Online MSW Programs for Aspiring Clinical Social Workers

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Online MSW Programs for Aspiring Clinical Social WorkersIn addition to a Master's in Social Work, to be eligible for a clinical license, a social worker must have supervision and direct client hours. It may take several years to get the experience necessary. Clinical social work is a practice area within the broader field of social work. Clinical social work focuses on assessment, treatment, and prevention of mental illness. Clinical social workers take on the difficult tasks of diagnosis of mental illness, emotional disturbances, and behavioral disorders.

Clinical practice requires a state license and certification of competence to practice at the clinical level. Additionally, clinical social workers provide their critical services in many settings including practices, primary care facilities, government agencies, hospitals, and community-based organizations.

Standards for Clinical Social Work in Social Work Practice

The following standards are adapted from the NASW Standards for Clinical Social Work in Social Work Practice guide, adopted by the NASW Board of Directors in 2005. An extended version of each standard can be found on the NASW Website. 

  1. Ethics and Values Clinical social workers shall use the NASW Codes of Ethics as a guide to ethical decision making as they adhere to the ethics and values of the social work profession.
  2. Specialized Practice Skills and Intervention Clinical social workers shall demonstrate specialized skills and knowledge necessary for clinical interventions with groups, families and individuals to be effective.
  3. Referrals Clinical social workers shall remain knowledgeable about available services in the community and make appropriate referrals.
  4. Accessibility to Clients – Clinical social workers shall make themselves available to clients in both emergency and nonemergency situations.
  5. Privacy and Confidentiality – Clinical social workers shall keep up appropriate safeguards for the private nature of the treatment relationship.
  6. Supervision and Consultation – Clinical social workers shall keep professional consultation and supervision accessible.
  7. Professional Procedures and Environment Clinical social workers shall maintain professional procedures and offices.
  8. Documentation – Services provided to the client or on behalf of the client shall be documented in the client’s record or file.
  9. Independent Practice – Clinical social workers have the right to form an independent practice.
  10. Competence with Cultures – Clinical social workers shall demonstrate culturally competent services in line with the NASW Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice.
  11. Professional Development – Clinical social workers have personal responsibility to maintain their professional development in line with state requirements and the NASW Standards for Continuing Professional Education.
  12. Technology – Clinical social workers need access to the internet and to computers so they can communicate via email, search information via the Web and use the internet for education, resources and networking to maintain an efficient and productive clinical practice.

Requirements for Clinical Social Work Licensing

States assign several titles to the clinical social work profession; a common title is Licensed Clinical Social Worker. The typical LCSW licensing requirements are:

  1. Graduating from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program
  2. Clinical training, and
  3. Passing the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam

Educational Requirements

A bachelor’s degree can provide a basis for supervised levels of social work. Most states require a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CWSE-accredited institution. After graduation, applicants for a license must register as an associate clinical social worker to initiate the required field practice education. State boards may add additional coursework based on a review of an applicant’s academic record.

Some states require additional coursework based on a review of the undergraduate and graduate transcripts. Some common topics for additional coursework involve human sexuality, detecting child abuse, and elder abuse prevention.

Accreditation is an important element of the educational requirement, and it is a factor that applicants and students should consider early in the process of selecting a school or online program. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the accepted and respected accreditation for clinical social work programs.

The accreditation structure consists of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as the private organization that approved and authorized the CSWE. CSWE accreditation has achieved broad acceptance among educational institutions, federal and state governments, public sector institutions, the nonprofit sector, and the private sector. For example, eligibility for federal student loans depends upon accreditation. The federal student loan programs accept CSWE accredited institutions.

CSWE is the only accrediting body for SW.

Supervised Practice

The requirements consist of approximately 3,000 hours or more of supervised clinical work. The fieldwork is an essential element of licensing in states that have independent versus supervised licensing classifications. Fieldwork is a vital qualification for licensing that permits the independent practice of clinical social work.

