2020’s Online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Programs

Many career paths, including social work, begin with a bachelor’s degree. For students who want to help others and are interested in public health or counseling, a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) might be the right course. For many states, a BSW may be recognized as a requirement to achieve entry-level licensure as a social worker.

Social workers advocate for social justice that impact communities, help clients identify solutions for troubling behaviors, work with clients to develop healthy coping mechanisms, and support accessible navigation of social resources. There are many types of social workers—some work in schools, within health care systems, correctional facilities or at a community mental health center.

There are numerous BSW programs available on-campus to local students, but there are also online and hybrid options. Regardless of format, a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is required for entry-level social work licensure, where applicable, and for admittance to advanced standing Master of Social Work (MSW) programs.

Accredited Online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Degree Programs

We’ve found several online BSW programs that are CSWE-accredited. Some offer minors for additional studies.

Bemidji State University

Brandman University

Brescia University

Briar Cliff University

California State University, Chico

Campbellsville University

Eastern Kentucky University

Humboldt State University

Huntington University

Indiana Wesleyan University

Liberty University 

Malone University

Metropolitan State University of Denver

Millersville University

Northern Arizona University

Northwestern State University

Spring Arbor University

Stephen F. Austin State University

Union Institute and University

University of Alaska, Fairbanks

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

University of Cincinnati

University of Louisville

University of Nebraska at Kearney

University of Utah

Ursuline College

Western New Mexico University

What to Expect from an Online BSW Program

When you enroll in an accredited Bachelor of Social Work online program, you’ll receive an education in the foundations of social work. Some or all of your classes will take place online. In some circumstances, you’ll be required to attend virtual class sessions at a certain time, while in others, the course is entirely self-paced. 

Anticipate listening to lectures, completing assigned readings, performing research, writing papers, participating in group discussions, and giving virtual presentations. In hybrid programs, you may take in-person classes in the evenings and on the weekends. 

Another aspect of many Bachelor of Social Work online programs is a specialization. Students considering a social work career should contemplate what setting they might like to work in or which issues they’re passionate about. You can choose a BSW degree specialization based on the type of social work you’re interested in.

Accreditation for Online BSW Programs 

For students looking into getting a BSW degree, they should get to know the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This organization accredits BSW and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. Earning a CSWE-accredited BSW may help prepare you for entry-level licensure, dependent on your state rules.

What will I learn in an online BSW program?

Students in social work programs learn about how people function individually as well as in groups. They learn about mental health issues, behavioral disorders and disabilities. You’ll be preparing to work with a wide range of people, including at-risk populations. Bachelor of Social Work online programs also discuss how politics and government influence or dictate social welfare policies. 

The typical curriculum of a Bachelor of Social Work online may cover topics such as: 

  • Basics of psychology
  • Basics of sociology
  • Basics of economics
  • Human behavior and the social environment
  • Social issues
  • State and local government
  • Social welfare and policy
  • Social work practice
  • Statistics 

How long does it take to get an online BSW degree?

Bachelor degree programs typically take four years to complete when students participate full-time. But many Bachelor of Social Work online or hybrid programs allow students to participate part time, which can result in the program taking longer to complete. Whether you’re a full- or part-time student, your curriculum will likely consist of social work and liberal arts credits.

By taking the time to complete a BSW degree, you might save time later if you want to pursue a master’s degree in social work (MSW). An MSW generally takes two years to complete. However, with an accredited BSW, you may be able to enroll in an advanced standing program that takes closer to one year to complete.

Will I need to complete field work?

Yes, an internship or field experience is part of every BSW program. According to the CSWE, all accredited programs require at least 400 hours of supervised field experience. Typically, your school will assist you in finding an internship or field placement. This real-world experience helps you obtain an entry-level social work license in many states, as the BLS notes clinical experience is a typical licensure requirement. 

Licensure with an Online BSW Degree

A Bachelor of Social Work online may help you gain licensure, but it’s important to understand your state’s unique licensing requirements. Typically, a BSW enables you to pursue the base level of social work license: a Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW) or similar. You may obtain an LBSW license by applying to your state’s board of social work and passing the Bachelors Exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). 

If you eventually want to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you will likely require a master’s degree in social work and more supervised work experience. You’ll also have to take the ASWB’s clinical exam. Completing your BSW degree may help you meet these requirements and discern your social work specialization.

