2020 Online Master's in Social Work (MSW) Programs

By OnlineU Staff | Updated 11/17/2021
Quick Facts
Accreditation: CSWE
Average Tuition: $30,300

Online MSW programs are an increasingly popular option for aspiring social workers as well as current social workers who wish to pursue an advanced degree. One of the most common reasons for pursuing an online master’s degree in social work is flexibility. Online MSW programs often offer class schedules that are more convenient for those who work full-time or part-time. After earning an MSW, you can go on to become a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) by passing your state's board exam or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) after passing the exam and meeting the requirement for supervised clinical hours.

In order to earn licensure and to ensure that your degree meets national standards for social work education, you should make sure that your MSW program is accredited by the CSWE. Keep reading to learn more about social work licensure requirements in your state and to see the best online MSW programs of 2020 based on tuition and alumni salaries provided by PayScale.

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2020 Best Online MSW Programs

2020 Best Online Master's in MSW Badge

The following 24 schools offer the best online MSW programs based on their low tuition rates and high mid-career salary potentials. California State University-San Bernardino is ranked #1, offering a Master of Social Work for $12,000 per year. Graduates of the school reported a median salary of $74,900. Rutgers University ranks #2, with a median salary of $72,100 and one of the lowest annual tuition rates, at $9,600.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 California State University-San Bernardino $12,000 $74,900
# 2 #2 Rutgers University $9,600 $72,100
# 3 #3 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania $17,040 $70,300
# 4 #4 Aurora University $12,000 $67,400
# 5 #5 New Mexico State University $11,985 $66,200
# 6 #6 University of Nevada - Reno $18,200 $68,400
# 7 #7 Loyola University Chicago $10,500 $64,900
# 8 #8 Our Lady of the Lake University $16,326 $66,400
# 9 #9 University at Buffalo $13,080 $63,800
# 10 #10 University of Arkansas at Little Rock $11,490 $63,000
# 11 #11 Temple University $14,625 $63,200
# 12 #12 University of Southern California $36,632 $72,000
# 13 #13 University of North Dakota $9,616 $60,800
# 14 #14 Texas State University $13,672 $62,200
# 15 #15 Arizona State University $15,960 $63,000
# 16 #16 Fordham University $31,317 $69,000
# 17 #17 Columbia University in the City of New York $48,780 $74,900
# 18 #18 Rutgers University-Camden $29,232 $66,900
# 19 #19 University of Missouri $7,720 $58,200
# 20 #20 Portland State University $22,830 $64,100
# 21 #21 University of Houston $30,096 $67,000
# 22 #22 University of Central Florida $15,110 $61,000
# 23 #23 The University of Tennessee - Knoxville $14,630 $60,600
# 24 #24 Boise State University $16,830 $61,400
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering MSW Programs - Ranking Details

#1 California State University-San Bernardino

  • Annual Tuition: $12,000
  • Median Salary: $74,900
  • Locations: San Bernardino (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-San Bernardino's (CSUSB) School of Social Work offers a Pathway Distance Education Program for students interested in receiving a Master of Social Work. This program is a three-year commitment with online coursework for students who either live too far away from the CSUSB campus or require the flexibility of an online degree. Students are not encouraged to continue working full-time while completing the MSW, as the program requires significant time and focus. Students will select a specialization as part of their final year.

#2 Rutgers University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,600
  • Median Salary: $72,100
  • Locations: New Brunswick (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The School of Social Work at Rutgers University hosts a fully online Master of Social Work that takes three years to complete. Classes are delivered asynchronously, but assignments have set due dates. Students in the program will benefit from engaging faculty discussions via web-based technologies. They will also take part in field education, which includes two experiences: a generalist level placement and an advanced clinical level placement. These require between 11 and 14 hours per week and are completed alongside the online coursework. Faculty members work with students to help identify appropriate placement settings.

#3 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

  • Annual Tuition: $17,040
  • Median Salary: $70,300
  • Locations: Edinboro (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (EU) offers a Master of Social Work degree for aspiring social workers. Graduates will be prepared to work within a range of settings and with different populations, including families, individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders, students, veterans, members of the military, and more. Online and hybrid programs are available. The fully online degree is a two-year program that requires a field education internship. The internship is completed over the course of study. Individuals will work with a placement agency to determine an appropriate internship based on commuting distance.

#4 Aurora University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,000
  • Median Salary: $67,400
  • Locations: Aurora (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

A private university based in Illinois, Aurora University provides master's level candidates with flexible online options for advanced study. Students interested in receiving a general social work degree may consider the Master of Social Work (MSW). The program includes 1,050 hours of field instruction and is designed to prepare graduates for real-world experiences. Students will have the opportunity to select a specialized concentration. Tracks include faith-based social work, forensic social work, health care, leadership administration, and the professional educator license in school social work. Interested candidates may also take online dual-degree programs in either business administration or public health.

