Social Work

Accredited Online MSW Programs

Accredited Online MSW Programs
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Noodle Staff February 28, 2018

So, you’ve decided you want to go back to school for your Master’s of Social Work? Noodle helps you dig through the details you need to achieve your goals.

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Accredited Online MSW Programs

So, you’ve decided you want to go back to school for your Master’s of Social Work. Congrats! Choosing to continue your education can be a huge step, especially if you are already in the workforce. Sadly, your bills don’t care if you want to pursue higher education. And oftentimes, your job doesn’t care either. That is why online schooling is such a lifesaver. Unlike in previous generations, going back to school does not mean putting our lives on hold.

We can now go to work, be with our families, and also snag that accredited online msw that can propel us into new levels of our career, all in our extra time from the comfort of our homes. Online learning has seriously changed the game, but with more freedom comes more responsibility. If you choose to continue your education online, you probably already know that self-discipline and proper time management are going to be vital to your success as a student. However, you also have the responsibility of making sure you get the most out of your education, and that all starts with choosing the right school.

With so many MSW online programs out there, it can be easy to get confused. It can be tempting to choose a program that costs the least and takes the smallest amount of time to complete. However, this is your future we’re talking about. If you opt for a cheap, quick online program, you can find yourself in a sticky spot come graduation. Some programs just won’t prepare you for your desired job, and even worse, some schools are not adequately accredited. Imagine working hard to get your diploma and then realizing it does not equip you to get the licenses you need to be a social worker? Sounds like a nightmare. To avoid wasting time and to make sure you are getting the most out of your education, you must make sure you know exactly what you will need to succeed and choose a school accordingly.



University and Program Name Learn More

Who provides online MSW programs accreditation?

When you start your search for the perfect accredited online colleges for social work to earn your Master’s of Social Work from, the first step it to make sure it is accredited. Luckily, there is only one acredication your school needs to have, so it will be easy to tell if a certain school is even worth your time to consider. The accreditation you are looking for is CSWE accreditation. This accreditation is provided by the Council on Social Work Education (CWSE). The CSWE is the only nationally recognized accreditation for social workers pursuing higher education.

They are responsible for creating the accreditation standards that will prepare students for a successful career in social work. Social work puts high priority in all of its workers being equally trained and educated so that they can provide quality and uniform care to people all over the world. And that, of course, starts with education. The CWSE makes sure all of the schools under its accreditation are providing in-depth and uniform education to all of their students. A CWSE accreditation means that no corners are being cut, and you can be confident in the education you are receiving.

Why should I prioritize msw online accredited programs?

Getting your master’s is typically not something people get to do without taking out student loans, and high tuition rates can often make you feel like your being buried alive. Because online schools with high tuition can be intimidating, it is easy to be tempted by affordable school with questionable accreditation. However, it is important to remember that even though the school is cheaper and you will graduate with less debt, if the online program is not accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, your degree will be of little to no use to you.

When it comes to looking for schools, prioritizing accredited msw programs online is a big understatement. You should not allow yourself to even consider a school that does not meet the standards of cswe accredited online msw programs. Without a degree from cswe accredited online programs, you will not be able to take your licensing exams. And without the proper licensure, you will not be allowed to practice social work anywhere in the world. Choosing a CSWE accredited school is the difference between having the lucrative and successful career as a social worker you’ve always desired or having a useless degree and no job to show for your hard work.

When comparing accredited online social work master’s programs, it’s great to know what to look for and also what to avoid completely. There are institutions all across the country who want to trick people out of their money. This is especially true when it comes to online schools. Schools created to con people out of their money and waste their times on educational endeavors are called degree mills, and there are also accreditation mills. Accreditation mills have the goal of tricking people into believing a school is adequately accredited when actually the opposite is true. We will discuss both below.

There is a lot to look out for when searching for your perfect online program. Going back to school is a huge choice that affects your life, along with your family’s life. You do not want to waste any time or money of this endeavor, so it’s important to get it right the first time.

