Financing an MSW Degree: Loan Forgiveness Programs

by Matthew Sweeney
• 3 min read
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Paying for a master's degree can be tough. Luckily, social workers may be eligible for student loan forgiveness.

While requirements for social workers vary across state lines, many employers now strongly prefer clinical social workers who hold a master's degree. However, earning a master's in social work (MSW) can be expensive. After spending 2-3 years earning your MSW, you may graduate with a substantial amount of student loan debt, even if you graduated from an online program.

Clinical social workers typically do not earn as much as other professions at this education level, which can make paying back loans difficult. Fortunately, there are resources for social workers struggling with student loan debt, including loan forgiveness programs.

Social workers provide vital services to underserved and low-income populations, and federal loan forgiveness programs encourage people to join the profession and help meet the overwhelming public need for their work. Read on for our primer on the loan forgiveness programs available to MSW students.

Loan Forgiveness Programs

$10k-$60k Federal Student Loan Repayment Program

Participating agencies can help pay off a chunk of your debt — up to $60,000. In exchange, you may need to work at the agency for at least three years. Loans that qualify for this type of repayment are federally insured or guaranteed loans, as authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Public Health Service Act. Payments are made annually.

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Varies Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

IBR are a type of income-driven repayment plan tailored to low-income borrowers, including Revised Pay-As-You-Earn Repayment Plans, Pay-As-You-Earn Repayment Plans, and Income-Contingent Repayment Plans. Income-driven repayment calculates monthly payments based on income and family size. In an IBR plan, you generally pay 10% of your discretionary monthly income.

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$15k-$50k National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program (NHSC)

Licensed social workers employed at an approved facility or in a high-need area qualify for loan forgiveness from the NHSC, a program that awards funds to health service workers. The program awards up to $50,000 for every two-year, full-time work commitment in an eligible setting.

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Varies Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Social workers can qualify to receive loan forgiveness from the PSLF program after making 120 monthly payments on their federal loans while working full time for an employer from local, state, federal, or tribal government — or certain tax-exempt nonprofits. The program forgives debt from outstanding direct loans and most other federal loans.

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Varies State Loan Repayment Program

States offer their own social work loan forgiveness programs, which are operated through the NHSC. Eligibility, length of work commitment, practice sites, and amount awarded vary across state lines. For example, Oregon offers loan forgiveness awards of up to $35,000 for social workers who work full-time at an approved employer for at least two years.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Do With a MSW Degree?

Most MSW degrees prepare you for work as a licensed clinical social worker. However, you can also apply your MSW degree to other careers, such as child and family social worker, school social worker, or addiction counselor. Many of these careers either require or prefer candidates with an MSW.

How Long Does It Take to Get a MSW?

It typically takes 2-3 years to earn an MSW. If you take courses part time, it will likely take longer to complete your MSW.

What Jobs Are Eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Profession is less important than working for a qualified employer when it comes to eligibility for the PSLF program. The nonprofit and government employers who typically qualify for PSLF often employ large numbers of social workers, making it one of the more commonly represented professions among PSLF enrollees.

Why Is Social Work Important?

Social work is important because it helps people live better, safer lives. Many people living in low-income and underserved communities rely on services provided by social workers to survive, access resources, and improve their situations.

Header Image Credit: Marc Romanelli | Getty Images

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