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2023 Best Online Bachelor's in Social Work (BSW) Programs

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 10/18/2023
2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Social Work Badge

An online bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) provides students with a profound understanding of community dynamics, social policy, and compassionate intervention. BSW graduates can unlock numerous opportunities within the field of social services, where they become catalysts for positive change in the lives of vulnerable individuals and families. Universities now have affordable online social work degrees, offering an accessible route to embark on this educational pursuit. 

The following compilation spotlights the best online degrees in social work, evaluated based on the post-graduation salaries of each school's alumni. View our methodology for more details about rankings, or learn about OnlineU

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Online Social Work Bachelor's Degrees You May Be Interested In

#1 University of North Dakota

  • Salary Score: 96
  • Median Starting Salary: $38,598
  • Locations: Grand Forks (ND)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of North Dakota's (UND) online Bachelor of Science in Social Work is taught from a social justice perspective with a curriculum that includes conceptual courses on human behavior and social policy, as well as hands-on courses in research and social work practices. Coursework is designed to prepare students for state certification exams. Students can expect to take core courses, such as Social Work Research, Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families, and Social Policy. Students must complete a field internship under the supervision of a licensed field instructor.

At UND, the Home to the Children and Family Services Training Center provides research and training with a strong rural focus. The Center certifies all new child welfare practitioners and all North Dakota foster parents. Alumni pursue careers in family prevention services, disaster relief, and homeless family assistance.

#2 University of Utah

  • Salary Score: 93
  • Median Starting Salary: $35,854
  • Locations: Salt Lake City (UT)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The University of Utah (UU) is a public, four-year institution offering an online Bachelor of Social Work. The program prepares students to become professional social workers. It emphasizes social justice and building supportive relationships with marginalized communities to help develop community leaders as well as programs that strive toward social justice and improving the lives of community members. In addition to a core curriculum — which includes courses such as Social Work as a Profession, Social Work Research and Evaluation, and Advanced Social Work Writing — the program requires two semesters of practicum field experience.

Students interested in working with children and families can apply for the Child Welfare Title IV-E Career Path program, a grant administered by the Utah State Division of Child and Family Services. Graduates may pursue careers in fields like juvenile justice, aging and gerontology, child welfare, and human services.

#3 Metropolitan State University of Denver

  • Salary Score: 92
  • Median Starting Salary: $34,646
  • Locations: Denver (CO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSUD) is a public, four-year institution offering an online Bachelor of Science in Social Work. The program provides a social work education that’s value-driven, research-informed, culturally responsive, and academically rigorous. It connects social work theory with real-world practice. To graduate, students must complete 480 hours of field experience over two semesters. To fulfill the requirement, students can choose field placement at one of over 700 organizations in Colorado, including mental health clinics, public schools, state and local departments of human services, police departments, or health care settings like hospitals and clinics. Among the core program courses are Philosophy of Social Work, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, and Social Policy and Social Justice.

Online students at MSUD have access to student groups, including the Student Association of Social Workers, Phi Alpha honor society, and Building Allies of Diversity, where they can connect with their peers.

#4 Mary Baldwin University

  • Salary Score: 92
  • Median Starting Salary: $34,555
  • Locations: Staunton (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Mary Baldwin University (MBU) — a private, nonprofit, four-year institution — offers Virginia residents an online Bachelor of Social Work. This program aims to provide graduates with the foundation they need to enter generalist practice, including the knowledge and practical skills required to become agents of change in their communities and society. It requires a 450-hour practicum in the final semester. Students may also pursue international fieldwork, such as recent program study-abroad trips to Haiti and Honduras.

At MBU, online students can enhance their learning experience by earning entry into the Phi Alpha honor society, joining the Social Work Club, or networking with industry professionals and alumni.