Online education has opened a lot of doors to people in the US. For the first time in history, getting a degree in your spare time is a viable option, meaning people who would never have been able to even consider going back to school are now able to expand their minds and careers and reach their full potential as workers and individuals. However, there are also people and institutions out there who want to take advantage of people and take their money any way they can.

Degree mills and accreditation mills were created for just that reason. These institutions, which are easy to put together now that an entire education can be done without face-to-face contact, only exist to mislead honest people and capitalize on their desire for a higher education. These mills are very dangerous because they can waste your money and even worse, your time. These degrees may not be accepted if you ever decide to transfer schools, meaning all the work you did was for naught. Additionally, future employers may not accept your degree, meaning you do not meet the requirements for the job you have been working towards.

Enrolling in a degree mill institution can also hinder your ability to get financial aid from the government or from an employer who is willing to help you further your education. Imagine wasting your savings or going into debt just to realize your degree is not worth anything. Since you’ve spent your money, or now you have thousands to pay off, you no longer have the money to go back and get your Master’s of Social Work from an accredited online program. Falling into the trap of a degree will can mean never being able to get your master’s and pursue the career you have always wanted.

Recognizing a degree mill

So how can you recognize a degree mill? It can be a little tricky. The entire goal of these program is to trick and mislead future students, so you can trust that they are putting all of their effort into making sure websites and programs look as legit as possible. According to the Council of Higher Education Accreditation(CHEA), here are some questions to ask when looking at different schools.

Watch for scams!

If you can buy a degree from an institution, you can be confident it is a scam. Degrees are not things you should ever be able to purchase because experience and an education do not have a price tag. If purchasing a degree from a school is an option, do not pursue that school any longer.
Is the school claiming to be accredited without any evidence of that accreditation?

This is where things can get a little tricky. Just because a school says it is accredited does not mean it is true. So if you find a school that says it is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education, be sure you check their facts. If there is no evidence that their accreditation is valid, do not take a chance on them. You could end up wasting a lot of valuable time and money.

Does their accreditation come from a questionable source?

Just because a school is accredited by an organization does not automatically mean it is a good choice for your education. That accreditation could be from an accreditation mill, which would mean that their claimed accreditation is a total scam. Remember, when searching through online accredited social work programs, the only accreditation you need to be looking out for is Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation. And even if the school is CSWE accredited, check their facts to make sure it is a true accreditation.

Does the school lack state or federal licensure or authority to operate?

This one should come as a big red flag, but if you don’t know to look for it, this simple detail could fall through the cracks during your search for the perfect online school. If the organization fails to meet the basic criteria put it place by the government to be a licensed school that is legally allowed to operate, then it isn’t even a school at all. Be sure to make sure your school is fully functioning and recognized as an institution of learning by the government before moving forward.

What attendance policies are in place for online classes?

Checking to see what is required of students can be very telling of an online school. If the school does not require you attend classes, either in person or online, to earn credits, you could easily coast through school, doing little to nothing to earn your degree. And in every case where no attendance is mandatory, you can bet the school is only after your money. Be sure to check on simple things like attendance policies when looking for potential schools.

What kind of assignments are required for students to earn credits?

In the same vein as attendance, be sure to see what classes and assignments are required for your online school. If there are little to no assignments or projects required to earn credits in your classes, you can mark that institution with a big red flag. Assignments and projects are the building blocks of education, so a school that does not require any work to be done by its students is not preparing them for their futures. You want a school that is setting you up for success, so you can graduate ready to join the workforce or expand your career. Don’t let seemingly easy classes make you fall into the trap of a degree mill.

Will you be able to earn your degree in a very short period of time?

If a school is saying you can earn your master’s in social work in just a matter of months to a year, it is a degree mill. Gaining the education and experience necessary to be a master of social work takes a lot of time. Typically, you can earn your degree in two to three years. Any time frame shorter than that should be a red flag that you are dealing with a degree mill.

Are degrees available based only on experience?

Even if you have a ton of experience in social work, you should not be able to earn a degree on that experience alone. If a school is offering to give you a Master’s of Social Work degree simply because of your resume, you can trust that it is a big scam. These schools are only out for your money. Gaining your master’s in social work will take time, and you can expect to spend a lot of time studying and working on your degree. There are no shortcuts, so any school or organization claiming to have them is lying.

