Since 1952, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has developed and implemented practices, programs, and procedures to ensure that the highest quality social work education is provided across hundreds of higher education institutions.

As the leader in social work education across the United States, the CSWE strives to educate and support the most qualified social workers so that they may practice in a way that is ethical, empowering, and dedicated to the well-being of society at large.

Since its origin, the CSWE has granted accreditation to hundreds of Bachelors and Masters level social work institutions across the country, including those that are in-person and online. Attending one of these institutions is a crucial step in becoming a qualified social worker, as the standards upheld by an accredited program align with the values and ethics of the social work profession.

What is CSWE Accreditation?

CSWE Accreditation is a specific set of expectations and standards that institutions are required to uphold. These standards include specific requirements regarding staff training, courses offered, and parameters around field education.

Institutions that are accredited by the CSWE are expected to provide students with coursework and field experiences that meet the 9 core competencies of the social work profession, as described by the CSWE :

  1. Maintaining professional and ethical behavior
  2. Engage in Diversity and Difference in Practice
  3. Advance Human Rights
  4. Engage in Practice-Informed Research and Research-Informed Practice
  5. Engage in Policy Practice
  6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  7. Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  9. Evaluate Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities.

Why the CSWE?

The CSWE is an important organization within the social work profession because it ensures that social workers are provided with the most up-to-date education and tools used to deliver optimal clinical social work practice and resources to engage in effective policy practice.

What Does the CSWE Do?

The primary purpose of the CSWE is to create and implement a variety of initiatives and programs that promote optimal social work education, both through higher education and professional development.

Additionally, the CSWE creates and shares educational resources on a variety of topics, such as assessment tools and curriculum guides, for both students and staff to utilize.

Finally, the CSWE collaborates with other social work agencies, organizations, and institutions to engage in policy work and advocacy.

Why Consider a CSWE Accredited MSW Program?

Earning an MSW from a CSWE Accredited Program is important because the accreditation serves as a confirmation that the program meets specific standards that influence quality social work practice, which deems its graduates acceptable candidates as social workers.

Top 5 Online MSW Programs that are CSWE Accredited

MSW programs provide students with the skills required to engage in clinical and policy practice in the social work field. This is accomplished through coursework and direct field practice.

Currently, there are 288 MSW programs that are accredited by the CSWE. This includes in-person, online, and hybrid style programs (both in-person and online).

There are numerous online MSW programs that are accredited by the CSWE, some of the top 5 CSWE Accredited MSW online programs:

University of Southern California (Online)

As one of the top social work schools in the country, the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work began offering a CSWE accredited online MSW program in 2010.

Multiple program length options to choose from

This online program offers multiple program lengths, types, and focuses that allow for anyone to earn their MSW from wherever they are located within the United States. Applicants are able to choose between full-time or part-time, which provides flexibility and increases opportunity for anyone to apply.

Traditional and an Advanced Standing track for those with a BSW already

This online program also offers two types of programs tracks: the Traditional, which entails completing a minimum of 60 credits, or the Advanced Standing, which is designed for those who hold a BSW degree from a CSWE accredited undergraduate institution. This specific program type is accelerated and allows for students to complete their MSW in approximately one year. Both program types involve the completion of a 1000 hour-long field placement overseen by a current licensed social worker.

The option to select a study focus concentration

Other highlights of this program include the opportunity to select a study focus, such as adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; and social changes and innovation. Students can also pick career focuses, such as military social work or school social work.

Dual degree option

Finally, this program offers students the opportunity to earn Dual-Degrees in areas of study such as Law, Public Health, and Business.

Courses You Might Take

In addition to being able to complete an MSW degree from anywhere within the United States, students also experience the same program requirements and courses as students earning their degree on campus.

The specific course load completed during the program varies, depending on program type and area of study.

Foundational courses for the traditional track

For those enrolled in the traditional track, foundation courses may be offered during the first semester, such as Human Behavior in the Social Environment; Social Work Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups; and Policy and Advocacy in Professional Social Work. These courses provide a brief overview of the populations served in the field, basic practice skills, and the important values and ethics of the social work profession.

Clinical and advanced coursework after the foundational coursework is completed

More clinically advanced courses are offered after the completion of foundation courses, which include Psychopathology and Diagnosis of Mental Disorders (for the Adult Mental Health Track), Social Work Practice in Early Care and Education Settings (for Children, Youth, and Families Track), and Community Practice for Social Change (Social Change and Innovation Track).

