Best Online Master’s Degrees in Social Work: 2017

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Advanced Programs, Careers & Salaries in the Field of Social Work

Social workers help individuals and families going through a traumatic or turbulent time. This help might include connecting them with government assistance or intervening during a crisis to ensure children are safe. Graduate programs prepare social workers to tackle serious issues by teaching them about human behavior, societal influences, institutions and human development. An online social work master’s program enables students to complete their coursework while already working in a job designed to encourage, empower, help and protect others.

Best Online Master’s in Social Work Degrees: 2017

Most higher-level social work jobs require a master’s degree. But people who are already working in the field might find it difficult to take courses due to time constraints and other obligations. Colleges and universities have heard the call for fully online programs that allow students to pursue their education while handling everything else life throws at them. Learn which of these worthy programs made the top of our list of Best Online Master’s in Social Work Degrees for 2017.

Rank University Name Score Net Price Financial aid percent Online Programs Aavailable Student-Teacher Ratio Grad Rate University Information Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services
1 The University of Alabama Score99.17
Net Price
Financial aid %53%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate67%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
2 University of Missouri-Columbia Score98.82
Net Price
Financial aid %62%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate71%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
3 Virginia Commonwealth University Score98.31
Net Price
Financial aid %41%
#Online programs3
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate56%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
4 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Score98.11
Net Price
Financial aid %45%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate89%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
5 Saint Leo University Score97.92
Net Price
Financial aid %99%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate43%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
6 Murray State University Score97.84
Net Price
Financial aid %70%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate54%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
7 Case Western Reserve University Score97.81
Net Price
Financial aid %84%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate78%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
8 Washburn University Score97.48
Net Price
Financial aid %58%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate34%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
9 University of Southern Mississippi Score97.39
Net Price
Financial aid %74%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate50%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
10 Jacksonville State University Score97.31
Net Price
Financial aid %56%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate29%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
11 University of New England Score97.25
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate58%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
12 University of New Hampshire-Main Campus Score96.99
Net Price
Financial aid %64%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate78%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
13 University of Hawaii at Manoa Score96.81
Net Price
Financial aid %61%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate56%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
14 Our Lady of the Lake University Score96.78
Net Price
Financial aid %99%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate27%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
15 Salisbury University Score96.52
Net Price
Financial aid %61%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate67%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
16 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Score96.35
Net Price
Financial aid %53%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate66%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
17 Marian University Score96.28
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate51%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
18 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Score96.03
Net Price
Financial aid %50%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate71%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
19 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Score95.93
Net Price
Financial aid %69%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate65%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
20 University of Akron Main Campus Score95.90
Net Price
Financial aid %47%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate40%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
21 Wichita State University Score95.88
Net Price
Financial aid %65%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate41%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
22 George Mason University Score95.79
Net Price
Financial aid %20%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate66%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
23 Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College Score95.63
Net Price
Financial aid %53%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate65%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
24 University of Alaska Fairbanks Score95.30
Net Price
Financial aid %43%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate33%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
25 Indiana State University Score95.23
Net Price
Financial aid %75%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate43%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
26 Boston University Score95.19
Net Price
Financial aid %51%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate84%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
27 Western New Mexico University Score94.91
Net Price
Financial aid %26%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate16%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
28 Michigan State University Score94.74
Net Price
Financial aid %44%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate79%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
29 South Dakota State University Score94.70
Net Price
Financial aid %53%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate56%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
30 University of North Dakota Score94.56
Net Price
Financial aid %30%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate52%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
31 Western Kentucky University Score94.54
Net Price
Financial aid %37%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate50%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
32 Louisiana State University-Shreveport Score94.37
Net Price
Financial aid %53%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate27%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
33 Missouri State University-Springfield Score94.36
Net Price
Financial aid %51%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate55%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
34 University of Central Florida Score94.32
Net Price
Financial aid %44%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate65%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
35 Metropolitan State University of Denver Score94.30
Net Price
Financial aid %18%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate25%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
36 Texas Tech University Score93.50
Net Price
Financial aid %39%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate62%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
37 Texas State University Score93.37
Net Price
Financial aid %8%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate55%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
38 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Score92.96
Net Price
Financial aid %25%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate44%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesNo Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less

