Social Work

How to Compare Online, Hybrid, and Distance Learning MSW Programs

How to Compare Online, Hybrid, and Distance Learning MSW Programs
Image from Pexels
Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert March 26, 2018

As you try to determine which MSW program is right for you, you may hear terms that confuse you. When it comes to online learning, Masters of Social Work (MSW) Programs utilize many formats. Depending on the school, common program may include: online, hybrid, and distance learning.

Article continues here

Before we explain the differences between online, hybrid and distance programs we suggest you pursue only those programs with established standards of training and education.

Choose A Program with CSWE Accreditation

Any MSW program you consider should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Accreditation by the CSWE provides the stamp of approval you need to ensure the program meets a minimum of accreditation standards. If the program is not accredited, you won’t be eligible for licensure. Because social workers are a regulated profession, you must obtain a license to practice. Without that licensure, you may find your career and job outlook to be negatively impacted.

Explore a Campus-Based MSW Program

It may be helpful to get a sense of what a traditional campus-based MSW program is like so you have a baseline for comparison. In fact, it may be worthwhile for you to visit a local campus-based program even if you have no intention of going there. A school trip may help you better understand the trade-offs in choosing an online or hybrid degree.
By design, campus-based MSW programs are delivered in a traditional format where students study side-by-side. Students attend classes in person for the duration of the program they’ve been admitted to. This can be full time or part time.

A campus-based graduate school experience is similar to that of an undergraduate experience. There are opportunities for social and professional bonding. There are shared events and activities which may help you build professional connections. Classes are usually held on a main campus, or may be offered in a satellite location. But this is a program that requires feet on the ground.


“I Want to Be A Social Worker!”

There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

Online, Hybrid and Distance MSW Programs: High Quality Learning with Convenience and Flexibility

Online, hybrid and distance learning formats may offer you the benefits of a campus based program, but with greater flexibility and convenience.

Of note, students enrolled in any kind of online program must still meet the required number of field work hours as their on-campus peers. The field education requirement for CSWE accredited MSW programs ranges from 900 to 1200 hours over the duration of the program. Online, distance and hybrid fieldwork assignments are typically offered in the geographic area in which the student lives. Depending on where that is, and the type of social work practice sought, this could entail a commute. However, this would also be the case for a campus-based school fieldwork assignment.

Here’s a short guide to what each online, hybrid or distance learning program entails, and what you can expect.

Online MSW Programs

In an ideal world, online social work graduate programs best mimic their campus-based counterparts. Students do not attend classes in person. But cutting edge platforms allow for synchronous learning. This means students and instructors are online at the same time in classes, lectures and discussions at specific hours. It’s like going to class, but from your own home (or anywhere for that matter).

An online program may also allow for asynchronous classes. In this case students are given a timeframe in which to take the class own their own timetable and complete more self-paced schoolwork. Many programs utilize both learning options. Some online programs may have a once or twice a year required, on-campus visit. You will need to research this.

Because online instructors recognize that many students have chosen this option for the flexibility it provides, there may be greater leniency and supports for meeting deadlines and submitting papers.

Be sure to review our in-depth guide to accredited, online MSW programs and online MSW programs.

Hybrid MSW Programs

Hybrid programs are just what the name implies, a combination – or hybrid – of both online and on-campus coursework. Some schools allow for a complimentary mix of online and on-campus courses to complete the degree. These programs typically dictate what classes are available to take online.

Still other programs may simply build in an online component to their classes, allowing you some study from a far.

Because the specific hybrid features vary by school, you will need to do your homework and learn how each program works. Some hybrids operate more like an online program, but require a set number of intensive campus based visits on select weekends.

Distance Learning

The term distance learning was once used synonymously with the term online. Now online programs are in fact called online, and distance learning is a somewhat outdated term. These days distance learning can mean many things – not all of them clear. In some cases it may be used to describe a campus-based program but with on-site instruction at regional locations. Some of these locations may not even be on a campus.

When you see the term distance learning, investigate just what that means.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: Social WorkSocial Work & Counseling & Psychology