#5 Brescia University

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $34,450
  • Locations: Owensboro (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Brescia University (BU) is a private, nonprofit, Catholic institution offering an online Bachelor of Social Work that helps provide graduates with the theoretical knowledge and hands-on social work experience they need to work in various human services agencies, such as child protection, anti-poverty programs, and criminal justice. Grounded in the school's Catholic, liberal arts roots, this BU program emphasizes respect for all and servant leadership.

In addition to courses like Social Issues in Diversity, Social Welfare Policy, and Social Work and Aging, students must complete two field practicums in which they’ll integrate what they’ve learned with real-life experiences. Depending on program offerings, students may also take advantage of the school's study abroad programs to expand the breadth of their expertise and provide a look at social work from a global perspective.

#6 University of Louisville

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $34,088
  • Locations: Louisville (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Louisville (UofL) is a public, four-year institution offering an online Bachelor of Social Work that focuses on skills and knowledge related to the impact of social work on families, institutions, and communities. Through core courses — like Introduction to Social Work Policy, Social Welfare Institutions and Policy, Policies and Social Justice Practice — this bachelor's program prepares students to practice social work with people who have suffered oppression, such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, and ableism at the individual, community, and institutional levels of society. Additionally, students must complete a seminar, lab, and a 450-hour practicum.

After completing the program, students can seek careers as school social workers, mental health social workers, and clinical social workers.

#7 Northern Arizona University

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $33,882
  • Locations: Flagstaff (AZ)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Northern Arizona University (NAU) offers an online Bachelor of Social Work program to prepare students to become licensed generalist social workers in many states. Students will take courses in areas such as ethnicity, gender, human biology, social and economic justice, and indigenous populations of the southwest. Students must complete a senior seminar course to meet the online program’s capstone requirement. Alumni are prepared to earn certification in industry niches, such as victim advocacy, health care services, elderly care, and community advocacy.

At NAU, online students may access the student library, 24/7 tech support, financial aid opportunities, and tutoring services. Additionally, online students may seek guidance from dedicated faculty.

#8 Eastern Kentucky University

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $33,448
  • Locations: Richmond (KY)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) is a public, four-year institution that offers an online Bachelor of Social Work that provides students with a solid academic foundation to become ethical leaders who advocate for social and economic justice. EKU’s bachelor's degree is a versatile program that focuses on the critical skills needed to advance professionally. Social Welfare Policy History, Addictions, and Social Work Practice are among the program’s core courses that help prepare students for careers working with adults and children affected by issues, such as mental health or substance abuse. With a focus on real-world application, the degree requires the completion of several practicums aimed at providing online students with an up-close look at different career options.

At EKU, online students have access to free tutoring and career services. Additionally EKU Online offers a range of scholarships designed to assist students with financial need.

#9 Spring Arbor University Online

  • Salary Score: 64
  • Median Starting Salary: $33,424
  • Locations: Spring Arbor (MI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The online Bachelor of Social Work at Spring Arbor University (SAU), a Christian liberal arts college, is designed to teach core principles and concepts and build applicable skills through practice. Courses vary in length, from 6-15 weeks. The curriculum includes courses on racial and ethnic relations, social welfare policies, and social work practices among individuals and families. This bachelor's program also prepares qualified Michigan residents to earn a Child Welfare Endorsement.

Enrolled online students are assigned a program mentor and a student success coach who can assist with personal and professional development. Upon graduating, students are prepared to work in domestic violence centers, hospitals, child welfare offices, and nursing homes, to name a few areas.

#10 Mount Vernon Nazarene University

  • Salary Score: 89
  • Median Starting Salary: $32,843
  • Locations: Mount Vernon (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU) is a private, nonprofit, four-year institution offering a Bachelor of Social Work. The curriculum aims to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to become influential social work professionals. Core courses include Social Justice and Advocacy, Social Work Practice with Families, Cultural and Human Diversity, and Preparation for Field Experience. The latter course helps students prepare for their social work practicum. After completing the program, graduates can pursue social work careers as victim advocates, public policy specialists, child welfare social workers, and healthcare social workers.

