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11 key factors to consider when choosing an online clinical social work degree

Choosing an online clinical social work degree is no small decision, and there are plenty of things to consider before enrolling in school. Earning an online social work degree is more accessible, but knowing which option best suits your situation can still take work.

If you’re interested in learning more about the clinical field or want to work with clinical clients as part of your career, it’s crucial to understand what distinguishes one online degree from another.

That way, you can get the most from your education and choose the best program to suit your needs. Here are some key factors to consider when selecting an online clinical social work degree program that will help you make your decision confidently:

1. The importance of accreditation

Accreditation matters when finding a quality online clinical social work program. It is essential because there are a few misleading schools out there.

With that in mind, the last thing you want is to earn a degree from a school that doesn’t have your best interests at heart. In addition, some state laws might not allow someone with a non-accredited degree to become licensed as a clinical social worker.

Additionally, employers might be hesitant to hire someone with a non-accredited degree in the field of social work due to possible liability issues. For example, it would be an issue for a social worker that had no formal education in child development to handle a case involving children.

So, it’s really important to look for established institutions that offer accredited courses, such as the Keuka Online MSW Advanced Track program.

This program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). It provides students with the necessary knowledge to succeed in their chosen career path and offers flexible learning opportunities that accommodate various schedules.

2. Synchronous or asynchronous

For those considering online social work degrees, there are two different types of programs available: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous programs require you to log in at a specific time, while asynchronous programs allow you to complete the lessons on your own schedule.

Asynchronous programs are often cheaper because they do not require faculty interaction at specific times with students, but they may be more difficult for students without self-discipline. Synchronous programs provide more opportunities for student-faculty engagement and greater guidance from professors.

However, they can still be difficult for those who need help staying on task. If you have multiple commitments, choosing an asynchronous program that allows you more flexibility in completing coursework might make sense.

Also, choosing a synchronous program with live sessions with instructors might make sense if you’re looking for guidance. Whether you enroll in a synchronous or asynchronous program, find out what each program offers to know which will best meet your needs.

3. Hybrid/blended learning

Online degrees are only for some, and it is worth considering your learning style before deciding. Some students thrive in the classroom setting, while others can only focus with so many people around.

A hybrid degree is an excellent option because it provides you with the best of both worlds. You get the benefit of working at your own pace but still have access to face-to-face instruction when needed.

The drawback may be that you’ll need to travel occasionally depending on where the classes are offered. Remember that if you choose a blended program, the cost may be higher than traditional online programs due to lab fees or other expenses associated with hands-on learning.

Consider how long it will take to commute from one place to another. That way, you won’t feel like missing out on anything during class discussions.

If this program doesn’t suit your needs, a fully online degree might be better suited. With this format, you can watch lectures and complete assignments at your own pace, which means you will have more free time to enjoy life outside school.

4. Practicums or internships

Clinical social work is a very hands-on profession. This means that you’ll need clinical experience before you can be licensed.

Practicums or internships offer supervised clinical experience in addition to a degree program. Students can gain this experience through onsite placements at hospitals, clinics, and other organizations.

The best way to ensure the quality of practicum/internship sites is by asking for recommendations from your professors and counselors. Internship programs are also a great way to get out into the world and discover what it’s like to be a therapist.

For the best experience, you should seek out a program with supervised practicums or internships. Make sure to ask the school if they offer any of these opportunities and what they entail regarding training and hours.

You will also want to ensure that the site is near your hometown if you are required to travel for assignments. If you don’t have access to a placement site locally, consider online practicums where you could work remotely from home.

5. Program structure and length

The program structure is one of the most important considerations when choosing an online social work degree program. Online programs are generally divided into two categories: career-focused degrees and professional degrees.

Professional degrees require that you have previous experience or education in the field before enrolling in the program. Career-focused degrees allow you to apply for a degree if you don’t meet the requirements for a professional degree.

The decision should rely on what type of position you are looking for once you graduate with your clinical social work degree. These programs can last anywhere from one year up to four years, depending on your preference.

The time to complete a professional degree varies greatly but could take anywhere from three to five years. A career-focused degree may be more appropriate if you intend to enter private practice.

If you prefer to become licensed as a mental health professional within the government sector, then pursuing a professional degree may better suit your needs.

6. Coursework and concentrations

The curriculum and concentrations available will be different depending on the school. Ask yourself what type of clinical work you want to do.

