Social workers help vulnerable populations access community resources, counsel couples on relationship issues, or support children dealing with bullying at school. The type of social work they do depends on their specialization.
Social workers may also diagnose and treat disorders. Many social work jobs require a master of social work (MSW) and professional licensure.
Graduates with an MSW can work as clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and community service managers. They can also pursue careers as social policy advocates, social welfare researchers, and social program administrators.
See the top master of social work programs offered today.
What Is a Master of Social Work Degree?
"An MSW degree program trains students about social work practice, social welfare research, and social work theory."
An MSW degree trains students about social work practice, social welfare research, and social work theory. Learners study counseling approaches, cognitive treatment methods, clinical assessment, and social welfare planning. Students also complete fieldwork requirements to gain hands-on experience in a social work setting.
Many social work programs offer concentrations that allow students to tailor their degree to their goals and interests. Common concentrations include:
- Child and family social work.
- School social work.
- Healthcare social work.
- Community and social systems.
- Social policy.
- Social work administration.
Students typically complete an MSW program in two years of full-time study, but some programs take less time to complete. For example, incoming students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) may be able to graduate from an MSW program in as little as one year.
Featured Online MSW Programs
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master of Social Work?
During an online MSW program, students typically complete online courses and in-person field work at an approved site in their community. Some online programs incorporate set meeting times to encourage collaboration, while others operate without set log-in times.
The flexibility of online school allows students to balance their studies with their personal and professional life. Online learning also lets students attend top programs across the country without relocating.
Accreditation for Social Work Degree Programs
Students must attend an MSW program that holds programmatic accreditation to meet social work licensure requirements. Many employers only hire candidates with an accredited degree. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits MSW programs. The council reviews MSW programs based on their curricula, field experience requirements, and faculty qualifications. Programs must undergo regular reviews to maintain their accreditation status.
MSW Advanced Standing Students
Students with a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program may receive advanced standing in an MSW program. Advanced standing status typically allows students to bypass some foundational coursework, expediting graduation by as much as one year.
Master of Social Work Practicum
MSW programs incorporate field work requirements to teach students the practical skills necessary for social work jobs. A practicum represents a core component of social work training and helps meet social work licensure requirements. During a social work practicum, students strengthen their clinical skills through community-based placements. Graduate students observe practitioners and complete hands-on training under supervision.
The number of required practicum hours varies by program. Most programs require at least 600 hours of field education. This field work often includes specialized training in the student's focus area.
The Best Master of Social Work Programs
Founded in 1911, Fresno State now offers more than 45 graduate programs, including a master's in social work (MSW). The 60-credit MSW degree includes courses in human behavior and advanced practice with various demographics. Enrollees also complete two nine-month internships during their studies.
The MSW program starts in the fall and runs for 2-3 years, depending on full-time or part-time status. For admission, an applicant needs a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 2.75, along with prerequisite courses in research methods, development, and diversity.
Since its founding in 1967, CSUB has developed more than 20 master's programs, including a master's in social work (MSW). The 60-credit MSW degree includes topics in diagnostic processes and social work identity, along with 960 hours of practicum experience. Students can choose concentrations in mental health, gerontology, or child and family services.
Students at CSUB can study full or part time, starting in the fall and completing their degrees in 2-3 years.
IU was founded in 1820 and later became the flagship school of the Indiana University system. Today, IU offers more than 400 graduate certificates and programs, including a master's in social work (MSW). The 60-credit MSW degree offers training in social policy analysis and includes a practicum, along with a clinical and community practice concentration.
IU's MSW program typically begins in the summer and runs for two years. Second-year students can complete some classes online in an asynchronous format. For admission, applicants need a bachelor's in social work that they completed within ten years of applying.
Founded in 1883, UT Austin now enrolls more than 8,000 graduate students, including in programs like its master's in social work (MSW). The MSW degree comprises 60 credits, requires 1,000 hours of a supervised practicum, and offers concentrations in administration and policy practice and clinical social work.
While most students complete the program in 2-3 years, some graduate from the UT Austin program in one year by starting in the summer and taking a full course load in each of the three semesters.
Since its founding in 1947, Cal State LA has grown to enroll more than 26,000 students in over 100 programs. In the social work master's program (MSW), students prepare for state certification and licensure. The 60-credit MSW degree includes courses in community organizing and social justice in social work, along with an extensive field practicum.