At MVNU, coursework is 100% online, and a student's schedule can be flexibly altered to suit their busy lives. Additionally, online students can go on to pursue social work licensure and graduate-level education.

2023 Best Online Bachelor's in Social Work (BSW) Programs

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 University of North Dakota 96 96 $38,598
# 2 #2 University of Utah 93 $35,854
# 3 #3 Metropolitan State University of Denver 92 $34,646
# 4 #4 Mary Baldwin University 92 $34,555
# 5 #5 Brescia University 91 $34,450
# 6 #6 University of Louisville 91 $34,088
# 7 #7 Northern Arizona University 91 $33,882
# 8 #8 Eastern Kentucky University 90 $33,448
# 9 #9 Spring Arbor University Online 64 $33,424
# 10 #10 Mount Vernon Nazarene University 89 $32,843
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Overview of Online BSWs

Most online social work degrees feature an asynchronous class format — including core social work courses and electives — that doesn't require students to be online at particular times. Instead, they can complete assignments and watch lecture recordings at their convenience as long as they respect due dates. However, most bachelor's degrees and all pre-licensure master's degrees require field experience, which online learners must complete at an approved site.

A social work bachelor's degree is the minimum credential needed to become a social worker anywhere in the U.S.

What Is a Social Work Degree?

A social work bachelor's degree is the minimum credential needed to become a social worker anywhere in the U.S. Instructors in these programs seek to train compassionate, ethical professionals who can help a variety of people while working for government agencies, nonprofit groups, healthcare employers, or correctional facilities.

A Bachelor's in Social Work (BSW) can require four years of full-time study to complete but often takes longer than that. Some schools offer part-time degrees that let enrollees study at a slower pace as they balance work with school and other responsibilities.

Because online education is more popular than ever, many schools provide social work bachelor's degrees through distance learning platforms. Online learners usually take asynchronous classes with no set meeting times. They can sign in to a learning management platform at their convenience to submit assignments, watch recorded lectures, and discuss topics with classmates.

Looking for the most budget-friendly social work program? Explore our rankings of the most affordable online BSWs and our list of affordable MSWs.

Degree Requirements for BSWs

Social work bachelor's programs usually require 120 credit hours of coursework split between general education and major classes. In addition, they all have a field experience requirement. Students can gain up to 400 hours of supervised real-world experience during an internship, externship, or practicum. Even online students need to complete these experiences in person in an approved setting.


College application timelines usually begin several months to a year before actually starting classes. If you want to enroll for the fall term, you'll usually be applying to college sometime between November and February. Typically, college applications cost $30-90 in the form of a nonrefundable processing fee. Most colleges ask for similar items from potential candidates. Here's a typical application package:

  • Official high school or GED transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 2.0-2.5

  • A letter of recommendation from a teacher

  • A personal statement on education and career goals

  • Official ACT or SAT scores, with minimums that vary by school (note that some schools have dropped entrance exam requirements)

Common BSW Courses

Many social work programs feature similar curricula because they want to maintain programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). We've listed some common foundational courses below:

Crisis Intervention

Social workers may encounter people in various states of distress, and this class teaches them how to handle these situations gracefully. Faculty usually discuss assessment, legal and policy issues, ethics, and referral.

Human Behavior in Social Contexts

This course covers individuals' shifting identities within different groups. Lessons might cover organization theory, social systems theory, family dynamics, and cultural diversity.

Social Policy

Students typically learn the history of social welfare policy before digging into the policymaking process. Professors often lecture on the major social agencies at the federal and state levels, as well as the goals of different policy campaigns.

Social Work Research Methods

This class covers the major quantitative and qualitative research paradigms and how students can combine them. Faculty typically emphasize how to use research to inform social work practice and how to review others' research with a critical eye.

