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25 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work Programs 2021

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Social workers provide various services to clients suffering from mental, emotional, physical, or social problems. They usually work for health and human services agencies and organizations. Social workers manage large client caseloads and ensure clients can access beneficial social services, resources, and therapeutic care.

These professionals need compassion, persistence, and healthy boundaries. Clinical social workers typically need a master of social work (MSW) and a professional license. Online MSW programs feature interdisciplinary coursework, core skills cultivation, and specialization opportunities.

Full-time enrollees typically need two years to complete an online master’s in social work program. Candidates enrolled in accelerated programs or those with prior related coursework may finish sooner. Online social work master’s programs can prepare students for supervisory or director roles.

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25 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work Programs 2021



The following list highlights the most affordable social work master’s online programs of 2021. Prospective students can compare the schools and programs below to find the best fit for their professional goals. This list gets updated annually to reflect changes in social work education.

  1. Florida State University
    Location

    Tallahassee, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    FSU's online master's in social work program accepts applications from graduates of a bachelor of social work (BSW) program as well as non-BSW degree-holders. BSW graduates enroll in the 39-credit advanced-standing program, which takes two years to complete. Non-BSW degree-holders enroll in the traditional three-year master of social work (MSW) program consisting of 61 credits.

    Both programs enroll students on a part-time basis follow a 16-week delivery schedule. Advanced-standing students must complete at least 400 field education hours in a generalist practice arena at the time of application. Enrollees in the traditional BSW program need an upper-division 3.0 GPA or higher.

    The MSW requires all students to complete field placements. Traditional BSW students complete two field placements, while advanced-standing enrollees complete just one field placement. MSW candidates fulfill field placement requirements locally after gaining their program coordinator's approval. The program prepares graduates for licensure and is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  2. New Mexico State University-Main Campus
    Location

    Las Cruces, NM

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    NMSU offers an advanced-standing online master of social work (MSW) program composed of 30 credits. Applicants need a bachelor of social work (BSW) from an accredited school. Most students graduate in one year.

    Individuals with a non-BSW degree apply to the regular 60-credit MSW program. Also available online, the regular MSW accepts full-time enrollees only and offers a program of study that learners can complete in two years.

    The MSW program requires all enrollees to undergo a field practicum experience. Advanced-standing students complete 500 hours of fieldwork, while regular MSW students complete 950 hours.

    The curriculum includes coursework in mental health practice, human behavior and the social environment, policy analysis and change, and advanced practice with organizations and communities. MSW candidates must complete social work courses in sequence.

    NMSU's social work programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  3. Tennessee State University
    Location

    Nashville, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    TSU offers a master of social work (MSW) program through the Mid-Tennessee Collaborative Master of Social Work (MTC-MSW) Program. Two other universities – Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro – also participate in the program. The MTC-MSW follows a hybrid delivery system with classes held in the evenings at each of the three participating campuses and online.

    The MSW consists of 30 foundation credits and another 30 credits in the concentration area (advanced generalist practice). Students also complete 400 practicum hours during their foundation year and 500 practicum hours during their concentration year. The curriculum includes coursework in social welfare policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, empirical social work practice, and social policy analysis. The university's social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Applicants with a bachelor of social work can apply for advanced standing, which can significantly shorten the length of time it takes to earn the MSW. Applicants with a bachelor's degree in a non-social work field must complete all required foundation and concentration courses.

  4. University of South Florida-Main Campus
    Location

    Tampa, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    USF's College of Behavioral and Community Sciences offers an online master of social work (MSW) accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Applicants with a bachelor of social work (BSW) can apply for advanced standing, while non-BSW degree-holders can apply to the regular MSW program.

    Advanced-standing applicants need a grade of B or higher in all undergraduate social work courses and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must have earned the BSW within five years of applying to the program. Students can complete the 35-credit, advanced-standing MSW in three full-time or five part-time semesters.

    The regular MSW track accepts applicants with an undergraduate 3.0 GPA or higher and a bachelor's degree in a non-social work area. Learners can complete the 60-credit program in eight semesters.

