An accelerated online MSW degree is designed for students who do not already have a background in social work, but are looking to condense the normal two-year time frame it takes to get an MSW. Rather than cut out parts of the curriculum, accelerated online MSW degree students take summer courses and maintain full academic schedules while pursuing their accelerated degree.In this guide
- Find the right program
- Admissions requirements
- Traditional vs accelerated
- Online versus location-based
- Careers and salary
The social work profession is appealing for many reasons.Today’s world is filled with challenges on many fronts, and social work’s focus on helping individuals, families, groups, organizations, and even society at-large find common ground to heal and grow provides a strong framework to address these issues.
There are only a few ways to become a social worker, and despite what you might see in the media, all of them require an actual social work degree. A bachelor in social work (BSW) can be a good place to start, but most positions, especially as you progress in your career, will require a masters degree in social work (MSW). You can also choose to pursue a doctorate degree in social work (DSW or PhD) but unless you want to be a professor, a master of social work will give you what you need for most positions.
There are many paths you can take to earn your master in social work. The traditional program is a two-year full time program, requiring around five courses each fall and spring semester with two field placements, which are similar to social work internships.
Students coming into the program with a bachelors degree in social work can apply for advanced standing status. This allows them to skip the introductory and foundational social work courses that traditionally make up the first year of the program. They are often able to apply their undergraduate field placement hours towards their first graduate field placement. This arrangement typically allows an advanced standing master of social work student to complete a full time program in one year instead of two.
However, students entering a MSW program with a bachelors degree in a different subject also have alternatives to a traditional two year program. Students who want to graduate in less time can pursue an accelerated master in social work program.
This program also allows the student to graduate in less time, typically shaving one or two semesters off of the program. However, unlike the advanced standing program, the accelerated program still requires the student to take all of the courses and complete all of the field work hours.
To do this, the accelerated master of social work program relies on an intensive condensed timeline. Students will typically attend two summer sessions, take extra coursework each semester, and work more field hours per week than their traditional counterparts.
For example, field hours may be taken at a full time 40 hours per week with a few courses worked around it rather than fit in part time field work around a full time course schedule. Or, a student may take more than the recommended number of course hours per semester. By making these types of changes, it is possible to fit all of the social work requirements into a one year period, plus summers.
The requirements to get into an accelerated program are the same as to get into any MSW program.
The requirements for an accelerated program are the same as those for a traditional MSW program.
Minimum admission requirements
- Bachelor’s degree
- GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Academic letters of reference (typically 2 +)
- Letters of reference from volunteer or work experience in the helping professions.
- The volunteer aspect is important to consider. Students applying directly from their undergraduate program may not have relevant work experience. Other students may have been working in an unrelated field. Both of these types of applicants can apply their relevant volunteer experience toward their MSW application. Indeed, it is advisable to be certain that you enjoy doing this type of work and can handle the emotional challenges that often arise prior to investing your time and money into a masters program. Volunteering is a good way to ascertain both your comfort level and your area of interest.
Additional admission requirements (these vary by school)
- Background check
- Admissions essay or personal statement
- Prerequisite classes – this will apply more to students coming in from a completely different background, such as business or STEM undergraduate majors
Choosing the right online accelerated MSW program
The most important step is to be certain that the programs you consider are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Basically, this means that the program adheres to a vigorous set of academic and ethical standards.
While each school will have its own unique strengths, the CSWE acts as a guarantee that you will have taken courses that teach important aspects of the social work profession and that your field work, or internship experience, is relevant to the profession. Furthermore, if you choose to pursue licensure post-graduation, as is required for many MSW positions, your degree must be from a CSWE-accredited school. Employers may prefer to hire only candidates from a CSWE accredited program as well.
Another consideration is to determine which programs offer the focus you are looking for. You know you want to be a social worker, but do you know who you want to work with? There are so many ways to go.
Most programs will offer course work in multiple modalities, but some programs are stronger in certain areas that others. For example, do you want to work in a hospital setting? Look for programs that offer specialized coursework in this area. If you are leaning towards behavioral health or community organizing that look for schools that are known for this type of work. If you really aren’t sure yet, or have multiple interests then look for a program with a strong generalist approach.
