Best Master of Social Work Programs

Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by
Updated April 12, 2024
A master of social work can lead to an impactful career. Here, we showcase the best MSW programs along with their costs, requirements, and highlights.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

What Social Workers Do

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 schools and programs offered today.

Featured Online MSW Programs

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The Best Master of Social Work Programs (MSW)

The school and/or program descriptions below were drafted using natural language generation technology and have been edited for clarity and accuracy. The data is primarily sourced from government databases such as IPEDS – see sources section for more details.

#1 Best Master of Social Work Programs

Tennessee State University

  • Location-markerNashville, TN
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,854
  • Out-of-state$20,574
  • Retention Rate64%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled7,615
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment52%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Master of Social Work Programs

Texas A&M University-Commerce

  • Location-markerCommerce, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,790
  • Out-of-state$17,060
  • Retention Rate58%
  • Acceptance Rate60%
  • Students Enrolled12,249
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment89%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Master of Social Work Programs

Stephen F. Austin State University

  • Location-markerNacogdoches, TX
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,842
  • Out-of-state$18,858
  • Retention Rate77%
  • Acceptance Rate76%
  • Students Enrolled12,620
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment95%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Master of Social Work Programs

Boise State University

  • Location-markerBoise, ID
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$5,532
  • Out-of-state$22,452
  • Retention Rate78%
  • Acceptance Rate77%
  • Students Enrolled24,069
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment82%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 Best Master of Social Work Programs

Tulane University of Louisiana

  • Location-markerNew Orleans, LA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$54,766
  • Out-of-state$54,766
  • Retention Rate92%
  • Acceptance Rate11%
  • Students Enrolled13,927
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment63%
  • AccreditationYes

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.

Rankings Methodology

MSW Program Overview

“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.

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.

MSW Programs 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.

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.

Jobs in Social Work

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.

How Much Do Social Workers Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median social worker salary exceeds $55,000 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
PositionSalary
Social Worker (MSW)$40,000 – $72,000
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)$50,000 – $88,000
Clinical Social Worker$47,000 – $85,000
School Social Worker$42,000 – $71,000
Source: Payscale, April 2024
BLS Median Salary Information for Social Workers
PositionSalary
Healthcare Social Workers$62,940
Mental Health and Substance Use Social Workers$55,960
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$53,940
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023)

Master of Social Work FAQs

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