The field of social work is vast, filled with a plethora of positions, disciplines, and licenses. Degrees in social work can lead to careers in counseling, child care and guidance, legal advocacy, clinical research, and more. The field blends psychology and sociology studies to better understand the world’s social climate and its effects on each individual. But before you can sign up for a job with the department of social services or take a licensure exam, you need to get your bachelor’s in social work (BSW).
A BSW is a 4-year introduction to the field, covering all aspects of social work and human services. It lets the students experience the different job opportunities and disciplines available to select a specialized course to study further education. It’s important to note that though a master’s degree in social work (MSW) isn’t required for many entry-level positions, it is required to conduct clinical work.
Social workers see individuals through the highs and lows of life, helping clients thrive through goal acquisition and community support, but also in moments where they are the most vulnerable. It takes patience, empathy, conflict management, and compassion to excel in this people-first field. If you have the knack for advocacy, the patience for therapy, or the determination to work with children, then earning your bachelor’s in social work can lead you to the position of your dreams.
Why an online BSW?
Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in various formats, and an online degree is often preferable for those who are employed or have family commitments. Online degrees offer flexibility in scheduling and allow students to study at universities across the country from where they live. Online degrees are often seen as a cost-effective alternative to an in-person degree since students don’t have to pay for room and board, food plans, or the cost of commuting to campus. All you need is a stable internet connection and a computer, and any room becomes your college campus.
Although a BSW can be earned online, an in-person internship will be required before graduation at most institutions. Required BSW coursework typically begins with around 60 credits of basic STEM, English, communication, history, and social science courses. Students then pursue major-specific classes and learn advanced level sociology and psychology courses on top of social work-specific classes like human diversity in social contexts, or social work research methods.
A BSW will see you into many entry-level social work positions, with an average salary of almost $41,000 per year (ranging from $30,000 to nearly $59,000). The field is growing rapidly, with a potential 13% growth in employment between now and 2029, making it the perfect time to start your BSW program.
Typical jobs for this education level include case managers, family service workers, and workshop activity directors for non-profit organizations. These occupations provide a similar service of managing a vulnerable population. Social workers work with a diverse clientele that spans age, gender, class, and race. This wide range brings a unique set of challenges to the workforce, requiring social workers to be adaptable, flexible, and patient.
Some key skills required for any social work, which are enhanced with the completion of a BSW, are:
- Attention to detail
- Critical thinking
- Conflict management
- Conflict resolution
- Skill building
- Goal acquisition
- Emotional maturity
- Ability to work under pressure
- Crisis management
BSW to MSW track
Social work positions based in a clinical setting like a mental health or general hospital generally require a master’s level degree and a state license. Many online BSW programs offer fast-track options directly into the school’s master’s of social work (MSW) program.
There are usually 2 MSW tracks — the standard track, which takes on average 2 years and 60 credit hours of work, and the advanced track. Depending on the college, an advanced track allows BSW holders to waive repetitive courses and complete their master’s in as few as 10 months, for as little as 30 credits.
After graduating with a MSW, social workers can apply for a license. The licensure requirements vary by state and are overseen by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The primary accreditation foundation for social work, known as the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE), works in tandem with the ASWB to ensure all exam applicants have graduated with an MSW from an accredited college program.
The best online bachelor’s degrees in social work
We have collected a list of the best online BSW programs offered in 2021. Though some of the colleges listed also offer in-person and hybrid education opportunities, we focus solely on their online cost and requirements. The online programs are often made with transfer students in mind. They require acceptance into the greater university and a separate acceptance into the BSW program, usually after time has been spent as an undeclared major and after completing prerequisite social work classes.
California State UniversityCalifornia State University Fresno, California
Based on the values of diversity, discovery, and distinction, Fresno State offers an online degree to benefit the San Joaquin Valley and greater California area. Fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the school offers a generalist practiced-based BSW program with a streamline into their MSW program. A 450-hour in-person field internship based on dealing with vulnerable populations in the San Joaquin Valley is required for all seniors before graduation. The program’s requirements include a 2.7 GPA or higher and fully completed general-education courses with 8 specialized prerequisite courses. The online degree is earned 1 semester at a time but can be completed in 4 consecutive semesters at a minimum.
Walden UniversityWalden University Minneapolis, Minnesota
Walden University offers a 182-hour BSW degree with a fast-track program into their MSW. It’s ideal for transfer students, accepting 135 credits in transfer hours for their program. A minimum of 45 credit hours is required to be earned through WU. They offer unique adult student admissions for those older than 21 with a high school diploma and documented military service. Their online program is flexible for working students.
