before we get to the specific online social work degrees, let’s talk about WHY we believe these degrees are the best.

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Job Security

As we just mentioned, the following social work degrees provide graduates with the skills and knowledge to land a job straight away and also to be in demand, no matter what the economy is doing. While everyone wants a career they love, it’s also nice to know you have job security. These degrees could really help with the ups and downs of the economy.

Because of the nature of the job in the social work field, professionals with a high level of commitment, as well as empathic and leadership qualities, are always in demand, from government institutions to non-profit institutions as well as in the private sector such as the healthcare facilities. This makes the industry quite favorable for those who enjoy career stability.

Ideal for Those Looking to Make a Change

Did you enter the workforce right out of high school? Do you spend your days doing work you just don’t find meaningful? Are you looking to make a career change? A degree in social work can be the answer to all these questions. It will help you build a career you find rewarding, and one that will also pay well.

Flexible and Affordable

Understanding what adults go through when trying to continue education, we’ve decided to focus on those social work degrees that can be earned online because they allow busy working adults the flexibility to study when it’s most convenient for them. In addition, online programs cost just a fraction of what you’d pay to attend traditional college campus classes and this can be an added bonus for working adults.

In addition to being more cost-effective than conventional campus-based programs, online social work programs give students the freedom to continue their learning on their own time and pace. This makes them quite ideal for those students who are balancing multiple commitments and could use some healthy work-life balance.

Now that you know why we chose the online social work degrees we did, let’s take a look at them:

Social Work

A bachelor of science in social work (BSW) will lead to a satisfying career helping individuals and families face some of the hardest challenges in their lives. These professionals typically work for state and local service agencies, though some graduates may decide to continue their education to become clinical or psychiatric social workers. There are plenty of meaningful options.

Students in this program will study the fascinating topic of human behavior. You’ll learn about common research methods used in social studies as well as standard practices in working with individuals, groups and families, making the degree program an enriching one.

Some of the interesting classes you’ll take in this program include:

  • Introduction to social work
  • Human behavior and the lifespan
  • Cultural diversity and justice
  • Social welfare policy
  • Social work research methods
  • Quantitative and qualitative research
  • Psychology and psychopathology
  • Ethics in social work

Career Outlook

In recent years, mental health concerns have become a focus for many individuals and groups as more people recognize the long-lasting ramifications of unhealthy lifestyles and relationships. This recognition and simultaneously growing awareness amongst people has resulted in a growing demand for social workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of social workers is projected to grow 9% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $82,840.

Human Services

Human service professionals seek to protect and serve the underprivileged and at-risk populations among us, proving people with the tools they need to improve their lives. This can mean removing children from unsafe homes, counseling juvenile offenders or investigating nursing homes for signs of neglect. As much as it can be a very serious and challenging field of work, it is very rewarding.

Students in a human services degree program will study a wide variety of topics including psychology, sociology, cultural and ethnic studies, social work, ethics, and healthcare. This cross-disciplinary approach allows graduates to look at specific situations from multiple angles and to be more open-minded when analysing relationships and societies, to make the best decisions to serve their clients.

What May the Future Hold with This Degree?

As we just mentioned, with the right training in the field of human resources and social work, professionals can expect to find a wide range of career prospects at their disposal upon graduation.

You may choose to seek employment within government agencies, nonprofit organizations, legal services providers, or private companies. Additionally, you can expand your career opportunities in the field even further by earning a graduate degree in a specialized discipline.

The BLS provides the following salary ranges for some of the most popular human services careers.

  • Case Worker – $35,060 to $54,230
  • Child Advocate – $47,380 and $78,230
  • Child Life Specialist – $56,750 to $86,130
  • Community Economic Development Officer – $74,350 and $116,280
  • Community Outreach Worker – $40,340 – $68,550
  • Crisis Intervention Counselor – $42,930 – $77,590


Are you interested in learning about why and how societies form and why people interact the way they do? In this discipline, sociologists use scientific observation, analysis and research to better understand common behaviors, group dynamics and methods of influence within groups of people.

