Social Work

Why You Should Aim for an Online Master’s In Clinical Social Work

Why You Should Aim for an Online Master’s In Clinical Social Work
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Noodle Staff January 25, 2018

Have the lofty goals of aiming for an online master's in clinical social work? Let Noodle assist you on your journey.

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Aim For An Online Masters In Clinical Social Work

In recent years, getting your degree has become so much more attainable, especially now that getting a degree at an online college has become a more mainstream way of schooling. Imagine being able to get your education while you sip on your coffee in the morning, still wearing your pajamas. Long gone are the days of having to trudge through the snow, or drive thirty miles to get to class on time. With online education, you can study whenever and wherever you want. If you feel like getting out for the day, head to the local coffee shop and spend your class time there, you don’t even have to be stuck in a building anymore to learn.

More and more it’s apparent that online education is a great choice for loads of different people. There are quite a few distinct reasons why a prospective student would choose an online college over a traditional school, whether it be they are unable to find someone to watch their children so they can attend class, or they don’t have transportation, or they really just enjoy staying home so they can be in the comfort of their house while they study. Whatever the reason, online education is a great alternative to the traditional college these days. It gives people the chance to make their dreams come true without having to step out the door if they don’t want to.

Even receiving a masters degree online has become prevalent as of late. One of the most lucrative degrees out there today is a Masters in Social Work. Perhaps you have gone through the process of getting your certificate in social work online, now you’d like to expand your degree. This degree is available online through many different schools, and can lead down some incredible career pathways. According to The American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work “Clinical social work is a healthcare profession based on theories and methods of prevention and treatment in providing mental health/healthcare services with special focus on behavioral and bio-physical problems and disorders.” Or, for the layman, social work helps to alleviate some of the pressure from people who need help, whether that help be mental, physical or emotional. The main goal for a social worker is to make sure that their client is doing well. Does this sound interesting to you? Are you looking to continue your education with an online masters degree with a focus in social work? Well then, let’s go.

An online degree may seem a bit strange to some, but these types of accredited schools are popping up all over the country. Sometimes, online universities get a bad reputation, because it seems like the students don’t really have to do any work, or they don’t get the hands on experience from a traditional school, so there is no way that they can learn what they need to know in order to be competent in their career. However, online schools deserve more recognition than they get.

Online schools create a new way to be self-reliant and self-motivated. There’s no scheduled class times, which means that you have to get your butt up and do your daily class work, and you also have to find time to read your books, and do your assignments that require quite a lot of research. The only person that you can count on is you, but achieving a Masters Degree in social work can happen, and there are many schools that offer online courses, such as Boston University and even Rutgers University.


“I’m ready for a degree!”

University and Program Name Learn More

What is an online masters in social work?

A masters degree is an academic degree following graduation from a university, one that specializes in a specific area of study. For example, social work, this can be a wonderful opportunity for someone who is looking to work with the public, and build strong relationships with clients.

Even though a bachelor degree can open doors for graduates, some students still feel like there is something missing from their education. Whether getting a masters is a stepping stone to getting a PHD, or you know what career that you want to go into, getting a masters can really help open even more, bigger, doors for graduates.

One of the big components of a masters degree, is the fact that you are going to have to do a lot of studying, and a lot of personal courses that relate to the field that you want to work in, this is going to prepare you for your career, the more you know, the better. Being able to self-direct and learn is what’s most important when thinking about going for your masters degree.

Finding the right school

There are tons of schools out there, so you want to find one that has a focus on what you want to study, clinical social work. Not only do you need to make sure your school provides the concentration that you are interested in, but also here are some other facts you should consider before applying to a particular school:

Make sure the school is 100 percent online.

This is something you are going to want to double check, especially if the school isn’t in the same state that you reside in. If there are clinicals that you need to attend in person, you may want to make sure that you are able to do it somewhere in your home state, or if you are willing to travel, then make sure that the clinicals can be done on your own time. If this is something you aren’t able to do, then you may want to find another school.

Make sure the school is accredited.

Accredited schools meet certain expectations; they are schools that provide education that is critical in your success. Don’t skimp on this, because your degree will be for nothing if you don’t go to an accredited school. To check whether your school is accredited, take a look and see if the US Board of Education approves it. If you don’t see anything on the website about accreditation, give your prospective school a call, it’s important that you find this out.


