How is Earning Your MSW Online Different?
With an online MSW program, you do the vast majority of your learning on the computer. The exception is field education, which you would complete at your field education site. Learn more about field education in this article: “The Ultimate Social Work Field Education Guide”
Many online MSW programs pre-determine classes you take during each grading period, although there is some flexibility if the school has multiple tracks. Despite the distance, you will get to know your classmates, as you will be enrolled in classes with them from day one through graduation.
While there are many advantages to online programs, they may be more expensive than traditional programs. Depending on the school you choose, you might pay a little more for the convenience of attending class in your pajamas.
On the other hand, online programs may also be less expensive. Because they can be cheaper to run and more students may be able to take them at once, tuition may be less costly. You will need to do your research and figure out which option is the best fit with your schedule and budget.
How Do I Know if Online Learning is Right for Me?
How self-disciplined are you?
Yes, help is available if you need it, but if you are prone to procrastination or don’t have great organizational skills then online learning may steepen your learning curve. The good news is, if you enjoy working at your own pace then you may finish the required work in less time.
How tech-savvy are you?
If downloading pictures from your email makes you twitch, consider whether navigating class chat rooms might be a hassle you don’t need. On the other hand, if new technology comes intuitively to you, or you have more friends on social media than offline, the digital aspects of online MSW programs may appeal to you more than sitting in a classroom.
How important is discussion to your learning style?
If you are the kind of student who learns through dialogue, limited real-time communication might be a challenge. However, if you’re a visual learner or have a great memory for things you have read, online programs may work better for you. Similarly, if you’re the kind of person who equates group presentations with a trip to the dentist, you might find online programs embrace your introvert nature.
Do you enjoy theoretical or practical learning more?
Because of the format, on-campus courses devote more time to philosophical discussions, whereas online programs take a more applied approach. So, if you’re more interested in learning specific techniques for social work practice than the theories behind them, you may prefer an online program.
How flexible is your schedule?
If you’re already juggling a full-time job and a full house, finding 12-15 hours a week to spend on a college campus might be unrealistic. If you want to take classes at two in the morning, when the workday is done and the kids are in bed, online learning might be more your speed.
What does an online MSW program look like?
There are a lot of answers to this. While some online MSW programs use a traditional Fall/Spring/Summer schedule, others offer a variety of mini-mesters throughout the year. Consult the sample schedules on your prospective school’s website for more specific information. As for how classes are “held,” some programs require students to log in at designated times while others are given deadlines to watch lectures/complete assignments and interact via email or chat boards at your convenience. Many programs use a combination of both teaching styles.
Will I make less money if I earn my degree online?
Nope! As long as your MSW program is accredited, the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) places the same value on online and in-person MSW degrees. You are equally eligible for licensure and jobs, either way. Pick the program that fits your life and your learning style best. What matters most to employers is your effort while you are earning those letters after your name.
Other Things to Consider with Online MSW Programs:
- In addition to online and on-campus degrees, there are also blended/hybrid programs (sometimes called Distributed MSW Programs). Some have separate classes within the same program, while other programs are primarily online with an occasional in-person meeting.
- Not all online programs offer Advance Standing tracks. So, if you’ve already got your BSW, you will want to make sure that option is available to you at the college of your choice.
- Your financial aid options may differ if you attend an online program. Check and be sure that scholarships or loans you receive are available for the programs you are considering.
- The Clinical Social Work Association has expressed concern over the rise in online social work education. Social work is a profession based in human relationships, and face-to-face interaction is a crucial component of the learning process for students. Online students are unable to complete field education requirements near campus, so many schools attempt to find placements for students in their local communities. There is some debate as to how appropriate these placements are for students, and therefore the CSWA believes that students enrolled in online programs are at a disadvantage compared to students enrolled in campus-based programs. More information can be found in the CSWA’s 2013 Report on Online MSW Programs (Will open in PDF).