#5 New Mexico State University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,985
  • Median Salary: $66,200
  • Locations: Las Cruces (NM)
  • Accreditation: HLC

New Mexico State University's (NMSU) School of Social Work hosts a Master of Social Work (MSW) with a focus on regional social work practice in the Southwest. Students learn advanced skills necessary when working with different populations, as well as cultural sensitivities and a perspective that considers the region's social and environmental factors. The online master's degree is available full-time, requiring 60 total credits for degree completion. The course of the program is typically two years. Students will be required to complete field experiences.

#6 University of Nevada - Reno

  • Annual Tuition: $18,200
  • Median Salary: $68,400
  • Locations: Reno (NV)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The Master of Social Work degree from the University of Nevada’s Reno (UNR) campus is available online with either a traditional standing or advanced standing option. The curriculum employs a generalized study plan, preparing versatile, adaptable graduates. Classes focus on the principles of psychology, education, business, and public health. The traditional track is a 62-credit MSW degree designed for those with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than social work. Comparatively, the advanced standing program, for those with a social work background, requires 32 credits and can be completed in 15 months. While most coursework is online, traditional-track students attend a three-day residency at the University of Nevada’s School of Medicine patient simulation facilities. All students complete a foundation and an advanced practicum. Online courses use Canvas learning management software, in which students review syllabi, submit assignments, and engage on discussion boards. UNR’s online resources include a tutoring center, a writing center, disability accommodations, UNR’s libraries, and a live chat feature with the technology help desk. The admissions process includes a completed application form (with fee), three letters of recommendation, and personal essays. Candidates must have an undergraduate GPA of at least a 3.0.

#7 Loyola University Chicago

  • Annual Tuition: $10,500
  • Median Salary: $64,900
  • Locations: Chicago (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The Master of Social Work from Loyola University Chicago is offered in an online bilingual format for Spanish speaking students. The program aims to meet the social services and mental health needs of a growing Spanish-speaking population in the United States. The online MSW degree is available on a full-time basis for two years of continuous study. Candidates with a Bachelor of Social Work degree can enroll for the advanced standing option that can be completed in one year. Students complete two internships for a total of 1,200 hours of field experience. Online classwork includes synchronous video conferencing and simulation labs, along with asynchronous discussion boards and case studies. Students in the online MSW program at Loyola University receive academic advising, career development services, and tech support for its online learning management tools, Zoom and Sakai. Before applying, an individual’s Spanish proficiency will be assessed. Traditional-track students can enroll in fall, while advanced standing students enroll in spring. To complete the admissions process, students must submit a completed application (with fee), official transcripts, two recommendation letters, a personal statement, and a current resume.

#8 Our Lady of the Lake University

  • Annual Tuition: $16,326
  • Median Salary: $66,400
  • Locations: San Antonio (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Individuals seeking an online graduate degree in social work from Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) can consider the Master of Social Work, a full-time degree that requires no previous professional experience. Online courses are taken in seven-week sessions. Classwork uses asynchronous tools such as discussion forums and e-mail. Students are responsible for meeting assignment deadlines. Online student resources include 24/7 technical support, peer tutoring services, and access to the Mary Francine Danis Writing Center. Offered through the Worden School of Social Service, the online MSW degree includes a field placement and courses specifically meant to prepare graduates to serve the growing Hispanic community in the United States. The MSW accommodates those with or without an undergraduate background in social work. The advanced standing MSW requires just 30 credit hours over two years. The foundation MSW is designed for those without a social work background; this program is 57 credits over three years. Either program prepares graduates for professional licensure. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree. A complete application package includes an online application form (with fee), a current resume, official transcripts, a personal statement, a completed student questionnaire, and three reference letters.

#9 University at Buffalo

  • Annual Tuition: $13,080
  • Median Salary: $63,800
  • Locations: Buffalo (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The University of Buffalo (UB) offers prospective social workers a part-time, online Master of Social Work program. A traditional curriculum and an advanced standing curriculum are available, depending on whether a student’s undergraduate experience was in social work. The full MSW is 60 credit hours, while the advanced standing program is 35 credit hours. Online courses are offered asynchronously and with virtual, real-time classes. Online students complete field placement hours within their home communities. Fieldwork is accomplished over two semesters, with at least 15 hours committed each week. Coursework includes a professional development seminar, electives, and research skills. Online graduate students at the University of Buffalo have access to UB libraries, disability accommodations, career services, and technical assistance, including a 24/7 live chat feature. The traditional program starts in the fall, and the advanced standing program starts in the spring. In addition to the application and fee, students should submit official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Candidates must have an undergraduate GPA of at least a 3.0.