State Examinations

Tests can consist of state boards exams, national exams, or some combination of exams and interviews. Each state makes a determination of testing requirements. 

Coursework for Online MSW Programs with a Clinical or Mental Health Concentration

Schools each set specific online MSW degree coursework, Students should expect to cover the below-described areas of study through their online coursework.

  • Clinical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment
  • Mental health and human behavior
  • Psychodynamics and psychopathology
  • Family therapy and group dynamics
  • Evaluation of research and research methods
  • Clinical social work practice, professional practice methods, and issues affecting work with individuals, groups, and families

Online Master of Social Work Programs for Aspiring Clinical Social Workers (In Alphabetical Order)

Individuals interested in advancing their careers in social work and boosting their earning potential often find online programs their best options. Online MSW programs offer many advantages over conventional on-campus programs, particularly to those who want to continue to work while earning the degree. Check out these various schools that offer online MSW programs and learn a little about their programs.

Boise State University

Program title: Master of Social Work

The 100% online MSW program at Boise State University was ranked 7th in the nation for best value and 14th for affordability. BSU also offers an advanced program for students how already hold a bachelor’s degree in social work. This 61-credit program includes courses in social work practice, human behavior, social welfare policy and services, and social work interventions. Students complete at least 1,000 clock hours of supervised fieldwork and are prepared to take the certification exam for licensure, which is required in most states. 

Boston University

Program title: Master of Social Work 

The part-time online program at Boston University offers students the choice of two majors: clinical practice or macro practice as well as three tracks: regular, advanced and human service experience. The field education consists of internships, which must be completed a couple of days per week and can be done in the student’s local area. Applicants to this program should have at least two years or social service experience. This program can be completed in nine semesters or three years. Online students are provided with a school advisor to assist them throughout the program. They also have access to various social work networks.

Case Western Reserve University

Program title: Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA)

The MSSA is equivalent to an MSW or Master of Social Work and is offered online with two concentrations: Community Practice for Social Change and Direct Practice, with two specializations – Children, Youth and Families and Mental Health with Adults. Field study is required, and with Case Western, you are to set this up at the onset of your program, with your own proposal submitted along with your application to the program. If you earned a BSW in the last seven years, you are eligible for the Advanced Standing program, which will give you up to 24 credits toward your MSSA.

The Catholic University of America

Program title: Master of Social Work 

This online MSW program, which is ranked No. 52 by U.S. News & World Report, offers a regular and advanced track. Students can choose where to complete their field work. Students have the benefit of small classes and a hands-on, dedicated faculty. The clinical coursework prepares students to work in various areas of social work, including child welfare, mental/public health, substance abuse and more. Upon graduation, the candidate is prepared to sit for the social work certification exam; about 95% of this school’s graduates pass the exam on the first try. 

Columbia University

Program title: Master of Social Work 

The online program at Columbia offers not only two areas of concentration (advanced clinical practice or social enterprise administration) but also offers five program choices.  

  • Two-year program
  • Advanced standing
  • Reduced residency
  • Extended program
  • Transfer program 

Most of this program’s courses are synchronous. The MSW also offers two fields of practice: Family, Youth & Children’s Services or Health, Mental Health & Disabilities. Field work can be completed in the student’s hometown. Students also have options on how to complete their capstone project. 

Florida State University

Program title: Master of Social Work

Tuition: $625 per credit hour

The online MSW Program at FSU, a highly ranked school, offers a 61-credit, three-year program for those with a bachelor’s degree in any major or a 39-credit, two-year advanced program form those with a bachelor’s degree in social work. Students can take as few as two courses per semester. This program offers various areas of specialization including substance abuse counseling, private practice, child welfare, hospitals, clinics and outpatient settings and government agencies and veterans affairs.

 Both programs are clinically-focused so students obtain much needed hands-on experience.

