Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

If you're ready to make an impact and level up your social work career, check out these top online programs so you can become a licensed social worker.
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Updated on May 31, 2024
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Best Online Master's Degree Programs in Social Work

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

In a world where people feel increasingly disconnected from others and powerless in the face of societal problems like poverty, loneliness, oppression, or addiction, social workers can help.

"If you want to be a social worker, you must have what it takes to fight for people," said MSW student Bridget Washington. "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."

If that sounds like you, all you need is the right training. Check out these top online programs to start earning your degree on your own terms.

Popular Online Social Work Programs

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

The Best Online Master's in Social Work Programs of 2024

We use trusted sources like Peterson's Data and the National Center for Education Statistics to inform the data for these schools. 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. from our partners appear among these rankings and are indicated as such.

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#1 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

University of Georgia

  • Athens, GA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $629

Credits to Graduate: 60

The University of Georgia's MSW program includes an online, extended-time option and a micro practice specialization. The curriculum centers on cultural competence and dedication to economic and social justice. Students must reside in Georgia or agree to complete their field internships in Georgia. Some field learning activities may take place via teleconferencing.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with coursework in biological sciences, psychology, and social sciences, a 3.0 GPA, and three recommendations. The program encourages relevant work or volunteer experience. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$9,790
Out-of-state
$28,830
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$8,878
Out-of-state
$25,186
Retention Rate
95%
Acceptance Rate
40%
Students Enrolled
40,118
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
20% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#2 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

University of Houston

  • Houston, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $376-$475

Out-of-State | $896-$995

Credits to Graduate: 51

The MSW online at the University of Houston features cohort-based asynchronous classes and in-person practicums. Distance learners receive assistance in finding practicum placements in their local areas from the Practicum Education Office.

Students can select a three-year online clinical degree plan or an online macro degree plan. The program offers advanced standing options for both clinical and macro tracks.   

Admission requirements include a liberal arts-focused bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, a 3.0 GPA, and 2-3 recommendations. Advanced standing entry requires a BSW.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$8,685
Out-of-state
$20,877
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$8,713
Out-of-state
$17,857
Retention Rate
85%
Acceptance Rate
66%
Students Enrolled
47,031
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
69% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#3 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $1,107 (full-time); $1,851 (part-time)

Out-of-State | $1,781 (full-time); $2,975 (part-time)

Credits to Graduate: 45-60

The online MSW program at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor allows for both part-time and full-time study, so you should have ample flexibility with your schedule. Coursework has synchronous and asynchronous components, and participants complete 684 clock hours of field instruction. Classes cover topics like interpersonal practice in integrated health, mental health, and substance abuse. 

U-M offers advanced standing to applicants who earned a BSW degree with a GPA of 3.5 or higher — these students complete 45 credits to earn their master's degree. If you're not a candidate for advanced standing, you must complete 60 credits. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$16,865
Out-of-state
$54,769
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$24,902
Out-of-state
$50,136
Retention Rate
97%
Acceptance Rate
20%
Students Enrolled
50,278
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
34% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#4 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

University of Nevada-Reno

  • Reno, NV
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit:

In-State | $385

Out-of-State | $770

Credits to Graduate: 60

The online MSW at the University of Nevada, Reno, features traditional and advanced standing tracks that emphasize helping clients in diverse communities, including underserved rural areas. The program prepares advanced generalists for licensure that allows autonomous practice with families, groups, and individuals.

Advanced standing students can finish in 15 months, and traditional online learners in 32 months.

Candidates need a liberal arts-focused bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited school (or a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program for advanced standing), statistics and research methods coursework, and a 3.0 GPA. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$7,923
Out-of-state
$24,013
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$5,625
Out-of-state
$21,715
Retention Rate
78%
Acceptance Rate
88%
Students Enrolled
21,034
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
29% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
#5 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

Rutgers University-New Brunswick

  • New Brunswick, NJ
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $1,007

Credits to Graduate: 60

Rutgers' online MSW program offers cohort-based asynchronous courses. Learners can complete their studies in 2-3 years, and BSW holders can apply for advanced standing. Optional certificates include aging and health, interpersonal violence and trauma, and Latina/o initiatives for service, training, and assessment. 

Rutgers maintains relationships with field practicum agencies across the U.S. to allow distance learners to complete clinical placements near their homes.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA. Rutgers prefers candidates who can demonstrate a commitment to social justice.   

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$12,536
Out-of-state
$29,737
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$18,180
Out-of-state
$30,900
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
68%
Students Enrolled
50,804
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
74% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#6 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

University of Southern California

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

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $2,137

Credits to Graduate: 48

The University of Southern California's online MSW offers full-time, part-time, and accelerated advanced standing options. Students can choose from five optional program tracks: adult mental health and wellness; children, youth, and families; military populations and settings; school and educational settings; and social change and innovation. 

