Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

An online master's degree in social work could be your ticket to making a difference — and getting paid to do it. Check out our favorite online programs.
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  • A master's degree in social work is required for anyone who wants to pursue licensure and clinical practice.
  • Projected job growth for social workers in the next ten years is between 12 and 15 percent.
  • An online master's degree in social work is a good option if you want to balance being a student with your existing career and personal responsibilities.

Some folks spend their careers behind a computer screen. But social workers spend theirs elbow-deep in the rawest and most vulnerable moments of other people's lives.

In a world where people feel increasingly disconnected from the suffering of others and helpless in the face of societal problems like poverty, loneliness, oppression, or addiction, social workers are the ones who always step up — determined to help and with the training to do it.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

"If you want to be a social worker, you have to have what it takes to fight for people. I've always known that was my calling. If you see what's wrong in the world and want to use the light inside you to fix some of the darkness, go into social work."

Bridget Washington, MSW student

If that sounds like you, all you need now is the right training — and an online master's degree in social work is a great way to get it. Here's how to get started:

  • Explore this page to learn more about what an advanced social work degree would mean for your career.
  • Check out the top-ranked online MSW programs as well as our sponsored programs.
  • Request more information from schools you're interested in to find the best fit for your schedule, your pocketbook, and your career goals.

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.


    Is a Master's Degree in Social Work Right for Me?

  • What the degree is all about:

    An MSW is a specialized graduate degree that gives you the advanced training required for clinical practice as a licensed social worker.

  • What you'll do with it:

    On the micro-level, you will use evidence-based approaches to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and their communities. On the macro-level, you will work to uphold human dignity, eradicate poverty, promote social justice, and contribute to political and institutional change.

  • Where you'll work:

    Wherever you find human need, you'll find social workers — in schools, hospitals, shelters, workplaces, universities, nursing homes, and politics.

Why Should I Get an Online MSW?

A social work bachelor's degree qualifies you for entry level positions. But a social work master's degree is your ticket to better opportunities, better pay, and greater impact.

You'll have far fewer opportunities, professionally, without a graduate degree, said Ada Dye, LCSW, MBA. Social workers who get their MSWs online can expect to be very successful on the job market. Everyone needs social workers right now. It's an especially great option for parents or students looking for a little more flexibility.

Benefits of an MSW

  • Check
    Increase your impact and reach
  • Check
    Boost your earning potential
  • Check
    Qualify for licensure and clinical work
  • Check
    Gain access to liability insurance
  • Check
    Qualify for more interesting jobs
  • Check
    Access to liability insurance
  • Check
    Can open your own practice
  • Check
    Learn transferable career skills

Reasons to Get Your MSW Online

  • More flexibility
  • Ability to learn from anywhere
  • Complete coursework remotely
  • Great for career-changers
"I was a teacher before I took some time off to raise my kids. Then I went back to school to become a social worker. It seemed like a good opportunity because it aligned with my interests and provided so many avenues and settings to work in."

Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC

What Are The Best Online MSW Programs?

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#1 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

University of Southern California

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,995/unit
Out of State | $1,995/unit

Credits to Graduate
37-60 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education

One of the nation's elite colleges, USC offers an accredited master of social work (MSW) online. The MSW offers a traditional program for learners with no experience. The advanced-standing program requires a bachelor of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. 

All students learn evidence-based practices and interventions. The MSW offers several concentrations, including social change and adult mental health. Enrollees build hands-on expertise with more than 1,000 hours of field education.

Students can complete the MSW full time or part time in 12-24 months. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Average Tuition
In-state
$57,256
Out-of-state
$57,256
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
48,321
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#2 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Boston University

  • Boston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $910
Out of State | $910

Credits to Graduate
40-65 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

BU offers a master's in social work with three tracks: traditional, advanced standing, and human service experience (HSE). Students can customize a part-time master of social work (MSW) program with majors in clinical or macro practice. 

The program includes lectures with simulations, interactive animations, and weekly live classroom sessions. Enrollees complete 1,000-2,000 hours in a field internship. Students can complete this online master's in social work in 6-9 semesters. Admission requires a minimum 3.0 GPA. Learners pursuing the HSE track need at least two years of human or social service experience.

Average Tuition
In-state
$54,720
Out-of-state
$54,720
Retention Rate
94%
Admission Rate
19%
Students Enrolled
33,720
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#3 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Northcentral University

  • La Jolla, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $739
Out of State | $739

Credits to Graduate
36-60 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

NCU's online master's in social work offers tracks for those new to social work and learners with experience. The generalist track provides foundational training in social work practices and communication. Students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) take advanced coursework in the advanced generalist track. 

The program supplements online coursework with an in-person practicum. During the practicum, enrollees learn how to work with individuals, groups, and communities. Admission requires a BSW or a bachelor's in a related field such as psychology.

Average Tuition
In-state
$11,064
Out-of-state
$11,064
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
11,223
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#4 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

University of Central Florida

  • Orlando, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $288
Out of State | $288

Credits to Graduate
62 - Traditional Track

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

One of the nation's largest virtual colleges, UCF offers an online master of social work (MSW) with traditional and advanced-standing tracks. The degree prepares generalists and advanced clinical social workers. 

