Social work is one of the most dependable fields in the United States. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts 16–20% job growth in the field over the next seven years, more than twice the average pace. Social workers can also choose from a variety of specialties and work environments. These include child, family, and school social work, working in a hospital as a caseworker, coordinating with crisis response teams, and a range of opportunities at international aid organizations, non-profits, substance abuse treatment centers, and counseling offices.
According to Data USA, which summarizes government statistics, social workers made on average about $46,000 in 2017. Highest paying jobs are in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, insurance, and schools, though most social workers work for individual and family service agencies, human resources, and direct patient care within hospitals or outpatient services. Within Master's programs students often have the opportunity to earn certificates in specialized fields such as child welfare, gerontology, and addiction treatment.
Though most social work jobs require a Master's degree, the field is unique in that supervised jobs are available to grads at the Associate's and Bachelor's levels by way of undergraduate certificates. This is an excellent way for students to build experience in the field prior to applying for a competitive Master's program, and also allows students to work in the field if they are part-time or online-only Master's students. Indeed, according to a 2017 nation-wide survey from the Council on Social Work Education, about 12% of Master's in Social Work students attended part-time, and a few schools across the nation offer accredited Master's programs completely online.
With that in mind, opportunities abound for students rearing to get into a competitive program and join a rich job market. Most of the programs on our list offer in-state tuition, which can be a great relief for students worried about student debt and who would rather focus on the social impact of their work than how much they need to earn in order to pay back their loans.
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No matter what degree you decide on, we hope our research and support has made the selection process easier. There are numerous resources BVS utilizes to collect information on degrees, and we encourage you to check them out for yourself!
Here are The 15 Best Master's Degrees in Social Work for 2020!
15. The Ohio State University – Columbus, OH
Master of Social Work
The Ohio State University's Master of Social Work offers two degree tracks: the Advanced Standing Program (ASAP) for students who earned a Bachelor's of Social Work from an accredited program in the last five years, and the Traditional MSW Program for those who have a Bachelor's in a field other than social work or who received their BSW more than five years before applying. ASAP starts every semester and can be completed in one full-time year, while the traditional track typically takes two years to complete. Students in both tracks have the option of completing their MSWs as part-time or fully-online students.
Neither track requires the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE) test, but both require a 3.0 or higher undergraduate GPA, as well as at least 15 quarter or ten semester credit hours in the social sciences. The MSW offers several concentrations, as well as dual degree options to earn a Master of Arts, Master of Public Health, and Master of City and Regional Planning. An accelerated MSW/Ph.D. program is also available for those pursuing teaching and research. Students in both tracks must also complete up to 896 hours of Field Education with one of over 800 organizations across Ohio and the U.S. OSU's MSW is No. 13 in the social work category of U.S. News & World Report's 2019 graduate school rankings.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $11,560 / $34,064
14. Columbia University – New York, NY
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at Columbia University centers its training around social and economic justice, with an emphasis on vulnerable populations, working with diverse groups, and researching and testing treatment outcomes. Columbia's program stresses research and field education, which makes up almost one-third of a student's time in the program. Students choose and center their field education around a choice of four method concentrations in clinical work, policy analysis and advocacy, advanced generalist practice, and management and creation of social change organizations. Within those methods, students can choose from seven concentrations, for a total of 28 options.
For students with more than two years' full-time experience working for a social service agency, Columbia offers a Reduced Residency program where students keep their current job and work on their MSW part-time. Field education can be completed at their workplace, and if students work at an agency that has hosted field education at Columbia, they may be eligible for a 50% tuition discount. Columbia tied for No. 3 in U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best Schools for Social Work ranking. Though competitive and pricier for tuition, Columbia students have access to one of the highest-paid regions for social work in the country, as well as the School of Social Work's diverse research centers.
13. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) offers students a broad social work education in one of five areas of concentration: Children, Youth & Families, Health, Community & Organizational Leadership, Mental Health & Addictions, and School Social Work. Different levels and degree maps are available to students who have completed a Bachelors in Social Work within the last five years, as well as those who completed their BSW less recently. Part-time evening class tracks are also available, as well as joint degree programs for students pursuing their Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) or Master of Public Health (MPH). All students must take a series of core classes, then classes in their chosen concentration and a minimum 640-hour practicum in a professional setting.