Social Work Specializations

Most BSW and MSW degrees are generalist programs, but some schools may let you choose a concentration to tailor your studies. Since social workers can work in diverse industries and with a range of client populations, it may be beneficial to have specialist knowledge in the field that most interests you. 

We've listed a few social work specializations below:

  • Aging specialists help older adults access care and discuss their physical and mental health concerns. Students might learn about societal perspectives on aging, nutrition for older adults, and physiology beyond middle age.
  • A specialty in children and adolescents can benefit those who want to work in schools or human services. This concentration typically includes courses on developmental psychology and human behavior, family dynamics in various cultures, and ethical responsibilities when working with children.
  • Healthcare is a broad specialization for students who want to help people navigate care for their physical and mental well-being. Coursework may cover client advocacy, acute care, depression, and major healthcare legislation.
  • A substance use and addiction concentration trains future social workers to help clients with substance use disorder. They learn about the neurophysiological effects of drugs and alcohol, types of treatment plans, and relevant laws and policies.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Social Work Degree?

Before graduating, most BSW students either start applying to graduate school or looking for jobs. We detail each of these options below. 

What Degree Do You Need To Be a Social Worker?

With a bachelor of social work under your belt, you can begin applying for more advanced social work degrees. There are three types: a Master of Social Work (MSW), a practice doctorate that is called a Doctor of Social Work (DSW), and a research doctorate, which is usually called a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Master of Social Work

An MSW may qualify you for a more advanced social work license in your state that increases your scope of possible responsibilities. In fact, most states only grant clinical social work licenses to MSW-prepared social workers because of the responsibility that clinical social workers have as mental health professionals. 

Doctorate in Social Work

DSWs may qualify graduates for senior positions in social work practice, such as leadership roles in their area of specialty. PhD students typically want to advance the social work field through research, and they often find jobs as professors and conduct original studies to write about.

Social Work Careers

A BSW might make you eligible for a number of careers in social work across different focus areas. BSW graduates become social workers who assist students with their problems in schools, help medical patients readjust to life after illness or injury, and serve their communities as employees of social welfare agencies. 

Many bachelor's-level positions involve macro social work, which refers to social workers helping groups of people through community organization or policy development. Some BSW graduates find jobs at the micro level, where they might help counsel people one on one or in small groups, but most of these roles are reserved for licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) who hold MSW degrees. 

Learn more about possible job opportunities by reading our page on careers in social work.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Social Worker?

You can become a social worker in as little as four years if you take a full-time course load and complete your bachelor's degree in that time. However, most students need more than four years to finish. Once you finish a bachelor's program, becoming an LCSW takes another four to six years: two or three years to earn a master's degree, at least two years of supervised practice, and some time to schedule, complete, and receive the results from a licensure exam.

Earning a doctorate takes at least three more years. In general, a DSW takes less time to complete than a PhD in social work because PhDs usually require more dissertation research. Therefore, DSW students may be able to join the job market more quickly than PhD candidates.

FAQs About Bachelor's in Social Work Programs

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Most BSW graduates apply for jobs as social workers, a field with a median yearly salary of $55,350 and a faster-than-average growth rate of 7% through 2032. But they may also be eligible for careers as health education specialists, social and community service managers, or other roles in social services.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Social Work Degree?

The latest government data gives 52 months as the median time to finish a bachelor's degree. It's possible to graduate college early if you're disciplined and have a number of factors in your favor, such as financial independence and plenty of credits to transfer into your program.

Is Human Services the Same as Social Work?

Human services is a broader field than social work, encompassing any program intended to help people in financial, physical, or psychological need. A human services career often involves the administration or leadership of teams at nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Social work is a type of human services work whose practitioners provide care and help allocate resources to clients.

Why Is Social Work Important?

Social workers try to change people's lives for the better by listening to people in crisis, teaching them useful skills, and referring them to helpful programs and other professionals. They might meet people who need help coping with change because they're adjusting to school, being treated at a healthcare facility, or are incarcerated.

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