Students gain the skills to work as licensed practitioners. Students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) can pursue the advanced-standing program. The course load depends on learners' transfer credits. 

All enrollees complete internships at community agencies. Students can complete the MSW full time or part time. Admission requires a bachelor's degree or BSW.

Average Tuition
In-state
$4,478
Out-of-state
$19,810
Retention Rate
91%
Admission Rate
44%
Students Enrolled
69,402
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#5 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

University of South Florida

  • Tampa, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $348
Out of State | $431

Credits to Graduate
35-60 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

USF's online master's in social work prepares enrollees for various social work careers. Students gain skills to work with individuals, families, and small groups. Learners with no experience take foundation coursework and build a social work practice. 

Students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) accredited by the Council on Social Work Education receive advanced standing and complete an accelerated curriculum. All enrollees complete field experiences.

A capstone project concludes the program. Students can complete the degree full time or part time. Admission requires a BSW or a bachelor's degree with liberal arts coursework.

Average Tuition
In-state
$4,559
Out-of-state
$15,473
Retention Rate
91%
Admission Rate
48%
Students Enrolled
44,246
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

#6 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Yeshiva University

  • New York, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,085
Out of State | $1,085

Credits to Graduate
30-60 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

New York-based YU offers a customizable online master of social work (MSW). Students in the general track explore the practical and clinical aspects of social work. Coursework focuses on ethics and cultural receptivity. 

Students can tailor the degree with one of two focus areas. These options include gerontology and palliative care embedded certification or the credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor credential. Learners complete in-person fieldwork. 

Enrollees with a bachelor of social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education may receive advanced standing. Admission requires a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Average Tuition
In-state
$42,200
Out-of-state
$42,200
Retention Rate
91%
Admission Rate
55%
Students Enrolled
5,357
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#7 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Case Western Reserve University

  • Cleveland, OH
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,590
Out of State | $1,590

Credits to Graduate
60 - Traditional Track

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

CWRU operates one of the country's best social work schools. The online master of social work (MSW) meets educational requirements for licensure in all 50 states. Students choose either the traditional or advanced-standing track. 

Learners can customize the degree by choosing one of three concentrations. Options include children, youth, and families; mental health with adults; and community practice for social change. Students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) can apply up to 21 credits toward this online master's in social work. 

All enrollees develop clinical skills with 500-900 hours of field education. Students attend live online classes with about 15 peers. Admission requires a BSW or bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.7 GPA.

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,450
Out-of-state
$50,450
Retention Rate
93%
Admission Rate
27%
Students Enrolled
11,874
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#8 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Fordham University

  • Bronx, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $963
Out of State | $963

Credits to Graduate
33-66 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

Fordham manages one of the nation's largest social work schools. The online master of social work trains learners to work with clients in diverse communities. The program offers both traditional and advanced-standing tracks. 

Students can choose from several practice areas, including individuals and families and organizations and community. Enrollees complete 1-2 field placements. 

Learners can enroll full time or part time. Admission to this master's in social work program requires a bachelor of social work or a bachelor's degree and an essay.

Average Tuition
In-state
$52,980
Out-of-state
$52,980
Retention Rate
91%
Admission Rate
46%
Students Enrolled
16,972
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#9 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

California State University-Northridge

  • Northridge, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $752
Out of State | $752

Credits to Graduate
60-63 credits

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

CSUN's online master of social work (MSW) uses a cohort model. Enrollees learn how to work with clients at the individual/family; group/community; and societal/policy levels. MSW topics include human behavior and the social environment and generalist social work theory and practice. Field education gives learners hands-on experience. 

Enrollees complete an individual or group project as the capstone. Students can finish the MSW in 2-3 years. Admission requires a bachelor's degree with a liberal arts background and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Average Tuition
In-state
$5,742
Out-of-state
$17,622
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
59%
Students Enrolled
39,910
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#10 Best Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs

Tulane University of Louisiana

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

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,180
Out of State | $1,180

Credits to Graduate
48-60  

Program Information
Program Accreditation | Council on Social Work Education 

Tulane offers an online master of social work (MSW) designed for working students. The school boasts 100 years of experience training social workers in New Orleans and beyond. Enrollees can customize the MSW with an optional certificate in disaster and collective trauma or mental health, addictions, and the family. 

Students complete about 900 hours of field education. Enrollees with a bachelor of social work (BSW) receive advanced standing. They can complete the degree in 12 months. Admission requires a BSW or bachelor's degree in a liberal arts field.

Average Tuition
In-state
$52,760
Out-of-state
$52,760
Retention Rate
93%
Admission Rate
13%
Students Enrolled
12,923
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

How Much Does an Online Master's Degree Cost?

Average Annual Cost of a Graduate Degree

Public institution | 2020-2021
$12,394

Private institution | 2020-2021
$26,621

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

How Long Does an Online MSW Take?

Without a Bachelor's Degree

If you don't have a bachelor's degree in social work, MSW coursework typically takes about two years of full-time study to complete.