Enrollees typically complete the Cal State LA MSW program in 2-3 years. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA for admission. A candidate with a bachelor's in social work may qualify for the one-year advanced standing program.
UConn was founded in 1881 and now offers more than 17 graduate degrees. Its master's in social work (MSW) degree is the longest-running MSW in the state, offering concentrations in community organization; policy practice; and individuals, families, and groups. The program typically takes 2-4 years to complete and includes 18 practicum credits.
For admission, applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Advanced standing may be granted for candidates with bachelor's degrees in social work.
Founded in 1841, Samford is one of the oldest universities in the country. It offers more than 70 graduate programs, including a master's in social work (MSW). This MSW degree offers an advanced clinical practice concentration, and learners can choose from over 150 field sites to complete their practicum requirements.
Enrollees typically complete the Samford MSW program in 2-3 years, with classes beginning in the fall. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA for entry. Candidates with a social work bachelor's degree may qualify for the one-year advanced standing program.
Since its founding in 1870, CSU has grown to offer more than 130 master's programs, with many available through online learning, such as its master's in social work (MSW). Students in the 64-credit MSW degree can study on campus or combine online learning with in-person training on the weekends.
CSU's MSW program typically starts in the fall and runs for 2-3 years, though advanced standing enrollees can begin in the summer and finish in less than one year. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates with bachelor's degrees in social work may qualify for advanced standing.
Established in 1890, SSU is among the oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Georgia. It offers five master's programs, including a master's in social work (MSW). The 60-credit MSW degree offers concentrations in clinical social work and social administration, plus a 1000-hour field practicum.
SSU's MSW program begins in the fall and most learners graduate within 2-3 years, though advanced standing students can finish sooner. Aapplicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.8 GPA for admission.
Founded in 1895, UTA is the largest school in North Texas, running more than 185 programs at various educational levels. In its master's in social work (MSW) program, students can concentrate in direct practice or community and administrative practice. Direct practice offers specializations in aging, health, mental health, and children and families.
UTA 61-credit MSW degree offers both on-campus and online study options. For admission, applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students on the direct practice pathway can also complete a nine-credit certificate in administration.
Founded in 1923, TTU offers more than 100 programs for graduate students. Its master's in social work (MSW) requires 59 credits and a 900-hour clinical practicum. The training includes courses in diverse populations and social welfare policy.
At TTU, MSW applicants must have earned a bachelor's degree within the last five years. Most students complete the program within 2-3 years, though some may receive advanced standing and finish sooner. Graduates qualify to take the National Certification Examination.
WVU was founded in 1867 and now offers more than 140 programs, including at the master's level. The social work master's program (MSW) requires completion of 60 credits in courses like professional identity and assessment and diagnosis, plus two internships.
Students in the WVU MSW degree can choose between full-time or part-time study, with online learning available for part-time learners who begin in the fall. Advanced standing students can complete their degrees in two years, but they need bachelor's degrees in social work for admission.
Since its founding in 1898, DePaul has grown to offer more than 300 programs and enroll nearly 8,000 graduate students annually. In its master's in social work (MSW) program, learners choose between community practice and forensic social work concentrations to complete their degrees in 2-4 years, including over 1,000 hours of clinical practice.
DePaul's 99-credit MSW degree runs regular classes during afternoons and evenings, while practicum sessions typically occur throughout the day. For admission, applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.7 GPA.
Established in 1864, Gallaudet University offers more than 35 undergraduate and 20 master's programs. The 61-credit master's in social work (MSW) features more than 1,000 hours of clinical practice, which typically occurr during two eight-hour days each week. Learners can also concentrate in deaf and hard-of-hearing populations.
The MSW degree at Gallaudet University runs through fall and spring semesters for 2-3 years on full-time or part-time schedules. Candidates need a bachelor's degree and a 3.0 GPA at minimum for admission.
As the flagship and largest school in the University of Hawai'i System, UH Mānoa boasts more than 200 programs and over 18,000 students annually. In the master's in social work (MSW) program, each learner completes at least 57 credits and 900 hours of field education. They can also take an advanced practice concentration to explore gerontology, health, behavioral-mental health, or child and family studies.
For entry into the UH Mānoa MSW degree, applicants need a bachelor's degree and a 3.0 GPA at minimum.