This may vary by state, but you are going to want to make sure that your schooling supports licensures, and that you are able to get licenses in the field that you want to get into after you graduate. Be sure to do your research and find out information about licensure requirements in the state you live in. Remember, you are going to want to be licensed in the state you work, not the state you go to school. The process to move from state to state once you are established can be quite the process.

The price of the school.

Sometimes online courses can be a little bit pricier, but if you want a good education, you may have to pay a little bit more. Don’t let the cost of a school sway you though, because your education is very important, you don’t want to skimp out just because the price is more affordable. Not everyone is made of money, but investing in your education is an investment in the rest of your life.


Are you able to get to the classroom any time that you want, or are there certain days that you need to be online? There are certain rules for each class that you have to stick to, but typically online schools are essentially “do it when you can” types of schools. For most online programs, as long as you post three days a week, it doesn’t matter if you are online at 3am or 3pm, but each school may be different.

Make sure the school offers Masters programs.

This should be a no brainer, but sometimes schools only offer masters programs if you want to teach the subject, so make sure the school offers exactly what you are looking for, so you can achieve the outcome you desire. It’s not quite possible to change your mind halfway through your schooling, so this is a very important factor.

Career Services.

Does the school help its students once he or she graduates? Are there ways of getting your foot in the door at a company, or can the school help you build your resume? Check out what else the school can offer you before you decide to attend. Some schools offer resume writing services, career hubs with job postings, professional development, and so much more.

Financial Aid.

Ahh, yes. Everyone’s favorite topic. If you aren’t going to be able to afford school up front, you may want to look into financial aid, which is when you are loaned money to attend school, and then you have to pay it back after you graduate (Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay it back right away, there is a six month leeway so you can find your career and get settled). This can be a little scary, especially when you see the amounts of money that are being loaned in the banks name to your school, but it’s an investment in yourself and your future.

Availability of Scholarships.

One way to avoid racking up tons of financial aid debt is to look into scholarships that your school has available; there are scholarships for underrepresented minorities, single parents, and even ones for specific fields of study. It doesn’t hurt to look, and apply.

Consider where you want to work.

If you plan on working in a rural area, or an area that has a diverse population, you may want to think about taking classes that gear more toward those attributes. If you want to work in a big office in a large city, you may want to look into classes that cater to that way of life.

How quickly you can get a degree.

Some schools offer accelerated tracks, which means that you can do four years of school in two years, which may sound lovely, but it can be a heavy workload. If you want to get your career going quicker, definitely check into this, but don’t get too overwhelmed.

Admissions requirements.

Every school has different requirements for admission, so it is important to know what it expected before deciding to apply. Some grad schools will require you to have a Bachelor’s of Social Work to be considered for their master’s program, and others will consider applicants with any sort of undergrad degree. Other factors for acceptance may be GPA, work or volunteer experience, and letters of recommendation.

Alumni Network.

This can go hand in hand with career services at the school. Do the former students have a base? Are they relevant to the school still? Can you network with other people and discover resources and jobs that appeal to you?

Graduation outcomes.

What is the success rate of students? What is the percentage of graduation, and also what is the percentage of students who obtain jobs after graduation? This is definitely an important aspect of your schooling, the university could be great, the classes could be lovely, but if no one is getting a job when he or she graduates, then what’s the point?

Where graduates go on to work after they obtain their degree.

Not only does employment matter after graduation, but where you are employed matters as well. If your graduating class is getting jobs at the supermarket, that’s incredible, but that doesn’t tell you much about the school. If the former students are able to get hired into a relevant career, then you are going to have a better chance of following in their footsteps.

The list goes on! You can ask any question you want of your school, just make sure that you are going to get the best education you possibly can. It can be a scary thing to start or continue your education, especially when you are starting from scratch.

A list of accredited schools that provide a masters in clinical social work:

Boston University
This school has three different structures for learning that caters to you. Each class lasts for seven weeks, and each student is required to do an internship while in school. You can study Clinical or Macro practice at Boston University, with different concentrations such as Children and Youth, Trauma and Violence, and even Aging. Tuition for a full-time student is around $33,000 a year.

Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is one of the top ten ranked schools for social work, which means you are going to get a great education here. You can study mental health with adults, child, youth and family or practice for social change here. If you have a Bachelor in Social Work then you can begin a fast track to your Masters, but if you don’t, the degree will take you around two and a half years to complete. The advanced track will cost around $53,000 and the traditional track will cost around $88,000.

