Social workers help individuals, families, and communities address issues such as poverty, substance abuse, and mental health. This challenging yet rewarding field enables professionals to work in settings like community organizations, schools, and social services agencies.
The BLS reports that social workers earn an annual median salary of $51,760. However, an MSW may enable graduates to pursue higher-paying positions in management or clinical practice.
How many years does it take to earn a master's in social work degree?
Part-time students may take 30 months or more to complete a master’s in social work. Colleges typically give candidates up to seven years to complete a part-time program, though most students graduate faster.
What kinds of jobs can you get with a social work degree?
A social work master’s degree prepares graduates for jobs such as licensed clinical social worker, social and community service manager, rehabilitation counselor, and family therapist.
How do I start a career in social work?
A bachelor’s degree prepares candidates for entry-level careers in social work, though most clinical positions require a master’s degree at minimum.
Why Get a Degree in Social Work?
A master’s in social work prepares candidates for diverse roles helping individuals and communities. A social work master’s degree also prepares graduates for various advanced certifications, which can lead to increased job opportunities and higher salaries.
Many colleges offer part-time MSW degrees online. These programs often enable students to maintain full-time employment while earning an advanced degree. Additionally, many schools offer tuition discounts to online students.
On average, students pay around $30,000-$40,000 for a master’s degree. However, graduate tuition rates vary widely by factors such as enrollment status, delivery format, and type of school. Private schools generally charge higher tuition rates than public schools, and online programs often charge lower tuition rates than on-campus programs.
Enrollment status can also affect overall tuition expenses. While a part-time master’s in social work gives students the flexibility to maintain full-time employment while pursuing a degree, students spend more semesters enrolled in school, potentially accumulating larger tuition expenses.
However, earning an MSW degree online may save students money. For instance, online students often save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs. Additionally, many schools offer tuition discounts to online students.
Calculating the Cost of a College Degree
Our affordability calculator helps students budget for college by factoring in tuition, expected financial aid, living expenses, and secondary expenses like textbooks. Prospective students can use the calculator to help determine how much they can afford to pay for a degree.
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The BLS reports that social workers earn an annual median salary of $51,760. However, master’s graduates can move into management positions that pay higher salaries, such as social and community services manager. These professionals earn an annual median salary of $69,600.
A master’s in social work builds advanced knowledge and skills in areas including mental health counseling, social work practice, program assessment, and social work policy. Many MSW programs also offer concentrations in areas such as clinical mental health practice, human service management, and children and families.
Social work students typically complete a major culminating project, such as a thesis or capstone. These projects allow students to demonstrate knowledge and skills gained throughout the program.
While course offerings vary among programs, this list outlines courses commonly found in social work master’s degrees.
The course explores the major therapeutic approaches to clinical social work, including cognitive, behavioral, and psychodynamic therapy. Students may analyze various treatment approaches and build their own clinical skills through practicum work.
The class highlights diversity and social justice in relation to culturally competent social work practice. Students explore various factors contributing to diversity, including race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Coursework may also explore various frameworks for identifying inequality and increasing social equity.
The course explores the assessment, intervention, and treatment of substance use disorders. Common topics include client motivation methods, family dynamics, and treatment planning. Most courses emphasize harm reduction and evidence-based treatment approaches.
Certifications and Licensure for Social Work
Social workers can pursue licenses and certifications to demonstrate professional competencies and eligibility to work with various client populations. This list highlights three popular credentials for social workers.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
One of the most popular social work credentials, the LCSW authorizes social workers to provide mental health counseling and other clinical therapy services. Licensure requirements vary by state, but all applicants must hold an MSW degree, complete clinical hours, and pass a licensure exam.
The CSW-G credential demonstrates expertise in clinical work with older populations. Certification candidates must hold an MSW degree and a current state social work license. Applicants also need at least 30 hours of post-graduate continuing education and two years of social work experience with elderly populations.
The C-SSWS credential demonstrates social work proficiency in education settings, including public and private schools, preschools, and special education environments. Applicants must possess an MSW degree, social work licensure, and at least two years of post-graduate work experience in a school setting.
Social work students can pursue financial aid to help finance their education, including loans, grants, fellowships, and scholarships. Unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment, making them ideal forms of financial aid. This list highlights three popular scholarships for master’s in social work candidates.
Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The National Association of Social Workers Foundation (NASW) offers the scholarship to MSW degree candidates who demonstrate a commitment to working with Hispanic/Latino American or Indian/Alaska Native populations.