Students interested in substance abuse and co-occurring mental illness can also apply for the Behavioral Health Academy, a partnership between IUPUI and Community Health Network which allows students to earn both their Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Licensed Clinical Addiction Counselor (LCAC) licenses. Grads receive priority interviews at CHN, as well as other employment incentives. All MSW students are also encouraged to apply for IU's School of Social Work scholarships. IUPUI ranks No. 36 in U.S. News and World Report's 2019 Best Schools for Social Work ranking. The university's low in-state tuition—the third-lowest on our list—seems to attract a lot of native Hoosiers, as almost 87% of the student population comes from Indiana.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $8,568 / $23,448
12. Florida Atlantic University – Boca Raton, FL
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at Florida Atlantic University's Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work emphasizes research and local partnerships to promote its mission of maximizing human potential, alleviating suffering, and bolstering local communities through social work practice. The program can be completed in 1–4 years, depending on whether an applicant wants to attend full or part-time, is a recent Bachelor of Social Work graduate, has a degree in a different field, or did not graduate recently. Applicants do not need to take the GRE but do need to have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and three letters of recommendation.
After completing their core curriculum courses, students must choose a concentration and complete a field practicum within the community. FAU stresses local engagement in its mission and offers continuing education workshops through the Office of Professional Development both to MSW grads and local social workers and professionals in related fields. For those wanting to further their social work education, even more, FAU just graduated its first Doctor of Social Work class in 2019. In accordance with the school's research focus, the Carnegie Foundation has ranked FAU as a "High Research Activity" school. FAU is also known as one of the most diverse universities in the state, with more than half its student population identifying as non-white.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $5,467 / $16,695
11. University of Illinois at Chicago – Chicago, IL
Master of Social Work
Upon first glance, the Master of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Jane Addams College of Social Work appears relatively standard: the degree offers four specializations in Child and Family, Mental Health, Organization and Community Practice, and School Social Work. However, within those concentrations students can choose from several unique curricular enhancements: a certificate in Evidence-Based Mental Health Practice with Children, child welfare training, behavioral health, substance use, and youth with disabilities at risk for incarceration. Additionally, students can apply for interdepartmental concentrations in Gender and Women's Studies and Violence Studies. Students can also apply for the joint MSW–Master of Public Health degree program, which is great for students wanting to focus on health inequality prevention.
The MSW offers a full-time and part-time evening class track, all with the same admissions requirements: students must have a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with at least a 2.75 GPA. MSW students must complete close to 1000 hours of field instruction in the Chicago area—a city known for its socioeconomic and racial diversity, a great opportunity for students wanting experience serving different populations. In fact, for students looking for a diverse campus, UIC is federally designated as a Minority-Serving Institution. UIC–Chicago ties for No. 25 in U.S. News and World Report's 2019 Best Schools for Social Work ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $13,612 / $23,299
10. City University of New York Lehman College – The Bronx, NY
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at the City University of New York (CUNY) Lehman College aims to prepare students for leadership positions in social service agencies and organizations. Every student completes an Advanced General Practice course plan, along with fieldwork in the local community. General applicants must have a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and at least a 3.0 GPA to be considered. A 1-year Advanced Standing Program is available for applicants with a recent Bachelors in Social Work and at least a 3.2 GPA within the major, and a 2-year or 3-year track is available for general applicants.
Lehman College is a growing commuter school of over 14,000 students located in The Bronx, New York, which provides a diverse learning and field practice environment, as well as well-paying job opportunities throughout the New York metro area. In 2017, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Equality of Opportunity Project found that Lehman and four other CUNY colleges were among the top ten colleges in the U.S. with a "high mobility rate," which measures a school's ability to empower and prepare low-income students for success. Together with low in-state tuition, Lehman's MSW could be a great option for local students or anyone seeking a diverse and empowering social work education.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $10,770 / $19,920
9. University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice aims to prepare students for leadership roles in social work on a local, national and global level. Penn's newly-redesigned curriculum combines small class sizes, interdisciplinary course offerings in each of Penn's twelve graduate schools, study abroad opportunities, an international alumni network, and coursework grounded in social justice to prepare students for high-impact jobs around the world. The school offers a range of concentrations and student-driven customized learning plans, along with certificates in unique areas such as prisoner re-entry, global human rights, and criminal justice.
Research and policy courses are required for every MSW student: general topics include urban policy and qualitative research, as well as gender and housing policy. Penn is a highly-selective school, to begin with, as it ties for No. 8 in U.S. News & World Report's 2019 National Universities ranking and No. 10 in its Best Schools for Social Work ranking. However, for students wanting to pursue a global social work education, Penn is an outstanding choice. The social work program was founded in 1908 and has morphed with changes in research and technology over the years, and is committed to pioneering best practices in social justice-minded social work through research and global exposure.