    The MSW program follows a cohort model of education and includes up to 900 hours of field work. Students enroll in classes in social welfare policy development and analysis, psychopathology, diversity and social justice, and foundations of social work research and statistics.

  5. Concord University
    Location

    Athens, WV

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    CU offers a completely online master of social work (MSW) program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Applicants with an undergraduate degree in a non-social work field must complete the 24-credit standard generalist curriculum before enrolling in 36 credits of advanced coursework. Applicants with a bachelor of social work (BSW) from a CSWE-accredited program can enroll in advanced courses immediately upon acceptance.

    The MSW prepares graduates for an advanced generalist social work career with a concentration in rural practice. The advanced curriculum includes coursework in Appalachian culture, structures, and environment; rural research methods for social work; rural practice with communities and organizations; and human behavior and the social environment in a rural setting. MSW candidates complete field work requirements concurrently with coursework.

    Full-time enrollees beginning the generalist program usually graduate within two years. Advanced students can earn the MSW after just one year of full-time enrollment. The program also accepts part-time enrollees.

  6. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
    Location

    Edinburg, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The online master's in social work at UTRGV comprises 33 credits and accepts applications from graduates of an accredited bachelor of social work program. Applicants must have a minimum 3.2 GPA in all core undergraduate social work courses and show completion of a statistics class. The program leads to a master of science in social work (MSSW) with a concentration in administration and community practice.

    MSSW courses follow seven-week delivery schedules. Most students graduate from the program after 12 months of continuous enrollment. The program focuses on developing leadership skills that enable graduates to improve the delivery of human services for at-risk Latino communities.

    The curriculum includes coursework in advanced social work practice with organizations, policy analysis and development, macro assessment, and accountability and evaluation in macro practice. MSSW candidates must complete at least 500 practicum hours to earn the degree. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the MSSW program prepares graduates to take the exam for the licensed master social worker credential in Texas.

  7. Simmons University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Simmons offers an accelerated online master of social work (MSW) program that students can complete in just 16 months. The program does not require applicants to hold a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree, but once admitted, they must follow a full-time plan of study. The 65-credit MSW program spans four, 14-week terms. The program requires students to enroll in four graduate-level classes each term in addition to completing 1,000 fieldwork hours.

    The university also offers an advanced-standing MSW for BSW degree-holders. The program consists of 24 coursework and 13 fieldwork credits. Students take two classes each enrollment period and begin fieldwork placements after the first term. Advanced-standing enrollees complete 24 hours of clinical fieldwork each term.

    The MSW curriculum covers subjects such as social welfare policy, assessment and diagnosis, social policy and social work in organizations and communities, and advanced clinical practice. Students complete field assignments in approved sites within their home community. Simmons' social work programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  8. Delaware State University
    Location

    Dover, DE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    DSU's College of Health and Behavioral Sciences offers a 60-credit online master of social work (MSW) program that prepares graduates to sit for the field's entry-level licensing exam. The MSW is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and, to date, is Delaware's only MSW program. The college accepts applications from graduates of an accredited bachelor of social work (BSW) program as well as non-BSW degree-holders.

    The program offers a concentration in advanced generalist social work practice. The 60-credit MSW consists of 30 foundation and 30 concentration credits. Graduates of a CSWE-accredited BSW program can transfer up to 28 credits toward the MSW degree.

    The curriculum covers topics such as social welfare policies and services; engagement with and assessment of individuals, families, and treatment groups; human behavior and the social environment; and administration, management, and supervision. MSW candidates must maintain a 3.0 (or higher) GPA throughout the program to qualify for graduation. Non-BSW degree-holders complete 12 fieldwork credits, while BSW-degree-holders complete six fieldwork credits.

  9. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UCF's online master of social work (MSW) program maintains two tracks of study and is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The traditional track comprises 62 credits and follows a three-year cohort model of education. The track accepts applications from graduates of a non-social work program. Applicants who earned a bachelor of social work (BSW) more than six years prior to applying must enroll in the traditional track.

