For aspiring or practicing social workers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has some good news —— the sector is hiring. With about 650,000 current professionals, the BLS forecasts another 75,000 will be added to the labor force through 2024, representing a 12% employment increase, or about twice the average rate. Social workers are found in many fields —— mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices —— and hours tend to be demanding, typically involving evenings, weekends, and holidays. That said, social work is immensely rewarding. US News ranks it 4th on its list of best social services jobs, and, for all its stressfulness and scheduling challenges, many social workers enjoy a unique kind of independence that 9-5 office jobs and cubicle work don’t offer.
Most social working roles require at least a bachelor’s in the field, so we’ve compiled our top 10 online tracks for your convenience, factoring in flexibility, affordability, and academic prestige. Continue reading to find the best program for you!
1) University of Utah
Founded in 1850, University of Utah has a total enrollment of 31,500, the majority of which consists of undergraduate students. Utah ranks well across several US News lists: among the top 100 public and private national universities; 51st among public schools; and 73rd for military veterans. With an impressive student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1, Utah combines the resources of a large public university with the intimate, individualized instruction capabilities of a typical liberal arts college. Over 40% of classes have less than 20 students; only 18% have 50. For students interested in financial aid, about half of full-time undergrads receive some form of tuition assistance, and the average need met is 60%.
Utah’s online BS in Social Work includes 51 major credits, covering Human Behavior and Social Environments, Applied Social Work Statistics, Social Diversity and Cultural Understanding, International Community Based Research, Social Welfare Policy/Service, Child Welfare Practice, Immigration and Resettlement, Understanding Substance Abuse, and more. To gain real-world, hands-on experience, all students complete several practicum courses and 4 rounds of social work practice, including groups and couples & family sessions. All of Utah’s online courses combine self-paced asynchronous course work and interactive learning, in which students engage with peers and instructors over group discussion boards, live chats, and more. Students with previous credits may transfer into the program, and admission deadlines are available throughout the year to accommodate diverse schedules.
- Tuition Per Credit: $370
2) University of North Dakota
The University of North Dakota, founded in 1883, has a total enrollment of 14,900 students from 50 states and 85 countries. US News ranks the school among the top 100 public universities in the country, and Forbes, Princeton Review, and Washington Monthly have all recognized NDU for academic excellence. Classes are capped at 22, and the 21:1 student-to-faculty ratio helps to maintain a tight-knit community that balances collaborative learning with one-on-one instruction. More than 40% of classes have fewer than 20 students and only 8% have 50. 90% of students receive some form of financial aid.
North Dakota offers a highly customizable, hands-on BS in Social Work that consists of 39 major credits, which may be completed in as little as 2 years. (Part-time enrollment is also available.) Core requirements include classes like Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Social Work Research Methods, and Social Policy, among others. Students must also complete a social work elective, several rounds of field instruction, and social work practice in three areas: individuals and families, task and treatment groups, and communities and organizations. Designed for working professionals, most students transfer undergraduate credits into the program, and flexible classes combine self-paced course work and live web classes held twice a week to accommodate individual schedules. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits the program.
- Tuition Per Credit: $351
3) Liberty University
Liberty University is a private Christian school with 100,000 online students and 14,000 on campus in Lynchburg, Virginia. Leading distance education since 1985, Liberty offers over 250 online programs, all designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate working professionals and adult learners, with convenient scheduling benefits and intensive, on-campus summer semesters to accelerate course work. Further, Liberty’s generous transfer policy allows students to skip redundant course work and general ed requirements through a variety of methods: previous academic credits, work/life experience, military service, MOOC certifications, examinations, or portfolio work. The low student-to-faculty ratio means a third of classes have less than 20 students and just 5% have 50.
Liberty’s online BS Social Work requires 69 core credits in the major: among them, General Psychology, Statistics for the Social Sciences, Social Problems, Chemical Dependency, Social Welfare & Policy, and Ethics in Professional Helping, among others. Built-in practicum work and observation electives allow for customization, and social work practice areas are required for individuals & families, groups, diverse populations, and a macro practice. Up to 90 credits can be transferred into the program, and one intensive session is required. Graduates will be prepared for a variety of careers, including as clinical social workers, foster intervention specialists, primary service coordinators, and transitional living specialists.