Are there few requirements for graduation?

Similar to other questions on this list, if the school claims to have few requirements for graduation, you should be suspicious. Getting your master’s in social work is not supposed to be a walk in the park, so any school claiming that all you have to do is pay a certain price or provide a resume to graduate is not going to provide you with the degree or education you are after. Again, there are no corners worth cutting on your journey to your master’s degree. Don’t let any institution convince you otherwise.

Is the school lacking a real address?

Even if the school is completely online, it should still have an address. You would be suspicious of any company that failed to list an address, and online schools are no exception. Additionally, if the only address given is a PO Box, look out. That can be a tricky ploy to convince potential students of their validity. If you are feeling suspicious of a school, type their address into a search engine and see what you can find. If you are seeing pictures of anything other than an actual educational facility (ie. a sketchy storefront or a person’s house), take your search elsewhere.

Does the school provide a list of its faculty and their qualifications on the website?

Schools should be proud of their esteemed, qualified faculty, so if the school you are considering does not have names or qualifications for its teachers listed anywhere, you should be very suspicious. Checking out who your teachers are and even looking them up on Rate My Professor, is a big part of shopping for your next school. If no information about your potential instructors is provided, consider that school a degree mill.

Does the school have a name similar to other universities?

This is another way degree mills like to trick people into thinking they are an esteemed university. If the school has a name that is close but not the same to a well-known college or university, you should be wary about their validity. Even worse, if the school’s website ends with anything other than .edu, be sure to steer clear. Do not be tricked by similar names or sneaky url names.

What to look for in accredited online MSW programs?

Needless to say, accredited online social work programs are going to ask a lot more of you than a degree mill. And even after you have found a fully accredited program you are interested in, you will want to make sure you meet their requirements before spending money on application fees and time on applying. Here are a few things to look out for when applying to accredited schools.

Admissions requirements

For undergrad degrees, you will want to see if SAT scores are necessary for application. If you are transferring between universities, sometimes SAT scores are not apart of the application process. Instead, the school will be more interested in your transcripts and your GPA. Additionally, some undergrad colleges and universities will only require you to take a placement exams to ensure you are prepared for their curriculum. Often, if you do not meet the requirements, you will need to take remedial classes to prepare yourself before taking classes that count towards your accredited online masters degree in social work. Placement tests are most often seen at community or junior colleges.

For accredited social work programs online, admissions requirements can vary greatly. Many colleges and universities require your under GPA and transcripts as well as GRE scores to be considered. The scores they require may vary, but the minimum score should be listed on their website. However, in recent years, some master’s programs have omitted GRE requirements from their criteria. Instead, they are more interested in your experience and desire to attend their institution. Additionally, the school may require letters of recommendation, work experience, personal statements, and interviews. Be sure you can provide the school with everything they will need to consider you before you apply. However, it is important to note that many schools do accept individuals who do not meet the GPA and GRE requirements listed on their website. For example, if a 3.0 undergrad GPA is required and you have a 2.5 GPA, but you have excellent letters of recommendation and work experience in your field, you still have a shot at being accepted.


When it comes to online programs, not all programs are accepted by every state. That means that even though you have access to that you could work towards an accredited online social work degree program all to realize that the school you have chosen is not recognized in your state. Be sure to make sure the school is choose operates in the state you live in.

Curriculum & concentrations/certifications offered

Another great thing to consider when choosing the perfect online school for you is what kind of concentrations and certifications they have. If you have a special interest or passion when it comes to social work, finding a school that specializes in that area can be the icing on the cake of your education. It can also be the difference in getting to work as a social worker or getting to be a social worker specializing in what you are passionate about.

Here are a few examples of schools that offer special concentrations:

Tulane University

Disaster Mental Health
If you have a special interest in counseling individuals after small or large disasters have struck, this may be a certification for you to consider. Disasters of all kinds can strike families and communities at any time. Tulane University prides itself in offering one of the only remote certificates in Disaster Mental Health available in the United States. With this certificate, you will be prepared to work with individuals and families after trauma of any kind has occurred. In this program, you will learn about “issues specifically related to crisis intervention, disaster management, and treatment approaches for certain mental disorders.” This is a great way to make a huge difference in your community in the worst of times.