There is a requirement for field study

In addition to coursework, students are also required to engage in regular field practice at a social service agency. Placements range from hospital and medical settings to schools to criminal justice centers. Students completing the online program are able to work with the field education department for support in securing a placement where they live.

Admissions Standards and Requirements for this Program

In order to be considered for this program, applicants must hold a Bachelor’s degree (a major in social work is not required).

This program requires 5 additional application components to be submitted to the Admissions Office in order to be considered, which are:

  • The online application (which can be located on the University of Southern California School
    of Social Work website
    ).
  • Copy of resume, which can be uploaded with the application (TIP: descriptions of any/ all social work related experiences is recommended).
  • Statement of Purpose, which asks applicants to describe why admission to and completion of the MSW program is desired.
  • At least 3 letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts send to the Admissions office.

The application deadlines for each program/track type vary, but can be located on the University of Southern California School of Social Work website.

Columbia University School of Social Work

The School of Social Work at Columbia University is renowned for being one of the best social work programs in the country. Students from across the country are able to obtain an MSW degree from an Ivy League institution without needing to relocate to New York City.

This program is unique due to the numerous programs, specializations, and minor/dual degree options available to students.

The programs that students can choose from are:

  • Two-Year (Full-Time): This program entails two days per week of classes and three days per week of field placement. This program can be completed in four semesters.
  • Advanced Standing: This program is for students who have earned a BSW from a CSWE accredited institution within the last 5 years of applying to Columbia. Students can earn their MSW in one year (if full-time status).
  • Extended: This program aims to support students who are juggling numerous additional obligations, such as a full-time job and families. Students can complete their MSW degrees at a slower pace, allowing students to complete the program in three or four years.
  • Reduced Residency: This program is for students who have previously acquired at least two years of employment experience at a social service agency. This program entails completing coursework on a part-time basis for 3 years, with a reduced field placement requirement in the third year.
  • Transfer: This unique program is for students who have previously completed at least one year of the MSW degree at another accredited institution within five years of applying to Columbia. These students can complete their degrees in one year.

The Columbia University School of Social Work also provides students the opportunity to choose
between 4 concentrations and 3 fields of practice.

Concentrations include:

  • Advanced Clinical Social Work Practice
  • Advanced Generalist Practice and Programming
  • Policy Practice
  • Social Enterprise Administration

Fields of Practice are:

  • Contemporary Social Issues
  • Health, Mental Health, & Disabilities
  • Family, Youth, & Children

Students can also earn a Dual-Degree in areas such as Theology, Law, and Education.

Courses You May Take

As required by the CSWE, students must complete courses in human behavior, research, social welfare policy, field education, and social work practice. These courses are typically completed during the first semester (Advanced Standing, Reduced Residency, and Transfer may be exempt).

Below are examples of course descriptions for both foundation courses and advanced courses:

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment: students are required to take two courses regarding human behavior. These courses focus on how societal systems and a person’s specific environment influence the way an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. This includes current world events, government policy, and systems of oppression.
  • Social Work Research: as a core competency of the social work profession, developing the skills needed to conduct empirical research and how to utilize research to inform practice is essential. Courses in social work research focus on both qualitative and quantitive research modalities, as well as comprehensive discussions regarding how to interpret and apply core findings to practice with individuals, families, groups, and communities. Students have the opportunity to test out of taking these courses by an exam provided by the School of Social Work.
  • Advanced Clinical Practice in a Field of Practice: This course is for students enrolled in the clinical track and are completing their field placements simultaneously. This course focuses on a wide range of clinical assessment and intervention tools that can be utilized with a variety of populations. Students also have the opportunity to implement the theoretical frameworks learned in foundation courses to clinical practice.

For more information regarding curriculum and course descriptions, visit their website.

Admissions Standards and Requirements for this Program

Basic eligibility criteria for admission into the Columbia University School of Social Work are:

  • a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution (social work major not required)
  • a strong academic background
  • a dedication to the social work profession

In order to apply, the completion of the following is required:

  • confirmation of platform, program, and specialization
  • online application and fee
  • resume
  • 3 written essays regarding previous professional experience and motivation to earn an MSW degree
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • official transcript from undergraduate institution

Applicants for programs such as Advanced Standing and Reduced Residency may have additional requirements for admission into the program. Specific requirements can be found on the Columbia University School of Social Work website.