Students in this program learn a variety of liberal arts courses that provide the basis for establishing the concepts of sociology and research methods and a very strong foundation to build on. You may read Karl Marx one day and Émile Durkheim the next. Here are just some of the fascinating courses you may take in a sociology program:

  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Social Problems
  • Research Methods and Statistics
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Racial and Ethnic Relations
  • History of Social Thought
  • Political Sociology
  • Economic Sociology

Job & Salary Data

There was a time sociology graduates would work primarily in research roles. But these days, so many career choices are available and that’s why we believe it to be a great option. Graduates pursue varied career paths including public relations representative, human resources specialist, market researcher, and marketing manager.

Let’s take a look at one of these career paths to get an idea of the outlook and salary.

According to the BLS, the employment of human resources specialists, for example, is projected to grow 8% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for human resources specialists was $62,290 in May 2021, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $108,160.

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Psychology (mental health)

Have you always been fascinated by human behavior and, in understanding why people behave the way they do? Do you have a big heart and an interest in helping others live their best lives? If so, a degree in psychology with a concentration in mental health may be an ideal direction to consider.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology prepares students to assist, motivate and counsel people who are facing big challenges in their lives. You’ll study a variety of topics including neuroscience, experimental and abnormal psychology, research methods, ethics, human personality, and human development. This range of subjects can make the entire learning experience really meaningful.

What Career Can You Have with This Degree?

Many students will go on to earn their graduate degrees to become licensed school counselors, therapists and psychiatrists, however, there are many jobs opportunities for those with only a bachelor’s degree and opportunities that exist outside of a clinical or mental health field. For instance, some graduates may take an entry-level work in human resources, public relations, or even marketing.

According to the BLS, employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 22% from 2021 to 2031, MUCH faster than the average for all occupations. Also reported by the BLS, the median annual wage for mental health counselors was $48,520 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $77,980.

Psychology (Child Development)


Are you someone who loves kids? Do you want to be a positive force in their life, helping them to develop into the best versions of themselves? Then a degree in psychology with a concentration in Child Development could be a great option for you.

For individuals who are passionate about working with children, in helping children in overcoming emotional and behavioral issues, a profession as a child psychologist can be an extremely fulfilling experience. These individuals have the chance at making a significant and long-lasting impact on their lives.

This program will teach students skills that may be applied to jobs that focus on the health and well-being of kids and adolescents. Typical BA programs offer child psychology as a concentration within a more general psychology major, though some schools do offer a major directly in child psychology. Many programs will also offer practical training through fieldwork in addition to coursework, making the learning experience really wholesome.

Some of the fascinating classes you may take in this program are:

  • Lifespan development
  • Early childhood education
  • Psychometric testing
  • Children’s cognition
  • Language learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Special needs children
  • Social behavior in children
  • Counseling children

Prepare for a Rewarding Career

Graduates with this degree often go into teaching, work as counselors or therapists, or pursue major research initiatives. There are quite a lot of options for those looking for a career in this field. Entry-level positions in the fields of teaching, social services and health services are often available to those with a bachelor’s degree in this subject.

The BLS does not list specific employment or salary data for child development specialist, but they do project a 9% increase in employment opportunities for child, family and school social workers through 2031. They also report the average annual wage for child, family and school social workers was $49,150 as of May 2021.

Public Policy/Administration

Have you always been an idea person? Are you able to see the big picture and come up with ways to make things better and more efficient? Then the huge field of public policy NEEDS you!

In this program, students will learn how to advocate for and enforce public policy changes that strengthen communities and societies. You’ll learn about the inner-workings and hierarchies of public sector institutions and how to manage institutional budgets, persuade voters and colleagues, lead team members and coworkers, and inspire positive change in society. This experience can be totally worth it on both professional and personal levels.

