Best Master in Social Work Programs

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Social Work Masters Programs

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:

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

  1. California State University-Fresno

    Fresno, CA



    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.

  2. California State University-Bakersfield

    Bakersfield, CA



    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.

  3. Indiana University-Bloomington

    Bloomington, IN



    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.

  4. The University of Texas at Austin

    Austin, TX



    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.

  5. California State University-Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA



    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.

  6. University of Connecticut

    Storrs, CT



    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.

  7. Samford University

    Birmingham, AL

    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.

  8. Colorado State University-Fort Collins

    Fort Collins, CO



    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.

  9. Savannah State University

    Savannah, GA



    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.

  10. The University of Texas at Arlington

    Arlington, TX



    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.

Master of Social Work Programs Ranking Guidelines

We based the following rankings on academic quality, curricula, faculty strength, internship opportunities, facilities, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

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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


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

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.

Clinical Social Workers Without a License

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

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.

true $51,340 Marriage and Family Therapists
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.

true $55,690 Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
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.

true $69,600 Social and Community Service Managers
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.

$51,760 Social Workers
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.

$47,660 Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
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.

PayScale Median Salary Information for Social Workers as of June 2021
Position Salary
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
Source: Payscale
BLS Median Salary Information for Social Workers as of May 2020
Position Salary
Healthcare Social Workers $57,630
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers $48,720
Child, Family, and School Social Workers $48,430
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions About Master of Social Work Degrees

What Is an MSW Degree?

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.

What Does a Master of Social Work Do?

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.

Is a Master's in Social Work Worth It?

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.

What Is the Difference Between a Master of Social Work and an MA in Social Work?

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).

How Much Can You Make With a Master of Social Work?

The average pay for a social worker with an MSW ranges between $37,000-$65,000.

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