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Most Affordable Online Master's in Social Work Programs

A master's in social work (MSW) qualifies you to work in clinical practice helping people lead better lives or in a community agency increasing access to much-needed social services. Social workers are in high demand in many areas. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that social worker jobs will grow by 16% between 2016 and 2024. Most jobs in social work require an MSW. The affordable online MSW programs ranked here can enable you to reach your goal of becoming a social worker for less money and in as little as a year. All of these programs are offered online although they differ in how much they require you to visit campus or be online at particular times. Some programs put special emphasis on serving specific communities or offer specialized concentrations. All MSW programs also require field experience but these allow you to arrange to intern with an agency near you.

Online MSW Programs Ranking Methodology

Selection Criteria

For this ranking, we focused on public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities that offer MSW degrees online. To be eligible for consideration, each program must be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). We acquired our initial list of potential top programs from the CSWE's list of accredited online and distance education MSW programs.

In addition, we limited our selection to colleges with an average* annual graduate school tuition rate of $25,000 or less.

*For public schools, we calculated the average value of their in-state and out-of-state rates.

Ranking Factors

To assess the value of each program, we defined six ranking factors.

First, we looked at the types of program format: part/full-time and regular/advanced standing. Schools earned more points for offering a greater variety of formats. (Weighted 10%).

Second, we examined accessibility . Not all schools on this ranking are available 100% online. We assigned each MSW program a level of accessibility on a scale from 1 (50% or less of the coursework is online) to 7 (100% of the program is online). Intermediate levels accounted for the percentage of online coursework and other factors, including occasional trips to campus for workshops or intensives and any limitation on the residency of applicants. (Weighted 20%).

Third, we awarded points to programs that offer specialized practice and/or concentration options to online learners. (Weighted 15%).

Fourth, we calculated an average student performance outcome using an assessment report that the CSWE requires each college to publish. MSW departments must evaluate students on various competency measures and report the percentage of program members who meet "competency benchmarks." (Weighted 20%).

Fifth, we recorded the number of MSW majors that the program graduated last year. This measure complements the previous one by emphasizing size over percentage. In this way, we were able to account for the fact that large departments must get more students to hit benchmarks in order to report the same percentage as a smaller program. (Weighted 15%).

Lastly, we measured affordability by looking at each college's average annual tuition rate. Of course, lower prices earned more points. (Weighted 20%).

We scaled the final scores so that the top school earned 100 points. Read more about the best online master of social work programs below!


Most Affordable Online Master's in Social Work Programs

20. University of Arkansas

Online MSW Advanced Standing Program

Website
The University of Arkansas offers four MSW program options, including a one-year, full-time online MSW program for those with advanced standing. The U of A's 39-credit, cohort-based program is completely online and does not require any campus visits. To qualify for advanced standing, applicants must hold a BSW granted in the last six years. Those with a BSW earned earlier may petition for an exception by demonstrating significant social work experience and continuing education since graduation. Advanced standing students also complete 900 hours of field experience over the year at an agency near them and a capstone research project or thesis.

19. Arizona State University

Online Social Work - Standard Program (MSW)

Website
Arizona State University offers more than 175 online programs, including a 60-credit MSW with a concentration in advanced generalist studies with emphasis on the unique cultural diversity of the American Southwest. ASU online programs start six times per year. This program requires 20 courses taken in sequence, including two professional development seminars with synchronous components. Students also complete 960 hours of field education at an agency in their area. The online MSW culminates in an applied portfolio project tied to each student's concentration year internship. Applicants to this program must demonstrate at least 240 hours of volunteer or work experience in social services.

18. Humboldt State University

Online MSW Degree Program

Website
California's Humboldt State University offers an online MSW that emphasizes advanced generalist social work practice within indigenous and rural communities. Students can finish in two years (full-time) to three and a half years (part-time). BSW degree holders with advanced standing can finish in one year. Courses are sequenced, typically limited to 25 students, and only offered once per year. They also include live, weekly online sessions. Students must participate in an orientation on campus at the beginning of the program and visit campus again for annual practice intensives held in January. Online students gain field experience through internships in their own communities.

17. University of Central Florida

Online Master of Social Work

Website
Located in Orlando, the University of Central Florida is one of the largest schools in Florida. It offers more than 80 online programs, including a part-time, nine-semester MSW for those who have an undergraduate degree in something other than social work or those who earned their BSW more than five years ago. Students enroll in one seven-week class per term. UCF also offers a four-semester advanced standing option for those with a recent BSW. UCF provides online students with career, financial aid, academic, and accessibility services. Online students can also access the school's library and writing center.