8. The University of Texas at Arlington – Arlington, TX
Master of Social Work
With part-time, full-time, hybrid, and fully-online options, The University of Texas at Arlington's Master of Social Work program is one of the most flexible and affordable MSW's on our ranking. The program's generalist practice curriculum consists of six areas including Applied Social Work Practice, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, and Social Welfare Policy. Students can choose either a "Micro-Social Work" path which focuses on the direct client, patient care, or a "Macro-Social Work" path that focuses on community and administrative leadership. All MSW candidates must complete a field internship.
Students with either an accredited Bachelor of Social Work degree or other Bachelor's degree and a GPA above 3.0 qualify for quick admissions, which involves filling out the application and submitting official transcripts. Those with a GPA under 3.0 but above 2.7 must submit GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and an application essay. Students typically finish the program within two years, but for Texas residents currently living in Texas, students can complete the program fully or partially online. Students are also encouraged to complete the program at their own pace, meaning part-time attendance is also an option. For those interested in expanding their knowledge base, the program offers dual degrees in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Urban Affairs, and more.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $7,898 / $18,996
7. University of Wisconsin–Madison – Madison, WI
Master of Social Work
The University of Wisconsin–Madison's Master of Social Work offers both a full-time and part-time degree track, along with an Advanced Standing track for recent Bachelor of Social Work grads who want to complete the program in one year. The MSW offers four specializations after the Generalist Practice curriculum, including Aging, Child, Youth and Family Welfare, Health, and Mental Health. The university also offers a unique approach to field practice: students split up into Field Units, which focus on particular themes and offer a home base for students to learn and discuss ideas that come up in their field placements.
Faculty in the MSW program are committed to ongoing research in topics such as aging, human trafficking, and inequality in health and human services. A lot of this research happens on campus at one of four interdisciplinary research centers at the university. Students who want to delve deeper are encouraged to apply for one of five dual degree options available or to complete optional MSW research or write a thesis. U.S. News and World Report rank UW-Wisconsin's School of Social as No. 13 in the nation, and Madison achieved No. 12 for Best Places to Live as well, thanks in part to its healthy job market and range of cultural attractions.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $10,728 / $24,054
6. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Champaign, IL
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is another easily accessible and flexible program. Students meeting criteria including graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Social Work in the last seven years (most programs require enrollment within five years of undergraduate completion) with at least a 3.0 GPA can qualify for the Advanced Standing on-campus program and skip generalist practice courses. Students must choose from either the Leadership and Social Change or Advanced Clinical concentrations, along with the completion of an internship. UI's internship placement model is unique in that students complete all of their coursework prior to field study placement, which allows them to focus solely on their experience there.
The MSW program offers a hybrid or fully-online track, though only students choosing the Leadership and Social Change concentration can qualify. Regardless of which path a student decides to choose, job prospects following graduation seem to be great: in 2017 almost 91% of MSW graduates reported they were employed full-time. Additionally, UI–Urbana-Champaign ties for No. 22 in U.S. News and World Report's 2019 Best Schools for Social Work Ranking.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $15,068 / $28,221
5. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor – Ann Arbor, MI
Master of Social Work
The University of Michigan–Ann Arbor's Master of Social Work program offers a dizzying array of concentration options, including political advocacy, community organizing, direct patient/client care, aging and families, and international practice. Students can also apply to one of seven dual degree options, complete part of their degree online, or incorporate Peace Corps service into their degree. Qualified students can also complete their field experience at one of a list of approved international agencies or through a global independent study project. In total, the MSW program offers over 500 field internship placements.
As the No. 1 social work program according to U.S. News & World Report, admission is competitive, but along with financial aid, over 300 scholarships available to MSW students, and six degree length options for students with diverse needs and job experience, UM-Ann Arbor could be both an approachable and thorough education for MSW students pursuing the most elite degree they can find. MSW alumni have gone on to achieve awards for their work in senior care, crisis intervention, and promoting underprivileged populations. 95% of alumni are employed after graduation across the U.S. and abroad, and most work at non-profits. If grads plan to stick around after graduation, the future is bright: in 2017, Forbes ranked Ann Arbor as the best college town in the U.S.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $23,128 / $46,678
4. The University of Texas at Austin – Austin, TX
Master of Science in Social Work
The Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) program at The University of Texas at Austin offers a core foundational curriculum that covers social work history and evolution, an overview of the social work profession, and ethical issues, and aims to introduce all students to diverse populations, social and economic justice theories, and issues unique to women. After completing the core courses, students can choose between the Clinical Social Work Concentration and the Administration and Policy Practice Concentration. Depending on whether students have completed a Bachelor of Social Work degree prior to enrolling, the program can be completed in one to four years. Students can choose from field internship placements at more than 400 local agencies, as well as in international programs.
