A Master’s in Social Work (MSW) is one of the top degrees that someone can earn in the field of social work. This degree can help you earn a lucrative salary, provide job security and the opportunity for career and personal fulfillment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the social worker job outlook is growing quickly, at a projected 13% between 2019 and 2029.
If you’re passionate about social justice and want to make an impact on communities and diverse populations, an online master’s in social work degree could be right for you. People who seek this degree combine academics with practical field training and can choose from various specializations. We’ve rounded up some of the most affordable online master’s in social work programs for those ready to elevate their career paths.
Explore these promoted online degree programs.
These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs. Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or PhD programs.
Most Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work
Western New Mexico UniversityLocation
Silver City, NM
Western New Mexico University confers a CSWE-accredited MSW program that is available 100 percent online. It is also a program that is taught by licensed professional social workers, making it a great fit for students who want to learn from professionals who know the field from first-hand experience. The program also offers a variety of electives that touch on core areas of the field, enabling students to create their own concentrations for use in the careers. Students will find that field practicums are mandatory for all students, and as these requirements can be quite comprehensive, it may be necessary for students to reduce their working hours to part-time in order to accommodate the experience. The degree requires 39 credit hours of coursework and practicums, a research paper, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Community Organization and Development, Social Work Clinical Assessment and Intervention, and Theories and Techniques of Clinical Social Work Practice.
University of WyomingLocation
The University of Wyoming confers two online MSW programs that will be a perfect fit for both pre-service and working professionals. Pre-service professionals, or those without an accredited undergraduate degree in social work and who have no work experience in the field, will take the traditional route while working professionals who work in the field can take the advanced standing option. While most courses are available online, this is a hybrid degree; students who live in the area are best suited to take on this program. Fieldwork experience and a capstone project are required for this degree, as well as 31 credit hours for advanced standing students and 60 credit hours for traditional students. Sample courses include Foundation of Social Work Practice, Supervision in Social Work, and Social Work Research and Technology.
Boise State UniversityLocation
Students interested in an MSW program will find a 100 percent online degree at Boise State University. The degree can be taken as a traditional online degree or, if a student has an accredited BSW, as an advanced standing program. Students who apply for the advanced track are also required to have significant work experience in the field. This program is accredited by the CSWE, so it is a pathway to earn a social worker license in the state of Idaho; this may not be possible for students who live in other states. Like many other programs on this ranking, Boise State does require students to take on fieldwork experiences as part of their program of study. Students can also expect to complete 61 credit hours of coursework, a research project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Foundation of Social Work Practice, Social Dimensions of Human Behavior, and Program Leadership and Management.
California State University-NorthridgeLocation
California State University at Northridge offers a cheap online MSW program that is full-time and delivered in an asynchronous format; there is also a mandatory synchronous field education class that takes place once a week during the semester. Students will find that this practice-based degree does require field hours, which takes place for the duration of the program; with 16 hours required for each week, this program is best for students who do not have a full-time job. If a student does have a job in the field of social work, they cannot do their field placement hours in the same workplace. The degree requires 36 credit hours of coursework, a research project, and a comprehensive in addition to the field placement in order for students to graduate. Sample courses include Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Psychosocial Assessment and Diagnostic Formulation, and Advanced Social Work Practice with Urban Families.
California State University-ChicoLocation
The three-year online MSW program at California State University at Chico is a 100 percent virtual cohort program that is open to students once every three years. It was built for both working and pre-service professionals; however, the requirements for these students will vary based on their work and educational background. This is a demanding degree program that often advises students to reduce the number of hours they are working at their job in order to successfully complete the necessary requirements. As with most social work programs, placements are mandatory; these can be completed in a student's community. Other requirements include 60 credit hours of coursework, a research project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Social Work Practice in Multicultural Contexts, Advanced Child Welfare, and Policy and Practice with Older Americans and Families.
California State University-San BernardinoLocation
San Bernardino, CA
California State University at San Bernardino offers an excellent online MSW program for students interested in the various certificates and credentials in the field. This is a 100 percent online program that offers internship and work placements within a student's community. Additionally, the school provides other options for their online students, including acceptance into the Title IV-E training program, which is committed to public child welfare practices and policies; the Behavioral Health Program, which focuses on mental health practices; and field placements that enable students to complete the requirements necessary to receive the Pupil Personnel Services Credential. It is also possible to earn concurrent MSW/Master of Public Administration degrees within this program. This is a very demanding degree that requires students work only part-time; requirements include 48 credit hours of coursework and field placements, a capstone project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Child Abuse and Neglect, Social Work Intervention with the Elderly, and Supervision in Social Work.
Humboldt State UniversityLocation
Students looking for an MSW online degree will find that Humboldt State University may offer them exactly what they are looking for in terms of their education. It is a 100 percent online degree that is focused on intercultural populations and diversity; students who take this degree on will find themselves able to work in various regions in America, making a positive change for all Americans. This degree has two pathways: General and Advanced Standing. Advanced Standing is for students who have already earned an undergraduate degree in social work. This is a part-time program that is accredited by the CSWE and can be completed in just over three years. Students can expect to complete 75 units of coursework, an internship in their community, a capstone project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Social Work Practice in Native American and Rural Communities, Generalist Social Work Practice, and Advanced Practice and Indigenous and Rural Communities.