Who Can Apply: The Council on Social Work Education awards the scholarship to undergraduate or graduate students in social work. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to economic, racial, and environmental justice in their work.
Located in Tampa Bay, Florida, USF's School of Social Work offers a part-time MSW program that students may complete online or in person. The program offers a field practicum in which students gain clinical experience and includes a capstone project in lieu of a comprehensive exam.
Applicants must have taken three credits of biology with human content and three credits each of social and behavioral sciences for admission eligibility. The school prefers applicants with one year of post-undergraduate work or volunteer experience in a social service agency.
Students with a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited BSW and a "B-" or better in all undergraduate social work courses may apply for advanced standing. Learners with advanced standing may complete the MSW degree with 35 credit hours, instead of the usual 60. USF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A research university based in Orlando, Florida, the University of Central Florida's College of Health Professions and Sciences features an MSW degree that prepares students for community-based clinical social work.
Students can complete the MSW degree fully online, although UCF may only offer some electives or prerequisites in person. Enrollees who have earned a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited institution within the past six years may take the online MSW part-time advanced standing track. Learners on this track can complete the MSW degree in four semesters. UCF offers a reduction in campus-based fees for exclusively online students. Students admitted to the online, part-time track may not switch into the on-campus program, or vice versa.
Applicants need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Located in Edinburg, Texas, UTRGV offers a master of science in social work. The 63-credit program offers degree-seekers a choice of two concentrations, each with its own curriculum: direct micro practice with Latino/a individuals, families, and groups (micro-practice), and community practice and administration (macro-practice).
Applicants need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and verified successful completion of a basic statistics course. Candidates with a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program and a minimum 3.2 GPA in social work courses may apply to the advanced (33-credit) program. Students who plan to work in Child Protective Services can receive scholarships through grants from the state's Title IV-E program.
UTRGV is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
New Mexico State University's MSW program specializes in advanced generalist social work practice with populations of the Southwest. The program prepares culturally responsive graduates who are committed to social justice.
The part-time degree holds courses both online and in person at the Las Cruces and Albuquerque campuses. The program's signature pedagogy includes a Field Education Program in which students gain hands-on experience in the local community. Degree-seekers must complete 950 hours of a practicum (approximately 16-20 hours per week). The School of Social Work holds a Practicum Fair to help students find practicum opportunities.
Applicants do not need to take the GRE. Prerequisites include a biology and statistics course, but applicants who have not completed this prerequisite at the time of application may complete it after enrollment.
New Mexico State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
CSUSB's School of Social Work offers a MSW degree that equally emphasizes both micro and macro practice.
Model (2), the program's part-time model, offers the same coursework as the Model (1), full-time program, and takes three academic years to complete. Degree-seekers must complete 1,080 fieldwork hours during regular work hours over 2 academic years. Students may replace some required courses (not including fieldwork courses) with electives after passing a challenge assessment for the required course.
Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and one year of full-time work or volunteer experience in the social work field. Prerequisites include courses in social science research methods, human behavior theory, and human biology. CSUSB is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Based in Los Angeles County's San Fernando Valley, the MSW program at CSUN's Tseng College prepares graduates for careers in various settings, including healthcare centers, schools, and community and government organizations.
Enrollees complete the fully online, part-time MSW program in three years. Classes meet weekly for live online, asynchronous sessions, except for field classes which meet weekly at a time agreed upon by the instructor and students.
The program's cohort format facilitates student collaboration and connection. Students also benefit from the support of a designated program manager, and of the Tseng College's professional distance learning staff.
Competitive applicants possess a minimum 3.0 GPA and work experience. CSUN is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Eastern Washington University offers a MSW program in Cheney, Spokane, and Everett, Washington. Students participate in field education placements in social welfare agencies and organizations throughout the state. The school's Master in Social Work Student Association supports MSW degree-seekers and acts as a liaison between students, faculty, the university, and the local community.
The school offers part-time programs on a cohort schedule, which typically begins every three years. Part-time students with a BSW or BASW from an accredited program can pursue the advanced standing option. Students cannot receive credit for previous life or work experience.
Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA, and must complete a three-credit-hour statistics course with a minimum 2.0 GPA. The school does not require GRE scores for admission. ESU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Enrollees can complete Arizona State University's MSW program on the university's downtown Phoenix campus, at Tucson, or online. ASU offers concurrent program options for students who wish to combine their MSW degree with a juris doctor of law (JD) degree or a master's in public administration (MPA). The MSW program prepares graduates to respond effectively to the needs of special populations in the American Southwest.
Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also have completed 240 hours of work or volunteer experience in social services during a six-month period within the past five years. Applicants do not need to send GRE or MAT scores unless they hold a junior and senior GPA below 3.20.
Arizona State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Texas State, based in San Marcos, Texas, offers an online, part-time MSW program. The MSW degree with a concentration in advanced practice leadership prepares graduates for both direct practice and administrative careers.
Foundation classes include courses such as human behavior in local global and social environments, social welfare policy and services, and social work research. Electives include courses on topics such as healthcare, international social work, spirituality, and work with veterans. Students complete 62 credit hours on the foundation track, or 36 credit hours on the advanced standing track (for students who have obtained a BSW within the past 10 years).
Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers can apply for the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship. Fellows complete internships in underserved communities.
Texas State is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Ohio State University's 63-hour online MSW program consists of a foundation curriculum, advanced practice coursework, and extensive fieldwork experiences. Fieldwork helps students hone hands-on skills under mentor guidance. Areas of emphasis include aging and health, child and youth services, and mental health and substance abuse. The asynchronous program also offers live sessions in which learners can interact with classmates and faculty.
All students enrolled in Ohio State's distance education programs pay in-state tuition rates. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA, and at least 10 semester credit hours in the social sciences. The school does not require GRE scores for admission. However, GRE scores might help support some applications.
The MSW program at Ohio State is the country's oldest continuously accredited program of its kind at a public university. Ohio State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
In Virginia Commonwealth University's online MSW program, part-time students earn their degree in three or four years. The program prepares graduates to work as practitioners, scholars, and leaders, and to improve quality of life in local, state, national, international, and professional communities. VCU's Richmond-based faculty draw on their real-world experience living and working close to the nation's capital.
Each course holds three synchronous meetings throughout the semester. Online students gain hands-on experience and networking opportunities through field placements at agencies in their local communities. Field instructors, field liaisons, and student success advisors provide support to learners throughout this process.
One of the largest comprehensive social work programs in the country, Virginia Commonwealth University's MSW program holds accreditation from the CSWE. VCU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College
Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the online MSW program at LSU allows students to benefit from the flexibility of online coursework combined with the university's professional network and internship opportunities.
Degree-seekers can complete the 60-credit-hour program in two years: a "generalist year" and a "specialist year," with a thesis or non-thesis exit requirement. Prior learning assessment allows students to use professional certifications or military credit toward their degree.
Applicants need a 3.0 GPA, at least 12 credit hours in social and behavioral sciences, and at least nine hours in the humanities for admission eligibility. They must also hold a "C" or better in an introductory statistics course.
Louisiana State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the Kent School of Social Work at UofL offers an online master of social work and science (MSSW) degree. Students choose a specialization and customize their degree to focus on alcohol and drug counseling, gerontology, mental health, military social work, or psychosocial oncology. Online learners complete 900 practicum hours at a social service organization in their state of residence.
Applicants do not need to submit GRE scores. Students from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) can benefit from an accelerated admissions process, scholarship opportunities, and mentoring through the school's HBCU Cardinal Express to Success initiative. Transfer students may transfer up to six credit hours of graduate coursework from an accredited university.
The University of Louisville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Louisville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
UT Knoxville's College of Social Work offers an online MSSW program as well as in-person classes on its Knoxville and Nashville campuses. Students take online classes through both synchronous and asynchronous formats. The same professors teach both the online and in-person programs. Enrollees choose a concentration in either evidenced-based interpersonal practice or organizational leadership.
Applicants need a minimum 2.7 GPA for admission to the extended study (part-time) program. Degree-seekers in the extended study program complete 60 credit hours in three or four years, and two field placements. A college field coordinator arranges field placements, so students do not need to seek them out.
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A public research university in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the University of Arkansas offers an online advanced standing MSW degree for students with a bachelor's degree in social work. Graduates can take on supervisory and leadership positions in the field, or go on to pursue a Ph.D. in social work.
The 39-credit-hour degree takes full-time students one year to complete, and requires a year-long, 22 hours per week internship. The program may allow learners to complete an internship at their current workplace. An internship field seminar meets live via virtual classroom once a week. Learners benefit from the support of student cohorts.
Applicants must live in the United States and hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. The University of Arkansas is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Social workers support individuals, families, and communities, helping clients work through challenges such as divorce, unemployment, addiction, and poverty. Licensed social workers offer treatment for emotional, mental, and behavioral issues....
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