Best Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs

Social workers with a master's degree can pursue leadership roles like managing child welfare agencies and directing service departments. Check out our favorite online master's programs.

portrait of Marni Davimes
by Marni Davimes

Published on December 22, 2021 · Updated on July 27, 2022

Reviewed by Melissa Russiano, LCSW, LISW

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Graduate Social Work Degrees

Taking two years of full-time study, an online master’s degree in social work prepares students to serve their communities during times of great challenge. While some social workers apply their skills to counseling individuals and couples, others use their expertise to advocate for change in the social welfare system. Social workers can also land postsecondary teaching positions or perform research aimed at creating equality for all.


After several years of professional experience, social workers can secure leadership roles, directing social services departments or managing child welfare agencies.

A positive career outlook can be another motivating factor for these students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 8% job growth for social workers between 2019 and 2029. These professionals earn a median salary of $51,760.

Additionally, some related occupations, such as school and career counselor, marriage and family therapist, and rehabilitation counselor, offer even higher projected growth rates and incomes.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Social Work Programs

Is a master's in social work worth it?

A master’s degree in social work can be very worthwhile for learners who want to advance their social work career and positively impact their communities. Earning this degree equips students with skills needed for meaningful roles helping others in education, healthcare, and social services.

What can I do with a master's in social work?

A master’s degree in social work can open doors to rewarding roles in a variety of fields aimed at improving social welfare and quality of life. Graduates can find work in schools as counselors, in private offices as marriage and family therapists, and in medical settings as healthcare social workers.

Are social workers in demand?

The BLS projects 13% job growth for social workers from 2019 to 2029, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS projects the highest demand for child, family, and school social workers; healthcare social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers.

How much money can I make with an MSW?

The amount of money MSW graduates make depends on their chosen field, location, and professional experience. According to the BLS, the top 10% of earners in social work make more than $85,820 per year, while the lowest 10% earn less than $33,020. The most lucrative social work industries include local government, ambulatory healthcare services, and state government.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in social work?

Graduates of MSW programs with considerable professional experience are most likely to occupy the highest paying roles in the field. According to PayScale, the top 10% of social services directors make an average annual salary of $85,000. The BLS reports that the top 10% of school and career counselors and advisors make a median annual salary of more than $97,910.

2022 Best Accredited Online Master's in Social Work (MSW) Programs

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

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#1

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#2

Boston University

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 19%
Graduation Rate 88%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#3

Northcentral University

School Information
Location La Jolla, California
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

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.

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#4

University of Central Florida

School Information
Location Orlando, Florida
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#5

University of South Florida

School Information
Location Tampa, Florida
Admission Rate 48%
Graduation Rate 75%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#6

Yeshiva University

School Information
Location New York, New York
Admission Rate 55%
Graduation Rate 82%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#7

Case Western Reserve University

School Information
Location Cleveland, Ohio
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#8

Fordham University

School Information
Location Bronx, New York
Admission Rate 46%
Graduation Rate 83%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#9

California State University-Northridge

School Information
Location Northridge, California
Admission Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 55%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 55% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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#10

Tulane University of Louisiana

School Information
Location New Orleans, Louisiana
Admission Rate 13%
Graduation Rate 86%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 12% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

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.

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Related Programs That Might Interest You

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

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Courses in an Online Master's in Social Work Program

Social Welfare Policy

This course examines the history and purpose of social welfare, as well as the role and evolution of government in social welfare policy. Students explore current social welfare issues and the underlying values that support different perspectives while learning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our current social welfare system on different levels.

Interventions in Clinical Social Work

In this course, students apply theoretical concepts and intervention strategies to practice experiences with diverse patient populations in supervised settings. Coursework delves into ethical standards in social work, emphasizes the use of evidence-based practice, and covers the importance of cultural competency and sensitivity in a clinical setting. In addition, students will review and practice concrete clinical skills in the classroom and during their field placements to master theoretical concepts.

Poverty and Inequality

With a focus on recent historical trends, this course explores how poverty is defined and measured in the United States. Learners study the political, economic, and philosophical foundations of the nation’s social welfare system, become familiar with current welfare policy controversies, and analyze different perspectives on poverty and inequality.

Human Behavior in the Social Environment

This course explores theories surrounding how people and communities develop, behave, and interact. Degree-seekers examine lifespan development from conception to old age and study how social influence impacts development and community outcomes.

Social Work Research

Social work research courses provide an overview of qualitative and quantitative research methods, causation, measurement, and sampling. Students review key research concepts like hypothesis formulation, research design, and data collection while examining social work research ethics related to informed consent, confidentiality, and cultural sensitivity.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Social Work Program?

While every school is different, most online MSW programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related subject from an accredited institution. Graduate admissions departments tend to look for a GPA of 2.5 or higher and related professional or volunteer experience in addition to the requirements listed below.

Test Scores

MSW programs that require GRE scores usually look for a combined verbal and quantitative score of 1000. Some programs may grant probationary admission to students with an 800 or higher. Nevertheless, many online MSW programs do not require standardized test scores.

Letters of Recommendation

MSW programs often ask applicants to submit letters of recommendation from current and former professors and employers. These letters showcase qualities and characteristics that transcripts and test scores alone cannot demonstrate. Applicants should request these letters 2-3 months in advance.

