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Why Earn a Social Work Master’s Online?

December 22, 2022

Social workers provide vital support to individuals, families and groups experiencing illness, unemployment or mental health issues, among other concerns. They work with community organizations and policymakers to develop services and social programs for those in need, and their advocacy efforts can spark change that has a wide-reaching positive impact.

For aspiring social workers, investing in an advanced education can pave the way for a rewarding career. Clinical social workers, for example, need a master’s degree in social work as a foundation for this specialization. Increasingly, many graduate students in this field are opting to earn their social work master’s degree online.

What Are the Benefits of Earning a Social Work Master’s Online?

A clear benefit of earning any degree online is that it gives students the option to learn from anywhere, with the ability to take courses on their own schedule. In many cases, students can elect to attend an online program in a full- or part-time capacity. This format can contribute to a better work-school-life balance.

Some of the other benefits of an online degree program include:

  • Small class size – The online format of Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Master of Social Work program has an average of 25 students per class, allowing students to have direct access to faculty.
  • Manageable time commitment – Each course has about six to eight hours of work per week.
  • Advanced standing offering – Students who qualify for the advanced standing track can earn their degree in one year.

Earning a social work master’s online also has specific benefits related to the field.

Develop Core Social Work Skills

Research indicates that when online social work master’s programs emphasize the social nature of learning and social presence, students feel a heightened sense of belonging. This, in turn, helps online social work educators model and foster the development of the collaborative, helping relationships essential to social work practice.

Hone Communication Skills for Online Services

Communication is key to effective social work. Online social work master’s programs often focus on developing skills for writing, speaking and listening online.

Now more than ever, social workers communicate with clients in online formats. For example, telemental health services are increasingly popular. According to KFF, a nonprofit organization focused on national health issues, 36 percent of outpatient services for mental health and substance use were delivered via telehealth in 2021. The extensive online communication experience social work students gain in online learning environments can support their success in offering efficient, empathetic online services.

Social Work Master’s Online Curriculum

A typical online Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) program, often consisting of about 60 credits spread out over 20 courses, offers students the opportunity to develop the knowledge base and skill set required of clinical social workers.

The following are among the courses offered in Virginia Commonwealth University’s M.S.W. online format, designed to teach students essential clinical skills and help them hone their practice:

  • Social Work Practice With Individuals, Families and Groups: This course introduces M.S.W. students to the basic concepts and values needed to engage in social work activities with individuals, families and groups. They learn the basics of how to address problems and how to assess the needs of others.
  • Policy, Community and Organizational Practice: In this generalist course, M.S.W. students learn about the historical evolution of social welfare policy and the contemporary provision of social welfare services. This course also introduces social work’s role as an agent of change throughout the community and local government.
  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment: This course takes a theoretical and evidence-based approach to teaching students about the complex interactions of political, sociocultural, economic, spiritual, psychological and biological forces in the lives of individuals.
  • Foundations of Research in Social Work Practice: This course introduces M.S.W. students to the methods of performing social work research and focuses on the application of critical-thinking skills.
  • Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: During this course, M.S.W. students learn about the myriad of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders they’re likely to encounter with patients. They also learn how to assess and work with patients who have disorders.
  • Generalist Field Instruction: Two days per week, M.S.W. students meet and practice their social work skills under the direction of an agency-based field instructor. This provides an opportunity for students to apply their new knowledge and skills in a real-world environment.

Importantly, online social work master’s students can find field placements — a core component of the M.S.W. learning experience — anywhere in the country. They can complete supervised internships where they live and start making a difference in their local communities.

Typically, an M.S.W. program’s field education office will work with students to find them placements close to home.

Career Benefits of a Social Work Master’s

In addition to helping others overcome hardships, those who earn their social work master’s online can reap numerous career benefits.

Because social workers are integral to supporting their communities, the role is in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of social workers will grow by 9 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is much higher than the national average for all jobs.

Clinical social workers are also well compensated. A licensed clinical social worker earns a median annual salary of about $60,000, with the top 10 percent earning around $81,000 per year, according to Payscale. A clinical social worker’s salary can be heavily influenced by factors such as experience, location and the setting where they’re hired to work, among other factors.

The social work field has plenty of opportunity for growth and expansion. Social workers can start out working with clients one on one and pivot to becoming an advocate, or they can work with organizations to develop programs that impact entire communities. The beauty of social work is that it offers professionals plenty of ways to help people at the micro and macro level.

Pursue Your Professional Goals in the Field of Social Work

Social workers have a tremendous impact on individual lives and communities. The critical support they provide to people from all walks of life has led to social work becoming one of the country’s more in-demand occupations.

Earning a social work master’s online positions graduates to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Social Work online format teaches students the skills and knowledge base they need to make an impact. Discover how the program can help you further your mission as a social worker.