If you're considering a career in social work, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that jobs in this field are on the rise, with a projected 25 percent increase in overall positions between 2010 and 2020. While some entry-level positions will accept a bachelor's degree, earning a master's is often necessary to receive state licensure as a clinical social worker. Earning your Master of Social Work online provides a flexible option for professionals who want a graduate education but may have other work or family obligations.

Acceptable Accreditation

Before paying for an online program, make sure that the educational institution has the proper accreditation that you'll need for future employers to take your MSW seriously. A graduate degree from an unaccredited online school may limit your job prospects or make you ineligible to apply for state licensure. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation warns students to keep a watchful eye out for fraudulent schools that have realistic looking web pages, but no accreditation or credentials to back up their programs. Look for accreditation from an agency such as the Council on Social Work Education, showing that the school meets strict social work education standards. For example, the University of New England's MSW program notes on its home page that the program is CSWE accredited.

Brick and Mortar to Virtual Learning

Not all online schools are completely virtual programs. Some traditional universities -- that is, brick-and-mortar schools -- offer web-based MSW degrees similar to their in-class programs. For example, the University of Southern California's School of Social Work has an online MSW option. Students from around the country can apply for admission and take a curriculum that is akin to the on-campus course load. Likewise, Boston University has an online MSW program, featuring the university's social work curriculum in a virtual learning format.

Field Work

Although you'll receive your course content online, a virtual MSW program may also include a hands-on field work component. For example, USC's online MSW degree requires students to take a supervised field placement course. This type of class provides social work students with the chance to work in a real-life environment, interacting with families, groups or individuals in a social services setting. Additionally, the field placement gives students the chance to take what they are learning online and put it into practice while still receiving feedback and supervision from a professor or professional mentor.

Course Load

An accredited online MSW program will provide you with a similar course load as you would take at a traditional academic institution. For example, BU's online MSW program features a curriculum that includes classes on social welfare policy, human behavior, social work research and communities and organizations. Additionally, an online program may feature higher-level or more focused courses for students who have completed intro courses. USC's virtual MSW allows upper-level students to take specialized courses in a single area of concentration, such as community organization, planning and administration, families and children, mental health or social work and business.

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