#10 University of Arkansas at Little Rock

  • Annual Tuition: $11,490
  • Median Salary: $63,000
  • Locations: Little Rock (AR)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The School of Social Work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has a 60-credit hour, online Master of Social Work program. This degree emphasizes client diversity and contemporary best practices. The curriculum includes 36 credits of foundation classes, elective options, and a 1,200-hour internship. Each online course requires students to attend at least five real-time sessions using Adobe Connect software and the Blackboard learning management system. Online learners can work with a program advisor and access disability services. Additionally, students can use resources from the Ottenheimer Library, the Online Writing Lab, and IT support. Students can enroll for fall and spring semesters. Acceptance into the Graduate School and a completed MSW application are both required. For full consideration, students must submit a personal statement, GRE or MAT scores, three letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. Candidates are required to have a completed bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, and previous experience in the social work field. Applicants must also be Arkansas residents.

#11 Temple University

  • Annual Tuition: $14,625
  • Median Salary: $63,200
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Temple University offers an online Master of Social Work program that has two concentrations: Clinical Practice with Individuals and Families or Macro Practice in Organizations, Communities, and Policy Arenas. The former specialty is designed to train students as clinical therapists. The latter is designed to prepare graduates for careers in nonprofit and government agencies. The MSW is housed in the College of Public Health, and students also have the option to pursue a dual online MSW/Master of Public Health. The MSW curriculum focuses on social work practice with at-risk populations, covering issues such as poverty, substance abuse, violence, and immigration. The 60-credit degree can be completed part-time or full-time, though an advanced standing, 34.5-credit option is available for individuals with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. A field practicum is required to graduate. Most classwork is online, though a three-day residency at the beginning of the program is required. Online coursework uses Canvas online learning management tools and includes several synchronous classes and group meetings throughout each semester. The dual MSW/MPH degree is also offered part-time or full-time; it can be completed in three or four years. Individuals can select either an MPH in Social and Behavioral Sciences or an MPH in Health Policy and Management. Online students in Temple University’s graduate programs receive personalized advising. They are encouraged to engage in student organizations facilitated through the College of Public Health, such as the Social Work Student Collective or the Alpha Delta Mu social work honors society. Candidates must have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Application components include official transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation.

#12 University of Southern California

  • Annual Tuition: $36,632
  • Median Salary: $72,000
  • Locations: Los Angeles (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California (USC) hosts a Master of Social Work program with three tracks: Adult Mental Health, Children and Families, and Social Change and Innovation. Candidates with a completed Bachelor of Social Work can enroll in a one-year, advanced standing program. Upon graduating, MSW students are eligible to take the exam to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Students complete more than 1,000 hours of fieldwork; practicum experience is awarded for virtual and community-based hours. The traditional track can be completed part-time or full-time; either enrollment plan requires 60 credit hours. The advanced standing track is 37 credits. USC’s online classes combine real-time, scheduled seminars using Zoom software, and asynchronous, interactive assignments. Online students receive a free membership to WeWork, providing hi-tech study spaces around the country. Additionally, they can access USC’s library resources, technical support, and academic advising. To apply, candidates should submit a completed graduate admission application (with fee), official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume. GRE scores are not required, though students should have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.

#13 University of North Dakota

  • Annual Tuition: $9,616
  • Median Salary: $60,800
  • Locations: Grand Forks (ND)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of North Dakota (UND) has an online Master of Social Work degree delivered through real-time virtual classes scheduled in the evenings. Offered through the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines, the interactive degree is augmented by a 500-hour field placement that can be completed in the student’s community. Applicants who already have a Bachelor of Social Work can enroll in the Concentration program, designed for advanced standing individuals. It requires just 36 credits and takes approximately one year to complete; participants need to attend one campus visit. Comparatively, the Foundation track is for those without a bachelor's degree in the social work field. This option requires 60 credits over three years, with two mandatory campus visits. Students can opt for a thesis or independent study to complete the degree. Resources for distance learners include a writing center, e-tutoring, career services, disability accommodations, and military and veteran services. Candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. To apply, students must submit a personal statement, a resume, official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a completed application form. Online students can join the Phi Alpha social work honor society.

#14 Texas State University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,672
  • Median Salary: $62,200
  • Locations: San Marcos (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Texas State University’s School of Social Work offers an online Master of Social Work degree with a foundation or an advanced standing curriculum. The program includes hands-on practice, advocacy skills, and research. Successful graduates are eligible to take state licensing exams. The online courses employ the same textbooks, assignments, and faculty as the on-campus versions. The curriculum includes unique elective options such as International Social Work, Adventure Therapy, Working with Veterans, and Gerontology. The foundation track requires a bachelor’s degree, 62 credit hours of coursework, and practicum experience. The advanced standing track requires a Bachelor of Social Work and 36 credit hours. Both programs are in a cohort format and can be completed part-time or full-time. Online degrees are managed by the TRACS learning management system, through which students engage on discussion boards, submit assignments, and access course materials. Students accepted into the online MSW program can use resources from the Texas State University Alkek Library. Support services for distance learning students include academic advising, career services, a counseling center, and an IT assistance center that provides 24/7 live chat support. Candidates must complete the application for graduate admission (with fee) and submit official transcripts (with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0), a resume, and a statement of purpose.