University of Louisville

Alcohol & Drug Counseling
If you are interested in helping individuals who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, the University of Louisville could be a great school for you to consider. The University of Louisville offers a special concentration in alcohol and drug counseling that will propel your career into the recovery field. This concentration will prepare you for a number of career opportunities. You will be able to work as a counselor in a rehabilitation center or halfway house, or you can even work as a therapist in private practice and work those individuals who have multiple years of sobriety behind them. This rewarding and challenging line of work is great for those who want to help people beat their addictions and create entirely new lives for themselves.

Temple University offers Trauma Counseling

Disaster Program
Similar to Tulane University’s Disaster program, Temple University specializes in preparing social workers to work with individuals who have experienced trauma. Understanding how the brain processes trauma is still a relatively new area of study, and in this program, you can expect to learn the very latest information on how those dealing with trauma think and how their mental health should be treated.

Student support services provided

When looking for the perfect online school, it is important to see what kind of support the school offers. Since your program is entirely online, your schooling could become very difficult if it is hard to get in contact with teachers and advisors with your questions. Here are a few examples of things to keep an eye out for when looking at accredited masters of social work programs online.

Library services

Even if you are an online student, library services can be a huge help. Especially when it comes time to write essays and do research, having access to your library’s database of scholarly articles and online content can be vital to your success as a student. Be sure your school offers full library access to their online students.

Writing center support

If essay writing is not one of your academic strengths, or even if you just need an extra set of eyes to check an upcoming assignment, having access to an online writing center can be the different in a B and an A on a big paper. Be sure to check that your school offers online writing support to its students.

Career services

Another huge things to look out for is the strength of a school’s career services department. You will want a career services department that is willing to take the time to get to know you and match you with a career that suits your needs and your personality. Make sure the career services department at the school you choose is strong and ready to help its online students.

Technical support

Technical support is a must for online students. Since most, if not all, of your schooling takes place on a laptop or computer, you will want to make sure you have the resources necessary to succeed in your online classes. Be sure to see how your school’s technical support team is capable of assisting its online students.

Social engagement

Social engagement and networking with other online students is a big part of any online curriculum. Just because you are not in the classroom does not mean you should miss out on the vital connections you can make as a student. This also carries over into alumni services after you graduate. Be sure to see how your school cares for its online students when it comes to alumni services and social engagement.

Advisor and instructor support

This is probably the most important thing to look out for on the list. As an online student, you need to truth that your advisors and teachers will be there to assist you when you have problems or questions. Developing strong relationships with teachers is just as important for online students as it is for traditional students. Be sure the school you choose has instructors and facility that is ready to answer your calls and emails and give you the best educational experience they can.

Field work opportunities

Gaining experience in the field while you are a student, be it through a job or internship, is a very important part of any education. Be sure to see what your school’s policies are on internships and field work when choosing the best school for you. Finding a school that offers different opportunities to its students and having the chance to take advantage of that experience can make a life changing experience.

Choosing to go back to school to pursue your master’s in social work is a huge step in any person’s life. Even pursuing an online master’s program mean big sacrifices in time and money. Especially if you are already working full time, be it in the social work field or another career path, your educational goals may mean time away from your family or having to take out thousands in students load.

However, if you do your research and choose the right school, you could be setting yourself up for a lucrative and rewarding career in social work. But choosing the right school is incredibly important in the venture, because, as we have stated above, choosing the wrong one could mean wasting money and time and squandering your chance to advance in the career you are passionate about. That is why it is vital to make sure your school is accredited by the CSWE. Remember, any school that is not CSWE accredited or any school that claims to be CSWE accredited but does not have the backing to prove it is not worth your time. Take your time, do your research, and you will be set to earn your Master’s in Social Work and enjoy the fruits of your labor.


Directory of online programs, retrieved March 10, 2018.

Important questions about accreditations, retrieved March 10, 2018.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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