Online Master’s in Social Work Program Timeline

Getting in: The Application Process

With schools finally narrowed down to the most promising two or three, it’s time to start the application process. Students should begin the process as soon as they know where they want to apply, as it can take time to gather all the information required by the admissions office. Applicants may have to submit the following items to be considered for entry into the competitive online MSW program.

  • Transcripts

    To enter a master’s program in social work, students must hold a bachelor’s degree. Programs might also require a certain GPA, such as a minimum of 3.0 — or possibly higher in certain classes that relate to social work or psychology.

  • GRE scores

    Students should take the Graduate Record Examination as soon as they are certain they want to go to grad school. They may take the GRE more than once in the hopes of obtaining a higher score.

  • Letters of recommendation

    Glowing letters written about the student are excellent additions to the admissions packet. Potential letter-writers might include former professors, work colleagues or volunteer coordinators. For master’s in social work applicants, letters that emphasize their communication skills, work ethic, and passion for social work will bode well.

  • Work history or resume

    Many master’s programs require the applicant to have a certain amount of work or volunteer experience to gain admission. A resume should detail all relevant experience, such as volunteering at local community centers or internships and job experience related to social work.

  • Statement of purpose

    Being passionate about the field is important, and that passion should be reflected in the statement of purpose or personal essay. Prospective student can also use this opportunity to express their intended career and academic goals within social work, highlighting their particular areas of interest or social group specialties.

  • Writing sample

    Colleges love to see applicants submit an excellent writing sample, whether from a term paper, research publication or other source. Choose only the best, and have it edited for even more polish.

  • Interview

    Some colleges interview applicants before making a final decision. For prospective students at online social work master’s programs, the interview can usually be conducted via video chat.

In addition, students should look carefully into financial aid options for the master’s program. Education is not cheap, and most students need some assistance in paying for their courses. Gather all financial information that might be needed for filling out forms for scholarships, grants and loans.

Year 1

The first year of the master’s in social work program is all about building a strong foundation. The core courses students can expect from the first year focus on social work practice, history of social welfare, human behavior, research, mental health policy and clinical basics. Additionally, students work closely with advisors on choosing the proper concentration and participating in a required internship during the period between the first and second year.

Year 2

The second year focuses on the chosen concentration, including more advanced classes that help students strengthen their body of knowledge and skills. In addition to concentration courses, students complete either a capstone project or a master’s thesis — successful completion of either is required for graduation. Though some students are able to complete these requirements during the second year, others might find that a third year is required.

Keep in mind that some social work programs are designed to take three years to complete; accelerated programs tend to take about two years. Students who do choose a program that takes three years can lessen the time they are in school by taking extra courses during summer and other traditional breaks.

Testing & Graduation Requirements

Working hard to complete the course load during an online master’s program is only part of the degree. There are other requirements to graduate.

  • GPA minimum

    Students must perform to a certain level of competency in their social work classes, including earning an average GPA, especially in concentration courses.

  • Master’s thesis

    The master’s thesis is the central part of the degree pursuit. Students confer with an advisor to determine a master’s thesis topic and then work steadily toward completion of their thesis before ultimately presenting that thesis before a committee.

  • Capstone project

    In place of the master’s thesis, some schools require a capstone project. Just as with the thesis, students plan out the project with an advisor and steadily work toward completion. Students of master’s in social work programs will typically select a research topic related to their concentration, and can involve certain skills learned during their education such as creating awareness campaigns, gauging the success of current policies and analyzing treatment modalities.

  • Comprehensive exam

    Most schools require students to complete and pass a comprehensive examination, which tests the skills and knowledge earned over the past two (or three) years of the social work degree program. These exams gauge whether graduates are prepared to enter the field as a social worker.