- Tuition Per Credit: $390
4) Humboldt State University
Founded in 1913, Humboldt State University is a public institution in California with a total enrollment of about 8,000. US News ranks HSU among the 50 best colleges and universities in the West; it’s ranked 12th among public schools. Perhaps best known for its community service work — students log more than 35,000 hours of volunteer work through service learning classes every year — Princeton Review ranks Humboldt on its list of 81 Colleges with a Conscience, as well as its Best Western Colleges. The 25:1 student-to-faculty ratio creates a rich, collaborative community that still offers personalized instruction and modestly sized classes: about a third have less than 20 students and only 13% have 50. About 80% of full-time undergrads receive some form of aid, and the average need met is 70%.
Humboldt’s BA in Social Work is designed to prepare students for entry-level generalist social work professionals. Students cover a wide range of social work area, including theory and practice, with multiple internships and field work placements. In particular, Humboldt’s program concentrates on Indigenous and rural communities to decolonize mainstream social work education practices. Ethics and critical thinking are emphasized, as well, specifically in the context of social work operations in schools, medical offices, child and adult protective services, mental health, legal work, and international aid to refugees and immigrants. All online courses are built for maximum flexibility, and accelerated 2-3 year tracks are available for interested students. The degree is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
- Tuition Per Credit: $319
5) Indiana Wesleyan University
Founded in 1920, Indiana Wesleyan University is a private, evangelical Christian university with a total enrollment of 3,200, including one of the fastest-growing online populations. IWU’s online school offers 80+ programs, including professional certificates and endorsements, is designed for adult learners, and provides a highly collaborative, intimate educational atmosphere that features a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Capped classes promote personal teacher-to-student interaction, and over 66% of classes have fewer than 20 students. Financial aid opportunities are available, as well: 77% of full-time undergrads receive some form of aid, and the average need met is over 90%. As a Christian university, IWU emphasizes religious components in core curricula; its mission is to promote lifestyles of “Commitment, Leadership, Service, Stewardship, Innovation and Diversity.”
Indiana Wesleyan’s Bachelor of Social Work features a variety of classes, including Sociology, Environment and Society, Minority Group Relations, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Social Welfare, Economics, Social Policy, and Statistics for Social Sciences, among others. From there, students complete three rounds of social work practicum tracks and a Field Placement or internship in a social service agency, which requires at least 400 hours in the field to graduate. Online courses are built for maximum flexibility, and IWU’s cohort model adds a peer-to-peer layer to the program, in addition to tailored instruction from expert faculty. For those interested, hybrid delivery tracks are available, as well. The program has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education for over 25 years.
- Tuition Per Credit: $398
6) Northern Arizona University
Founded in 1899, Northern Arizona University’s flagship campus is in Flagstaff, with a student body of approximately 20,000; further, the school’s Extended Campus, which includes online options and 30 satellite campuses throughout Arizona, serves an additional 7,000 students. As a leader in online education, NAU began offering online coursework in the 1990s and today has nearly 100 degrees across a broad spectrum of disciplines. NAU was also the first public university to offer competency-based credits, which awards academic credits toward relevant life and work experience. As part of that initiative, in 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the university with a $1 million grant to launch the Personalized Learning program, a dynamic educational platform that includes a customizable curriculum online at a self-paced schedule for a flat-fee of $5,000 per year.
Northern Arizona’s online bachelor’s in Social Work requires 60-61 major credits in a range of areas, including Policy, Research, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Information Technology Literacy, Crisis Intervention, Contemporary Topics in Social Work, and 15 credits of behavioral science. To gain hands-on experience, NAU dedicates 12 credits to field education, and general electives help customize the degree to areas of professional interest. (Students transferring into the program — up to 64 credits — may be able to waive elective and cognate course work.) Online classes allow for some self-paced work, and blended delivery options also offered, combining the flexibility and dynamism of online education with the traditional face-to-face classroom. NAU’s program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
- Tuition Per Credit: $208
7) Briar Cliff University
Briar Cliff University, founded in 1930, has a total enrollment of about 1,150. US News ranks the private Catholic school 30th in the Midwest region and places it 6th among best colleges for veterans. Following its Franciscan roots, Huntington promotes value-based curricula that support academic excellence, professional success, and a quality private life. Thanks to a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Briar Cliff maintains an intimate, collaborative educational community, and faculty provide tailored, hands-on instruction to fit individual students’ needs. Over 64% of classes have fewer than 20 students and just 2% have 50. For students interested in financial aid opportunities, you’re in luck: 84% of full-time undergraduates receive some form of financial assistance.