Finally, in order to successfully complete this program, students are expected to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA or higher, complete all required courses, and the specific field education requirement for the specific track. Traditional (two-year) students are required to complete 1200 field hours, advanced standing and transfer students must complete 600 hours, and reduced residency students are required to complete 900 hours.

University of South Florida

The MSW online program through the University of South Florida is a unique program in many ways. First, this program utilizes a cohort model, which allows for students to engage in significant relationship building throughout the completion of the program.

This program is also unique in that both the foundation and advanced standing tracks are offered 100% online.

Finally, this program requires that students complete a variety of courses and projects that allow for a rich and diverse learning experience.

Students can choose to complete the traditional online program, which is approximately 60 credit hours, either full-time or part-time, with the full-time track being 4 semesters long and the part-time track being 8 semesters long. Students in the advanced standing online track are required to complete at least 35 credit hours and can be completed in as little as one year.

The field education requirement mandates that foundation track students complete 13 credit hours and advanced standing students complete 8 hours.

While this program is more flexible than programs offered on campus, students entering the program must commit to attending online classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30pm- 8:45pm. Students must also commit to completing approximately 15 hours of field credit per week.

Courses You May Take

Students will take a combination of foundation, core, advanced, and field courses, as mandated by the CSWE. Students are also expected to take at least 9 credits of elective courses (6 credits for Advanced Standing students).

Foundation courses include Foundations in Human Behavior, Foundations in Social Welfare Policy, and Diversity and Social Justice. The required core courses are Psychopathology and Health, Illness, and Disability. Advanced-Level Courses include Social Work practice with Individuals, Social Work practice with Couples and Families, and Social Work Practice with Groups. The field courses and field work are completed simultaneously.

Admissions Standards and Requirements for this Program

In order to be eligible for this program, applicants must meet the following criteria/ submit the following information with their application:

  • University of South Florida School of Social Work Application
  • One 500-word personal statement and one 500-word essay on a current social problem of the applicant’s choice
  • a minimum of liberal arts 12 credits
  • completion of a liberal arts undergraduate degree
  • a copy of undergraduate transcripts
  • OPTIONAL: GRE, field experience, BSW, and/or and admissions interview

Applications are submitted to and reviewed by the Graduate Admissions Office and the School of Social Work. In order to graduate, students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 for the entire program.

Boston University’s Online MSW

Boston University’s Online MSW program allows students from across the United States to earn an MSW remotely on a part-time basis. Basic requirements of this program are the completion of required courses, attending weekly Live Classroom meetings (Sundays or Mondays), and engaging in 1 or 2 field placements.

Students have the opportunity to select either a clinical or macro focus and one of 3 track options (Traditional, Advanced Standing, or Human Services).

  • The Traditional Track can be completed in 3 years and requires 65 credits of coursework and 2 field placements.
  • The Advanced Standing Track is available to students who have completed a BSW program accredited by the CSWE within the last 5 years of applying to BU. Students can complete this program in 2 years and are required to complete at least 40 credits of coursework and 1 field placement.
  • The Human Service Track is for students who have at least 2 years of employment experience in a human service agency. Students are required to complete 65 credits of coursework and 1 field placement over 3 years.

Courses You May Take

Students are required by the CSWE to complete foundation courses in the first semester of the program (Advanced Standing students are exempt from these). These include social welfare policy, research methods, and human behavior in the social environment.

Clinical Track: students are required to complete an introductory course before enrolling in advanced clinical courses, typically during the first field placement. Students are also mandated to complete three foundation clinical courses, which are:

  • Clinical Practice with Individuals
  • Clinical Practice with Groups
  • Clinical Practice with Families

Additional elective courses that students in the clinical track may take include Family Therapy, Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment, and Substance Use Disorders.

Admissions Requirements and Standards for this Program

In order to be considered for this program, students must submit the following materials to
the Admissions Office:

  • Application fee ($95)
  • Resume
  • Official Transcripts
  • Personal Statement (3-4 essay)
  • 3 letters of recommendation

The application deadline for the online program may vary from the on-campus and hybrid programs through Boston University School of Social Work. Specific dates and other information is available on the Boston University School of Social Work website.

