Best Master's in Social Work Programs

We ranked the best Master of Social Work (MSW) programs based on factors such as academic quality, affordability and online enrollment.
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Updated September 15, 2023

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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

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’s in Social Work Programs

Tennessee State University

  • Nashville, TN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

From its campus in Nashville, Tennessee State University administers a top-ranked master of social work. The program builds specialized skills for advanced practice, preparing graduates for leadership positions and increased salary potential. Master's degree-holders can also pursue new career opportunities.

The program offers a foundation curriculum that explores advanced social work methodologies and research. The program's advanced generalist practice concentration builds on foundational knowledge to prepare students to provide direct and indirect services. Applicants without a social work background may need to complete prerequisites.

Online enrollees participate in local internship programs at approved locations. On-campus learners can access common facilities and services like the library and gymnasium. Graduate students expand their professional connections by attending virtual networking events.

Tennessee State University at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: Data not available

Total Online Master's Programs: 6

Program Name: Master of Social Work

Graduate Tuition In State: $9,276

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $19,752

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,854
Out-of-state
$20,574
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,276
Out-of-state
$19,752
Retention Rate
64%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
7,615
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
52% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 Best Master’s in Social Work Programs

Texas A&M University-Commerce

  • Commerce, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Texas A&M University-Commerce enrolls master's students in its top-ranked master of social work program. The program appeals to social workers who want to strengthen their skills and prepare for leadership responsibilities. A master's degree helps graduates advance in their current field or pursue a new career path.

The master's curriculum emphasizes current social work research. Learners specialize their training by choosing electives and concentrations. Applicants who majored in social work or a related field typically meet the admission requirements.

Online enrollees participate in local internships at approved locations. On-campus students can access the library and gym as well as other amenities and facilities. The program encourages professional development activities, including networking events, so that graduate students can expand their professional connections.

Texas A&M University-Commerce at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 60%

Total Online Master's Programs: 8

Program Name: Master of Social Work

Graduate Tuition In State: $3,630

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $10,992

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$4,790
Out-of-state
$17,060
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$3,630
Out-of-state
$10,992
Retention Rate
58%
Admission Rate
60%
Students Enrolled
12,249
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
89% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#3 Best Master’s in Social Work Programs

Stephen F. Austin State University

  • Nacogdoches, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Stephen F. Austin State University, located in Nacogdoches, Texas, offers a master of social work - specialized practice. The program emphasizes flexibility with full-time and part-time enrollment options. The curriculum prepares enrollees for clinical work and decision-making responsibilities. Master's degree-holders can advance in their current field or pursue new opportunities.

The master's curriculum consists of generalist practice and specialized practice instruction. The specialized practice focuses on advanced generalist work in rural settings. Applicants without a degree in social work or a related field may need to meet prerequisite requirements.

Online enrollees complete internship requirements at approved sites in their own community. On-campus learners can access common facilities and services offered at most universities, such as the library and gym. Graduate students expand their professional network through internships and online events.

Stephen F. Austin State University at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 76%

Total Online Master's Programs: 15

Program Name: Master of social work - specialized practice

Graduate Tuition In State: $5,262

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $13,524

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,842
Out-of-state
$18,858
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$5,262
Out-of-state
$13,524
Retention Rate
77%
Admission Rate
76%
Students Enrolled
12,620
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
95% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#4 Best Master’s in Social Work Programs

Boise State University

  • Boise, ID
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The master of social work program at Boise State University offers both regular standing and advanced standing programs. Students can complete the program online or on campus. 

Enrollees learn how to work with individuals and families. Students learn clinical, policy, and organizational skills. Applicants without an accredited BSW will need to complete the regular MSW program.

Online enrollees meet any in-person requirements, such as internships, at approved sites in their local area. On-campus learners can enjoy the common amenities and facilities available at most institutions, such as the library or gym. Graduate students grow their professional connections through internships and virtual networking events.

Boise State University at a Glance:

Type of School: Public, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 77%

Total Online Master's Programs: 11

Program Name: Master of social work

Graduate Tuition In State: $7,110

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $24,030

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$5,532
Out-of-state
$22,452
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,110
Out-of-state
$24,030
Retention Rate
78%
Admission Rate
77%
Students Enrolled
24,069
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
82% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

#5 Best Master’s in Social Work Programs

Tulane University of Louisiana

  • New Orleans, LA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Located in New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana offers an on-campus and online master of social work. The program focuses on the integration of clinical and community-based practice. Enrollees learn how to provide services to people in their own environments.   

The master's curriculum covers theoretical and practical approaches to address the needs of individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations. The program includes simulations, team projects, and problem-based learning. Students with an accredited BSW may receive advanced standing to complete the degree sooner. 

Online enrollees participate in local internships at approved locations. Students can access field education at more than 100 agencies in New Orleans and 300 around the country. Participants receive comprehensive support services from a distinguished college.

Tulane University of Louisiana at a Glance:

Type of School: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Admission Rate: 11%

Total Online Master's Programs: 10

Program Name: Master of Social Work

Graduate Tuition In State: $59,090

Graduate Tuition Out of State: $59,090

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$54,766
Out-of-state
$54,766
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$59,090
Out-of-state
$59,090
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
13,927
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
63% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

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 TheBestSchools.org, 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 AcademicInfluence.com, 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%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

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:

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.

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.

Median Salary: $51,340

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.

Median Salary: $55,690

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.

Median Salary: $69,600

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.

Median Salary: $51,760

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.

Median Salary: $47,660

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 a Master's in Social Work (MSW 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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