Best Online Bachelor’s in Social Work

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Exploring Tools, Resources and Guides for Social Work Students

Social workers dedicate their careers to the service of others and can make a distinct, critical difference in the lives of countless people. A bachelor’s degree program in social work will provide students a combination of social work theory and hands-on field training. Both teach students advanced clinical skills in fields like social and economic development, mental health, advanced clinical social work practice, policy practice and contemporary social issues. Explore these degree programs, course requirements and the career options for bachelor’s in social work graduates below.

Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work

Rank School Location
1 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
2 University of Alaska Fairbanks Fairbanks, AK
3 Washburn University Topeka, KS
4 University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT
5 Western New Mexico University Silver City, NM
6 Wayne State University Detroit, MI
7 Viterbo University La Crosse, WI
8 Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins, CO
9 Utah State University Logan, UT
10 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ
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Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work


  • OUR METHODOLOGY +

    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

    • Accredited at the institutional level
    • Private nonprofit or public school
    • Minimum of 1 online bachelor’s degree in subject area

    Schools were then scored on factors such as:

    • Cost & Financial Aid
    • Number and variety of online program offerings
    • Student-teacher ratios
    • Graduation rates
    • Placement and support services offered
    • Academic/Career counseling services
    • Employment services
    • Loan default rates

    These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.


Students interested in exploring different bachelor’s degree programs in social work can get a jump start on their research here. This list of the best online bachelor’s in social work degree programs for 2017 pinpoints several factors critical to a student’s experience, including student teacher ratio, clinical experience offerings, the school’s graduation rate and tuition cost. Students can use these rankings as guidelines, as they investigate a school’s curriculum, faculty expertise and how courses match their career goals.

  1. The University of Alabama
    Location

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    As one of the pillars of academics at the University of Alabama, social work programs are offered through a dedicated department. In 1965, UA's school of social work was created through a statewide initiative to answer the growing problem of untrained social workers in Alabama. Since then, the school has generated the much-needed workforce to service all of Alabama's communities and more. Today the school of social work provides bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees available on campus, and the option to complete an online MSW program. The bachelor of social work program prepares students to serve in a variety of settings such as hospitals, government agencies, schools and colleges, and court systems. Students learn to work within various environments to better an individu

    As one of the pillars of academics at theUniversity of Alabama, social work programs are offered through a dedicated department. In 1965, UA's school of social work was created through a statewide initiative to answer the growing problem of untrained social workers in Alabama. Since then, the school has generated the much-needed workforce to service all of Alabama's communities and more. Today theschool of social workprovides bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees available on campus, and the option to complete an online MSW program.

    The bachelor of social work program prepares students to serve in a variety of settings such as hospitals, government agencies, schools and colleges, and court systems. Students learn to work within various environments to better an individual's or a community's quality of life. The program incorporates nine credits of hands-on, experiential learning at a predetermined location, where students complete 450 hours of clinical work. Students must apply to the clinical portion of their coursework and interview at the location where they have been paired. An internship placement in Washington, D.C. at either the Department of Defense or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is offered to qualifying students who have at a least a 2.25 GPA and are enrolled in a prerequisite course. Students can also participate in faculty-led research and gain experience working with community-centered campus organizations. The University of Alabama operates a research center, the Youth Services Institute, from within the school of social work. This center facilitates three assistance programs for children and teens throughout the state, providing boundless research and career opportunities for students.

    While classes for this program are offered on campus, many courses can be taken online or at night to meet the needs of working students. UA's school of social work offers financial aid and scholarships to students specific to their degree program. Thebachelor of social workprogram has continually been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since 1974.

    al's or a community's quality of life. The program incorporates nine credits of hands-on, experiential learning at a predetermined location, where students complete 450 hours of clinical work. Students must apply to the clinical portion of their coursework and interview at the location where they have been paired. An internship placement in Washington, D.C. at either the Department of Defense or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is offered to qualifying students who have at a least a 2.25 GPA and are enrolled in a prerequisite course. Students can also participate in faculty-led research and gain experience working with community-centered campus organizations. The University of Alabama operates a research center, the Youth Services Institute, from within the school of social work. This center facilitates three assistance programs for children and teens throughout the state, providing boundless research and career opportunities for students. While classes for this program are offered on campus, many courses can be taken online or at night to meet the needs of working students. UA's school of social work offers financial aid and scholarships to students specific to their degree program. The bachelor of social work program has continually been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since 1974.