Students will dive into numerous exciting courses such as:

  • Bureaucracy, Public Administration, and the Private Sector
  • Conducting the People’s Business Ethically
  • Generating, Allocating, and Managing Public Resources
  • Managing People in Public Organizations
  • Management in Nonprofit Organizations
  • Nonprofit Accountability: Public Needs and Values
  • Introduction to Project Management
  • Managing Nonprofit Relationships

What Jobs Can You Get with A Degree in Public Administration?

Graduates will have a relatively easy time finding work, as government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private corporations all have ongoing needs for effective administrators. Trust me, you’ll never find yourself running out of interesting opportunities. In fact, in recent years, as the nonprofit sector has grown and many administrators have retired, there has been an increasing demand for new administrators to come and fill those roles. Some graduates may also decide to go into the private sector, working in human resources.

According to the BLS, employment of human resources specialists is projected to grow 8% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for human resources specialists was $62,290 in May 2021 with the highest 10 percent earning more than $108,160.

Online Vs Traditional Campus Social Work Degrees

As we have mentioned before, we are focusing on sharing with you the best online social work degrees. You may still be wondering why we feel online degrees are the better option for most students, particularly adult students.

Well, here are 3 reasons:

  1. Convenience

If you’re an adult already in the workforce, then you know how little time you have to dedicate to going to night or weekend classes. And if you also have a family to take care of, then your schedule becomes even more hectic.

Learning should not become difficult and not burden you with extra tough decisions to make and so learning online allows you to fit your studies into your schedule. One of the greatest advantages that online programs offer is convenience. Students get to learn from the comfort of their homes and get to save not just their time but also the money that would otherwise be spent on commuting to and from college.

For individuals struggling in these difficult economic circumstances, each penny saved can be a lot. Now that’s convenient and practical.

  1. The Cost

Online programs are typically far more affordable than the traditional brick and mortar tuition. That’s really true. In addition to the initial savings, there’s also the fact you don’t have to pay for room and board or even gas to get to class. By being able to save, students can be encouraged to get back into learning and advance academically. Online programs help reduce financial burdens and can be a feasible option for those that otherwise find traditional campus programs unaffordable.

  1. Social Work Degrees are Perfect for Online Learning

You can pretty much obtain any degree these days online. But still, there are some degrees, for instance, those in the science fields that require lab work and that aren’t the best fit for digital learning. But we’re in luck since social work degrees are perfect for the online environment.

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Benefits of a Social Work Degree

Here are just a few benefits of getting a bachelor’s degree in social work:

High Demand

The field of social work is expanding rapidly. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for social workers will increase by 9% by 2031. That is FAR faster than growth for all other occupations. That translates to about 772,100 jobs in the next decade.

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You Have a Variety of Opportunities

You might think that social workers only work in government run social services agencies, but that’s not the case. Graduates with this degree will be exposed to a wide range of career opportunities. You may find jobs in schools, hospitals, health centers, nonprofit and advocacy agencies, churches and even businesses, such as insurance companies and law firms. That’s a lot of career options and each one is equally interesting. In addition, you will have the option of being involved in direct client care, focus on policy development, or take on a supervisory position. Whatever your interests and skillset, you’ll find the ideal path in this field.

Cost and Tuition of Obtaining a Social Work Degree

Many prospective students quit their dream of earning their degree because they assume they can’t afford to go to college. We completely understand that concern. While higher education is definitely a financial commitment, you may be surprised to learn that earning your degree can be FAR MORE AFFORDABLE that you may imagine.

Read our article on 5 ways you can save on college tuition, and also use our free Smartplan to find ways to save at various schools across the country by taking advantage of free courses, discounts and more. In fact, that’s why we created so that everyone could have access to an affordable education.

Choosing the Right Type of Social Work Degree

Congratulations on reading this far. It shows that you are really interested in a social work degree and helping people improve their lives. Now it’s time to discuss the type of degree that will help you best reach your career goals.

