Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work: Guide to Online Programs for 2022

Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work: Guide to Online Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Social work professionals assist people in solving complicated domestic issues and personal concerns. These experts provide personalized support for each client, ranging from social workers who help families through the health systems to probation officers who help individuals make a fresh start. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates social workers’ average annual pay at around $52,000 or about $25 per hour (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020) so individuals pursuing this career need not worry about insufficient compensation. Plus, this line of work has the added benefit of allowing you to give back to your community and help other people, making it great for passionate individuals with strong advocacies. As such, a growing number of students are enrolling in online bachelor’s degrees in social work.

A bachelor’s degree in social work opens its graduates to supporting roles in the industry. They can start assisting in cases, policy development, social work research, and other administrative work. Further down the road, they can also take up a master’s degree in order to apply for a license and practice counseling, case management, or therapy.

If you feel like this is the academic path for you, this guide will outline all the important details you need to know in obtaining an online bachelor’s degree in social work. Among the topics covered will be its costs, the perception of online degrees, different admission requirements, and more. With this, you will have all the information you need to gauge whether this field of study is well-suited to your long-term career goals.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work
  5. How much does an online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Can you get a degree completely online?

Innovations in technology, teaching pedagogy, and improved access to the internet have made online degree programs a viable option for aspiring college students. So much so that most major higher educational institutions (HEIs) offer a few programs online along with their traditional counterparts.

Many HEIs also have open universities where all their degree programs, from bachelor’s to Ph.D., are offered remotely. The implementation of online degree programs differs for each institution, but most are designed to cater to professionals or students in a different geographical location. Additionally, universities are already offering international programs remotely, opening opportunities to foreign students without them having to migrate to another country.

Source: NCES, 2019

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

While there is still an existing stigma that online degrees are somewhat inferior to traditional programs, the pandemic has significantly changed how students, educators, and employers view remote learning. After all, the majority of students found themselves learning through online means, whether full-time or partially in 2020.

With most graduates in the next few years educated via distance learning, employers are adjusting their expectations and perception of online degrees. Many are already revisiting their candidate evaluation criteria and began focusing on the reputation of the HEI, portfolio, professional and internship experience, and even specific skills.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2021

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

In many countries, there is no single authority on recognizing foreign online degrees and other qualifications. For the most part, degrees granted through remote learning go through the same scrutiny as traditional degrees, and they are typically valid when local employers are concerned.

However, regulated professions, such as those requiring licensing, often have specific guidelines for graduates wanting to earn their license to practice in a specific country. Some countries fully recognize degrees granted by reputable institutions abroad, while others may require applicants to submit their program’s curricula for evaluation. As such, it is best to consult with your local higher education governing body regarding online degrees taken from a foreign institution.

On the other hand, employers are mostly concerned about the reputation of a degree-granting institution and the capabilities of its graduates, regardless of the delivery of instruction. As such, there is the continued growth of a CAGR of over 12% for the e-learning market in the United States, with many students coming from other countries.

elearning market

Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Social work is an area that helps individuals via services of support, advocacy, and education. Working with people or groups, social workers meet their clients where they are in their life journeys, assisting them in identifying issues, recognizing strengths, and moving toward better lives. Social workers are found in governmental or social service agencies, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, or in companies, but the unifying denominator for everyone, irrespective of gender, age, class, or ethnicity, is their dedication to social and economic empowerment.

Jobs in social work are largely focused on aiding and supporting people, organizations, and families in their efforts to live healthy and stable lives. It is also an academic discipline dedicated to promoting study in the fields of social welfare, injustice, societal transformation, and human rights.

Bachelor’s-level social workers assist licensed practitioners by providing administrative and support services. To perform therapy, counseling, or case management, professionals must have a master’s degree. Social workers can also create community programs, collect data on the success of current community policies, and manage health clinics or community centers. Substance addiction, healthcare, developmental impairments, and child welfare are some of the specializations available.

The pandemic has underscored all major social and economic issues in many, if not all, parts of the world. And with its effects expected to be felt for years to come, social workers are and will be at the forefront of the battle from data collection to policymaking.

An article by Heather A. Walter-McCabe titled “Coronavirus Pandemic Calls for an Immediate Social Work Response” published in the Social Work in Public Health highlights the role of social work in these trying times. Social workers collaborate with medical professionals and public health experts to identify issues brought about by the pandemic and solutions on micro and macro levels (Walter-McCabe, 2020).