  2. University of Alaska Fairbanks
    Location

    Fairbanks, AK

    At the University of Alaska Fairbanks, students can earn an undergraduate degree in social work that specializes in managing the socioeconomic, environmental or domestic problems that are unique to Alaska’s interspersed population. UAF’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Work is a well-rounded program that prepares graduates for employment as social workers in agencies that promote mental health, family and child services, Alaska native organizations or senior citizen centers. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the program requires 120 credits for completion and is comprised of general electives, behavioral science studies and fieldwork experience. During students’ final year in the program they begin experiential work, helping indigenous tribes living in the remote regions of the Alaskan wilderness. Students must first apply and prove they are ready for their fieldwork experience before being placed within an organization. Students then complete a minimum of 400 hours working alongside practicing social workers during their internship, and have two semesters to meet this requirement. UAF’s undergraduate social work program is designed as a traditional degree, however a number of social work courses are offered online each semester. Students majoring in other fields at UAF can also earn an undergraduate minor.

    Undergraduate students enrolled in the BSW program have financial aid and scholarships available, as well as differentiated tuition rates benefitting native Alaskans and other Pacific coast students. Through the Western Undergraduate Exchange, students living in 14 western states are eligible for a significantly discounted non-resident tuition rate. Undergraduate students who are Alaska residents receive a competitive in-state rate that increase as a student progresses to higher levels of education. This is applicable to non-residents as well.

  3. Washburn University
    Location

    Topeka, KS

    Practicing what they preach, Washburn University aims to help students struggling to find ways of earning their undergraduate degree succeed. The university's Bachelor of Social Work program teaches students to value justice and to be the people who fight for disadvantaged citizens. Washburn University offers both a BSW and MSW degree program, taking a versatile approach to undergraduate learning. The BSW program allows students to gain experience practicing many different forms of social work to give a generalist education and the chance to specialize at the graduate level. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, Washburn's BSW program integrates real-world social work experience into the learning curriculum. Upon reaching the final phases of their undergraduate educations, students are required to complete a practicum. Students undergo an interview process and are assigned a field placement based on their academic performance. In this practicum, students have the chance to observe and work with experienced social workers in the field. Students must reach at least 480 hours of practicum work, with at least 240 hours completed each semester during their senior year.

    While most required courses in the BSW program are offered on campus, Washburn has a select number of undergraduate social work classes available 100 percent online each semester, so students can create flexibility in their education and work schedules. In addition, all face-to-face learning at Washburn uses online resources for course materials so student always have access to information. After finishing all degree requirements, students must pass the examination from the Association of Social Work Boards to become a licensed social worker. Washburn BSW graduates currently have a 91 percent pass rate, compared to the 71 percent average across North America in the most recent academic year.

    Undergraduate students enrolled in the BSW program have financial aid and scholarships available, as well as differentiated tuition rates benefitting native Alaskans and other Pacific coast students. Through the Western Undergraduate Exchange, students living in 14 western states are eligible for a significantly discounted non-resident tuition rate. Undergraduate students who are Alaska residents receive a competitive in-state rate that increase as a student progresses to higher levels of education. This is applicable to non-residents as well.