  • Internship

    Understanding that experience matters, online master’s in social work require a minimum number of internship hours to be completed before the degree can be awarded. This requirement is designed to prepare students for the demands of social work, and grow their practical skills in addition to their coursework understanding.

  • Time limit

    All coursework and other requirements must be completed within a certain amount of time. For instance, in California, degree requirements must be finished within seven years. In addition to state requirements, the school itself might also impose a time limit.

Search Online Master’s Degrees in Social Work

Choosing the right school can be difficult — with so many great options out there, how can students narrow them down to only a few? This search tool aims to make that process easier by allowing students to search by degree level, location, tuition, student population and school type.

Student Population:
School Type:
see map

Why a Master’s in Social Work Matters: Career Paths & Salary

Social workers can choose from a wide variety of careers that make the most of their hard-earned skills and education. They might find employment in schools, with a child welfare office, or at a hospital. Each job is designed to help other people who are going through difficult times in their lives. That makes social workers an important resource for both practical reasons and emotional ones. The following concentrations can lead to careers that place social workers where they can do the most good.

Concentrations
Substance Abuse

Addiction is difficult to treat, which makes this a demanding area of social work. Social workers in this field focus on treating patients and their families through private practice, at rehabilitation facilities or juvenile detention facilities, or via the court system.

Career:
Substance Abuse Social Worker
Substance Abuse Social Worker

People who suffer from addictions can benefit from the help of these social workers, who might also help the families of those suffering from substance abuse.

Healthcare Social Worker
Healthcare Social Worker

As advocates for patients and their families, or as liaisons between the patients and doctors or hospitals, these social workers can help patients come to terms with their medical problems, treatments and decisions. They also help them navigate financial concerns and practical issues.

Clinical Social Worker
Clinical Social Worker

This job can lead to numerous opportunities, including work at research institutions, government organizations, schools, rehabilitation centers or private practice.

Mental Health

The concentration in mental health is suitable for those who want to work directly with patients, especially patients in need of counseling for various issues related to mental health. Graduates might work in health clinics, hospitals, private practice, mental health centers, schools or corrections facilities.

Career:
Clinical Social Worker
Clinical Social Worker

This job can lead to numerous opportunities, including work at research institutions, government organizations, schools, rehabilitation centers or private practice.

Substance Abuse Social Worker
Substance Abuse Social Worker

People who suffer from addictions can benefit from the help of these social workers, who might also help the families of those suffering from substance abuse.

Family Therapist
Family Therapist

Therapists work directly with clients, providing counseling that can help them strengthen their relationships and marriages.

Social Work Teacher
Social Work Teacher

Those who earn a master’s degree in social work are qualified to teach in community colleges; some may find work at four-year colleges.

Child Welfare

Those who want to help children might opt for a concentration in child welfare or family therapy. This area of social work deals with assisting children through life events, such as school issues, family problems and mental health issues. Social workers might also step in when children are in danger, neglected, abused or otherwise in need of intervention from someone outside the family.

Career:
School Social Worker
School Social Worker

This job puts social workers in K-12 schools, as well as in colleges and universities, where they take their lead from teachers concerned about their students’ emotional health. They may work with such students to understand their lives outside of school and develop ways to function both academically and socially in the school environment.

Child Protective Services Worker
Child Protective Services Worker

These social workers help families stay healthy and happy. They also look out for children who are being neglected or abused.

Government Social Worker
Government Social Worker

These workers take their skills to government agencies, where they might help individuals with everything from welfare benefits to social security issues.

Medical/Public Health

This concentration is tailored for students who want to work with patients dealing with medical issues, assist them with making decisions, liaise between the patient and the hospital or facility, and teach the public about best health practices. One of the most important parts of the job is serving as an advocate for patients.

Career:
Healthcare Social Worker
Healthcare Social Worker

As advocates for patients and their families, or as liaisons between the patients and doctors or hospitals, these social workers can help patients come to terms with their medical problems, treatments and decisions. They also help them navigate financial concerns and practical issues.