#15 Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $15,960
  • Median Salary: $63,000
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The School of Social Work at Arizona State University offers an online Master of Social Work degree. Participants can complete the program full-time or part-time, in two years or three years, respectively. ASU's online classes share the same faculty as the on-campus programs. Most classes are asynchronous and rely on students to complete assignments by specified due dates. Students can enroll for the fall or spring semester. The curriculum requires 60 credits and includes a practicum and professional training. The professional training seminars are held in real-time, virtual classrooms. Online students will be assigned an academic advisor and have access to a 24/7 IT Help Desk. Graduates from the online MSW program are welcome to join the on-campus graduation ceremonies. Candidates must have a completed bachelor’s degree in social work with at least a 3.0 GPA. GRE scores are required for GPAs less than 3.2. Students are encouraged to have relevant social work experience as well. Prospective students should submit a completed graduate application (with fee), official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a professional resume.

#16 Fordham University

  • Annual Tuition: $31,317
  • Median Salary: $69,000
  • Locations: Bronx (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The Graduate School of Social Services at Fordham University is available online and offers an accelerated track along with a traditional track. Students can enroll part-time or full-time. Four concentrations are available: Individuals and Families, Organizations and Community, Evaluation, and Policy, Practice, and Advocacy. Upon graduating, students are prepared to sit for professional social work licensure exams. The traditional track can be completed in four terms; the advanced track can be completed in two terms. Each term includes two eight-week class sessions. Online MSW students attend weekly, real-time, virtual meetings with peers and faculty, but complete assignments and content predominantly on their own time, using asynchronous tools. Hands-on practice begins right from the start, and the Field Education Department at Fordham University assists students in planning for and securing a placement for field education. Online learners have access to academic advising, an admissions counselor, career specialists, a student support advisor, and 24/7 technical assistance. The online MSW program requires 66 credit hours to complete. Individuals who have already earned a Bachelor of Social Work are eligible for the advanced standing, accelerated degree. To apply, students should submit a completed application form (with fee), a personal essay, transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and a current resume.

#17 Columbia University in the City of New York

  • Annual Tuition: $48,780
  • Median Salary: $74,900
  • Locations: New York (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Columbia University’s online Master of Social Work program has three concentrations for specialized study: Advanced Clinical Practice, Policy Practice, and Social Enterprise. Students can also choose between practice with mental health and disability services, or practice with family and children’s services. Students complete field education requirements in their own communities, engaging in hands-on learning required for licensure. The program can be completed part-time or full-time and requires 60 credit hours and 1,200 field hours. Options are available for advanced standing students with a Bachelor of Social Work. Online classes mirror the on-campus versions, with fixed times using Adobe Connect virtual software. Additional online assignments are housed in the Canvas learning management system. Online students are welcome to attend orientation on campus in New York City but are not required to do so. Distance education resources include 24/7 technical support, online training, admissions support, and career services. To apply, candidates must have a completed bachelor’s degree. To be considered, applicants must submit official transcripts, a resume, personal essays, a completed application (with fee), and three letters of recommendation.

#18 Rutgers University-Camden

  • Annual Tuition: $29,232
  • Median Salary: $66,900
  • Locations: Camden (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Online learning at Rutgers University-Camden is almost always asynchronous, requiring students to review pre-recorded lectures, discussion boards, and assigned readings on their own schedules. Online materials are available via two learning management systems, Canvas and Sakai. Distance education resources include the Camden Computing Help Desk, academic advising, disability accommodations, and peer tutoring. Prospective social work graduate students can consider the fully online Master of Social Work. Two concentrations are available: Clinical Social Work or Management and Policy. Candidates must have a completed bachelor’s degree to apply (with a 3.0 GPA minimum); an advanced standing track is available for those with a Bachelor of Social Work. Over the 60-credit curriculum, students take courses in research methods and assessment and complete two field practicums. The online MSW degree satisfies professional social work licensure requirements for the state of New Jersey. Additionally, a certificate in Violence Against Women and Children may be added for further specialization. For consideration, students must submit official transcripts, a completed application form (with fee), three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a current resume.