University of Central FloridaLocation
The University of Central Florida offers one of the best online MSW programs in the country. Designed for students who do not have an educational background in social work, this degree is delivered 100 percent online and can be completed in a little more than two years of part-time study. Students who do have a degree in social work can apply for the Advanced Standing Option, which allows them to complete their program in just over a year. Both programs are currently accredited by the CSWE and offer opportunities to professionals to become skilled practitioners in their chosen field of work. While the degree is conferred online, students will be expected to complete field experiences in their community. Students will also be expected to complete 32 credit hours of coursework, 600 hours of practicum experience, a capstone project, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Diverse Client Populations, Social Welfare Policies and Services, and Policy Analysis and Social Changes.
University of North DakotaLocation
Grand Forks, ND
Students who have received their undergraduate degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited school are invited to take on the MSW degree online at the University of North Dakota. This degree is designed for those who already have a background in social work; those who do not will have to take entry into the hybrid MSW program. While this degree is conferred online, there is one residency requirement that is necessary. Students will also find that the courses are taught live but held in the evenings for their convenience. Additionally, all students are afforded the program at the in-state graduate tuition rate, making it an affordable choice for everyone. Students can expect to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, practicum experiences in their community, and a research capstone project. Sample courses include Advanced Generalist Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Advanced Generalist Practice with Families, and Advanced Generalist Tools for Policy.
University of ArkansasLocation
The University of Arkansas offers an accelerated online MSW program that is perfect for professionals. The main criteria for entering the program is that a student must have successfully completed an undergraduate degree in social work from a Council of Social Work Education-accredited program. If students meet this requirement, they will be offered the chance to attend the 12-month cohort program that is delivered 100 percent online; it does require full-time attendance. They will also be required to complete an internship in their community which will be arranged by the department. Other requirements include 39 credit hours of coursework, a thesis, and a comprehensive exam. Sample courses include Social Work Research and Technology, Evidence-Based Social Work, and Advanced Practice with Children and Youth Using the MSLC Perspective.
Our Methodology, Explained
|Academic Quality||Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates||30%|
|Affordability||Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid||10%|
|Reputation||Admission and enrollment rates||30%|
|Program Offerings||Number of program options||20%|
|Online Enrollment Score||Portion of learners taking at least one online course||10%|
For more details on how we rank schools, see our methodology page.
What are the different types of social work?
- Child, family, and school
- Mental health and substance abuse
- All other social workers
How long does it take to complete an MSW?
What is the average growth rate for social worker jobs?
What is the difference between an MSW and a DSW?
When you’re enrolling in an MSW program, it’s important to find the program that best fits your needs. Online social work programs are an excellent option for working professionals who wish to remain in their job while they complete the program.
When looking at specifically online programs, you’re likely to find that programs are either fully live, not at all live, or a hybrid of the two. While in-person programs offer the most support, self-paced programs are the most flexible and allow you to set your own schedule. Most programs offer a standard option of more than 60 credits, but others offer an advanced standing with fewer credits for those who meet certain requirements.
MSW Admissions Requirements
Admission requirements may be different from one school to the next, but there are a few prerequisites you can expect no matter where you apply:
- Bachelor’s Degree: Most graduate-level programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. They may also require applications to have a certain GPA to be eligible.
- Resume: In many cases, MSW applicants are already working in the field when they apply for graduate school. Schools will want to see a resume or other record of work experience.
- Letters of Recommendation: Applicants will have to provide letters of recommendation, either from academic acquaintances like professors or employers and supervisors.
- Background Check: Because of the sensitivity of this particular field and the need for clinical hours to be licensed, many schools require that students go through a background check to join an MSW program.
- GRE or GMAT: Like other graduate degrees, MSW applicants will likely have to provide either GRE or GMAT scores.
Concentrations in a Social Work Masters Program
When you begin a social work master’s degree program, you are likely to have the option of different concentrations to help you narrow the focus of your studies. The concentration or specialization you’ll choose will depend on your career goals.
Clinical/direct social work
The clinical or direct practice concentration is for those who plan to work closely with people or families. This concentration focuses on social work on the micro or individual level. This type of social worker is trained in social casework and therapeutic techniques and is trained to identify, understand, and treat the different mental and emotional challenges someone might face.
Community development or administration
Social workers who specialize in community development or administration focus on the macro-level of social work. They learn to work with communities and larger groups of people, developing policies, and overseeing community programs. These individuals generally work at the management level in the field.
A generalist concentration allows students to work in both the micro and macro levels of social work. They learn to work with individuals on casework while also learning to develop or oversee policies and programs. Individuals who pursue this concentration have a greater understanding of the field but don’t have the depth of expertise in either area.
Common Social Work Masters Courses
The courses you take may vary depending on the school you attend and the concentration you choose, but there are a few basic courses all MSW students will likely take.