  4. University of Utah
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    While requirements for professional social workers vary by state, at the University of Utah graduates with a Bachelor of Social Work degree have the necessary foundation to find employment in 30 states. To become a social worker in Utah, a license is required and academic degree programs offered in the state aim to satisfy the licensing requirements. The social work programs offered by the University of Utah are accredited by the Council of Social Work Education, including the school's online BSW option. One of a select number of accredited online BSW programs, this degree program is fully online. General education and lower division courses should be completed before applying to the online BSW degree and transfer students may check to see how their credits stack up at the University of Utah. The online portion includes 48 credits of upper-level coursework, completed over three to four semesters. Students must also complete a mandatory fieldwork experience to graduate from the program at a site pre-approved by the university. Currently there are more than 150 certified practicum locations for BSW students in Utah, across the country and abroad. Both online and campus-based students must clock 450 hours of internship experience and coordinate their experience with the on-site instructor. The opportunity to work with experienced social workers gives students a mentor-mentee relationship, which can be valuable in their post-graduation endeavours.

    Graduates of the program typically find employment at schools, correctional facilities, child services organizations, nursing homes, addiction centers and many other agencies dedicated to to preserving and restoring social justice and bettering a person's quality of life. Social work students are eligible for scholarship opportunities administered through the college of social work. Most recently, the college awarded more than $250,000 in financial aid distributed among 95 students. Tuition rates are lower for Utah residents, while out-of-state students both on campus and online pay a higher fee.

  5. Western New Mexico University
    Location

    Silver City, NM

    Recognizing the projected national need for qualified, sound social workers, Western New Mexico University aims to graduate social workers equipped with the tools for direct employment. To accomplish this goal, the online undergraduate social work program provides a broad foundation to working in many diverse environments of social work. WNMU's Bachelor of Social Work graduates may find themselves working in prisons or juvenile correctional facilities, hospitals, addiction treatment centers, mental health facilities or in government or nonprofit agencies. Social work courses at WNMU are kept to intimate class sizes and are instructed by professional social workers with years of experience in the field. To enter the program, students must be accepted to WNMU and have a minimum 2.5 GPA. Unfortunately the school does not accept or award any credit for prior work experiences as the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSEW) and all students must meet the CSEW's criteria to earn the degree.

    This degree program is open to students around the country and is offered as an entirely online degree. Occasionally synchronized learning may be required such as a telephone conference class. Some courses are offered in accelerated formats during the spring semester, and all courses are eight weeks long in the summer. As part of graduation requirements, students must complete an internship in the field during their senior year of studies. This experiential learning can be conducted within the student's geographic region and faculty within the department work with students to find a suitable location. Western New Mexico University is a part of the Western Undergraduate Exchange, which is a tuition agreement among 14 states. Through this initiative, students who have not yet earned their bachelor's degree living in the west have access to discounted out-of-state tuition rates at universities across the region. Students applying from states outside of this agreement pay full out-of-state tuition costs at WNMU.

    Graduates of the program typically find employment at schools, correctional facilities, child services organizations, nursing homes, addiction centers and many other agencies dedicated to to preserving and restoring social justice and bettering a person's quality of life. Social work students are eligible for scholarship opportunities administered through the college of social work. Most recently, the college awarded more than $250,000 in financial aid distributed among 95 students. Tuition rates are lower for Utah residents, while out-of-state students both on campus and online pay a higher fee.

  6. Wayne State University
    Location

    Detroit, MI

  7. Viterbo University
    Location

    La Crosse, WI

  8. Colorado State University-Fort Collins
    Location

    Fort Collins, CO

  9. Utah State University
    Location

    Logan, UT

  10. Northern Arizona University
    Location

    Flagstaff, AZ

Social work is a growing field, and students may need to apply to a number of programs in their search. The following tool gives students broad perspective on the number of bachelor’s programs in social work that are offered around the nation, with categories to help narrow down the search.

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Timeline: Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work Online

Online bachelor’s degree programs provide social work students with the necessary skills to become an entry-level social worker in about four years. Online students take courses remotely, but may opt for completing field instruction requirements at participating organizations within their communities. From continued practical application to professional development, students will learn skills applicable to a variety of fields within social work. Use this step-by-step timeline to pinpoint the major milestones a bachelor’s level social work student might meet throughout schooling.