Distance learners work with a practicum coordinator to select virtual practicum experiences or community-based placements. 

Admission requires a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited school (a BSW for advanced standing), a 3.0 GPA, and two recommendation letters.  

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$60,446
Out-of-state
$60,446
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$60,446
Out-of-state
$60,446
Retention Rate
96%
Acceptance Rate
13%
Students Enrolled
49,318
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#7 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

Fordham University

  • Bronx, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $1,045

Credits to Graduate: 62

Fordham University's online MSW program offers full- and part-time study and four practice focus options: evaluation, individuals and families, organizations and community, and policy practice and advocacy. Online learners work with placement specialists to find field experience sites in their communities. Students can complete their degrees in 16, 24, or 32 months. 

Applicants submit transcripts, personal statements, a resume, and a letter of recommendation. The program also offers an advanced standing track for BSW holders. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$54,730
Out-of-state
$54,730
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$23,112
Out-of-state
$23,112
Retention Rate
88%
Acceptance Rate
58%
Students Enrolled
16,986
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#8 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

Columbia University in the City of New York

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

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $1,854 (full-time students pay a flat rate of $27,822 per semester)

Credits to Graduate: 60

Columbia University's online MSW program offers four specializations and seven fields of practice. The curriculum features primarily synchronous course delivery and practicum placements across the country.

Students can choose among six pathways: a two-year option; advanced standing for those with a BSW; a part-time to full-time extended track; a one-year residency for working professionals; a one-year transfer track; and part-time study. 

Applicants must demonstrate a serious commitment to social work through experience or internships. Required application materials include a resume, transcripts, an admission essay, and two reference letters. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$59,450
Out-of-state
$59,450
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$50,496
Out-of-state
$50,496
Retention Rate
99%
Acceptance Rate
4%
Students Enrolled
33,776
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
23% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#9 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

Simmons University

  • Boston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $1,148

Credits to Graduate: 65

Simmons University's MSW online program emphasizes social justice in clinical practice. Simmons offers four tracks: 32-month extended; 16-month accelerated full-time; 23-month standard full-time; and 12- to 16-month advanced standing for BSW degree holders.

Distance learners attend live, online classes and in-person clinical practicums at sites in their home communities. Students can select a focus area of interest.    

Admission requires a bachelor's degree (BSW for advanced standing) from a regionally accredited school, a 3.0 GPA, and relevant work or volunteer experience. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$41,872
Out-of-state
$41,872
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$21,384
Out-of-state
$21,384
Retention Rate
86%
Acceptance Rate
84%
Students Enrolled
5,984
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#10 Best Online Master’s in Social Work Programs for 2024

Boston University

  • Boston, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education

Cost per Credit: $956

Credits to Graduate: 43-65

Boston University's online MSW program features a part-time delivery schedule and offers majors in clinical practice and macro practice. Classes combine self-paced work with some synchronous components. In addition to your coursework, you will take part in live classroom discussions and one or two field internships (depending on your major). 

In order to apply, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. If you earned a BSW with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, you may apply to the advanced standing program — this lets you complete your degree after earning 43 credits, as opposed to 65 credits. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$58,560
Out-of-state
$58,560
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$58,560
Out-of-state
$58,560
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
19%
Students Enrolled
36,104
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

How We Rank Schools

To create this ranking, BestColleges sourced the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard. We then ranked each school according to the top variables college students selected in our College Choice and Admissions Survey. To learn more, check out our full rankings methodology or read the summary below.

Ranking Methodology Summary

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To qualify for our rankings lists, each school must be an accredited public or private, nonprofit institution. Each eligible school was then ranked based on a formula measuring:

  • Affordability (30%)
  • Student outcomes (30%)
  • Reputation (20%)
  • Diversity and social mobility (20%)

In addition, we only included colleges with graduation rates in the top third of all online colleges.

Why Should I Get a Master of Social Work Online?

A social work bachelor's degree helps you pursue entry-level positions. But a social work master's degree can prepare you for better opportunities, better pay, and greater impact.

You'll have far fewer opportunities, professionally, without a graduate degree, said Ada Dye, LCSW, MBA.

Benefits of an MSW

  • Boost your earning potential
  • Qualify for licensure and clinical work
  • Gain access to liability insurance
  • Qualify for more interesting jobs

Reasons to Get Your MSW Online

  • More flexibility
  • Ability to learn from anywhere
  • Complete coursework remotely
  • Great for career-changers

How to Choose an Online Master of Social Work Program

As you're choosing the right online master of social work program to meet your goals, it's important to consider several factors:

Specialization and Concentration Offerings

Many online MSW programs offer concentrations in a particular specialty or client, while others offer a generalist focus. Find an online program with a concentration that aligns with your passions and career goals.