Briar Cliff’s online Bachelor of Social Work includes 47 credit hours of major course work: History and General Method of Social Work, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Digital Research for Academic Endeavors, Social Issues and Policy, and Community Organization, among others. (Online classes take place on a convenient, easy-to-use platform.) From there, students complete three work practice modules, with an emphasis on individuals, and field work exercises, which include visiting selected agencies, becoming familiar with agency expectations, interviewing, and finalizing field placement; the field internship itself requires 450 hours in the community. BCU has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since 1974.
- Tuition Per Credit: $399
8) Huntington University
Founded in 1897, Huntington University is a private Christian school in Indiana with a total enrollment of 1,300. US News ranks it among the top 15 schools in the region and places it 11th for overall value. The university’s 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio is a major advantage, keeping classes small and intimate to create a tight-knit learning community and promote one-on-one instruction. More than 70% of classes have fewer than 20 students and just 1% have 50. For students interested in financial aid opportunities, Huntington has a solid record: nearly 76% of full-time undergrads receive some form of aid, and the average need met is 80%.
Huntington’s BS in Social Work consists of 72 major credits, including Statistics for Managers, Macroeconomics, Public Policy, Interpersonal Relationships, Abnormal Psychology, Social Welfare Institutions, Minority Groups, Human Behavior & Social Environment, and more. Three social work practice tracks are required to gain hands-on experience, and all students complete an intercultural immersion requirement. The senior practicum and seminar is 12 credits. Accelerated course work is available to provide flexibility, and students with previous work experience can transfer credits into the program. Student services include tech support, student success center, enterprise resource center, and career services. The program is nationally accredited.
- Tuition Per Credit: $580
9) Touro University Worldwide
Touro University Worldwide is an online branch of the Touro University International system, established in 1998 as the first university in the world to offer a regionally accredited doctorate program online. All of Touro’s programs are designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate working professionals, adult learners, and the underserved. With a total enrollment of 1,100, Touro boasts an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which supports highly individualized instruction and one-on-one learning opportunities. It is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. 100% of students receive some form of financial aid.
Touro Worldwide offers a BA in Social Work that requires 51 major credits: Interviewing and Assessment, Social Welfare, Social Justice and Diversity, Ethics and Social Policy, Social Work Research, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Comparative Social Work, and Child Welfare Services, among others. With a major emphasis on experiential learning, Touro’s program incorporates a capstone, three practicum tracks, and three social work practices in individuals and families, groups, and communities and organizations. Upon completion of the degree, graduates will be able to utilize a an evidence-based approach across a wide range of occupations, including senior social worker, adoption social worker, medical social worker, case manager, classroom counselor, permanency specialist, support counselor, and more. Courses deliver in accelerated 8-week blocks, and limited class sizes increase student-to-teacher interaction. Flexibility means transfer credits, tailored scheduling, and part-time enrollment options.
- Tuition Per Credit: $400
10) Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Located in Natchitoches, Northwestern State University of Louisiana was founded in 1884. Today, US News ranks NSUL among the top Tier 2 schools in the country, and the student population lies just below 10,000. Northwestern State emphasizes student-oriented, responsive instruction that prepares student to become productive citizens and economic agents throughout the region. With a 20:1 student-to-faculty ratio, the university combines the vibrant, collaborative atmosphere of a large research university with classes that are small enough to promote personalized education. For those interested in financial aid, over 90% of full-time undergraduates receive some form of tuition assistance.
NSUL offers a Bachelor of Social Work with a variety of classes like Social Work as a Profession, Sociology, Economics of Social Work, Cultural Diversity, Contemporary Social Policy, Techniques of Interviewing, and Statistics in Social Research. Students complete three generalist practice courses and two field work experiences to develop valuable, real-world skills. In addition to being prepared for generalist social work and human services positions, graduates can enter the university’s Master of Social Work track on accelerated completion time. Online courses are designed for maximum flexibility, and student services include personalized academic counseling, career services, tech support, library assistance, and more. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
- Tuition Per Credit: $375