Columbia University
One of the interesting things about Columbia college is that classes are live, so you have certain times in which you need to be at your computer participating in the classroom events. There are two-year programs, extended programs, transfer programs and much more. You can also study Advanced Clinical Practice, Social Enterprise Administration, Family Youth and Children Services as well as Health, Mental Health and Disabilities. This school may be a bit costly, at around $20,000 per term, but financial aid is available.

Louisiana State University
If you have a Bachelor of Social Work, you can take this program in one year, but if you do not, it will take you two years at Louisiana State University. Per course, this program will cost you around $1,500.

Portland State University
Portland State University’s online MSW is a three-year track, with a fieldwork placement in the third year of education, and this is a traditional online class where you can learn and attend class whenever you want during the week. If you live in Oregon, this university will cost you around $42,000 for the entire program, and if you are out of state the degree will cost around $58,000 for the entire program.

Rutgers University
This school was a bit difficult to find information on unless you are ready to apply or request more information, but with research you can discover for yourself, this sounds like a great school with very promising outcomes.

University of Alaska-Anchorage
This program is specifically for people who want to study social work for a career in Alaska, so if you think you want to live in Alaska (sounds like fun to me), then definitely check out this school. Course costs for graduates are around $950.

University of Southern California
The University of Southern California has two tracks, advanced and traditional. Traditional will take you around two years to complete, while an advanced track should take around one year. Per year, this program will cost around $20,000. Financial Aid and scholarships are available, so definitely check those out.

University of Denver
This is another school that has live classes, so you are required to attend class at certain times during the week. This program will cost around $80,000, and of course financial aid is available.

Walden University
Walden University has several educational career tracks for someone who is interesting in a Masters in Social Work. There is the Advanced Clinical Practice, Military Social Work, Social Work with Children and Families as well as Health Care. Walden’s tuition is not listed on their site, because it is based on your previous education. You will have to call and find out that information, but this looks like another great option for someone who wants to work in a clinical field.

There is a plethora of great information that you can find out about these colleges as well as other colleges that offer masters in social work programs. Just remember to keep in mind that each one of these schools, are going to have certain licenses that may not be acceptable in the state that you live and plan to work in. A quick google search should fill you in on what licenses are required to practice in your state. Beyond that, feel free to email a faculty member at the school that you are planning to apply and see if they can help find out any information that may be hard for you to find.

Okay, you’ve been accepted to an masters in clinical social work program, now what?

Congratulations on being accepted into the MSW program! It’s been a long arduous haul, but you did it. Now, how do you make the most out of your time in school? Well first, you should think about taking the classes that are going to afford you the best possible education that you can receive. Of course, some schools choose your classes for you, but sometimes you are able to pick a couple of them that are geared toward the career that you want to have after you graduate. If you plan on working with children, take classes that provide you with information about that, if you plan on being a clinical social worker, take classes that are set in a clinical setting. Set yourself up for success early on, and though the work may be hard, you know it will be rewarding in the end.

If your school requires you to take an internship, try to set one up that will provide you with future employment once you have graduated. Getting your foot in the door now can lead to much success later.

Look into the licensure procedure in your state. Just because you have an advanced degree, doesn’t mean that you are ready to work. You have to do plenty more after graduation, so get ahead now and look into the steps you must take in order to become a licensed social worker, then slowly but surely take those steps.

It can be hard to network as an online student. However, throughout your schooling, you may begin to notice students who are on the same track as you. Their names will appear in every class you are taking, which means they probably have similar goals as you. Don’t be afraid to send an email to these online classmates. Those connections could be helpful in the long run. They can be helpful friends to have when tackling a tough homework assignment, and further down the road, they may just be able to get your foot in the door at your dream job.

Some schools require students to write a masters thesis, which is a paper written with the help of a faculty advisor. Typically, a graduate student comes up with a hypothesis, and then creates a dissertation around the topic, to which they add their findings and research outcomes. This will help to show the school how much you have learned, and how competent you are in the field of study that you are soon to graduate from.

