Online MSW Degree Programs in California

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Selecting from the available California social work master’s programs online can be a daunting task. Online education and distance learning has become a popular option for students seeking to advance their social work careers and make a meaningful impact in their communities.

The flexibility of online MSW programs in California lets students balance their studies with work and family commitments, choose accredited social work master’s programs that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and tailor their study plan to fit their unique needs.

Whether studying full time or part time, focusing on generalized practice or a specialty area, or planning to practice in California or another region of the United States, online students in California social work master’s programs benefit from some of the best educational experiences in the country.

The Advantages of Online MSW Programs in California

Online MSW programs in California offer several distinct advantages that make them an attractive choice for both working professionals and recent graduates. Benefits of online and hybrid MSW programs include convenience and flexibility as well as choice and opportunity.


Online MSW programs allow students to create a flexible schedule that fits their needs. This is especially beneficial for those who are already working in the field or have family responsibilities.


California is a vast state with diverse communities. Online programs provide access to top-tier education without the need to relocate to major cities, making it easier for students from all regions to pursue their MSW degrees.


Many online programs eliminate the need for commuting and on-campus housing, helping students save on overall expenses.

It’s important to note that some programs will require some on-campus visits or hybrid learning modes (a combination of online learning and campus instruction), whether for orientation at the start of the program only or throughout the length of the program.

For example, Cal Poly Humboldt’s program states: “All students who accept admission to the DL Social Work program are required to travel to campus for orientation at the beginning of their program and for up to four days each January that they wish to maintain their status in the program.”

Be sure you are clear about all the requirements before enrolling in a program.

Online MSW Pathway to Social Work Licensure

Online MSW programs in California will prepare you for the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical Examination for licensure, which is required for professionals who plan to work as an independent clinical social worker in California.

Keep in mind that each state regulates its licensing requirements for social workers, therefore, reciprocity, or the ability to practice in states other than California, depends on the other state’s rules.

Currently, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is working toward the Interstate Compact for Social Workers with its recent Social Work Interstate Compact Model Bill, which requires applicants for a multistate license to “attain at least a master’s degree in social work from a program that is accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).”

The goal of the compact is to allow social workers to provide services in multiple states while protecting public safety.

In a February 2023 press release, Anthony Estreet, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers, stated, “Our nation is contending with a shortage of mental health providers and an interstate compact will allow for practice mobility and remove barriers preventing social workers from providing care in multiple states, especially in areas that are underserved, geographically isolated, or lack specialty care.”

Because the high-quality online MSW programs in California are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which is recognized by CHEA, graduates of these programs will meet the degree requirements to obtain a multistate license under the interstate compact should they choose to relocate. While California is currently not a member of the interstate compact, a degree from a CSWE-accredited institution will enable graduates to proceed through the multistate compact licensing requirements separately.

Accredited Online MSW Programs in California

Accreditation ensures that the program meets high standards of education and prepares students for successful social work careers. Furthermore, the NASW requires that members hold a degree from an accredited MSW program, and the social work licensing laws in most states require that practitioners hold a degree from a CSWE-accredited program.

Accredited programs offer full-time, part-time, advanced standing, and other plans of study. Advanced standing programs are designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE-accredited program.

According to the Council of Social Work Education, 13 online MSW programs in California are fully accredited at this time.

CSWE-Accredited Online MSW Programs in California and Study Plans

Additionally, Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena and Alliant International University with campuses in Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Irvine both have online MSW degree programs that are currently pending accreditation and should be fully accredited within two years.

Specializations, Dual Degrees, and Graduate Certificates

You may also want to consider an online MSW program that offers specialized practice training, certification in a particular area, or dual degree options.

The University of Southern California’s online Master of Social Work, for example, offers all three. Students can pursue dual degrees in:

USC’s program offers specialized practice areas, including:

Graduate certificates offered by USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work include:

Not all courses and formats are offered in every term, and dual-degree options require acceptance into both programs, so it’s important that you contact your chosen program for detailed information to confirm that it is right for you and your educational and career goals.

California MSW Hybrid Distance Learning Options

Some programs offer hybrid formats for graduate students. These programs may include some on-campus instruction or synchronous participation, albeit virtually, at the times for which the class is scheduled.

For example, California State University’s Distance Education Master of Social Work, with locations in Sonoma County and Ventura County, is a three-year program with a specialization in Child and Family Wellbeing that requires 60 semester units of coursework and 1,000 hours of field Internship. Courses are held on Saturdays via interactive television (ITV), and students have access to online CSULB resources and local site coordinators who attend all classes.

San Jose State University also offers an online/hybrid MSW program. Students in this program must be able to study in California and complete their internships in California. SJSU’s program offers two options:

Admission Requirements for Online MSW Programs in California

Each online MSW program in California may have slightly different admission requirements, but some common prerequisites include:

All online and hybrid MSW programs will expect students to be ambitious, possess strong time management and organizational skills, thrive when working independently, and be comfortable with technology.

Career Opportunities with an Online MSW Degree in California

Earning an MSW degree opens up a wide range of career opportunities in California, where social workers are in high demand. Potential career paths include:

As of September 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of social workers will grow 7 percent from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations, with a rough average of 63,800 openings for social workers each year over the decade.

Pursuing an online MSW degree in California is a strategic step toward a rewarding career in social work. With the flexibility and accessibility offered by online programs, California students can prepare for the ASWB Clinical Examination for licensure to obtain their licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) license and advance their social work careers and make a positive difference to people in local communities and beyond.