Student Support Services

Student support services provide academic and personal support to improve student retention and graduation rates. The services are designed for students with academic needs or first-generation college students to promote their success.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process that ensures online MSW programs meet educational and industry standards. Attending an accredited program is essential for those looking to become a licensed social worker. Each program listed below has been accredited by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE).

Cost

Several factors influence online MSW program costs, including whether you're paying in-state or out-of-state tuition, taking part-time or full-time classes, or attending a private or public school.

You can help lower costs by applying for scholarships and grant programs. If you're currently working, ask your employer if they provide tuition reimbursement.

Explore On-Campus and Online Social Work Programs by State

What to Expect from an Online Master of Social Work Program

After graduating with a online master's of social work, you'll be prepared to work in direct practice with individuals, groups, couples, and families.

Most states offer multiple categories for licensure. With an online MSW, you may become a licensed social worker (LSW) or licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with additional supervised hours.

In an online MSW program, students can expect to complete in-person supervised clinical hours. Hybrid programs may also expect you to attend some in-person classes.

The curriculum for an online master's in social work may include foundation classes, specialization coursework, advanced practice methods courses, and electives.

How Long Does an Online MSW Program Take?

You can complete a traditional online MSW program in four semesters or two academic years if you don't have a bachelor's in social work.

Graduates with a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program may be eligible for an advanced standing program. In that case, the program will take 12-16 months to complete because of the reduced credit requirement.

These are full-time program length estimates. Master's in social work programs typically require that part-time students graduate within four years.

Without a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Required Course Credits

60-70

Field Study Requirements

900-1,200 hours*
*Depending on your specialization

With a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Required Course Credits

30-35

Field Study Requirements

500-650 hours*
*Depending on your specialization

Master's in Social Work Curriculum and Continuing Education

Though your MSW coursework will vary depending on your school and specialization, you can expect to take some version of these core classes during your first year:

  • Social welfare policy
  • Interventions in clinical social work
  • Poverty and inequality
  • Human behavior in the social environment
  • Social work research

In your second year, you'll branch out into more specialized coursework — which will help give you a sense of your preferred area of practice.

Also, keep in mind that most states require social workers to complete continuing education credits 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.

Careers With an Online Master of Social Work Degree

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," said Wendy B. Pitts, LCSW-C. "So: Do your research, decide what you want to do, and take classes that will help you reach that goal."

Earning an online MSW degree will prepare you for a career as a licensed master of social work (LMSW) or licensed clinical social work (LCSW) with the opportunity to work and specialize in different populations.

Careers With a Master of Social Work Degree
Occupation Median Annual Salary (May 2023) Employment Growth (2022-2032)
Healthcare Social Worker $62,940 10%
Mental Health and Substance Misuse Social Worker $55,960 11%
Child, Family, and School Social Worker $53,940 5%
Source: BLS

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

"The skills and experience social workers bring to the table are becoming more and more valuable across the board," said Dye. "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."

What Is the Average Salary With a Master's in Social Work?

The average annual salary for a graduate from an online MSW program is $28 per hour or $61,000 per year, according to Payscale data from May 2024. Several factors influence the average salary range, including location, cost of living index, education, and experience.

An LCSW license requires more supervised clinical hours after graduation and increases your earning potential. The average LCSW salary as of May 2024 was $66,070, according to Payscale.

"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."

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.

Is an MSW Degree Worth It?

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 12 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

CSWE Accreditation for Social Work Programs

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It's vital that you choose an MSW program that is CSWE-accredited**, for three reasons:

  1. Quality Assurance: Accreditation ensures that you are receiving a high-quality education in your field.
  2. Professional Standing: A degree in an accredited program is a qualifying requirement for licensure as a social worker.
  3. Job Opportunities: Graduates from accredited schools can be confident their training will meet job requirements and standards -- giving them more mobility and access to job opportunities nationwide.

**Note: All of the online programs we have ranked on this page are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which is the only accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for graduate programs in social work.

Social Work Licensing and Certifications

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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 social work requirements vary by state.

Licenses available to MSW graduates include:

  • Licensed master of social work
  • Licensed master social worker, advanced generalist
  • Licensed clinical social worker
  • Licensed social worker, administration

The Difference Between an Online MSW vs. a Traditional MSW Program

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There are unique benefits to receiving a master's in social work online or in person. In each case, you graduate with the same education and options for licensure. Online learning offers more flexibility and potentially a lower total cost when you factor in travel expenses.

Online students must have the computer technology to meet the program requirements, attend lectures for synchronous classes, and complete in-person fieldwork.

Prevent Compassion Fatigue

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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 English. "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."

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed on November 29, 2023.

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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