Fordham University

Program title: Online MSW

Fordham University offers a 100% online MSW program with both traditional and advanced standing admissions. There are full-time, part-time and accelerated study options, and the program can be completed in as little as eight months. Fordham’s MSW program has four areas of focus: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation and Policy Practice and Advocacy. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree for admission, but GRE scores are not required. Field education opportunities are offered at sites near students’ communities.

Michigan State University

Program title: Master of Social Work

Offered as either an on-campus or a hybrid program, Michigan State’s 57-credit MSW program offers students the choice of two concentrations:

  • Clinical social work or organization and community leadership – This focuses on working with families, individuals or groups.
  • Organization and community leadership – this focuses on working with organizations and communities.

Students spend the first half of the program gaining a knowledge of what social work entails while the second half involves advanced practice in their chosen area of specialty. Although it’s a three-year program, students have up to six years to complete all requirements for the degree.

University of Missouri (Mizzou Online)

Program title: Master of Social Work

The 60-credit-hour MSW program at Mizzou is a 100% online program that can be completed in nine semesters or three years. Students are required to complete their supervised fieldwork at an approved location. Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work can take the 39-credit advanced standing program and earn the master’s in two years. Coursework includes:

  • Policy-making and advocacy practice
  • Intervention with individual, families, small groups and communities
  • Management and social agencies
  • Research in social work
  • Human behavior and psychopathology

Rutgers University

Program title: Master of Social Work Clinical Social Work Concentration

Tuition: Online MSW tuition is $900 per credit hour plus a $300 online fee per course 

Rutgers offers both a blended online program as well as a 100% online program, as well as an Advanced Standing program for those who already hold a BSW. Within the MSW program, students can choose from either a Management and Policy Specialization or a Clinical Social Work Specialization. The field internship for the online program begins in the third semester, and students will complete two field placements – one, a foundation-level placement for three semesters, and the second, an advanced clinical placement for four semesters.

Saint Louis University

Program title: Master of Social Work

Tuition: $495 per credit hour

The full-time online MSW program at Saint Louis University is a two-year program requiring completion of 62 credit hours. Although it’s an online program, students must be available for webcams, daytime internships and for a one-weekend seminar at the campus. Students learn about social work practices in the military, psychotherapy, evidence-based social work research methods, ethical foundations in social work practice, clinical work with families and couples and relationships between cultural influences and social environments.

Simmons College

Program title: Master of Social Work

Simmons has an online MSW program that offers live classes, small class sizes of about 15 students and field placement services. Students can create an Individualized Course of Study or follow one of four Specialized Courses of Study: Child and Family, Trauma and Interpersonal Violence, Mental Health and Addictions, and Health and Aging. Students can choose from multiple program length options: Accelerated, Full-time and Extended, with the shortest time to completion at 15 months with the accelerated program. 

University at Buffalo

Program title: Master of Social Work

The University of Buffalo offers a nationally-ranked MSW program that’s available in a traditional or advanced standing online programs. Students get both synchronous and asynchronous courses in topics like perspectives on trauma and human rights; professional development; diversity and oppression; and social welfare policy and history. Distance learning students can complete their in-person fieldwork in their local area. They must put in at least 15 hours per week until they’ve completed 420 hour or 480 hours for the advanced program. UB’s part-time, 60-credit MSW program can be completed in three years.

University of Denver

Program title: Master of Social Work

The University of Denver’s Online MSW Program prepares aspiring social workers to advocate for social change and provide trauma-informed services to individuals, families and other groups impacted by oppression. This CWSE-accredited program offers in-person field experience in a variety of professional settings such as government agencies, community nonprofits, and policy think tanks. With concentrations in Mental Health and Trauma, graduates of this program have the ability to pursue employment and licensure in diverse contexts, fighting for social justice. No GRE is required and the program can be completed in as little as 18 months.

University of Houston

Program title: Master of Social Work

The MSW program at the University of Houston requires completing 63 credit hours and can be completed in three years with full-time status. Those with a bachelor’s degree can get advanced status and complete it in about two years. A cohort is assigned to each online student, and the student completes courses with the cohort. Their small classes ensure plenty of one-on-one communication with instructors. Students can choose between clinical practice or macro practice. A total of 900 clock hours of fieldwork is required as well. In addition to being offered online, the University of Houston’s MSW program is also offered as a face-to-face and a hybrid program. 