Qualified MSSW students can also pursue one of six dual-degree options, including Master of Divinity, Master of Business Administration, and Doctor of Jurisprudence. Those not interested in a dual degree program but wanting to gain interdisciplinary expertise can pursue a Portfolio Program on topics such as Disability Studies, Nonprofit Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, and more. Apart from a grad program with so many opportunities, students might be drawn to Austin for its growing popularity, job prospects, cultural diversity, and vibrant arts and music community. For these reasons, U.S. News & World Report ranked Austin as the No. 1 place to live in 2019.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $11,742 / $22,564
3. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Chapel Hill, NC
Master of Social Work
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Master of Social Work program aims to prepare students for leadership positions in organizations and agencies that serve the world's most vulnerable populations. With a year-long Advanced Standing track for recent Bachelor of Social Work grads, as well as a three-year-long distance learning program for those needing a non-traditional postgraduate environment, UNC-Chapel Hill makes its highly-ranked program accessible for a diverse group of students. Along with elective courses, students can take from other departments within the university, MSW candidates can choose between a Direct Practice or Community, Management and Policy Practice concentration culminating in a field internship placement.
UNC-Chapel Hill received third place in U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best Schools for Social Work ranking. No specific undergraduate GPA is outlined in the Master's admissions requirements, but applicants must have a Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a liberal arts background and submit letters of recommendation and an application essay. The program stresses its desire for students from diverse racial, geographical and socioeconomic backgrounds. Hill is an excellent choice for sports fans, as the Tar Heels are best known for their men's basketball team and fierce rivalry with nearby Duke University.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $10,243 / $27,454
2. University of Washington – Seattle, WA
Master of Social Work
The Master of Social Work program at the University of Washington offers ten-month, three-year-long degree programs for students with diverse needs. Along with the Advanced Standing track, UW offers a traditional two-year track, as well as a three-year part-time path for working adults or those with other nontraditional needs. Students can choose between two concentrations: Multigenerational Practice With Children, Families, and Elders, which prepares students for work in schools, juvenile justice, elder and family services, and more, and Integrative Health-Mental Health Advanced Practice, which prepares students for work in direct-care mental health settings.
While UW admits its application process is competitive, it encourages students from diverse backgrounds to apply and stresses its holistic approach to evaluating candidates. Applicants with less than the 3.0 GPA required for UW's graduate programs are still encouraged to apply, along with a letter explaining any outside circumstances that have affected their grades. Despite the program's high ranking (the School of Social Work ranked No. 1 in 2017 for research and broad impact by the Center for World University Rankings), it still accepted between 56–79% of MSW applicants in 2018. So a devoted, qualified student certainly has a chance. In terms of post-MSW job and living prospects, Seattle offers record low unemployment rates and beautiful landscapes and culture that attracts transplants from all over the world.
Tuition (In-state / Out-of-state): $15,510 / $27,801
1. University of California–Berkeley – Berkeley, CA
Master of Social Welfare
Coming in at number one, University of California–Berkeley's Master of Social Welfare is unsurprisingly at the top for its well-known elite reputation, but also for its affordable in-state tuition and accessibility to nontraditional students. Berkeley's MSW offers a traditional two-year full-time path, but also a part-time FlexMSW program for working professionals in the field of social work. Students can apply for one of three areas of specialization, which include Advancing Health and Well-being across the Adult Lifespan, Strengthening Children, Youth and Families, and Strengthening Organizations and Communities. Students must complete two years of field practice and field seminars. Students can also apply for the Concurrent degree in Public Health (MSW/MPH) or the concurrent degree in Public Policy (MSW/MPP).
Additionally, certificates of Aging and Social Work with Latinos are available for those who want to specialize further. Berkeley stands out for its School of Social Welfare's Latinx Center of Excellence, which aims to support and promote success for Latinx students throughout the university. Part of the School of Social Work's Strategic Plan, in line with the university's reputation as a social justice-minded institution, is to find solutions for unequal access to power in the world and to serve the most vulnerable populations. Students who complete their MSW at Berkeley will be fully prepared to do so: the university boasts high-impact, award-winning alumni, as well as a tie for No. 3 on U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best Schools for Social Work ranking.