16. California State University-San Bernardino

Online Pathway Social Work Distance Education Program

Website
California State University, San Bernardino offers an online MSW open to U.S. residents. Students can complete the 90-quarter credit program entirely online in three years (nine quarters) after attending a mandatory 3-day summer orientation on campus. Courses include foundation courses, concentration courses, and electives. Most courses are asynchronous with weekly deadlines although some require synchronous sessions via webcam. Each student must complete a 480-hour foundation field placement and a 600-hour advanced field placement at two different agencies and participate in a monthly online field seminar. CSUSB charges more for online courses than for those taken on campus.

15. Western New Mexico University

Online Master of Social Work (Non-Advanced Standing)

Website
Western New Mexico University offers a 60-credit online MSW (or 39-credit advanced standing degree for those with a BSW earned in the last eight years). Eight-week courses include nine credits of electives that allow for specialization in an area of interest. Students with advanced standing can finish as little as a year. Those without a BSW typically finish in two or three years. Students in the non-advanced standing program complete four field experiences at an agency near them while those with advanced standing complete two. The program includes weekly classes to help students connect their field experiences to classroom learning.

14. California State University-Northridge

Online Master of Social Work

Website
California State University, Northridge offers a full-time, online MSW program that students complete as part of a cohort in two years (four semesters). This 60-credit degree is a generalist program with an emphasis on urban families. All classes are asynchronous, except for a weekly one-hour field education class. Aside from this ongoing field education class, students enroll in two eight-week classes at a time. CSUN expects MSW students to be available weekdays during business hours for field placement and to intern 16 hours per week during the entire program. CSUN does not require online students to ever visit campus.

13. University of Alaska-Anchorage

Online MSW Program

Website
The University of Alaska at Anchorage offers an online MSW with an advanced generalist concentration open to Alaska residents. Students in the 62-credit traditional standing track can finish in two years of full-time study (or four years part-time). Students with a BSW can qualify for a one-year, 35-credit advanced standing track. In the traditional track, students complete a 480-hour foundations practicum and a 480-hour concentration practicum, while those in the advanced track only complete one field placement. UAA also requires students to visit campus twice (or once in the advanced track) and participate in weekly synchronous evening sessions in most online courses.

12. Rutgers University

Online MSW Program

Website
Rutgers University offers traditional, blended, intensive weekend, and 100% online MSW options. In the online program, students may start three times per year and finish in three years by taking two asynchronous courses each semester. BSW degree holders may qualify for advanced standing and finish in four semesters. Students begin a field placement at an agency near them during their third semester (or first semester with advanced standing) that continues throughout the program. This online program offers an optional clinical specialization and a certificate in violence against women and children. Rutgers charges the same tuition for all online students, regardless of their residency status.

11. Metropolitan State University of Denver

Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Program

Website
Applicants to Metropolitan State University at Denver's 60-hour MSW program must specify during admissions whether they wish to study full-time, part-time, fully online, or with a mix of online and traditional courses. Students with a BSW (earned within the last six years) may qualify for the school's one-year, 36-hour advanced standing program. MSU Denver does not guarantee admission into the fully online program, which includes courses with both asynchronous and synchronous activities. MSW students may opt to pursue a specialized program pathway, such as children and families or mental health and the school offers some student stipends that cover tuition costs.

10. Indiana University

Online Master of Social Work Program

Website
Training social workers since 1911, Indiana University currently aims to produce social workers who promote social justice. Full-time students can complete IU's 60-credit MSW in two years. Each year includes three semesters, starting in January, May, and August. In the first year, students take foundations and concentration courses and begin their practicum. The second year consists of coursework specific to practice areas within social work, enabling MSW candidates to specialize in areas such as military social work and addiction. Applicants with a BSW (earned in the last five years) qualify for advanced standing and start with practice area courses.

9. Boise State University

Online Master of Social Work

Website
Boise State University offers a 61-credit MSW completely online that prepares social workers for direct practice. It consists of 43 credits of coursework and 18 credits (1,000 clock hours) of supervised field experience at a local agency. Full-time students can finish the program in two years, one year of foundations courses and one year of advanced courses. Applicants with a BSW who graduated in the last five years (or 10 years for those with social work experience) qualify for Boise's one-year, 43-credit advanced standing MSW. Boise offers seven-week online courses twice per semester and does not charge out-of-state tuition.

