Master’s in Social Work Degrees 2023: Search the Best MSW Programs For You

Do you have a bachelor’s degree in social work or another field? Are you interested in advancing or changing your career with a master’s degree? Discover the information on the best master’s in social work (MSW) programs with this guide, including how to select the right program, the benefits of an MSW, potential salaries, and our ranking of the best MSW programs.

Master of Social Work Degree Overview

Individuals with bachelor of social work (BSW) degrees and learners with bachelor’s degrees in other disciplines can pursue MSWs. Popular undergraduate majors include social science, psychology, and public policy.

While a BSW qualifies graduates for entry-level social work in areas like aging services and mental health, an MSW offers a gateway to becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). These professionals can offer advanced clinical services and one-on-one psychotherapy and pursue management-level positions.

MSW programs typically take two years to complete. Students with BSWs may qualify for advanced standing, which can reduce up to a year from the timeline to graduation. MSW coursework focuses on specialization areas, covering skills like clinical assessment, managing caseloads, policy-level advocacy, and supervisory roles. MSWs also must complete a minimum of 900 hours of supervised fieldwork at clinics, service agencies, or policy organizations.

MSW specialty areas include child welfare, family practice, grief counseling, and substance abuse. Some students pair their MSWs with dual degrees in business administration, law, or public health.

Key Factors for Selecting an MSW Program

Many factors should influence your decision to apply to an MSW program, but interested applicants should prioritize field placement, faculty, and accreditation. The first two factors relate to specialized coursework and the importance of finding a program that aligns with your focus area. Accredited MSW programs offer strong academic rigor and career preparation.

  • Field Placement: You’ll want to ensure that the program’s fieldwork prepares you for your career, but this experience also allows you to explore different workplace settings.
  • Faculty: Consider programs with instructors who possess experience in your specialization. Review programs’ faculty web pages when conducting research on prospective programs.
  • Accreditation: Programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education indicates that the curriculum receives regular reviews and meets academic and licensure preparation standards.

Featured Online Social Work Degrees

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The Best MSW Programs

Listed below are our choices of the best MSW programs.

We use a data-driven methodology to determine the best social work programs based on four primary factors: academic quality, overall cost, reputation, and accessibility.

Each school description includes a link to its MSW program, which you can follow to find more details.

1. University of California – Berkeley

Part of the extensive network of the University of California campuses, Berkeley offers a full-time master of social welfare that takes two years to complete. The 54-credit curriculum includes generalist, specialized, and diversity-sensitive and competent practice coursework, plus 25 units of field education.

Students select one of three specializations: advancing health and well-being across the adult lifespan; strengthening children, youth, and families; or strengthening organizations and communities.

Berkeley’s selective admission process requires a bachelor’s degree, a 3.0 GPA, college-level statistics, and 1-2 years of employment or volunteer work in social welfare or human services. Bachelor’s in social work-holders can apply for advanced standing status.

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill, the flagship school of the University of North Carolina system, offers one-, two-, and three-year programs for students interested in earning a master of social work (MSW). Applicants with a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) can choose the one-year, advanced standing track. Bachelor’s degree-holders in other disciplines can apply to the two- or three-year programs in which they complete 62 credits and up to 1,100 hours of fieldwork.

All MSW enrollees concentrate in either direct practice — for those interested in working with individuals, families, and small groups — or community, management, and policy practice, which focuses on leadership and advocacy.

3. University of Central Florida

Students at Orlando-based UCF can earn a master of social work (MSW) on campus or online. Both tracks require in-person field education internships. Qualified applicants with a bachelor’s in social work and a 3.3 GPA can apply for advanced standing. The on-campus option offers full- or part-time enrollment and includes a military social work certificate. Online learners study part time and take one course per seven-week term.

The 62-credit curriculum covers topics in diverse client populations, intervention approaches, and psychosocial pathology.

Candidates with a 3.5 GPA who intend to enroll in the two-year full-time track can apply for $10,000 MSW fellowships.

4. University of Chicago

UChicago‘s master’s in social work (MSW) prepares leaders in two concentration areas: clinical social work and social administration practice. The interdisciplinary curriculum blends direct social work practice with policy development, social science theory, and research. Courses and fieldwork emphasize individual distress within a larger social context.

UChicago offers a two-year full-time track, three-year part-time evening and daytime programs, and an advanced standing option for qualified bachelor’s in social work (BSW)-holders. Students can also combine their MSWs with a master of public policy, an MBA, or a master of divinity.

Non-advanced standing applicants have a bachelor’s degree in various fields, including psychology, sociology, business, and education.