    The advanced-standing track welcomes applications from BSW degree-holders with a 3.3 or higher upper-division GPA. The 32-credit track takes 16 months to complete. The program also follows a cohort model of education. UCF offers both tracks on a part-time basis only. Courses follow seven-week delivery schedules. The MSW meets the educational criteria for social work licensure in Florida. Whenever possible, program coordinators place MSW candidates in fieldwork locations within an hour's drive from their residence.

  10. California State University-Stanislaus
    Location

    Turlock, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The master of social work (MSW) program at Stan State follows a hybrid format and comprises 60 credits. Full-time students can graduate from the program in 24 months (four semesters), while part-time enrollees can take as long as three years (six semesters). The program satisfies the academic requirements for clinical social work licensure in California and is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

    Students enroll in classes in psychosocial assessment; advanced integrative practice with children, adults, and families; social welfare policy and services for social justice; and social work practice with trauma survivors. Fieldwork constitutes an integral component of the MSW degree. Candidates must complete four semesters of supervised clinical work in approved locations prior to graduating from the program. Students must also complete a culminating experience, which can be either a capstone project or a thesis.


  • Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools


    At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs.
    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.

    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.


Frequently Asked Questions


  • What degree do I need to become a social worker?

    Many entry-level social worker jobs require a bachelor of social work (BSW) or a bachelor’s in a related field. However, clinical social workers usually need an MSW.


  • What is a social worker?

    Social workers help individuals struggling with issues such as poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness. Social workers may provide emotional support, advocacy, and referrals to various resources.


  • How long does it take to earn a master's in social work?

    MSW programs typically take two years to complete. However, enrollees with a BSW or related work experience may reduce their time-to-degree through transferring credits or qualifying for accelerated programs.


  • What is the difference between social work and counseling?

    Counseling constitutes one aspect of clinical social work, but social workers assist in other ways. For example, they manage clients’ cases and ensure access to medical and therapeutic treatments.


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Career and Salary Outlook for Social Work



A large sub sector of human services, social work includes many subfields and career paths in the public health, medical, government, and nonprofit arenas. Many social workers provide direct services to clients, while others play administrative roles.

Child and family social workers support parenting improvements and perform interventions, including connecting families to various resources, advocating for and supporting children in schools, and finding other homes for children when necessary. Healthcare social workers typically help aging adults and their families adapt to the complications of aging. Mental health and substance abuse social workers connect clients struggling with addition to various treatment opportunities and resources.

Social work employment prospects look promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects social work jobs to grow 13% between 2019 and 2029, with careers in healthcare and mental health enjoying the best growth projections. Child, family, and school social work job prospects and salaries often depend on government funding. Social workers with advanced degrees or administrative positions often earn more than lower-level social workers.

Bottom 10% Median Annual Salary Top 10%
Less than $31,790 $50,470 More than $82,540

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Social Work Programs



Programmatic and regional institutional accreditation status reliably indicate educational quality. The best social work master’s online programs feature programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and originate in regionally accredited colleges or universities. Consult the Department of Education’s accreditation database to verify school and program accreditation status.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation approves seven regional accrediting agencies, four faith-related national accrediting agencies, and one career-related national accrediting organization. Regionally accredited schools feature better academic standards and resources than nationally accredited schools. Although, students at either regionally or nationally accredited schools can qualify for federal financial aid.

Students should keep in mind that regionally accredited institutions typically only recognize academic work completed at other regionally accredited institutions, so credits from nationally accredited schools may not transfer.

Social Worker Licensing

Social workers obtain licensure from their state’s social work board, so learners should understand social work regulations in the state and jurisdiction where they hope to work. In many states, such as Oklahoma, licensed social work associates (LSWAs) need a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program. Oklahoma LSWA candidates must also pass an Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam and submit evidence of ongoing supervision by an independent licensed social worker (LSW).