Resume

Many MSW programs require two or more years of relevant work experience. Your resume should include all professional experience, as well as any volunteer or internship experience related to social work. Applicants typically include a brief description of duties, start and end dates, and contact information for references.

Essays

Applicants typically must submit either personal statements or statements of purpose. While statements of purpose showcase academic achievements and career goals, personal statements typically include individual motivations and specific achievements and challenges.

Official Transcripts

Nearly all MSW programs require students to submit official transcripts from their undergraduate school. These transcripts can also be useful in determining eligible transfer credits from prior courses.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Social Work Degree?

Career Outlook

While the BLS projects 13% job growth for social workers from 2019 to 2029, certain related industries offer an even brighter career outlook. For instance, employment for healthcare social workers is projected to grow 14%, while jobs for mental health and substance abuse social workers are projected to grow 17% between 2019 and 2020.

“There is something that will spark your interests within this vast field.”

As our society puts more importance on mental health, employment for clinical professionals is likely to grow. Some of the largest employers of social workers include individual and family services, local government, and ambulatory health services.

According to Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC, "Whether you want to work in a hospital, work with the gerontology population, support students in school systems, advocate through government agencies, or provide resources to vulnerable populations, there is something that will spark your interests within this vast field."

Discover the benefits of an online master's degree in social work. Learn more about social work careers here.

Career Paths

Social Worker

Social workers help individuals, groups, and families overcome stressful and challenging life events, as well as address underlying mental health concerns. They work in hospitals, clinics, schools, and correctional facilities connecting clients with social services and welfare programs. Clinical social workers may also diagnose behavioral and emotional issues, as well as provide talk therapy and counseling on an outpatient basis.

Median Annual Salary: $51,760

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Social Worke

These professionals work with clients or patients struggling with behavioral disorders, substance abuse issues, and general mental health concerns. Following an in-depth evaluation, these counselors develop comprehensive treatment plans, assess progress, and set goals.

Median Annual Salary: $47,660

School Social Worker, Career Counselor, or Advisor

School and career counselors and advisors help students with a wide variety of concerns, including selecting courses, maintaining grades, planning for college, and organizing life after graduation. They often administer aptitude and personality tests to guide students toward careers that align with their strengths.

Median Annual Salary: $58,120

Child, Family, or School Social Worker

These social workers focus on helping children and their families navigate issues like mental health, unemployment, substance abuse, poverty, and school adjustment. They counsel students with behavioral issues, consult with parents and teachers, develop comprehensive treatment plans, evaluate progress, and set patient goals.

Median Annual Salary: $48,430

Medical Social Worker

Healthcare social workers provide support to patients and families dealing with challenging health diagnoses like terminal or chronic illnesses. They often advise patients and families on their medical options, monitor the mental and emotional health of patients, and provide individual and group counselling services.

Median Annual Salary: $57,630

Social Work Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

After earning a master’s degree in social work, graduates can further advance their knowledge by pursuing a doctoral degree. Master’s degree-holders who want to land advanced clinical positions can opt for a doctoral degree in social work, while those interested in teaching and research careers can enroll in a social work Ph.D. program.

Both tracks usually take 3-5 years and are considered terminal degrees in the social work field.

Licenses and Certifications

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require social workers to graduate from a CSWE-accredited program and pass a licensure exam. Additional requirements, however, vary widely by state. Students can find information on individual state licensure board requirements on the Association of Social Work Boards website.

While all states differ, students should expect to pass an exam and complete a designated number of clinical or practicum hours. Depending on the state, there are several professional licenses available to students upon graduation of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work, including the following:

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Social Work Program?

Cost

Many factors affect the cost of college, including location, degree level, and type of institution. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of a graduate degree at a public institution was $12,171 during the 2018-2019 school year, while the average cost at a private institution was $19,314.

Program Format

Flexibility can be key when earning a master’s degree, especially for working professionals. For this reason, many online programs offer both synchronous and asynchronous course formats, as well as full-time and part-time program options.

Students looking for maximum flexibility can opt for part-time, asynchronous programs that allow them to log on when it’s convenient for them, without set meeting times or a full course load. Accelerated formats may also be available for students who can take on heavy course loads.

Location

While location is crucial for students interested in attending on-campus programs, online students shouldn’t dismiss the physical location of a potential institution. Prospective MSW students should research whether their chosen program requires campus visits or clinical requirements, as well as if they’re able to fulfill these requirements in a location closer to home if traveling is not an option.

Accreditation

Seeking an institution with proper accreditation is among the most important factors to consider when researching MSW programs. Not only does accreditation impact a student’s ability to transfer credits, it can determine whether a graduate is eligible for professional licensure. MSW students should ensure that their school is regionally accredited and that their program has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Student Support

Prospective MSW students should seek schools that offer student resources like mentorship programs, student career centers, and alumni networking opportunities. Online students may find these services especially beneficial, as they can help connect students to their campus and peers.

Find the Tools You Need to Get Started on Your Degree

Interview from:

Portrait of Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC

Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC

Sue English, MSW, LCSW, CADC, is a licensed family therapist and owner of English Meadows Counseling Services in Naperville, IL. She specializes in trauma, self-esteem issues, and mood disorders. She has worked in detox centers, residential facilities, and inpatient/outpatient treatment centers. She is currently in private practice.

She is passionate about empowering individuals to see their full potential and create the life and relationships they know they want and deserve.

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