Human behavior is the basis for much of what social workers do, and it’s an important foundational course for the study of all concentrations of social work.
Social work practice
No matter what concentration you study, all students will take social work practice courses to learn about the basic underlying principles of social work.
Social work policy
Social work policy courses are most important for those studying community development and administration concentrations but may be required for all MSW students.
Diversity and social justice
No matter what type of work they plan to do, MSW students will study diversity and social justice. These topics are essential for both clinical and administrative social workers.
Those studying clinical social work can expect to take courses studying child and family welfare.
Career and Salary Outlook for Social Work Master’s Graduates
The median pay for a social worker is $50,470, according to 2019 data from the BLS. Pay varies slightly depending on the type of social work one specializes in, but it’s not a substantial difference. The career is growing quickly as the need for social workers increases. The field is expected to grow 13% from 2019 to 2029.
Top paying industries for social work graduates
While social workers are generally low-paid than other professionals, not all MSW graduates actually work as social workers. There are plenty of careers common for MSW holders that earn quite a bit more. Those careers include:
|Industry||Median yearly salary|
|Ambulatory Health Care Services||$83,050|
|Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation)||$75,940|
|Agencies, Brokerages, and Other Insurance Related Activities||$74,240|
|General Medical and Surgical Hospitals||$72,760|
What is the ROI for a Social Work Masters Degree?
Unfortunately, a master’s in social work doesn’t have the same return on investment as many other advanced degrees. The median annual pay for a social worker is $50,470, and a master’s degree is necessary for clinical social workers. That’s less than the national annual mean wage for all occupations, which is $53,490, and less than the median yearly wage of someone with a bachelor’s degree, which is $75,440.
When deciding whether the cost of an MSW will be worth it for you, consider the median wage for your desired field and the cost of the program you’re considering. It’s worth noting that people don’t generally go into social work for its earring potential (or lack thereof). But it’s still important to know what your prospects are.
Certifications and Licences
In addition to completing a Master’s in Social Work, there are other requirements that individuals must meet to work in the field. To work as a clinical social worker, someone must be a licensed social worker (LCW) and licensed in their particular state. To earn their license, applicants must complete two years of supervised clinical work. The Association of Social Work Boards compiles information on the specific licensure requirements for each state.
License requirements for social workers vary by state, but typically these are the different certifications a social workers can pursue:
- licensed social workers (LSWs)
- licensed independent social workers (LISWs)
- licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs)
- licensed independent clinical social workers (LICSWs
Accreditations for Social Work Masters Degrees
Accreditation is a way of reviewing higher education programs ensuring they offer a legitimate and quality education. When a school is accredited, it means it’s gone through a review process and has been given the green light by a third-party organization.
The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is an organization that reviews and accredits social work programs around the country. Each of the master’s programs on our list is accredited by the CSWE, meaning you can trust you’ll be receiving a quality education no matter which school you choose.
Scholarships, grants, and financial aid for MSW students
Most graduate school program are likely to come with a big price tag, but there are ways to make your schooling more affordable:
- Scholarships: There are many need and merit-based scholarships available to help you pay for school. There are scholarships specifically for social work students and those intended for students of particular demographics.
- Student loans: Both the federal government and private financial institutions offer loans to help students cover the cost of their degree. Federal subsidized loans offer a great option, as they don’t accrue interest while you’re still in school.
- Financial aid: In addition to government loans, the federal government also offers need-based grants to help low-income students pay for their degree programs.
- Employer assistance: Depending on where you work, your employer may help pay for your master’s degree. This is perhaps less common in social work than other fields but still worth looking into.
Why should I get a Master’s in Social Work?
Take a closer look at five reasons this degree might be the right choice for you.
A master’s degree is necessary for many jobs in the field of social work. Without this degree, you’ll be limited in the roles you’re eligible for. Seeking an MSW could open up many job opportunities.
Social work isn’t a particularly high-paying field, but those with a master’s degree almost always can earn more than those without, mainly because of the number of jobs that require the degree.
Quickly growing field
Social work is a rapidly growing field, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. There will be an increasing number of jobs in this field. And as demand for these professionals increases, so too could the salaries.
Opportunity for specialization
Pursuing an MSW allows you to focus on a particular contraction or type of social work. The more specialized you are, the more attractive you are to employers for job opportunities.
It’s a simple fact that people don’t go into social work for the pay. The field requires a lot of work without a substantial salary. If you’re considering a master’s in social work, you likely already know how fulfilling and impactful the career can be. With an MSW, you can make that much more of an impact.
The Top 10 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work?
|#1||Western New Mexico University Silver City, NM|
|#2||University of Wyoming Laramie, W|
|#3||Boise State University Boise, ID|
|#4||California State University-Northridge Northridge, CA|
|#5||California State University-Chico Chico, CA|
|#6||California State University-San Bernardino San Bernardino, CA|
|#7||Humboldt State University Arcata, CA|
|#8||University of Central Florida Orlando, FL|
|#9||University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND|
|#10||University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR|
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