#19 University of Missouri

  • Annual Tuition: $7,720
  • Median Salary: $58,200
  • Locations: Columbia (MO)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Missouri (Mizzou) Online has a Master of Social Work program with various options to accommodate students with different backgrounds and professional interests. There are two concentrations: one in Advanced Clinical Practice and one in Policy, Planning, and Administration. Both concentrations have options for those with and without an academic background in social work. Mizzou online courses are just as rigorous as the campus-based versions. The MSW is hosted through the College of Human Environmental Sciences. The traditional track requires 60 credit hours over three years. The advanced track is 39 credits over two years. Typically, students take two classes each semester. A supervised field practicum is required to graduate. Most classes follow an asynchronous format, with no required login times. Students are responsible for completing assigned readings and engaging on discussion boards with their peers. Online learners have access to academic advising, disability accommodations, career counseling, an IT Help Desk, and materials through the Mizzou library system. Regular standing applicants start in June, while advanced standing applicants begin in August. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. To apply, students should submit official transcripts, a resume, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

#20 Portland State University

  • Annual Tuition: $22,830
  • Median Salary: $64,100
  • Locations: Portland (OR)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Portland State University’s (PSU) Master of Social Work program seeks to educate students in social justice and provide a collaborative learning environment. The online MSW mirrors the on-campus version, sharing faculty and resources. Online courses include scheduled, virtual classes, and supervised fieldwork. Accepted students are required to attend an annual seminar on campus, in which participants network with peers and faculty. PSU online student resources include academic advising, career services, e-tutoring, disability services, technical assistance, and 24/7 research assistance through the library. The curriculum requires 78 credit hours to complete, which includes 39 credits of foundation courses and 39 credits of advanced coursework. The online degree takes three years to complete, with courses taken in fall, winter, spring, and summer terms. The field experience spans the second and third years of the program. Four concentrations are available for specialized study: Clinical Social Work Practice, Health Across the Lifespan, Practice and Leadership with Communities and Organizations, and Social Work with Children, Youth, and Families. Graduates are eligible to apply for professional social work licensure in the state of Oregon. To apply, students must have a bachelor’s degree. The complete application includes official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

#21 University of Houston

  • Annual Tuition: $30,096
  • Median Salary: $67,000
  • Locations: Houston (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Houston’s (UH) Graduate College of Social Work offers a cohort-based, online Master of Social Work degree. Four specializations are available: Health and Behavioral Health, Social Work Practice with Latinos, Political Social Work, or an individualized option. While courses use asynchronous methods, students are encouraged to actively participate in online discussion boards and use other virtual tools to network and collaborate with their peers and faculty members. Instructors have the option to schedule synchronous, live sessions of class. Classes are facilitated using Blackboard learning management software and Zoom software. Distance learners receive technical tutorials, have access to UH library resources, and can access e-tutoring. Assignments have firm deadlines, so students must manage their time and schedules accordingly. The curriculum is designed to be intensive with an emphasis on social, political, and economic justice. The first two semesters include foundation courses and fieldwork. Graduates will complete more than 900 hours of real-world practice. The fully online MSW degree requires 63 credits over three years. An advanced standing track is optional for applicants with a completed Bachelor of Social Work. Admissions to the online MSW requires a completed application (with fee), letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA.

#22 University of Central Florida

  • Annual Tuition: $15,110
  • Median Salary: $61,000
  • Locations: Orlando (FL) (and 7 others)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Central Florida (UCF) Online offers advanced standing and traditional Master of Social Work degrees. Online programs employ different modalities for class delivery, including video live-stream lectures and asynchronous assignments. Online students have access to the Writing Center, the UCF Library (including online databases, personal librarian assistance, and how-to videos), disability support services, and the academic resource center (including online peer tutoring and academic success workshops). Students work with an enrollment counselor and a personal academic success coach. The MSW program is hosted by the College of Health Professions and Sciences. Classes run in seven-week terms, and 62 credit hours are required to graduate from the traditional curriculum, which is designed to prepare students with no previous social work experience. The advanced standing program requires just 32 credits. Courses are only available part-time, requiring three years for traditional students (16 months for advanced standing). Topics covered include diverse client populations, social work practice with substance abuse, and practice with families. A field internship is required before graduating. The program meets the criteria for graduates to seek their Licensed Clinical Social Worker credential in the state of Florida. Students can apply for summer, fall, or spring terms. Graduate program admission requires GRE or GMAT scores, official transcripts, a completed application (with fee), a current resume, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, an academic writing sample, and a background check.

#23 The University of Tennessee - Knoxville

  • Annual Tuition: $14,630
  • Median Salary: $60,600
  • Locations: Knoxville (TN)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) has several adaptable tracks, allowing students to personalize their program to meet their academic and career goals. There are two concentrations from which to choose: Evidenced-Based Interpersonal Practice or Organizational Leadership. Those with a Bachelor of Social Work can take courses in an advanced standing format, requiring fewer credits. There is also an extended study part-time option. Taken full-time, the traditional MSSW can be completed in two years, while the advanced MSSW requires one year. This is a cohort program, so students move through the program with the same group of peers. The mission of the MSSW is to educate its participants in ethical and culturally competent social work practices. All coursework is completed online, although an internship requirement will take place within a reasonable distance from a student’s location. Online expectations include engaging in real-time classes, typically offered in late afternoon and evening to accommodate students. Asynchronous work is expected as well. Online resources include a live-chat-enabled, 24/7 IT Help Desk, services from the Hodges Library, and e-tutoring. To apply, students must have a completed bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.7 GPA. A complete admissions packet includes an application form (with fee), official transcripts, a current resume, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation. Online graduates are welcome to attend the on-campus graduation ceremony.