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APPLICATION PROCESS

Each online bachelor’s in social work program will ask for their own respective requirements, although students may find many schools require similar steps when applying to their programs. Here is a list of these common steps:

  • Submit College, High School Transcripts
    Evaluate each social work program’s prerequisites for admission, and be in good standing. Bachelor’s level students must submit prior college or high school transcripts along with their application. Many online bachelors’ in social work programs ask students for this to ensure the student meets minimum GPA requirements.
  • Gather Letters of Recommendation
    Applicants can expect to provide two or three letters of recommendation when applying for a bachelor’s program in social work. These should be from mentors or educators that know the students’ professional and academic characteristics, along with their community services. Remember that letters of recommendation take time; contact educators and employers as soon as possible in the application process.
  • Familiarize with the Program
    Students should look into the course requirements as they begin applying for online bachelor’s programs in social work. Most provide some form of orientation or advising sessions to help students answer questions.
  • Double-Check Deadlines
    Application deadlines vary by program, so be sure to double check before submitting applications. Late submissions will likely be disqualified.
  • Follow Up with the School
    Even after students have satisfied all requirements outlined in the school’s application checklist, they may not let students know if their application is being received or processed. Students applying to bachelor’s programs in social work should consider contacting the school to ensure all required materials arrived on time.

YEAR 1 & 2 MILESTONES

Four-year online bachelor’s in social work programs divide class requirements between instructional coursework and field education. Social work curricula recommend students enroll in 15 credit hours each semester for all four years. Here are milestones to consider during year one and two:

  • Study Communication Basics
    Since social work professionals are required to communicate well with diverse groups of people, online social work students should complete foundational communication courses to progress their interpersonal skillset during the first two years of their bachelor’s degree program.
  • Focus on Core Completion
    The first and second year of a bachelor’s level social work program should be dedicated to completing the core coursework requirements specified for a student’s field of choice. Advisors from the social work department can help recommended core classes, or search a program’s website.

YEAR 3 & 4 MILESTONES

After completion of all pre-requisites, students in year’s three and four of their bachelor’s in social work program will start enrolling in upper-division social work classes. They should also begin to focus on a niche or specialized interests, and explore options through electives and field work. Here are some milestones to consider during the third and fourth years as social work students begin building toward graduation.

  • Upper-Division Course Completion
    Once in the third and fourth year of their bachelor’s program, social work students will enroll in courses that build upon their core classes, becoming proficient in areas such as working with families, groups and individuals, social work research and application, community legislature and the various roles social workers have throughout society.
  • Field Work Experience
    Most online bachelor’s in social work programs will also require students to take some on-site education classes. These may include off-campus field work assignments, which encourage students to dive into their desired specialization and experience their profession as a social worker while proactively applying their academics. Note that field work agencies must be approved by the students’ social work program.
  • Final Project and Capstone Conclusion
    During the last two years of study, bachelor’s level social work students will begin working on final research projects and capstone coursework. Students will integrate studies in generalist social work practices, field work and academics into a variety of projects or essays to demonstrate their competency or leadership proficiency in their specialized field.

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS

Because of the curriculum diversity between bachelor’s programs in social work – different electives, field work and course requirements – students should talk with their advisor about compiling a graduation requirements checklist similar to the one below to make sure they are on track, completing the combination of coursework, field experience and research projects necessary to graduate.

  • Coursework and GPA
    Complete coursework and field work hours as required for a bachelor’s degree in social work. Grades should meet the program’s cumulative grade point average (GPA) requirement for graduation.
  • Complete and remove all incompletes on the course record.
    Students may be given extensions to complete incomplete courses. They should read all requirements set forth by their school of social work for getting them done on time.
  • Application for Graduation
    Graduation is not automatic in bachelor’s in social work degree programs; students must apply for it at their school. Students are advised to meet with academic counselors prior to applying for graduation to verify all graduation requirements are completed.

What Can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work?