5. University of Georgia

The master of social work at Athens-based UGA centers on evidence-based practice and social justice and prepares graduates for their national licensure exams. Several program tracks include full time, extended time, advanced standing, and online, along with dual degrees in public health, law, and divinity. Students can also pursue certificates in areas like gerontology, marriage and family therapy, nonprofit management and leadership, and substance abuse counseling.

Qualified applicants have a bachelor’s degree in any major and a 3.0 GPA. UGA prefers candidates with experience in diverse environments and human services. GRE scores are optional but will be considered if submitted.

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Advantages of Earning a Master’s in Social Work

Earning an MSW offers numerous advantages, especially considering that the degree can take only 1-2 years to complete. Our choices for the top three benefits are licensure, salary, and prerequisite bachelor’s degree flexibility.

  • Licensure: An MSW qualifies graduates to take the LCSW exam, which expands career paths beyond entry-level positions. LCSWs gain advanced clinical and diagnostic skills.
  • Earning Power: As of March 2023, Payscale data indicates that individuals with BSW degrees earn an average of $43,490 each year, while MSW graduates earn an average annual salary of $58,000.
  • Admissions: MSW programs typically admit applicants with bachelor’s degrees in any field, not just social work. Common prerequisites include humanities, psychology, and social sciences.

How to Apply to a Master’s in Social Work Program

In addition to an application, required MSW program admission materials may include undergraduate transcripts, personal essays or statements, 2-3 letters of recommendation, and a current resume or CV.

Common admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a cumulative 3.0 GPA and prerequisite coursework in social sciences, biological sciences, humanities, and math. Some schools may require GRE test scores, but many do not.

Applicants with BSWs may receive admission with advanced standing.

What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Social Work?

Earning MSWs allows graduates to pursue career opportunities in specialty areas. Social workers help individuals, families, and groups and assist organizations and communities. They often research community resources for their clients, such as child care or employment assistance, and provide referrals and advocacy.

MSW-trained social workers may also advocate at the policy level within local, state, or federal legislatures. Supervisory and management roles include leading interprofessional teams, task forces, and organizations.

Common workplaces include social service agencies, hospitals and healthcare organizations, home care, mental health facilities, schools, and senior centers. Some social workers find employment in the military, advocacy organizations, and the government.

The following list includes five of the most popular social work specialties:

  • Aging: Tasks include connecting older adults with services that enable them to live independently and maximize their quality of life.
  • Child Welfare: These professionals help families create safe and nurturing environments for children and teens, along with protecting and supporting young people experiencing abuse and neglect.
  • Justice and Corrections: Clients include people in correctional facilities, courts, police departments, and rape crisis centers.
  • Policy and Planning: This specialty involves policy, programmatic, and regulatory analysis; identification of social problems and study needs; legislative proposals; and development of organizational networks and coalitions.
  • Substance Abuse: These social workers help clients recover from alcohol, tobacco, and drug addictions through therapy and counseling, job and housing advocacy, and case management.

The table below lists five popular options for MSW degree-holders.

Careers With an MSW
CareerAverage Salary
Medical and Public Health Social Worker$57,230
Licensed Clinical Social Worker$62,530
Behavioral Health Specialist$58,260
School Social Worker$50,960
Case Management Manager$93,640

Source: Payscale, March 2023

Average MSW Salary

March 2023 Payscale data lists average MSW-level social worker salaries at $58,000 per year. As of May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median child, family, and school social worker salary of $54,880, while healthcare social worker salaries earned $62,310, and mental health and substance abuse social workers took home a median income of $57,800.

The BLS projects employment for social workers to grow by a faster-than-average rate of 9% from 2021-2031.

Frequently Asked Questions About MSW Programs

What can you do with a master’s in social work?

An MSW opens doors to pursuing employment as an LCSW to work with individuals, families, groups, and organizations in numerous specialties or branching into advocacy and legislative work. Graduates can also pursue doctoral degrees in social work.

How long does an MSW take?

Typically, an MSW takes two years to complete, but individuals with BSWs may be able to graduate in one year. An MSW program may require shorter or longer time frames depending on full-time or part-time enrollment, on-campus or online study, and specialization area.

Can you get an MSW online?

Many schools offer online MSW programs with asynchronous or synchronous lectures for distance learners. However, while students must complete clinical experiences in person, they often can gain this experience in their local communities.

What can you do with an MSW besides social work?

An MSW prepares graduates for positions outside of clinical social work, including research, political advocacy, administration and management, social justice, and individual, family, or organizational counseling.

Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.