#24 Boise State University

  • Annual Tuition: $16,830
  • Median Salary: $61,400
  • Locations: Boise (ID)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The Master of Social Work degree from Boise State University requires candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in any subject, though an advanced track is available for those who have already completed a Bachelor of Social Work. This degree emphasizes social justice and research. Students will complete a field practicum that spans 14 weeks. The full MSW program requires 1,000 supervised hours, while the advanced standing program requires 600 hours. A field coordinator assists students in finding appropriate placements. The entire curriculum requires 61 credits (31 credits for advanced standing) and can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. Coursework can be accessed anytime, and instructors use tools such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, and discussion forums. Distance learners can work with a student success coach and have access to Albertsons Library resources, career services, online tutoring, and veteran-specific, educational benefits. Candidates must have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, practice in the field of social work, the ability to pass a criminal background check, and submit a personal essay and recommendation letters.

CSWE-Accredited Online MSW Programs by State

MSW Degree Tracks and Specializations

Some online Master of Social Work programs have several specialization tracks. The specialization options allow students the opportunity to focus on coursework that directly relates to their future career path of choice. For example, Walden University offers concentration tracks in advanced clinical practice, military social work, and social work with children and families. Sacred Heart University has clinical and community specializations. Boston University offers clinical and macro tracks. Students can usually complete their degrees in about two years of full-time enrollment.

Advanced Standing MSW Programs

School Annual Tuition
# Adelphi University $43,420
# Boise State University $26,566
# Boston University $55,502
# Brescia University $800
# Campbellsville University $12,690
# Columbia University in the City of New York $49,968
# Dominican University $20,884
# Fairleigh Dickinson University-Metropolitan Campus $23,110
# Florida State University $26,707
# Indiana Wesleyan University Online $13,156
# Liberty University $8,475
# Metropolitan State University of Denver $14,326
# Northcentral University $18,095
# Northern Arizona University $20,296
# Ohio State University-Main Campus $36,009
# Ohio University-Main Campus $17,712
# Our Lady of the Lake University $17,166
# Portland State University $19,347
# Regis College $38,850
# Rutgers University $32,391
# Saint Leo University Online $7,296
# Saint Mary's University of Minnesota $9,180
# University at Buffalo $25,920
# University of Arkansas $22,121
# University of Central Florida $28,657
# University of Denver $51,639
# University of Kentucky $32,564
# University of Louisville $27,310
# University of Maine $27,635
# University of Memphis $14,202
# University of Missouri $26,577
# University of Nevada - Reno $20,982
# University of North Alabama $13,860
# University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus $23,236
# University of South Dakota $12,637
# University of South Florida Online $21,126
# University of Southern California $47,107
# The University of Tennessee - Knoxville $31,798
# West Virginia University $26,154
# Western Kentucky University $18,340
# Widener University $24,130
# Winthrop University $30,006

An advanced standing MSW program allows students with undergraduate education in social work to earn their graduate degrees at an accelerated rate. Schools that offer online MSW degrees include Sacred Heart University, the University of Southern California and Boston University.

To be accepted to an advanced standing program, students need BSW from a CSWE-accredited school. Some schools have a minimum GPA requirement and other admissions criteria. For example, the MSW programs at Sacred Heart and BU programs require students to have a 3.0 GPA. Undergraduate degrees must come from schools accredited by the CSWE. Additionally, Sacred Heart and BU accept undergraduate degrees less than six years old, whereas USC accepts degrees less than five years old.

Clinical MSW Programs

School Annual Tuition
# Campbellsville University $12,690
# Columbia University in the City of New York $49,968
# IUPUI $25,265
# Liberty University $8,475
# Sacred Heart University $30,427
# Saint Leo University Online $7,296
# Samford University $18,364
# Temple University $24,236
# University of Denver $51,639

A clinical track MSW prepares students for careers as licensed clinical social workers (LCSW). All states require LCSWs to have master's degrees in social work. Clinical programs focus on skills that prepare students to treat patients with behavioral or mental disorders in health care and human services environments. For example, students in the clinical social work curriculum at Boston University learn assessment, diagnosis, and treatment skills and apply them in clinical practicums. LCSWs are usually required to work under supervision in a clinical setting for two years after they graduate from their degree program before they get their state license.

How do clinical track and non-clinical track programs differ?

Non-clinical social workers pursue careers in health care practices, public health agencies, and other non-profit organizations. Unlike LSCWs they do not diagnose and treat patients. Non-clinical MSW degree curricula focus on topics such as social welfare policy and human behavior. Students also do fieldwork practicums but do not perform diagnosis and treatment.