Associate’s Degree in Social Work

An associate’s degree in social work (ASW) is typically a two-year degree obtained through a vocation school or community college, though there are online associate’s degrees as well. Students in ASW programs will take introductory courses in psychology, sociology, and core social work concepts. ASW-holders are typically employed in entry-level positions as case management aides, social work assistants, and community outreach workers.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Many of the degrees we covered in this article are bachelor’s degrees, which traditionally take 4 years to complete, though there are ways you can shave some time off your studies. While many positions in social work require a candidate to possess a master of social work (MSW), graduates with a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree can find work in non-clinical positions as case managers, community outreach workers, mental health assistants, and residential counselors, with plenty of room for career growth.

Master’s In Social Work

Once you’ve obtained your BSW, you may decide to continue your education and obtain your master’s degree in a chosen specialization like some of the ones we’ve covered here. These programs typically require another two to four years of coursework but of course, help open a lot more doors in your career.

A Master’s degree will help you if:

  • You want to work in healthcare, administration, or schools.
  • You’re looking to specialize in a counseling area, for example working with patients battling addiction or counseling children in schools.
  • You want to obtain certain credentials, such as the clinical social worker in gerontology (CSW-G).
  • You want to become certified as a licensed social worker and be able to open your own practice.

Doctoral Degree

The most advanced degree you can earn is a doctorate. Graduates holding this degree are typically regarded as experts in their chosen fields, and many go on to focus on research and academia.

Having a doctorate degree is usually considered one of the highest benchmarks and signals a certain kind of expertise. This leads to more advancement opportunities both in terms of position and salaries. While it may not necessarily translate into a higher level of licensing but is definitely highly valued when it comes to teaching and research.

The bottom line is, if you have a passion for research or wish to work in higher education, you’ll definitely want to go after your doctoral at some point.

Choosing the Correct University or College for Social Work

So you know you want a degree in social work, and you have a pretty good idea which type of degree will help you reach your career goals, now it’s time to find the RIGHT school for YOU.

Here are a few things we think are hugely important for adult students. You’ll want to choose a university with:

      • Online Programs
      • $0 in application fees
      • No SAT/ACT testing requirements
      • Faculty and professors that understand adult students’ needs
      • Discounts or scholarships
      • Convenient enrollment dates year-round (so you don’t have to wait for Spring or Fall)
      • Accreditation

Finding adult-friendly schools that match these can certainly be challenging!

BUT, that’s why we created our Smartplan.

We understand that every student is an individual and has unique goals and needs. That’s why we created our Smartplan, so you can easily and quickly find the schools that match all of the criteria and requirements you have.

Register today to get your free Smartplan and compare different colleges! >>

Salary Data for Social Worker1ws

As you’ve seen, a social work degree can lead to numerous career paths. Let’s take a look at some of those potential careers along with their potential salary.

  • Child and Family Social Worker – $49,150
  • Clinical Social Worker – $50,390
  • Psychiatric Social Worker – $47,190
  • Hospital Social Worker – $54,020
  • Community Health Worker – $40,150
  • Career Counselor – $60,510


Q: How long does it take to earn a social work degree?

A: That really depends on the degree you go after. Typically speaking, Associate’s degrees take 2 years to complete, Bachelor’s 4 years, and Master’s and Doctoral add on another 2 to 4 years.

The nice thing about earning your degree online, though, is that you can learn at your own pace, so it’s possible to shave off quite a bit of time.

Q: What can you do with a social work degree?

A: A degree in social work provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide assistance to children, adolescents, and adults. Work may be found in government agencies, schools, nonprofits and even the business world.

Q: What does a social work degree involve?

A: That really depends on your degree level. Most programs however will require coursework as well as field experiences to fulfill state licensure requirements.

How to Get Started

Wow, we’ve just covered a LOT of information. You may be wondering what you should do next.

We highly recommend you take a few moments to use’s Smartplan to find the right school that offers all of the criteria you’re looking for.   We’ve provided this helpful and free tool for you to help you make the right decision and find ways that could end up saving you a TON of time and money toward your business degree!

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About the Author
Grant Aldrich
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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