“Some of us work at the micro and mezzo levels. As our population is increasingly isolated from social distancing, stay at home precautions/orders, isolation, and quarantine, we are already seeing reports of anxiety and depression increasing,” Walter-McCabe said. She also highlighted that “social workers must be on the front lines not just of service provision, but also at the policymaking tables for microservice delivery at all levels.”

Flexibility

You will be either on a fourth system or on a semester system if you attend a traditional institution. In a given time frame, you need to take a number of courses to finish your studies. But you do not have to be restricted to the standard on-campus schedule if you opt to complete your degree online.

You may choose your own pace and work as fast or as slowly as you like by pursuing an online degree. You can learn the material, take your questions, and complete your projects if you have a slow week at work and would want to focus on learning. Earning an online degree in less time than a traditional four-year college degree might be attractive for a variety of reasons. For example, you may like college but want to begin obtaining professional experience in social work as soon as possible. On the other hand, if you already have a full-time job, you can take your courses online and balance your work schedule. You may want to learn at your own speed and not hurry through classes when you are busy.

Interaction with Professors and Fellow Students

People often assume that there is a minimal social connection with teachers and colleagues when they pursue an online degree. However, professionals in higher education will take an active part in your courses in an online degree program. While online learning may be a hands-on experience, and you do not need to follow the same schedule or participate in lectures, assisted courses contribute to building productive interactions between students and teachers.

Feedback through email, video calls, and other media can be conducted by course facilitators. Their job is to provide any assistance you may need during your self-study courses. You always have the option of taking part in term courses that start every month or every quarter if you prefer more structure and contact with classmates and teachers. You can study in these courses with a team of peers and get your teacher’s more customized help.

These kinds of courses might work best for you, or you can opt to balance certain courses at your own speed and some more involved term courses. The key is that you may pick the level of interactive contact you have with your instructors and peers while you study towards your social work degree online.

Reputation of the Institution and the Program

Many HEIs would not specify if a degree was earned online in the diploma or any other academic record. As such, the reputation of the institution carries weight, especially among employers. Social work earned through remote methods holds as much weight as any degree earned through traditional programs.

Additionally, some colleges and universities are known for their social work programs, which are offered in both traditional and online means. Earning degrees through these institutions is often advantageous, especially during internships or applying for jobs after graduation. Similarly, their programs are accredited by bodies that monitor the quality of social work programs. That means you can ensure top-notch education even through remote learning.

Tuition and Other Fees

Everyone understands that the debt with tuition payment is one of the major obstacles to getting a college degree. Student loan debt in the United States has reached $1.6 trillion in 2020 (Friedman, 2021). Forty-five million students have borrowed money and had to bear the debt load with them for their whole adult life after graduation. There are, however, opportunities for students who wish to acquire a degree while avoiding debt.

While program structures vary from institution to institution, many online degrees are quite flexible. As such, you can decide to pay for each online course for the semester, whether you take one or five.

Source: Pew Research Center (2019)

Is an online degree cheaper?

The low cost of online college frequently draws students looking for reduced tuition. There are no parking or transportation costs for online students on campus. They may also finish classes from anywhere and frequently with asynchronous learning at their discretion. This flexibility allows students to pursue their jobs while studying.

Typical tuition for a public, four-year program for out-of-state students can cost up to $27,000, plus about $12,000 in accommodation expenses. This does not include living costs, textbooks, and other expenses of living outside of your home.

On the other hand, the average tuition fee for out-of-state students taking online degree programs costs about $14,000 per year. And, without the costs of living on-campus, such as accommodation, parking, and other expenses, students taking up remote learning have the opportunity to save each year significantly.

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Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

Several myths about online degrees have been debunked in the past few years. While the method of delivery is significantly different from traditional programs, it does not mean that remote learning is inferior in quality. Depending on the institution, students are held to the same standards regardless of the type of program they are in.

In many ways, online degree programs in social work are much more challenging as students need to make deliberate efforts to keep up with their studies. Similarly, they need to maintain a certain level of self-discipline and time management skills, which are valuable in their professional life.

How much does an online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work cost?

There are numerous aspects influencing the costs of an online degree in social work. Because many schools and universities charge more tuition for out-of-state students, state residency is a significant factor. Some institutions nonetheless charge online students flat tuition irrespective of their residence. Technological costs are another important aspect; these expenses frequently apply to students in an online bachelor’s degree in social work but not to their fellow students in traditional classes.