Clinical social work programs are ideal for students who know that they want a career in clinical practice. Non-clinical social work degree tracks allow graduate students to specialize in important areas outside of clinical practice such as social welfare and policy. The main disadvantage is that non-clinical graduates who desire to shift their careers to clinical practice will not be able to do so without additional education.

How to Choose an Online MSW Program

Aspiring social workers should carefully review both online MSW programs and on-campus MSW programs to ensure their needs are fully met. The first step in narrowing down an MSW program is making sure it is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). States typically require this qualification as part of their licensing process.

Next, prospective students should consider whether they should earn their degree online or in a traditional classroom setting. Those who plan to work or don’t live near an accredited MSW program may prefer the online route. Tuition is also an important factor for students searching for the right program, as are living and commuting expenses.

Once a student’s list is narrowed by accreditation, cost, and logistics, MSW programs can be evaluated in a few different ways. Future social workers who are passionate about a certain field or demographic should make sure the program offers the appropriate specialization. Field placements for internships during the program are also important since future employers consider work experience during the hiring process. Students should also research job placement records and average starting salaries for program graduates. These statistics give a very clear indication of the school’s reputation among the area’s relevant employers.

The MSW Curriculum

Online MSW students can expect to begin with foundational courses to learn the theory that supports practicum experiences required by their degree program and their future professional careers. After completing foundational courses, students move into advanced practicum and research projects.

For example, Walden University students take courses such as Introduction to Social Work, Essential Skills for Social Work Practice, and Social Policy and Psychopathology for Social Work Practice. At Sacred Heart University, online MSW students take foundational courses such as Social Welfare as a Social Institution, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, and Human Diversity and Social Justice.

Students' curriculums also vary depending on their specialization tracks. For example, in the clinical social work curriculum at Boston University, students learn assessment, diagnosis and treatment skills supported by coursework in human behavior theory and evidence-based practice. They also apply theoretical coursework in three clinical practicums. The macro track in the Boston University online MSW covers multiple specialty areas and allows non-clinical students to prepare for a range of careers in social work.

Fieldwork and Capstone Requirements

MSW students also complete three to four fieldwork practicums during their degree program. Online MSW students in the Boston University clinical track complete individual, family and group clinical practicums. Students usually write a capstone paper based on their fieldwork experiences to complete their degree requirements.

Online MSW Program Admission Requirements

To gain admission to an online MSW program, applicants need a bachelor's degree in any field. Some degree programs also have a minimum GPA requirement. For example, Sacred Heart and Boston University both require a 3.0 GPA. Some programs, such as the MSW at Sacred Heart University, offer advanced standing to students who have an undergraduate degree in social work. Students with an undergraduate degree in social work may be able to complete their MSW at an accelerated rate. For example, accelerated students in the Sacred Heart MSW program can complete their degree in one year.

What Can a Social Worker with an MSW Do?

Graduates who earn a Master of Social Work can choose from a large pool of jobs serving diverse populations. MSW graduates passionate about working with children and youth can fill roles in schools as school social workers or guidance counselors, in a variety of child welfare roles like caseworker or advocate, or in nonprofit organizations that serve children and youth.

Master of social work graduates who wish to work with adults also have an array of job opportunities. Some options include working as a substance abuse counselor either one-on-one or in a group setting, as a clinical mental health therapist, in eldercare facilities, as a community organizer, or as a social services provider either in community based organizations or in governmental organizations.

To prepare for these different types of MSW jobs, students are typically able to choose a specialization track as part of their curriculum and must declare this specialty before graduating. Each school differs in the social work tracks they offer, so students should use this as part of their criteria for choosing the best MSW program.

Where Can a Social Worker with an MSW Work?

The types of work settings where social workers can find employment are as varied as the types of jobs they can find. Those pursuing a medical-focused career are likely to work in clinics, hospitals, private practices, or eldercare facilities. Substance abuse counselors with a Master of Social Work can find relevant jobs at substance find relevant jobs at treatment facilities or behavioral health agencies.

MSW graduates with a specialization in children and youth can work in non-profit organizations, schools, and government agencies such as child welfare. Social workers with a passion for serving military personnel can find civilian employment on military bases, enlist as a social worker, or work at the VA. MSW graduates who study community practice or policy and administration may find work in nonprofit organizations, community-based offices, foundations, and even government agencies and legislatures.

How Much Does a Social Worker With an MSW make?

The average MSW salary in the U.S. is $51,760 a year; however, multiple factors can impact an MSW social worker’s salary. For instance, social workers with more years of experience will qualify for higher salaries than those who recently graduated from their MSW program.

Another factor affecting MSW salary is the location or work environment. For example, those employed in the private sector could very well earn more than those working in a public agency. Social workers with a career in a medical or clinical setting are also likely to earn more.

Continuing Education

Most states require continuing education in social work in order for licensed social workers to maintain their active licenses. However, each state sets its own guidelines for how many hours are required and over what period of time. Different types of licensure are also likely to require different types of continuing education. A master of social work graduate practicing in a clinical setting, for example, may need to complete more credits than an MSW with no clinical license.

