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Online M.S.W. Program format

Through intensive, specialized coursework, research and field experience, students in the VCU online Master of Social Work Program format can truly find their focus as advanced practitioners and policy leaders, and position themselves to make immediate impacts in the lives and communities they touch.

What we offer

Our small class sizes and largely asynchronous class schedule afford our students the room and time to connect with their instructors and each other, and the geographic flexibility to work toward the M.S.W. degree from anywhere in the United States. And through it all, students are given the tools and encouragement to embrace their own unique insights and fashion themselves into the practitioners they most want to be.

Each course features three live online class sessions per semester. These synchronous class sessions include discussions between students and group breakout assignments that encourage collaboration.

Program details

M.S.W. Program goals

The primary goals of the M.S.W. Program are to provide:

  • Generalist knowledge, skills, ethics and values essential for work with individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations
  • A program that prepares students for work in areas of specialization in either clinical social work or social work administration, planning and policy practice in a range of settings
  • An educational environment where students:
    • Apply the profession’s values and ethical principles
    • Gain a greater understanding of implications of diversity through education on identifying cultural strengths and ways to counteract individual and institutional prejudice, oppression and discrimination
    • Apply research methods to analyze and critically evaluate professional practice, programs and service delivery systems
    • Gain a greater understanding of advocacy and involvement in advocacy to effect social and economic justice

Curriculum and core competencies

Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) through 2027, an M.S.W. degree from VCU instills mastery of the knowledge, skills and values necessary for advanced social work practice and policy leadership.

The nine core competencies of social work education as defined by CSWE Educational and Policy Standards are:

  1. Demonstrate ethical and professional behavior.
  2. Engage diversity and difference in practice.
  3. Advance human rights and social and economic justice.
  4. Engage in practice-informed research and research-informed practice.
  5. Engage in policy practice.
  6. Engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
  7. Assess individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
  8. Intervene with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.
  9. Evaluate individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities.

Our students are prepared to exhibit these competencies through coursework, field education, independent study and more. View the M.S.W. curriculum in detail.

Regular or advanced standing

The M.S.W. online full-time option requires students to enroll in four three-credit courses and one three-credit field placement each semester over four continuous semesters, ultimately completing 60 credit hours. The curriculum is delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction. After two semesters of generalist study, students enroll in specialized courses focusing on clinical social work practice. All online students specialize in clinical social work practice.

Students complete two field practice placements, one in the generalist year (first two semesters) and another in the clinical area of specialization (last two semesters). Students typically dedicate between 14 and 16 hours per week to their generalist placement and between 21 and 22 hours per week to the clinical area of specialization placement. Students should anticipate these hours to be met during regular business hours. This program format has a 16-month or two-year curriculum track.

Available: fall and spring starts for 16 months; fall for 24 months

This part-time option allows students to start the program part-time over five semesters for the generalist curriculum and then switch to full-time for two semesters for the specialization curriculum. Students in this track will complete their field placements during the second and third years of study. Students should anticipate these hours to be met during regular business hours.

This part-time option gives students the flexibility to complete their degree requirements over a four-year period, with six credits taken each semester. This option includes two summers. Part-time students complete the two required field placements during the second and fourth years of study, making full-time employment during this time very difficult. The part-time program cannot be completed entirely at nights and on weekends due to field placement requirements and daytime scheduling of courses.

Students complete two field practice placements, one in the generalist year and another in the area of specialization year. Students typically dedicate 14 hours per week to their generalist placement and 21 hours per week to their area of specialization placement through a variety of field options. Students should anticipate these hours to be met during regular business hours.

The advanced standing option is open to applicants who have earned a B.S.W. degree from a CSWE-accredited institution during the previous five years and have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0. This program leads to a Master of Social Work upon completion of 42 credit hours, taken over the course of three continuous semesters (one year). Advanced standing is a full-time format only and cannot be pursued part-time.

It is available online in the clinical specialization starting in the summer (summer-fall-spring sequence) or fall (fall-spring-summer) semesters, and can be completed in one year. The advanced standing option for the macro specialization — social work administration, planning and policy practice — is available in the summer sequence only (summer-fall-spring).

In the semester that they begin study in the advanced standing option, students complete 12 credits of generalist study. This includes three classes and a field placement. Classes and field education are held throughout the week. Advanced standing students have only one field placement that lasts through all three semesters. After completion of the first semester, advanced standing students join full-time students in the regular standing option to complete their area of specialization curriculum in the final two semesters.

Concentrations (specializations)

The foundational generalist curriculum helps students develop the skill base that fosters competencies needed to work in a variety of social work settings. It includes courses in social work practice, human behavior theory, social policy, social and economic justice, research and agency-based field instruction.

After one year of generalist study, students enroll in specialized courses in the concentrations (specializations) of clinical social work practice or social work administration, planning and policy practice:

  • The clinical social work practice curriculum focuses on key evidence-based interventions, including how to solve problems, resolve emotional and interpersonal conflicts, develop and use social networks and resources, and maintain achieved capacities and strengths.
  • The social work administration, planning and policy practice curriculum is offered in two formats: the full-time, two-year track (fall start) and the one-year, advanced standing track (summer start). Courses prepare graduates to become leaders skilled in formulating, implementing, analyzing and evaluating policies, plans and programs for complex and ever-changing local, state, national and international environments.

Field experience

For the M.S.W. advanced standing option, students will complete one field experience.

In the regular standing program, students will experience two field placements. In the generalist placement, students are expected to demonstrate generalized professional knowledge, values and skills studied in the generalist curriculum. In the second placement, students are placed in agencies according to their area of specialization.

Degree requirements

Advanced standing

To earn the M.S.W. degree in the advanced standing option requires 42 credits of full-time graduate study. Students in advanced standing do not complete the generalist curriculum but instead take 12 credit hours during their first semester (summer or fall) prior to entering the concentration curriculum.

Regular standing

The regular standing format for the M.S.W. degree requires the completion of 60 credit hours of graduate study (two years of full-time study). The first 30 credit hours (the generalist curriculum) may be taken in one academic year on a full-time basis or may be extended to a maximum of two years in the structured part-time format.


Students in both the regular and advanced standing formats select a concentration (specialization) for the last 30 credit hours, which can be completed in one academic year on a full-time basis or extended to a maximum of two years in the structured part-time format. Students are usually in a field instruction practicum two days each week during the generalist curriculum and three days each week during the concentration curriculum. Course credit for work or life experience is not granted in lieu of M.S.W. course credit hours.

View full M.S.W. degree requirements for the administration, planning and policy practice and clinical practice concentrations.

Career areas

An M.S.W. degree enables our students to empower others and effect change in prevalent areas such as:

  • Addictions
  • Aging/gerontology
  • Child welfare
  • Community organizing
  • Corrections/criminal justice
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Domestic violence
  • Health care inpatient and outpatient services
  • Homelessness/housing
  • Immigration services/refugee services
  • International social work
  • Military (active duty and veterans) social work
  • Nonprofit management
  • Policy practice
  • Private practice
  • Psychiatry/mental health
  • Public welfare
  • Rehabilitation
  • School social work
  • Trauma and crisis intervention