The average cost per credit for an online bachelor’s degree in social work is $400 to $500. As such, total tuition should range between $48,000 and $53,000 for students (U.S. News, n.d.). Aside from tuition fees, there are other expenses that affect costs in college:

  • Technology fees – Institutions often invest in technological solutions to make remote learning easy for their students. These include learning management systems, hiring staff exclusively for online programs, online libraries, and other software for its students. As such, they may include technology fees for students in their online programs.
  • Occasional travel – Online degree courses in social work are not entirely solitary endeavors. The nature of social work involves working with peers, professionals, academic advisors, and even clients. So, in most online programs, internships are conducted in person, which may require you to travel. Institutions often partner with organizations and companies for internship opportunities. While these are usually closer to students, they may still require considerable traveling during internship hours.
  • Equipment and other infrastructure – As students in online bachelor’s degree in social work, you have the benefit of working anywhere, anytime. However, this also means you need to supply your own equipment such as a laptop, webcam, and headset. You also need to pay for your own Internet access and electricity, which should be factored in.
  • Working space – The flexibility offered by an online degree program in social work means it is your responsibility to find a conducive space for studying. You will need an area with minimal distractions to keep up with the program’s academic demands. This can take many forms, from setting up a small part of your house as a dedicated study space to paying for a coworking space nearby.

Is an online Social Work degree worth it?

Social work takes dedication and passion, especially in helping people in their everyday lives. While it can be grueling, the work is rewarding as social workers are key professionals that contribute to improving society and changing the lives of many.

The job outlook in the industry is also expected to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020), which is much faster than average. Graduates of an online bachelor’s degree in social work have the opportunity to work in hospitals, human services agencies, schools, health clinics, community development companies, and private practices.

per-credit cost of online degrees

What are the requirements of an online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work?

Students applying to online programs must generally submit the same admissions papers as their on-campus counterparts and fulfill the same academic criteria. The majority of colleges and institutions in the United States have set application deadlines in January. Early decision or early action deadlines often fall in November. On the other hand, online schools are more likely to employ a rolling admissions procedure, in which an admissions panel examines and decides on each completed application as it is received. This means you will know whether you have been accepted within a few weeks after submitting your application.

Admission Requirements

Students who want to join online degree programs in social work must go through the usual admission requirements set by their desired institution. While each HEI has varying criteria for admission, most request the following submissions from their applicants:

  • Completed application form – Aspiring students must submit a completed application form declaring their intention to join the program. Depending on the application form, the institution may ask for a short essay on why you want to join their program, any related classes you took in high school, and any experience you may have about social work.
  • Minimum grade point average (GPA)– Many social work programs require candidates to possess a GPA of at least 2.0 in order to be accepted. Students may nonetheless require a higher GPA to be entitled to some scholarships or financial assistance.
  • Standardized test scores – The majority of institutions in the United States require candidates to submit their SAT or ACT results. For a graduate, the average SAT scoring is between 1050 and 1060, compared to an average ACT score of 21. These statistics might fluctuate greatly depending on the competitiveness of a school.
  • Copies of transcripts – Most institutions require transcripts from all secondary (and/or postsecondary) schools attended. Many colleges charge a fee for this service, and processing your request might take weeks. Plan ahead of time to avoid missing college application deadlines.
  • Recommendation letters – These documents, which are often filled out by instructors, coaches, and employers, attest to your academic aptitude and other positive traits. Contact your letter writers at least a few months before the application deadline, and follow up on your requests every four weeks.

Source: American College Testing

General Requirements

Being a social worker is not only about academic and professional performance and experience. In order to be successful in social work, you will need to possess and develop the following skills and qualities:

  1. Advocacy – Social workers promote social justice and support advocacy for clients and communities. The advocacy competencies make it possible for social workers, especially if customers are vulnerable, to plead for their case and to link them to the resources and opportunities they need.
  2. Patience – In their job, social workers find a variety of circumstances and people. It is vital to be patient in order to deal with difficult issues and clients that take longer to progress. This enables social workers to grasp the circumstances of the individual and prevent hurried decisions and frustration that may lead to costly mistakes and bad results for the person.
  3. Commitment – Successful social work calls for lifelong learning. Social workers must have professional dedication and constantly improve professional skills in terms of social work principles and ethics.
  4. Cultural competence – Working with clients from different backgrounds effectively requires social workers to respect cultural ideas and customs. Social workers must know and respect the cultural backgrounds not only of their clients but those of their peers and other individuals that they encounter at work.
  5. Active listening – Social workers require active listening in order to comprehend and recognize the needs of a client. Listening carefully, focusing, asking pertinent questions, and employing tactics such as paraphrasing and summarizing all aid in engaging and establishing trust with clients.
  6. Critical thinking – Social workers must be able to analyze each situation objectively by gathering information through observation, interviews, and study. Thinking critically and without bias allows social workers to make educated decisions, identify the greatest resources, and develop the best strategy to assist clients.
  7. Advanced communication skills – For social workers, communication—both verbal and nonverbal—is essential. It is critical to be able to communicate coherently with a wide range of people. It is the responsibility of social workers to advocate for their clients; but in order to do so, social workers must first understand the client’s needs. This includes being aware of nonverbal indicators, such as body language and facial expressions and speaking correctly and effectively with clients regardless of cultural background, age, gender, literacy skill, or handicap. Social workers must also communicate clearly with care providers, colleagues, and agencies and document and report information.
  8. Empathy – The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) defines empathy as “the act of perceiving, understanding, experiencing and responding to the emotional state and ideas of another person.” (Barker, 2003) Recognizing that each person’s unique experiences, perspectives, and worldviews allow social workers to better understand and develop deeper connections with clients. It is a necessary ability that allows social workers to assess a client’s requirements based on their individual experiences to deliver services efficiently.

What are the Technological Requirements of Students for Online Learning?

Your computer and internet connectivity is critical to your success as an online learner. While certain programs or courses may have unique technical prerequisites, there are several that apply to all students, such as:

  • A desktop or laptop that can run common applications you will need for coursework, such as word processing software, browsers, communication software, and more.
  • Web camera – While each course has unique requirements, you will need to use a webcam for live classes, especially during your presentations, reports, group work, or consultation with professors.
  • Headset – Online communication is vital to online classes. Aside from chat, email, and other written communication, you will need to talk with your peers and professors. As such, a quality headset is necessary for smooth and clear communication.

Courses to Expect in Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Most programs need at least 45 credit courses in social work, with the remainder of 120 credits being general education and electives. School curricula differ. However, the following courses are provided in the majority of social work bachelor’s programs.

  • Foundational Courses in Social Work – This training provides basic information based on subsequent social work courses. Most programs need major social work students to fulfill this prerequisite during the first half of their studies. Students examine the social work history and the variations between social work at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. The course also teaches students how to fulfill the requirements of clients from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Social Environment and Psychology – This course introduces students to the concepts of psychology and human development and their function in social work. Students investigate the effects of the environment and culture on individual and family development and personal and professional values linked to human conduct. Research projects, examinations, and readings are common assignments.
  • Social Welfare Policies – This course takes a historical look at the evolution of social welfare policy, which defines who can get assistance and what sort of support is offered. Students learn how to evaluate policy proposals, find culturally appropriate approaches, and devise techniques to assess policy success.
  • Professional Ethics – Professional organizations, legislative agencies, and regulatory bodies have all established ethical norms for social workers. This course teaches future social workers about their duties and how to make ethical decisions. Case studies, class discussions, and research papers are common coursework.
  • Social Work in Healthcare – There are many social workers working in health institutions. Thus, a course on services available for chronically ill and temporarily sick patients is included in the majority of social programs. Students will discover the internal functions of hospitals and how patients will succeed if they leave home. Students explore ways to collaborate with family and health care professionals to assist patients in healing.
  • Intervention in Social Work – Social workers are sometimes called upon to intervene and remove children or vulnerable people from dangerous circumstances. Some ways of intervention include the placement of people in mental health, rehabilitation institutions, or the transition of children into the care facility. Students study the many techniques and approaches for intervention and the ideas underlying them. At the end of the training session, students understand how a client needs to be identified and when to intervene.

Aside from topics in social work, a significant part of online degree courses in social work involves research and studying cases to fully understand the industry. Additionally, emerging issues in society are now being covered in social work courses.

For example, according to “LGBT-Competence in Social Work Education: The Relationship of School Contexts to Student Sexual Minority Competence,” concerns of sexual minorities are increasingly becoming a primary issue in social work cases, and as such, preparing graduates to deal and handle LGBT-related issues is becoming a necessity.