Continuing education is also available in the form of a more advanced degree. The doctor of social work (DSW) is a practice-focused degree, while a Ph.D. is more research-focused. These degrees can be pursued by social workers who wish to follow the most advanced career path in the field of social work.

Licensure and Accreditation

In order to become a licensed social workers, prospective social workers should narrow down their MSW programs to colleges and universities that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This national organization evaluates programs to ensure quality education in more than 750 accredited social work programs across the country. The CSWE is the only social work accrediting agency in the U.S., so it’s important for students to confirm this accreditation before enrolling in an MSW program. Most states, if not all, require licensed social workers to graduate from a social work program that is accredited by the CSWE. Neglecting this crucial step could lead to graduates being unable to receive a state social work license.

Career Paths

MSW graduates can pursue careers as clinical or non-clinical social workers.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers pursue career paths in various settings that include human service agencies, mental health clinics, schools, hospitals and schools. Licensed clinical social workers must usually complete two years of supervised practice after they graduate from an MSW program and meet the requirements of the state where they plan to practice.

Non-clinical social workers typically pursue careers in community organizations, hospitals and healthcare practices, public health agencies, and other non-profit organizations. Most states also have licensure or certification requirements for non-clinical social workers.

Common social work careers include:

  • Clinical Social Worker: A clinical social worker is a broad term referring to someone who offers counseling services to those in need. They assist their clients by offering group counseling and one-on-one therapy sessions that teach basic life skills, encourage the development of support systems, and promote community involvement. Some of the most common issues addressed by clinical social workers are poverty, medical problems, mental health, addiction, and learning disabilities. In addition to providing counseling services, they will act as advocates for their clients and connect them with resources and services that can offer further assistance. Pursuing a career as a clinical social worker requires a Master of Social Work degree as well as an advanced license that adheres to state requirements.
  • Child Welfare Social Worker: Child welfare social workers focus on the well-being of children and work to improve outcomes for at-risk children in vulnerable situations. A child welfare social worker typically works in a school, state agency, family service agency, or the federal government. Their clients are often children who are at risk of neglect or abuse and have a disability or behavioral issues. For this reason, a child welfare social worker should be patient and compassionate as well as highly observant. For most roles in this field, only a bachelor’s degree and an initial license are necessary, but many child welfare social workers choose to earn a graduate degree to advance their careers.
  • School Social Worker: Working within a school setting, school social workers assist teachers, parents, and students in addressing any issues that are interfering with a child’s schoolwork. They work with the general student population, as well as students with special needs, to resolve social, emotional, and behavioral issues. There’s a wide variety of responsibilities for school social workers that largely depend on the level of the position, but some duties include evaluating students for substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, offering family or group therapy sessions, making home visits, and providing referrals to relevant resources. Since there are so many different levels to this position, the education needed to pursue a career as a school social worker ranges from a bachelor’s to a doctorate. Additionally, many states also require a school social work license with state-specific requirements.
  • Medical/Healthcare Social Worker: A medical or healthcare social worker works in a medical setting such as a hospital, hospice, outpatient clinic, or long-term care facility assisting patients with health related issues. They assess a patient’s emotional, environmental, and social needs, and work with members of a healthcare team to come up with a continuing care plan for after the patient is discharged. A medical or healthcare social worker is also responsible for arranging in-home medical assistance or equipment needs for patients, as well as helping them obtain financial assistance and health insurance coverage if needed. Additionally, a medical or healthcare social worker is responsible for providing patients with individual counseling and leading support group discussions. To be considered for a position in this field, most states require candidates to have a master’s degree, a number of supervised clinical hours, and the appropriate license.
  • Administrative Social Worker: Administrative social workers are committed to strengthening organizations and systems, and can be found in all areas of social work. Administrative social workers help support the operations of organizations, programs, and institutions, and provide crucial leadership in the places they work. They are skilled at balancing support for workers and consumers with satisfying agency demands, and integrating legality, equity, and efficiency in the field of social work. Administrative social workers often have extensive knowledge in areas including, but not limited to, human resources, change leadership, financial management, resource development, and management and supervision. They often fill roles such as social work administrators, directors, managers, supervisors, mentors, field instructors, and lead social workers.
  • Community-Based Social Worker: Community-based social workers work directly with and within communities to bring about social and economic change. They help to strengthen, empower, and advocate for those within marginalized communities, and are committed to economic and social justice ideals, including equity and equality. Community-based social workers have extensive knowledge of the social and historical contexts of the communities they work with, and are skilled at centering their communities, embracing flexibility and changing political and social landscapes, and leveraging relationships and resources in the interest of their work. Examples of areas community-based social workers work in include: outreach, grassroots mobilization, lobbying, community development, and public awareness efforts.
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