You will also want to determine how much assistance the programs you are considering will offer you in obtaining a field placement (social work internship) position. While most location based programs will have established relationships with local agencies that can help you locate an appropriate position, this may not be the case if you are looking at programs based in a different city or state from you.
Difference between traditional online MSW programs and accelerated online MSW programs
The main difference between a traditional online master’s in social work and an accelerated online master’s in social work program is that an accelerated MSW program can be completed in less time than a traditional MSW program.
That’s it. The accelerated MSW student has the same requirements as the traditional MSW student. They will complete the same courses and field placement hours as a traditional student. Unlike the advanced standing MSW student, the accelerated student will still be required to take the introductory and foundational courses that make up the majority of the first year of a traditional course.
So where does the time savings come in? The answer is in the name. Students accelerate the pace of the program by taking on additional work during each semester, and over the summers. For example, an accelerated student might begin their program in the summer instead of in the fall semester like traditional students. They might continue to take classes into the next summer as well. Students can also add additional courses to their fall and spring semester.
Additionally, accelerated students can commit more time to their field work per week than their traditional peers, completing the same number of hours in a shorter period of time.
Each school will have their own way of working with their accelerated students to complete their program a semester or two ahead of time.
Whether or not this program will have any financial benefit will depend on the school as well. Many programs charge by the course, while others charge by the semester. Summer sessions may not be charged at the same rate as fall and spring semesters. However, even if there is no savings to be had in completing your degree at an accelerated pace, you will be able to start earning more as a social worker earlier than you would have in a traditional program.
Accelerated online MSW curriculum
Accelerated online MSW programs offer the same classes as traditional programs. While the traditional program offers primarily foundational and introductory classes in the first year and concentration based courses in the second year, the accelerated student will move at a faster rate. Still, the foundations come first.
Primary classes can include, but are not limited to:
- Introduction to social work
- Foundations of social work practice
- Human behavior and the environment
- Social policy, advocacy, and practice
- Research methods
Each area of concentration will have specific classes relating to the field after the foundations have been completed.
The field placement is the social work equivalent to an internship. Most MSW programs require two field placements. The exception to this is the Advanced Standing Master of Social Work program which waives the first placement. Traditionally, the first placement is a more foundational oriented placement, while the second placement is usually within the student’s chosen concentration.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires a minimum of 900 field contact hours for a master of social work program to be accredited.The exact number of hours will vary by program.
Online vs location-based accelerated MSW programs
Attending a program online is going to be quite a different experience than attending in person. There are a few different ways online classes can be taught. In a synchronous setting, the online students attend class at the same time as the location based students. In an asynchronous setting, the online students watch a prerecorded class. This class may have been recorded during a live class session, or it may be recorded specifically for the online learning students. Additionally, students may have a hybrid option, where they take both synchronous and asynchronous classes.
You will also have to navigate group assignments, exams, and individual meetings with your professors, as needed or required. These can take place via email or face-to-face real time communications, such as Zoom or Team meetings.
All MSW programs will require field placements. These are essentially social work internships. As mentioned above, in a traditional, location based program, schools often have relationships with local agencies looking for MSW students. In an online program, where you may not be located in the same city or even the same state as the MSW program you attend, you may have a more difficult time finding a position.
Career outlook and salary
For many reasons, the demand for social workers is on the rise. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a thirteen percent increase in social work jobs between 2019 and 2029. At the same time, the overall projected job market is expected to grow by only four percent.
A 2015 study shows just how large the market will be. The results predict a shortfall of 195,000 social workers in the US by the year 2030, and that 30 states will be fading a social worker shortage at that time.
So, how much money do MSW level social workers make? Research from the 2017 National Social Work Workforce Study by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports that Master level social workers earn $13,000 or more than Bachelor level social workers.
How can you expect this to translate to your salary? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2019 the median annual salary for social workers was $50,470. The highest ten percent earned more than $82,540.