Social workers with bachelor’s degrees are employed in a wide variety of professional environments, work with vastly different demographic populations, and address a range of distinctive issues. The most general description of what social workers do, across all professional environments, is that they help people to fix and cope with problems they encounter in their everyday lives. But careers are not confined to a single job description. Here are some career options for those earning their bachelor’s degrees:

Popular Programs

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  1. Southern New Hampshire University
    Online BA in Human Services
  2. Walden University
    Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
  3. Our Lady of the Lake University
    Bachelor of Social Work

BROWSE BACHELOR’S IN SOCIAL WORK CAREERS

Child, Family or School Social Workers

Social workers help adults, children and families to identify and address emotional, behavioral and mental issues. Licensed clinical social workers provide therapy and referrals to public resources and services that help alleviate client problems.

Job Growth (2014-2024)6%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)$42,350

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and Family Therapists, also known as Mental Health Counselors, work in public settings and private practice to help clients resolve and manage emotional and mental disorders affecting their well-being and relationships. Counselors address issues including addictions, depression and suicidal tendencies, as well as issues with learning, families and aging.

Job Growth (2014-2024) 19%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015) $48,600

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Substance abuse, behavioral and addictions counselors provide assessment, treatment and follow-up support for clients facing addictions to alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, food or other negative addictive behaviors. Professionals with bachelor’s degrees take career positions within public and private treatment centers, hospitals and clinics and through private practice offices.

Job Growth (2014-2024)22%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)$39,980

Social and Community Service Managers

Nearly 140,000 social and community service managers in the country combine their service experience and bachelor’s education to qualify for roles in directing program development, community outreach, staff management and funding and budgeting operations for social agencies and counseling centers. The role requires strong administrative, budgetary research and analytical skills.

Job Growth (2014-2024)10%
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)$63,530

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Skills Learned During Bachelor’s Level Social Work Programs

Online bachelor’s degree programs in social work address common skills and practice principles established for the profession based on a range of factors including program accreditation, professional association guidelines and state licensing requirements. The following core principles and skills are common to studies in four-year online social work programs:

Bachelor’s in Social Work

  • Critical Thinking Critical thinking applies to communications between clients and social work professionals as well as to decision making in clinical practice. After their bachelor’s degree program, student should enter the field with the ability to make assessments and create practical solutions for treating client issues. The same skills apply to addressing organizational issues where social workers manage multiple clients along with completing required documentation of evidence-based procedures.
  • Professional Ethics and Demeanor Clients and co-workers alike must be treated professionally in the counseling workplace. Social workers must develop skills to work across diverse clinical populations and to build relationships based on empathy and communication. The National Association of Social Workers recommends that professionals “elevate service to others above self-interest,” always behaving in a trustworthy manner.
  • Cultural Competence and Social Diversity Students learn to distinguish problems and solutions based on the client population or core cultural issues. At the bachelor’s level, social work students learn to understand and respect differences with respect to ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, race, age, gender identity, marital status and political beliefs. They also learn when to inform co-workers and clients of potential conflicts of interest concerning their own beliefs that may interfere with proper assessment and treatment.

PhD in Social Work

LEARN MORE ABOUT ONLINE PHD IN SOCIAL WORK

Master’s in Social Work

LEARN MORE ABOUT ONLINE MASTER’S IN SOCIAL WORK

Additional Resources

Bachelor’s level students can receive support in the form of scholarships, research resources and employment through professional associations and organizations dedicated to the field of social work. Many of the following organizations offer special membership programs for students, and provide networking, member conferences and career development resources. Check out some options below.

The American Clinical Social Work Association
The ACSWA operates the setting of professional standards and credentialing of clinical social workers. It fosters networking among professionals and provides news on industry trends and career development.

National Association of Social Workers – Student Center
With its more than 132,000 members, the NASW is the largest professional organization supporting the career development of social workers. Find information on scholarships, grants and fellowships available to student members.

Phi Alpha Honor Society for Social Work
Phi Alpha is a national social work honor society providing student members and school chapters with access to scholarships, grants and local support. Each campus chapter awards two free memberships in Phi Alpha each year to participating graduate students

The Society for Social Work and Research
Founded in 1994, SSWR serves 1,300 members hailing from 45 states and 15 countries. Its membership supports professional social workers social-work students and faculty, and researchers with leadership forums, national meetings and conferences, and a social work job board.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.


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