Based on the research, “a relationship was detected between organizational LGBT and individual LGB-competence within schools of social work, such that programs with higher levels of organizational LGBT-competence also had students with higher levels of individual LGBT-competence.”

“This implies schools of social work can take substantive action at an organizational-level to improve the professional competence of future social workers related to sexual minorities,” the researchers added (McCarty-Caplan, 2017).

Things to Look for in an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Like any online bachelor’s program, you need to do in-depth research about the industry you want to get into. That starts with examining various online degree programs in social work, the top institutions that offer them, and which curriculum aligns with your goal.

Your career starts during your application to a program. As such, your academic and professional goals should be planned out even before you get accepted. Aside from common factors such as cost, courses, and type of degree, here are a few things that you should look for in an online bachelor’s degree in social work:

Connection with Professional Organizations in Social Work

Social workers typically join professional organizations to network and gain hours of education. They produce exclusive newsletters and journals, promote laws that have a good social work impact, and hold yearly conferences. That means you will gain a significant advantage if your program includes connections to professional organizations in social work such as:

  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – NASW is the primary U.S. social workers professional organization. NASW was formed in 1955 to provide a career center, risk management training, networking opportunities, and advocacy services and now serves over 120,000 members. Members also get access to programming events, social networks, and an active job board throughout the year.
  • School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) – SSWAA is the leading social worker membership organization in educational environments. It provides national and regional awards, student programs, webinars, and online and in-house training credits. SSWAA conducts regional seminars and other professional development across the U.S. And, its annual conference, business news, and university collaborations are also accessible to members.
  • Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA) – CSWA brings together social workers with different degrees of expertise and specializations. Members have the opportunity to network with their professional peers, study special educational content, and improve their professional reputations. CSWA helps support legislation that is beneficial to the field of clinical social work.

School and Program Accreditation

Accreditation shows that a certain institution or degree program satisfies specified quality and rigor requirements. Accreditation might be regional or nationwide.

Regional accreditation is the academic gold standard since it entails a more stringent examination procedure. Regionally approved colleges generally offer academically oriented programs. These colleges often only accept transfer credits from other regionally recognized schools.

Nationally recognized institutions are frequently more career-oriented. They generally have fewer study options. Transferring credits from a nationally accredited school to a regionally accredited college is challenging.

Students pursuing an online social work degree should look for a school that has regional and programmatic accreditation. Social worker training programs are accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE). Most states require candidates for social work licensure to have a CSWE-accredited degree.

accredited baccalaureate programs

Passion For Social Work Leads to a Fruitful Career

After finishing their online degree courses in social work, many graduates lead challenging yet fulfilling careers. Most pursue advanced degrees as these are necessary for licensing in many states. With enough experience in both academic and professional fronts, they are able to work with clients as clinical social workers.

Additionally, other social workers specialize in public health, psychology, or other adjacent fields of study. With many parts of the industry overlapping with the medical field, many social workers specialize in behavior development, mental health, substance abuse, and more. Others focus on macro social work, such as policymaking or research.

Social work, as an industry, is a valuable part of any evolving society. Professionals in the field are at the forefront of solving social issues from personal development to urban homelessness. This means anyone entering the profession can expect abundant opportunities and career paths leading to valuable and rewarding careers.

 

References:

  1. Barker, R. L. (2003). The social work dictionary, 5th edition (5th ed.). NASW Press. Retrieved from https://naswpress.org/product/53610/the-social-work-dictionary
  2. Cilluffo, A. (2019). 5 facts about student loans. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/13/facts-about-student-loans/
  3. Friedman, Z. (2021, June 29). Student loan debt statistics in 2020: A record $1.6 trillion. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2020/02/03/student-loan-debt-statistics/
  4. McCarty-Caplan, D. (2017). LGBT-Competence in social work education: The relationship of school contexts to student sexual minority competence. Journal of Homosexuality, 65(1), 19–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2017.1310547
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020). Social Workers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
  6. U.S. News. (n.d.). Online bachelor’s degree in social work. Retrieved August 6, 2021, from https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/social-work-bachelors-degree
  7. Walter-McCabe, H. A. (2020). Coronavirus pandemic calls for an immediate social work response. Social Work in Public Health, 35(3), 69–72. https://doi.org/10.1080/19371918.2020.1751533

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