Do you want a degree in social work or a more specialized degree, such as marriage and family therapy, gerontology, or addiction counseling? Do you want a degree focused on mental health or working with specific populations such as children, families, veterans, or those who have experienced trauma?

If you can answer these questions, you should find a program that offers these courses. You might only get some classes at once, but they are available if you search for them.

Also, you need to ensure that your program has enough time allocated for supervised clinical training hours. Some programs offer only four hours per week, while others offer up to 50 hours per week.

Supervised clinical training allows you to apply what you’ve learned during coursework in real-world situations. Your supervisors should be licensed clinical social workers who are skilled practitioners and trainers.

7. Field education requirements

All clinical social work degrees, whether online or on-campus, require student participation in field education experiences. These are supervised opportunities for students to apply and integrate skills learned in the classroom with real-world problems.

Field education experiences can last from a few hours to a year and may occur locally or internationally. The specific requirements of your school will depend on the type of degree you are pursuing and the educational philosophy of your program.

For example, some schools may provide structured supervision through internships, while others allow students to self-supervise their experience through mentorship programs.

You’ll want to determine how many credits your field education requirement will account for and where you will attend. Lastly, consider the number of placements available and the kind of supervision provided before deciding which school is best for you.

8. Student support services

Online schools offer various support services, such as academic advisors, tutoring and mentoring programs, career counseling, financial aid services, and disability services.

These services ensure that students are supported throughout their educational journey so they can obtain the best degree possible. In addition, these resources will provide a level of understanding of what it’s like to be a higher-education student.

For example, some online schools have virtual orientation sessions where new students learn about all aspects of university life, including academic, social, cultural, and civic.

Many online schools also have mobile apps which allow on-the-go access to coursework and other important school information. You should compare the features and benefits of each program to see which will best meet your needs.

It is advisable to ask questions before enrolling to acquaint yourself with the learning structure better.

9. Job placement services

In any career or educational path, you want to ensure there is a viable plan for success by the end of your study period. For that reason, when selecting an online social work degree program, it is crucial to find one that offers comprehensive job placement services and support.

A good program will provide access to employment agencies, specialized recruiters, and alum networks who can help get your resumé noticed in the field. In addition, some programs offer salary negotiation workshops, so you know what to ask for when negotiating with employers.

These services are invaluable if they’re part of your school’s curriculum. For instance, the Keuka Online MSW Advanced Track program offers opportunities for students to acquire placement services provided in their regions.

Such opportunities ensure that graduates have the necessary tools to pursue their career goals from day one, not only through earning an online clinical social work degree.

10. Academic reputation

Academic reputation refers to the degree of excellence the program achieves regarding a school’s curriculum, faculty, resources, and facilities. Reputation is closely linked to accreditation, which helps establish that the degree you receive will be recognized and respected by employers.

All online CSWE-accredited programs have undergone rigorous review by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Ideally, you want a college or university with a nationally recognized name that has a long-standing presence in your desired field.

However, it’s also essential to consider the size of the institution. A large university may offer more opportunities for research and hands-on experience through internships.

It may also carry a heavier workload for students completing their degrees online. Smaller institutions may provide fewer internship opportunities, but they often offer small classes and personalized attention from professors.

As long as you can find a program that meets all of your needs, including those related to academic quality and convenience, the choice should come down to personal preference. However, choosing an academically reputable institution should always be one of your top priorities.

11. Applicable technology during study

When looking for the right online clinical social work degree, it is vital to find a program backed by qualified educators and cutting-edge technology. Regarding technology, there are many options in terms of computer systems for you to use during your education.

While you need Wi-Fi access from a computer system, tablet, or smartphone, some programs allow offline study. That way, you can keep learning even when traveling or without access to the internet.

It would be best if you also looked for a school that allows you to communicate directly with teachers or professors via email or phone when needed. Lastly, ensure the school offers support services such as tutoring and supplemental instruction, which are critical components of any successful educational experience.

When you can leverage all this in your online social work degree, you will be armed with more knowledge than those lacking these features. The key to success is ensuring you have all the necessary tools from the school and yourself.

Final thoughts

Choosing the right online social work program can be challenging, but it’s also one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your career. Online degree programs are great for those who don’t have time for traditional on-campus courses.

These programs are more flexible and allow students to learn independently. When choosing one, think about your budget, specific geographic location, and what kind of social work degree is best for your career goals.

Whether you want to focus on mental health, drug addiction, family counseling or group therapy, an online accredited school will always be waiting for you.

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