Oklahoma graduates of CSWE-accredited MSW programs usually meet degree requirements for provisional licensed master social worker (LMSW) licensure. LMSW candidates must also submit evidence of ongoing LSW supervision and pass the ASWB exam within 12 months of obtaining provisional LMSW licensure. More advanced licenses such as the LSW and licensed clinical social worker also require an MSW, plus additional professional experience.

LSWs seeking to work in a different state sometimes qualify for licensure by reciprocity in states with similar licensure requirements. Reciprocity licensure candidates apply to the new state’s board and submit current licensure information.

Courses in a Social Work Master’s Program



Online master’s in social work programs typically entail 44-72 credits, depending on enrollees’ prior coursework. MSW programs cultivate skills in social science research, analysis, assessment, and case management. Curricula vary based on specialization, although most programs include core courses in social work methods, policy, research, and field work.

Some MSW students pursue an advanced clinical practice track. Others focus on social work leadership and policy change. Specialized courses may include mental health policy and services, advanced child welfare, school social work, and family therapy. The courses below appear in many, but not all, online social work master’s programs.

Introduction to Social Work
Typically completed during the first semester of an MSW, this core course provides an overview of social work-related problems, interventions, services, and organizations. Participants learn about the skills, roles, and training involved in various social work professions and agencies. The course helps MSW students understand how other course topics fit into larger social work systems, policies, needs, and approaches.
Death and Dying
This interdisciplinary social science course explores various impacts, beliefs, and practices surrounding death. Engaging students in self-reflection and discussion, the course discusses ideas and practices surrounding grief, healing, law, and ethics about death and dying. Essential learning for social workers who serve elderly clients and their families, the course emphasizes how social workers can help clients dealing with death.
Diversity: Identities and Issues
This introductory course provides an overview and prelude to more specialized diversity courses. Enrollees explore various social work approaches to diversity and examine historical, conceptual, constructivist, and strengths perspectives. Students learn about the many dimensions of identity difference and their social, cultural, and psychological implications. Enrollees critically examine their own biases and backgrounds and learn social work skills for honoring and bridging differences in ways that benefit clients.
Child, Youth, and Family Services
This elective course covers public policy and social service issues surrounding at-risk children and families. Participants learn about child abuse, neglect, and protection. The course explores various effective interventions from social service systems, focusing on how to reduce risk and help children and adolescents prepare for adulthood.
Mental Health Policy and Services
This elective course provides a comprehensive overview of mental health services and their evolution from federal and state social policies. The course critically analyzes the concept of normalization and the roles of mental health professionals and clients in policy and services. Enrollees also typically learn the history of U.S. mental health policy and practice.

Scholarships for Social Work

MSW students can apply for various scholarships based on identity group, academic merit, community service, or financial need. See below for a sampling of scholarships available to eligible MSW enrollees.

Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Social work master’s degree enrollees committed to working with American Indian, Alaska Native, or Hispanic/Latino populations may apply. Eligible applicants belong to the National Association of Social Workers and attend accredited MSW programs.
Amount: Up to $4,000

National Association of Junior Auxiliaries, Inc. Graduate Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: This scholarship goes to current or aspiring social workers planning to directly serve children and youth. Applicants must be enrolled in a related, one-year graduate program. Candidates need U.S. citizenship and residency in a state with a local NAJA chapter.
Amount: Varies

Verne LaMarr Lyons Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This NASW scholarship supports accredited MSW program applicants or enrollees interested in mental health practice serving the African American community. Eligible applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a biographical essay, two recommendation letters, and official transcripts.
Amount: Varies

Indian Health Service Health Professions Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship serves federally recognized Alaska Native and American Indian Tribe members enrolled in health profession programs. Recipients must serve a full-time clinical practice commitment after finishing their degree and clinical training.
Amount: Varies

National Association of Black Social Workers

Who Can Apply: NABSW provides several scholarship opportunities for African American NABSW members enrolled full time in accredited social work programs. Eligible applicants hold a minimum 2.5 GPA and demonstrate service and research interest in the Black community.
Amount: Varies

Additional Resources

Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.


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