YSU enrolls more than 12,000 students and boasts over 40 graduate programs. Its 60-credit master's in social work (MSW) covers business skills for social workers and trauma-informed practices, plus more than 1,000 practicum hours.
YSU's MSW degree typically takes 2-4 years to complete, and candidates need a bachelor's degree and a 3.0 GPA for admission. The program promotes a social justice perspective in social work, teaching students how to work equitably with diverse populations.
WCU enrolls more than 1,600 graduate students in over 40 programs every year, including in its 62-credit master's in social work (MSW) program. Students in the MSW degree can focus on integrative healthcare or substance abuse studies. All enrollees must complete a minimum of 960 practicum hours.
Most students complete the MSW program in 2-4 years, although advanced standing students with a bachelor's in social work may graduate in one year. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.85 for admission.
Founded in 1804, OU was the first public university in Ohio. Today, it runs more than 250 programs, including a master's in social work (MSW). In this MSW degree, students focus their work on rural families and communities, taking classes either on campus or online.
Enrollees can begin OU's MSW program in the fall and graduate in 1-4 years, depending on their course load and background. Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 for admission.
Temple was founded in 1884. Today, it enrolls more than 40,000 students and offers more than 500 programs. Its 60-credit master's in social work (MSW) program offers concentrations in macro practice in organizations and clinical practice with individuals and families.
Students can enroll in the Temple MSW degree either full time or part time, with online learning available for part-time studies. The online MSW program features a three-day orientation on campus. For admission, applicants need a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Since its founding in 1889, Saint Leo has developed more than 150 programs, including master's in social work (MSW) programs. Saint Leo offers a one-year advanced standing program and an advanced clinical practice concentration that students can complete in 2-3 years, enrolling either online or on campus.
The MSW degree at Saint Leo offers summer start dates for advanced standing enrollees and fall starts for all other learners. For admission, an advanced standing applicant needs a bachelor's in social work and a 3.25 GPA.
Founded in 1891, George Fox is the oldest Christian university in the state of Oregon. It runs more than 20 graduate programs, including its 62-credit master's in social work (MSW) program. George Fox offers both a nine-month advanced standing MSW degree and a traditional two-year program The advanced standing program requires 560 practicum hours and the traditional program requires 1,000.
Classes typically begin in the fall. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and a 2.75 cumulative GPA at minimum for admission.
U of I was founded in 1867 and now enrolls more than 47,000 students. In its master's in social work (MSW) program, learners can choose between concentrations in advanced clinical practice or leadership and social change. The program requires 64-72 credits and a minimum of 900 practicum hours.
Enrollees in the MSW degree at U of I typically graduate within 12-24 months, depending on their standing and course load. The program also offers online learning options. For admission, applicants need a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.
UCF enrolls more than 70,000 students in over 230 programs every year, making it one of the largest schools in the country. Its 62-credit master's in social work (MSW) offers part time, full time, on campus, and online formats. The curriculum includes courses in working with diverse clients and health policy with a clinical specialization.
At UCF, students typically start in the fall and complete their degrees in 1-2 years, depending on their standing. The MSW program includes a 1000-hour practicum, and applicants need bachelor's degrees for admission.
UVM offers over 60 graduate programs to its more than 1,500 graduate students every year. Approximately 70 of those students enroll in the master's in social work (MSW) program, taking courses in human behavior, social welfare policy, research, and practice. Learners can also choose a concentration, with options in advanced practice and transformative social work.
At UVM, MSW degree enrollees typically engage with coursework twice per week, during the day and in the evenings, to graduate within four years. Enrollees must also complete a 900-hour practicum requirement. Applicants need bachelor's degrees for admission.
USD enrolls more than 2,400 graduate students in over 70 graduate programs every year, including in its master's in social work (MSW) program. Enrollees must complete 60 credits and 500 practicum hours. They can also take an advanced practice concentration.
MSW students at USD typically start in the fall and graduate within two years. They can study full or part time, with online study options also available. Enrollees must graduate within four years of starting.
Master of Social Work Programs Ranking Guidelines
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Types of Social Workers
There are three major types of social workers: macro, direct services, and clinical social workers. Clinical social workers may be licensed or unlicensed.
Macro social workers work with communities, large groups of people, major institutions, and cities. Depending on their position, these social workers may advocate for large-scale social policy change, lobby to change healthcare laws, or organize state-wide activist groups. They may also engage in research or work as managers or administrators for community programs.