Hospice Social Worker
Hospice Social Worker

These social workers step in during a very difficult time to help those who are facing the end of their life. They also provide comfort and assistance to surviving family members.

Speech Pathologist
Speech Pathologist

Through therapeutic work with clients, especially children or adolescents, these professionals help individuals overcome speech issues.

School Social Work

Children, adolescents and teenagers are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and might sometimes need help dealing with educational decisions, grades, social issues at school or problems at home. Social workers might also be found in colleges, where they provide career counseling for students.

Career:
School Social Worker
School Social Worker

This job puts social workers in K-12 schools, as well as in colleges and universities, where they take their lead from teachers concerned about their students’ emotional health. They may work with such students to understand their lives outside of school and develop ways to function both academically and socially in the school environment.

Speech Pathologist
Speech Pathologist

Through therapeutic work with clients, especially children or adolescents, these professionals help individuals overcome speech issues.

Salary Potential with a Master’s Degree

Though social workers might be able to begin some jobs with only a bachelor’s degree, those who earn the Master of Social Work (MSW) are more likely to have impressive job opportunities available to them. Students who pursue an online master’s in social work degree will develop pertinent skills and gain the knowledge necessary to do their job well. But some skills are more important than others when it comes to moving up in the workplace. According to PayScale.com, patient counselors, hospice counselors and psychiatric counselors with master’s degrees can expect to make 20 percent, 17 percent and 16 percent more, respectively, than social workers without specialized knowledge in these areas.

Professionals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in social work can look forward to making between $27,015 and $59,775 per year. However, those who opt for the master’s degree can see a nice salary increase, making between $34,745 and $66,839 per year.

Growth potential 19%
Average salary $59,100

Additional Resources & Links

Prospective social workers can find a wealth of information from the following resources, all of which are designed to cater to those in the field.

  • Association of Social Work Boards

    This site focuses on examinations, licenses, resources, and links for members, educators and the public.

  • Clinical Social Work Association

    This association for licensed social workers focuses on new legislation and clinical practice. There is also a job board and other resources for those seeking a position.

  • Council on Social Work Education

    Students who are interested in awards, fellowships and other honors can find information here as well as resources on numerous points of interest to social workers, such as lists of organizations and agencies.

  • National Association of Social Workers

    A popular membership site, the NASW touches on numerous important topics, including practice and professional development, advocacy, and media talking points. It also provides links to publications.

  • Social Work Portal

    This resource tool for social workers is geared toward education possibilities, organizations furthering the cause of social work, and employment opportunities for those in the field.

  • Society for Social Work and Research

    The SSWR’s comprehensive website offers publications, resources, job postings, awards, information on the annual conference, and other perks for members.

Best Online Master’s in Social Work Degrees

Methodology here.

RANK COLLEGE SCORE TEACHER/STUDENT RATIO COST GRADUATION RATE
1 University of Southern California 100.00 9:1 91%
1 Salisbury University 100.00 16:1 66%
1 Case Western Reserve University 100.00 11:1 81%
4 Boston University 99.00 13:1 85%
5 University of Hawaii at Manoa 98.50 13:1 56%
6 Washburn University 98.00 14:1 34%
7 Fordham University 97.00 14:1 80%
8 University of New England 96.50 13:1 57%
9 Western New Mexico University 96.00 16:1 21%
9 University of North Dakota 96.00 19:1 55%
11 University of New Hampshire-Main Campus 95.50 19:1 76%
12 Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College 95.00 22:1 67%
13 Virginia Commonwealth University 94.50 17:1 59%
14 The University of Alabama 94.00 21:1 66%
15 Metropolitan State University of Denver 93.50 19:1 24%
15 Edinboro University of Pennsylvania 93.50 19:1 45%
17 Saint Leo University 93.00 15:1 45%
18 Nova Southeastern University 92.50 16:1 46%
19 University of Akron Main Campus 91.50 19:1 42%