8. University of South Florida

Online Advanced Standing MSW Program

Website
The University of South Florida offers an online MSW for those with advanced standing either full-time or part-time. Applicants must hold a BSW completed within the last five years. USF's program prepares social workers for clinical practice with individuals, families, and groups. Admitted students join a cohort and take courses in sequence for as little as three semesters (full-time) or five semesters (part-time). Synchronous practice courses require students to participate via webcam on Tuesday evenings during the first semester and Tuesday and Thursday evenings thereafter. Students apply classroom skills during a field practicum with a local agency.

7. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Online Master of Social Work Program

Website
A public, regional school located in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, Edinboro University offers a 60-hour regular online (or hybrid) MSW consisting of a foundation year and a concentration year. EU waives the foundation year and grants advanced standing to those who completed a BSW within the last five years, upon approval. EU's MSW programs emphasize trauma-informed approaches to providing family-centered social services. MSW students intern with social service agencies near them for two days a week over four semesters (or two semesters in the one-year program). EU expects MSW candidates to maintain a 3.0 GPA or better.

6. Salisbury University

Online MSW Program

Website
Located in Salisbury, Maryland, Salisbury University offers an online MSW with a focus on direct practice to residents of Maryland and the nearby states of Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, D.C., and Pennsylvania. BSW degree holders may apply to the school's 17-month, 32-credit advanced standing program while those with other undergraduate degrees may enter the school's 62-credit regular program. Both online programs follow a 20-student cohort model and require completion of an online orientation in August prior to the program's fall start. Salisbury offers seven-week courses year-round. MSW candidates work with an online field director to secure their field placements.

5. Our Lady of the Lake University

Online Master of Social Work

Website
A Catholic school in San Antonio, Texas, Our Lady of the Lake University has been training social workers since 1942. Its MSW programs emphasize social justice and prepare social workers interested in helping families in need. The school offers a 30-credit advanced standing online MSW program for those with a BSW or a 57-credit foundation program for those with bachelor's degrees in other fields. Students in the advanced standing program can finish in less than two years. OLLU's MSW programs require 450-500 hours of field experience over three terms, half of which must be spent in direct practice.

4. University at Buffalo

Online MSW Part-Time Program

Website
The University at Buffalo offers a two-year, 60-credit traditional online MSW that includes fundamentals coursework in social work or a one-year, 35-credit advanced standing program for those who already hold a BSW. Both programs emphasize human rights and the impact of trauma. Online courses at UB may have both synchronous and asynchronous components. Students can complete both programs entirely online, unless they select certain special electives or advanced topics that are only available on campus. UB offers out-of-state students a lower non-resident tuition rate for online courses. Field placements require a minimum of 15-hours per week over the course of two semesters.

3. Campbellsville University

Online Master of Social Work

Website
A Christian school founded in 1906, Campbellsville University offers a 60-credit online MSW degree with three 30-credit tracks Each track takes a year to complete and consists of 24 credit hours plus six practicum hours. A foundation track teaches basic skills for practicing general social work. Those with a bachelor's in social work can opt out of this track. Students who complete the foundation track or hold a BSW may then select an advanced standing track or clinical track to complete the MSW degree, depending on whether they intend to enter clinical practice. Degree completion also requires a 900-hour supervised field experience.

2. University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley

Online Master of Science in Social Work

Website
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley offers two online MSW programs that specially train social workers to meet the needs of Latino communities. Both of UTRGV's 33-credit advanced standing MSW programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and prepare graduates to attain their licensed master social worker (LMSW) credentials after graduation. UTRGV's MSW in administration and community practice gives social workers the leadership and other skills needed to assess and improve the human services available in Latino communities. The school's second program option prepares social workers for direct practice with Latino individuals, families, and groups.

1. University of Louisville

Online Master of Science in Social Work

Website
Training social workers since 1936, the University of Louisville offers a 100% online MSW program with concentrations in psychosocial oncology, mental health, alcohol and drug counseling, military social work, and gerontology. UL offers a 60-hour MSW option for applicants with a bachelor's degree in a field other than social work and a 30-hour advanced standing option for those with a BSW that students can finish in a year or two. UL's programs emphasize social justice and include a practicum field placement that requires 900 hours of supervised practice at a social service agency in the student's home state.

Thanks for reading our ranking of the 25 best cheap MSW degrees online!

Sources:
IPEDS Data Center
College Navigator
Council on Social Work Education - Directory

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