Jobs for someone with a masters in clinical social work:

Medical social worker

As a medical social worker you are going to be asked to provide support for patients with illnesses and their families in a hospital setting. In this field, you are going to deal with a lot of scary and traumatic life changes for clients. You will be able to help patients by planning coping strategies, figure out treatment plans, as well as provide support mentally and emotionally to both the patient and their families. It’s also important that a medical social worker keep up with families after significant changes in their patients, for example if a patient passes away, then the social worker should begin bereavement counseling for the family, and if the patient is ready to go home, the social worker should provide arrangements so that the patient is as comfortable as possible on their transition.

Skills that are needed in this job field are communication, understanding healthcare standards and regulations from the federal, state and local levels, as well as being compassionate and competent. This job can be hard because of the amount of tragedy and devastation that can occur.

According to Payscale, Medical Social Workers make on average $51,120.

Substance abuse counselor

A substance abuse counselor is a social worker who would work with clients dealing with addictions. A counselor in this setting will deal with recovery, rehab, and relapse. There are many different types of addiction that a substance abuse counselor will be trained to deal with. Along with alcohol abuse, narcotics abuse, and recreational drug abuse, a substance abuse counselor will have to take on clients who have addictions to gambling, sex, eating disorders, and so on. Not only will you be guiding addicts, you will be helping their families as well.

You will also be tasked with understanding treatment plans, drug and alcohol testing, and therapy for patients. This is also a job that will require group activities, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-ANON, which helps families cope with a family member who has an addiction. Counseling for addicts can be harsh and real, and sometimes the patient can be apprehensive to get treatment because dealing with an addiction is very scary and withdrawal is one of the hardest things that the human body can be put through.

Substance abuse counselors make an average of $37,765 a year, according to Payscale.

Child welfare caseworker

A child welfare caseworker provides services to children who are abused, neglected or homeless. Many child welfare caseworkers will make home visits and make assessments on living conditions, family welfare and mental health of the adolescent client. It is interesting that child welfare caseworkers also work with foster care and adoptions so that children can find the best homes possible. Many child welfare caseworkers help children with disabilities in a school setting, this way the caseworker can start to understand what types of struggles the child has, and if there is anything that can be done between home and school that can help the child succeed. If a child is suspected of being neglected or abused, a child welfare caseworker will step in and investigate the situation. If it is found that abuse has taken place, the caseworker will make arrangements so that the child is safe and out of harm’s way.

According to Payscale, child welfare caseworkers makes $41,855 on average a year.

School social worker

School social workers help to bring school and home life closer together. These social workers integrate relationships between the child and the school so that the child can succeed with their education. A school social worker deals with kids that have psychological and emotional issues, rather than physical or mental disabilities like a child welfare caseworker might. The social worker is connected with both the school and the child’s home life to make sure that everything is conducive, and that the child is able to have positive experiences in both places. Being a school social worker is a very sensitive job, as children as vulnerable, especially if they have other situations going on at home that can result in high emotions. This job can be tricky, as each part of a child’s life needs to be in working order for the success of the child.

School social workers make around $48,326 a year, according to Payscale.

Clinical mental health social worker

Clinical mental health social workers provide counseling for people with mental illnesses in an office setting. You may take on people with illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Helping people manage their mental health is a large part of this job, and can be very rewarding but also very challenging. This job requires a lot of communication between yourself and your clients, as well as their families. Also, a clinical mental health social worker needs to be informed of any changes with their client’s medications or diagnoses. This is a great way to get your foot in the door if you would like to make your career as a psychologist.

Acording to Payscale, clinical mental health social workers make around $55,180 a year.

You’ve graduated with a degree in clinical social work, now what?

You did it! Now it’s time to either look for a job, or go on to your PhD. Where can you find a job, you ask? Well, there are tons of places.

Check the Internet.

Heck, you’ve been studying and doing your homework online for years. Feel free to search for social work jobs in your area, there is bound to be something.

Local job listings.

Visit local hospitals, government offices and even places like nursing homes and homes for people with disabilities.

Ask around.

This is where all the networking that you did in school will come in handy; perhaps there is a faculty member or another student who may be able to help you find your future career, or even a family member who knows someone who knows someone. Sometimes, you’ll find a job in the most random way possible.
Online schools are the perfect option for a lot of people, and there’s no time like the present, so get out there and educate yourself!

Works Cited

American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work (2012), Retrieved January 2018.

Medical Social Worker Job Description (2018) Retrieved January 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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