Why This Matters


    Employment opportunities are expected to increase by 13% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than average. Population changes and increasing health care spending are contributing to growth in this sector.


    Social work is a diverse and evolving discipline. These professionals work in ambulatory care settings, government agencies, community development corporations, clinics, schools, and private practices.


    The median annual salary for all social workers in the United States is $50,470, while the highest 10 percent earn more than $82,540 per year.

Our Research

This list focuses on graduate programs in social work that offer master’s degrees. Social work programs typically award a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, although some award a Master of Science in Social Work degree. We reviewed programs that are offered online, in-person, and in hybrid formats.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits social work master’s programs that meet high standards of quality in social work education within the U.S. All listed programs are accredited by the CSWE to ensure that they meet the highest standards of quality and that your degree will be recognized by more employers and certification boards.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Degree program are affordable, respected, and flexible. (For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 51 hours to write this article
  • 181 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 297 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs

The Best Master's in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs
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What You Should Know About This Degree

When considering a career in social work, it’s important to determine your goals. Many entry-level jobs, including positions as a case management aide, community outreach worker, human services specialist, mental health assistant, or probation officer, only require only a bachelor’s degree.

Social work positions with more responsibility typically require a master’s degree. For instance, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree in social work. This specialized area focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness.

In addition to opening up more opportunities in the field, a master’s degree in social work gives graduates the potential to earn some of the industry’s highest salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all social workers in the U.S. was $50,470, while the highest 10% earned more than $82,540. Master’s degree holders typically earn higher wages than those who only have a bachelor’s degree.

All states require clinical social workers to be licensed, and most states have similar certification standards for nonclinical professionals. Because licensing requirements vary by state, students should contact their state licensure board.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching MSW programs:

  • Am I eligible for this program? Admission requirements vary by program, but all expect students to have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university. Many require applicants to demonstrate liberal arts undergraduate preparation through the completion of courses in the social and behavioral sciences, such as anthropology, psychology, and sociology.
  • How long does it take to complete this degree? Full-time graduate MSW programs typically require two years to complete. Some programs allow you to complete your MSW on an accelerated schedule. If you hold a bachelor’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited institution, you may be able to earn your MSW in one year.

As you research programs, review admission requirements, including required application materials, and take note of application deadlines. You can usually find information about the graduate application process online or by contacting their admissions department.

Financing your graduate education is another important consideration. Tuition and fees vary by program. Some programs provide funding for MSW students in the form of assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships. To see if you’re eligible, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you’re employed, ask your employer about educational assistance programs.