It can be helpful to review how various programs prepare you for licensure in their state. Particularly if you attend school in a state other than the one you expect to work in, be sure to check licensure requirements. Out-of-state students might face different licensing requirements in their home state versus their school’s state.

Social Work Scholarships

It’s common to need financial assistance to pay for your degree. Many students rely on federal loans, grants and scholarships to cover tuition costs. Thankfully, there are many social work scholarships available nationally and locally in specific states. You can look for scholarships available through national and state social work organizations, local businesses, and the social work school you choose. It also can be helpful to look for scholarships for specific demographics, such as women, minorities and veterans. 

You can apply to scholarships offered by the: 

Social Work Resources

Prospective social work students can get to know the profession through associations, online publications and blogs. Here are some resources for undergraduate social work students: 

  • Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB): The ASWB is a nonprofit focused on the regulation of social work in the U.S. and Canada. Most importantly, it owns and administers social work licensing exams. Students should get to know the ASWB’s resources for exam candidates.
  • Council on Social Work Education (CSWE): The CSWE determines the minimum education and experience qualifications for accredited social work degree programs. It has educational resources for students and licensed social workers.
  • National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW): The NABSW provides support and resources for Black students and professionals. Students can look for an active NABSW chapter in their area.
  • National Association of Puerto Rican Hispanic Social Workers (NAPRHSW): This organization focuses on meeting the needs of the Latinx community. NAPRHSW student membership is $25 per year.
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW): The NASW provides support for the social work profession. Members have access to educational opportunities, networking, job boards and more. A social work student NASW membership is $60 per year.
  • Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR): SSWR is a nonprofit organization for social work researchers and other professionals and students. A SSWR student membership is $50 per year.
  • Social Work Today: A professional magazine, Social Work Today provides articles and research on numerous areas of social work.
  • Social Workers Speak: This site focuses on how social work is portrayed in the media and entertainment industry.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What can you do with a social work degree?

Graduates of BSW programs may qualify for several entry-level positions, though the type of social work career you pursue can depend on your state’s licensing requirements. In some states, a BSW qualifies you for a license, such as an LBSW. In other states, however, professionals must have at least an MSW to obtain licensure. In this case, BSW graduates are only eligible for social work positions that don’t require a license to practice. 

Here are some types of social work careers you can pursue:

  • Child and family social work: Protect children experiencing neglect or abuse and connect families with housing, childcare or food stamps.
  • School social work: Work with parents and teachers to improve a student’s academic performance or social development.

Learn more on how to become a school social worker.

  • Health care social work: Help patients adjust to their health circumstances and get connected with support resources as needed.

Learn more on how to become a medical social worker.

  • Mental health and substance abuse social work: Assist patients struggling with mental health issues or addictions.

Learn more on how to become a mental health social worker.

Can you be a counselor with a social work degree?

BSW graduates should know that counseling and social work overlap a great deal. Counselors work with individuals or families to address certain problems. Social workers often do the same, but they also work within a broader range of social services. In other words, social work includes counseling. 

To provide counseling, most states require you to have a master’s degree, such as a master’s in counseling. Students who hope to diagnose mental conditions and provide treatment through therapy must pursue a clinical license, which also requires at least a master’s degree.

How much does a social work degree cost?

Tuition varies significantly depending on the BSW degree program. Private and out-of-state institutions are typically more expensive than public or in-state options. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these were the 2018-2019 average costs of attendance for first-time, full-time undergraduate students living on campus:

  • Public institutions: $24,900
  • Private for-profit institutions: $33,200
  • Private nonprofit institutions: $51,900

Consider each program’s tuition, fees and other expenses when choosing a degree program. For example, some online programs may charge a fee per online credit to support online course delivery. You may also want to think about the social worker salary you expect to make after graduation. 

What is the difference between on-campus and online social work programs?

Some students might worry that a Bachelor of Social Work online isn’t as rigorous or respected as an on-campus program. However, that’s not the case. Online programs can also be accredited and tend to have very similar curriculums to an on-campus program. In addition, online classes are often designed and taught by full-time faculty that may teach on-campus classes as well. BSW coursework online may provide less in-person connection than an on-campus program, but it can prepare students just as well for social work careers.

Information on this page was last retrieved in July 2020.