University of Central Florida

The online MSW program at the University of Central Florida is a cohort-style program that offers students with or without a Bachelors in Social Work the opportunity to develop the competencies needed to engage in ethical social work practice in a flexible manner.

There are 2 tracks available:

  1. Part-time
  2. Part-time Advanced Standing

The Part-time track is for students without a Bachelors in Social Work. Students are able to complete the program in approximately 3 years.

The Part-Time Advanced Standing Track is for students who have earned a BSW from a CSWE accredited institution within 6 years of applying to the program and maintained at least a 3.3 GPA during the program. This program can be completed in approximately 2 years.

Course You May Take

Examples of courses offered include:

  • Diversity: this course focuses on different social groups, systems of oppression, and the impacts of discrimination on minority groups.
  • Clinical Practice with Individuals: this clinical course allows students to learn and implement a multitude of theoretical frameworks, assessment tools, and interventions to use when working with individuals in a therapeutic context.
  • Clinical Practice with Families: students learn assessment, interventions, and best- practice techniques when working with families in a therapeutic setting.

Admissions Requirements and Standards for this Program

The University of Central Florida Online provides applicants with support and resources while applying for entry into graduate programs.

The Admissions office recommends that applicants speak with an assigned coach to ensure that the online program is the appropriate fit. Next, applicants can submit all required documents to the admissions office for approval.

IMPORTANT: applicants from Nebraska are not eligible to complete this program due to licensing requirements.

History of the CSWE

The origin of the CSWE dates back to 1898 when numerous social work training schools were established in major cities across the country.

Groups such as the American Association of Schools of Social Work (AASSW) and the National Association of Schools of Social Administration (NASSA) introduced the accreditation concept in hopes of identifying the most elite and specialist programs to train social workers. These groups collaborated to develop the National Council on Social Work Education, which focused on developing standards for social work education.

The CSWE was created years later as a way to combine the goals and missions of each of these organizations into 1 comprehensive organization.

Governance of the CSWE

The CSWE is governed by Board of Directors who are elected by CSWE members to serve 3-year long terms. The board is representative of CSWE members across various racial/ethnic groups, and roles within the social work profession.

In addition to the Board of Directors, members of the CSWE serve on an array of commissions and sub-councils within the CSWE. These commission and sub-councils include:

  • Commission on Accreditation
  • Commission for Diversity and Social and Economic Justice
  • Commission on Educational Policy
  • Commission on Global Social Work Education
  • Commission on Research
  • Council on Global Social Issues
  • Council on Field Education

Mission of the CSWE

The CSWE seeks to ensure the highest quality of social work education that advocates for societal well-being and social justice. According to the CSWE, their written mission statement is:

“To advance excellence and innovation in social work education and research by providing
leadership, ensuring quality in teaching and learning, and strengthening the capacity of our
member institutions.”

What Is the Plan for the CSWE?

For 2020, the Plan for the CSWE is to continue to ensure that social workers are receiving the highest quality education that advances social justice and advocates for societal well-being.

What Are the Goals of the CSWE?

The CSWE aims to meet 5 specific goals for 2020, which are:

  1. Provide leadership for the future of social work education
  2. Promote quality teaching, learning, and scholarship to prepare graduates for the future of
    social work practice.
  3. Support the career development of students, faculty members and administrators
  4. Foster a diverse, interconnected, and inclusive community of social work education
  5. Ensure CSWE provides exceptional value to its members and member institutions

How Do Schools / Programs Become a CSWE Member?

In order for a School/Program to become accredited by the CSWE, the program must complete an extensive approval process that includes submission of letters of intent, curriculum that adheres to all social work competencies and site visits.

Programs can also become members of the CSWE. In order to become a member, the institution must pay yearly dues that are adjusted based on the size of the program for each given year.

Statistics to Know About the CSWE

One significant practice of the CSWE is engaging in research to inform social work education and practice. The CSWE conducts research regularly to better understand the needs of students, educators, and practitioners.

Recently, the CSWE completed a survey to understand the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on social work education across the United States.

The CSWE also published findings from the 2018 Annual Survey, which aims to identify social trends in order to continue to improve social work education.

Complete findings and statistics of these two studies can be found here.