Course Credits Required
60-70 credits

Field Education Required*
900-1200 hours
*Depending on your specialization

With a Bachelor's Degree

If you do have a bachelor's degree in social work, you may qualify for an accelerated master's program, which typically takes 12 months of full-time study to complete.

Course Credits Required
30-35 credits

Field Education Required*
500-650 hours
*Depending on your specialization

How Much Money Will I Make With an MSW Degree?

As you probably already know, social workers aren't exactly famous for raking in the big bucks.

It's not the most lucrative field, but that's also not why people choose it. This is heart-work, said Kenna Hamm, LMSW. If you want a six-digit starting salary, you're going to be disappointed. But that doesn't mean you'll be financially insecure, either. I love my job, I'm fulfilling my purpose, and I make enough to take care of my family.

Child and family services is the most common field of practice for MSW graduates. Social workers in this field tend to earn lower salaries than those in healthcare or private practice.

Hover over the map to see how much child, family, and school social workers made in your state in 2021:

How to Consider Your ROI

Even though you're probably not pursuing an MSW to get rich, it's still important to consider the return on your investment:

  • Will your starting salary cover student loan payments, rent, and groceries?
  • Will you be able to meet your life goals as well as your career goals?

Keep in mind that your ROI can also be influenced by further licensing, which is often compensated at a higher rate, said Melissa Goolsaran, LCSW.

What Jobs Can I Get With a Master's Degree in Social Work?

Social work is a vast profession with a ton of job options.

"Since earning my MSW, I have worked in an outpatient clinic, a group home, treatment for foster care, schools, a university, and my own private therapy practice. So: do your research, decide what you want to do, and take classes that will help you reach that goal."

Wendy B. Pitts, LCSW-C

Here are eight common fields of social work for MSW graduates:

Common Fields of Social Work


Job Outlook for Social Workers

The job outlook for social workers is strong and growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 12% overall job growth from 2020-2030. Certain specializations have even better projections:

Healthcare
Social Workers
+13%

Mental Health
Social Workers
+15%

Substance Misuse
Social Workers
+15%

An MSW can also make you more competitive for jobs outside the field of social work.

The skills and experience social workers bring to the table are becoming more and more valuable across the board, said Ada Dye, LCSW, MBA. After a decade of practice, I went back to school for an MBA. I wanted to bring my insight as a healthcare social worker to bear on the business side of hospital administration, to see if I could make a bigger systemic impact. And that's exactly what I'm doing.

Is an MSW Degree Worth It? Grads Weigh In

The MSW graduates we spoke to want you to know that social work is hard work. You may be paid less than you're worth. You'll learn how to make things happen with limited resources. You'll probably face compassion fatigue, overwork, and burnout.

But they also say that there is nothing more satisfying than empowering your clients and helping them thrive.

"I have never regretted this career. I have never wavered. The privilege of being an ally for my clients and walking alongside them every day is something I could never give up."

Kenna Hamm, LMSW and assistant director of the Texas Adoption Center

"It's a job unlike any other. The work that we do matters. After twelve years, I can honestly say that I would do it all over again."

Angela Clavijo, LMSW and instructor of social work at Lamar University

"My MSW was worth it. It gives me flexibility to explore different roles. It allows me to balance micro work with macro work. It allows me to have a private practice where I can make my own schedule, have career independence, and make a difference."

Melissa Goolsaran, LMSW

"I would tell anyone who wants to work in this field to get an MSW. Because if you do reach a point in your career where you want to make more money, you can eventually quadruple your pay by going into private practice."

Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC

Everything Else You Need to Know About Starting Your Career in Social Work

Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Social Work Program

Every school is different, but most online MSW programs require a bachelor's degree in social work or a related subject from an accredited institution. Other common requirements include:

  • Check
    Test scores (some online programs do not require test scores)
  • Check
    Letters of recommendation
  • Check
    Resume
  • Check
    Personal statement or statement of purpose
  • Check
    Official transcripts
  • Check
    Related professional or volunteer experience may be required

Social Work Licensing and Certifications

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require social workers to graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and pass a licensure exam. Additional requirements vary by state.

Licenses available to MSW graduates include:

Continuing Education in Your Social Work Career

Most states require social workers to complete continuing education units or courses in order to maintain licensure. Check out the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) for more details.

Master's degree-holders who want to land even more advanced clinical positions can pursue a doctoral degree in social work.

Those interested in teaching and research can enroll in a social work Ph.D. program.

The Business Side: Preparing for Private Practice

I was lucky to have an instructor in my master's program who had a private practice. She emphasized that we needed to be thinking about the business side of opening our own practice. That means finding out how to get insurance, marketing your business, and networking with people who can help you get things off the ground, said Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC.

If your program offers a course on building a private practice, take it. If not, consider getting a few course credits from the business program at your school.

Compassion Fatigue: Awareness and Prevention

We get it: You're fired up. You want to change the world. But social work is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding work. Have you thought about how to prepare yourself for the long haul?

It's so common for social workers to experience compassion fatigue and to feel exploited by the systems they have to operate within, said Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC. These are problems you need to anticipate and prepare for ahead of time. As you empower your clients to set healthy boundaries and prioritize their own well-being, you must commit to doing the same for yourself.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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