Georgia State UniversityGeorgia State University Decator, Georgia
Georgia State offers an asynchronous online BSW program, meaning it doesn’t need to be completed in real-time. They require a 2.5 GPA minimum with a C or higher in pre-required lower-division courses. Their year-long field internship must be completed in person in the Georgia area. The degree is completed in 120 credit hours over 4 years of full-time work and is fully accredited by the CSWE. They enroll over 2,000 students every semester into their flexible program style and are highly recommended for Georgia residents searching for an adaptive BSW.
Huntington UniversityHuntington University Huntington, Indiana
Huntington University is a Christian liberal arts institution with a faith-based approach to service and education. They are fully accredited by the CSWE and offer a streamlined degree opportunity to turn your BSW degree into an MSW and license. They offer 600+ hours of fieldwork to prepare you for the next step in education. The general degree timeline is estimated between 3½ and 4 years for 128 credit hours.
Northern Arizona UniversityNorthern Arizona University Flagstaff, Arizona
With a standing accreditation from the CSWE of over 30 years, Northern Arizona University offers a 120-credit-hour BSW program to nearly 600 students annually, streamlined into their MSW program. They require a 2.25 GPA with 24 prerequisite course credits per hour. They uniquely offer a 450-hour placement that can be completed anywhere, even outside of the NAU area.
University of North DakotaUniversity of North Dakota Grand Forks, North Dakota
Accredited since 1974 by the CSWE, the University of North Dakota’s online BSW degree can be completed in 120 credit hours or less, depending on transfer credits. Though most of your degree is completed online, some courses are required to be completed on campus. A 2-semester field internship can be completed in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Eastern Montana, or Southern Manitoba. They offer free online tutoring and academic coaching for all online students. They require 2 UND social work courses to be completed before entry into the program and are transfer-student-friendly.
Syracuse UniversitySyracuse University Syracuse, New York
With a strong alumni base of over 6,000 and values in hands-on community change, Syracuse University’s online BSW program offers a 120-hour degree with a 500 hours field internship in 1 of over 200 social work companies partnered with the university. They have a vast network of study abroad opportunities, including a long weekend immersion trip in the New York City area that studies vulnerable populations in the urban area, along with several day-long seminar opportunities for all students. They have many unique placement elective courses, including the social work and human-animal bond elective, which studies the role of service and emotional support animals in society.
University of TennesseeUniversity of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville offers a complete academic route for social work students, beginning with the BSW degree and ending in a license and doctorate program. Their online program values include flexibility, increased access, and quality education for a 120-hour, 2- to 4-year online degree that is fully accredited. They require a 2.5 GPA, an essay, and 2 prerequisite social work courses with a C or above. They have an online and in-person honors society for those with a 3.5 GPA and higher, and offer students the ability to complete their BSW and MSW within 5 years.
University of ArkansasUniversity of Arkansas Little Rock, Arkansas
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock focuses on the person-in-environment perspective and a generalist practice foundation for their 120-hour BSW degree. The online program is offered for Arkansas residents only and requires a 2.5 GPA on 3 prerequisite social work programs. Seniors will participate in a 16-hour-per-week field internship through their final year, completed in the Arkansas area. They have an alumni network of nearly 60,000 living graduates and strive to make a difference in the community through flexible online degree work.
University of CincinnatiUniversity of Cincinnati Cincinnati, Ohio
The University of Cincinnati online program is transfer-focused. It requires a 2.75 GPA with 60 credit hours in social work, pre-social work, similar major, or associate degree program before entering into the BSW program. The BSW is completed within 120-135 hours and after a 2-semester field internship. They offer a unique program for students to earn a certificate in substance abuse counselling, allowing them to take the Chemical Dependency Counseling Assistant Phase 1 (CDCA Phase 1) exam in Ohio. Specific state-by-state requirements may prevent eligibility for students taking this test out of state.
Students can obtain financial aid for their online education from a variety of sources. Begin by visiting the federal government student financial aid website and completing the free FAFSA form to check your eligibility for federal aid.
All colleges offer in-house financial scholarships for their students so contact the relevant office at your college. The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs offers aid to students who have served at any time after September 10, 2001. The CSWE also offers a comprehensive list of out-of-university scholarship aids for bachelor’s degrees and above.