Licensed clinical social workers evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They may provide individual, group, or family therapy. They work in settings such as hospitals, community mental health centers, rehabilitation facilities, and private practice. Clinical social workers often collaborate with professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, and advanced practice psychiatric nurses.
The job title for social workers with a clinical social work license varies by state. States may use titles such as licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), licensed independent social worker, or licensed independent clinical social worker.
These social workers are authorized to practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW. They must earn licensure to practice independently.
Direct service social workers connect individuals with relevant resources and services. They may also provide limited counseling services, but they cannot provide psychotherapy. Depending on their role, these professionals may perform intake screenings, refer clients to relevant services, provide mediation services, and work in case management.
Social Work Jobs
Graduates with an MSW degree can pursue careers in several social work fields, such as mental health counselor, social service manager, and marriage and family therapist. The section below covers several common careers for MSW graduates.
|Median Salary 2020: $51,340||Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 16%|
Marriage and family therapists help individuals, couples, and families manage relationship problems through therapy. They encourage clients to discuss their emotions, help people adjust to life changes and modify behaviors, and guide clients through decision-making processes. Marriage and family therapists also connect clients with relevant resources and services.
These professionals need a master's degree and a license to practice. A master's in social work, psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related field typically meets licensure requirements.
|Median Salary 2020: $55,690||Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 4%|
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists offer social services to law offenders to help them make progress toward rehabilitation. They create rehabilitation plans, connect clients with resources, and maintain case files on clients. Most probation officers and correctional treatment specialists hold a bachelor's degree in a field like social work or criminal justice. Candidates with a master's degree may qualify for advanced opportunities.
|Median Salary 2020: $69,600||Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 15%|
Social and community service managers oversee social service programs and community organizations. They manage program staff, analyze data to determine a program's effectiveness, suggest improvements to programs, and increase program awareness through outreach activities. They also oversee budgets and may write proposals for funding.
Most social and community service managers hold at least a bachelor's degree in a field like social work, public administration, or business administration plus several years of work experience. Some employers prefer or require a master's degree in social work.
|Median Salary 2020: $51,760||Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 12%|
Social workers help clients overcome short-term and long-term challenges. They help clients adjust to life changes, connect clients with community resources, and respond to crisis situations. Social workers may specialize in an area such as school social work, healthcare social work, or child and family social work.
Clinical social workers diagnose and treat behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders. They provide therapy, create treatment plans, and coordinate with other healthcare professionals. Clinical social workers must hold a master's degree in social work and a license to practice.
|Median Salary 2020: $47,660||Projected Job Growth 2020-2030: 23%|
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors help clients manage substance use, mental health, and behavioral disorders. They meet with clients to evaluate their needs, create customized treatment plans, and work with clients on behavior modification techniques.
Most substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree, while mental health counselors generally need a master's degree to practice.
How Much Do Social Workers Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median social worker salary exceeds $51,000 per year. However, social work salaries depend on factors like a worker's location, degree, and industry. For example, the typical salary for a professional who holds a master of social work exceeds that of a professional with a bachelor's degree. Similarly, clinical social workers generally earn higher salaries than nonclinical social workers.
As with other fields, social workers often see an increase in their earning potential after gaining experience, earning an advanced degree, and/or learning specialized skills.
|Social Worker (MSW)||$37,000 - $65,000|
|Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)||$44,000 - $79,000|
|Clinical Social Worker||$43,000 - $79,000|
|School Social Worker||$38,000 - $68,000|
|Healthcare Social Workers||$57,630|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||$48,720|
|Child, Family, and School Social Workers||$48,430|
Frequently Asked Questions About Master of Social Work Degrees
An MSW is a social work degree that stands for "master of social work". In most states, licensed social workers are required to have an MSW.
An MSW qualifies graduates for positions as a href="/careers/career-guide/lcsw/">licensed clinical social workers, therapists, and counselors. These professionals help vulnerable populations and provide assistance to adults, children, families and couples who need guidance and access to resources.
An MSW can lead to a fulfilling career as a social worker, therapist, or counselor. However, the average salary for a social worker with an MSW is over $48,000, which is under the national average for all occupations.
There is no major difference between an MSW and an MA in social work. However, students should make sure their degree is conferred by a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
The average pay for a social worker with an MSW ranges between $37,000-$65,000.
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