University of Louisville

Program title: Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW)

The University of Louisville has an online MSW program that’s offered as a 60 credit-hour regular program or a 30 credit-hour advanced program for those with a bachelor’s in social work. The program teaches students about three main areas of social work: Health and mental health, children and families, and community and international practice. 

Students are required to complete 450 hours of the foundation practicum and 500 hours for the advanced practicum. The practicum is in the way of supervised fieldwork at an approved location. The MSSW program also offers areas of specialization in Alcohol & Drug Counseling, Mental Health, Military Social Work, Psychosocial Oncology and Gerontology. 

University of New England

Program title: Master of Social Work

The 100% online MSW programs at the University of New England are offered as a 64 credit-hour traditional program or a 35 credit-hour advanced program with three choices in specializations: Clinical practice, Community practice and Integrated practice. 

Students will complete about 18-20 hours per week at fieldwork for a total of at least 32 weeks. The program requires two 560-hour practicums. Depending on the program, the degree can be earned in 16 months to three years. Both of the programs have three enrollment periods per year. In addition to the fieldwork, students complete courses like: Social Work Research, Human Behavior and The Social Environment, Advanced Social Work with Families, Psychosocial Assessment, and Administration and Supervision. 

University of New Hampshire

Program title: Online MSW

The program is 62 credit hours and takes approximately 28-29 months to complete. Students can choose from Fields of Practice in Health and Mental Health, Addictions and Substance Abuse, Children, Youth and Families, or Disabilities. The program is 100% online and no campus visits are required, and two field internships located near you are a part of the program, with the first being two days a week and the second being three days a week, each lasting nine months. 

University of Southern California

Program title: Master of Social Work 

USC’s CSWE-accredited Master of Social Work (MSW) program is offered online in both Traditional and Advanced-Standing program options. USC offers the following curriculum tracks with Adult Mental Health and Wellness, Children, Youth and Families, and Social Change and Innovation. They offer in-person field experience in a variety of professional settings such as community nonprofits, government agencies and policy think tanks. USC offers the option of earning your online MSW from three different departments: The Department of Adult Mental Health and Wellness, preparing graduates to work directly with clients as clinical social workers, the Department of Children, Youth and Families designed for people who want to work with children and families, and the Department of Social Change and Innovation, for those who wish to help large entities and the individuals within them thrive.

University of Tennessee

Program title: Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) 

The online 60 credit-hour MSSW program at the University of Tennessee was ranked very highly for both value and affordability and is offered part-time, full-time or advanced standing. For concentrations, students can choose from organizational leadership or evidence-based interpersonal practice. The courses, which are both synchronous and asynchronous, are mostly video conferences and live streams in the afternoon or evenings. Online students work with cohorts and must follow the same study plan. The college assists students in finding an approved location for fieldwork.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Program title: Master of Social Work

Virginia Commonwealth University offers both full-time (two years) and part-time (four years) MSW programs. This 60-credit program requires students to complete approved fieldwork in the Virginia or Washington D.C. area. The program offers the clinical practice concentration or the administration, planning and policy practice concentration. In addition to the MSW programs, the university also offers several Social Work certificate programs in various areas of concentration. Students gain not only knowledge and skills essential for social work but also develop research methods they’ll when working as social workers.

Widener University

Program title: Master of Social Work 

The Master of Social Work program at Widener University is offered as a 64-credit traditional program, a 41-credit advanced standing program and a hybrid dual degree as well as a trauma certificate. The MSW program integrates trauma into much of its curriculum because of the connection often found between social work issues and trauma. This online program allows the student to take as few as only course for the first year to ensure the student learns as much as possible as a distance learning student. Upon graduation, students are prepared to take licensure exams required for their specific state.