Compare 50 Accredited MSW Degrees: Find a Program Near You or Online

Social work is an expansive field and if you’re considering a career in it, you may want to pursue a graduate degree in social work. While not required for all social work positions, master’s in social work (MSW) programs may equip both existing and aspiring social workers with the knowledge and skills to serve in a number of roles and across industries—thanks to a combination of core classes, specialized courses and advanced hands-on training.

This page may help you find quality on-campus MSW programs or identify accredited online programs that let you earn your MSW degree from anywhere in the world.

Questions to Consider Before Choosing a Master’s in Social Work Program

For some, pursuing an advanced degree may be a big commitment. Before deciding which MSW program is right for you, take time to consider a few basic questions, such as:

Will an On-Campus or Online MSW Program Best Meet Your Needs? 

What are your priorities when it comes to finding an MSW program? Maybe you’re looking for a program at a school that’s close to where you live. Or perhaps you’re looking for a curriculum with a flexible schedule. 

Depending on your goals, deciding between an online or on-campus education may be one of the first steps you take toward your career as a social worker. For instance, if a school near you doesn’t offer your desired concentration, it may be worth exploring online MSW programs.

Is the MSW Degree Program Accredited by the CSWE?

In most states, social work regulatory boards require those seeking a master’s-level or clinical social work license to have completed graduate-level coursework in a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)

The CSWE’s multi-step accreditation process is designed to help programs outline coursework, define program requirements and determine faculty qualifications that will effectively and safely prepare students for a career in social work. There are currently over 200 accredited MSW programs in the United States.

Do You Meet the Admission Requirements?

Before you may be considered for enrollment at an accredited school, you must meet your desired MSW program admission requirements. Admission requirements vary by program and institution. But typically, MSW programs require the following: 

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA (varies by program) 
  • Prerequisite undergraduate courses (varies by program/specialty track chosen by applicant)
  • Official undergraduate transcripts
  • Personal statement 
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Application fee
  • GRE or GMAT scores 

It’s worth noting that test scores are typically required of students who do not meet the minimum GPA requirements. Again, specific requirements may differ from one program to the next. Assess each program’s admissions criteria to know what they’re asking you to provide.

Are You Eligible for an Advanced Standing MSW Program?

If you hold a bachelor’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited institution, you may qualify for an advanced standing MSW program. On-campus or online advanced standing MSW programs offer students with prior social work education an opportunity to complete their graduate-level coursework in a shorter timeframe than traditional master’s in social work programs.

Students enrolled in an advanced standing program may complete around 30 to 48 credits within a year, compared to the 60 or so credits required by most two-year traditional programs.

Since advanced standing programs generally expect students to arrive with a greater understanding of social work, admissions criteria may be more stringent than traditional MSW programs. In addition to a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), admissions requirements for students who wish to enroll in advanced standing programs may include on-the-job experience in social work or a related field.

Will Your Chosen Specialization Align With Your Career Goals?

Even if you don’t have your entire career mapped out, you can still consider your short- or long-term goals before deciding on a program. For instance, some MSW programs offer a selection of specializations. If you’re interested in working in one-on-one settings, you may want to consider a degree in clinical social work or child, youth and family social work. Other potential specializations may include:

  • Direct practice social work
  • Global social work
  • Advanced generalist/macro social work
  • Community development 
  • Criminal justice
  • Management/administration and policy
  • Medical social work
  • Administrative leadership 
  • Mental health and adult social work

There are a number of routes that prospective social workers can take in their career. If you’re still exploring your options, take some time to research the different social work careers that are available before taking your first step.

Accredited MSW Degree Programs

Explore an overview of some accredited master’s in social work programs below. The CSWE outlines the country’s full list of accredited MSW programs, but this list may point you toward some institutions in the United States with a range of geographical options, learning settings and program lengths.

Common Social Work Licensure Requirements

A license is required to practice social work in most states. Licensure assures the Association of Social Work Boards, employers and clients that practicing social workers have met the field experience and educational requirements set by their state’s social work licensing board

A state license—depending on the specific license classification—may impact things like your earning potential or the type of social work that you may practice. Your background, including work experience and education, may also impact the license that is available to you. 

It’s important to explore the available license types and find a license that aligns with your goals before pursuing this career, which includes completion of a MSW degree, field experience and licensing examinations. Individual state requirements will vary and are subject to change, including licensure standards, exam eligibility and appropriate pathways, and may differ based on individual student backgrounds. Students should do their due diligence and determine the appropriate pathway and license type for themselves.

While there are licenses and jobs available to those with a bachelor’s in social work, you are likely to obtain a Licensed Master Social Worker credential after meeting the necessary state licensing requirements. After obtaining this, you may wish to pursue additional credentialing to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, which occurs once you have practiced a specific number of hours under supervision and have met state requirements, which may include additional testing. 

To understand the differences between the two licenses, please read the following article: Licensed Master Social Worker vs. a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Each state may offer differing titles, so be sure to check with your preferred state of practice for more information. 

After the MSW Degree: Salaries and Potential Jobs

As mentioned, there are a variety of distinct career paths available to licensed social workers—each with its own salary expectations and on-the-job responsibilities. The median annual salary for social workers according to 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data is $50,390. Learn more about different salaries for social workers.

Work environments and specializations for social workers may also influence salary. For instance, healthcare social workers earned a median salary of $60,840 in 2021, compared to $49,130 for social workers who focus on mental health and substance abuse. Other potential careers in social work may be available in the following areas: 

  • Child, family and school
  • Individual and family services
  • Local or state government 
  • Military services
  • Forensic and criminal justice
  • Hospice and palliative care

The job market for social workers is expected to grow by 12% from 2020 to 2030—which is faster than the national average growth rate for all careers, according to the BLS. 

How the MSW Compares to Related Degrees

Outside of MSW programs, there are other graduate degrees to consider like a Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA) or Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW), which also offer coursework that prepares students for a career in the field of social work. Curricula may vary slightly, but there is no significant difference between MSSA, MSSW and MSW programs.  

There are a few major differences between pursuing a degree in social work and a degree in psychology or counseling, however. Each degree’s curriculum, admission requirements, time-to-completion and career prospects vary. For instance, MSW programs may take one or two years to complete (depending on whether you have a BSW). Master’s in psychology programs, on the other hand, are typically two or three years from start to finish. 

In practice, social workers may be tasked with identifying their clients’ concerns, conducting therapy or researching resources that may help—like other community services, psychologists or counselors. By contrast, psychologists focus on diagnosing underlying mental issues and conducting research, while counselors help specific groups (i.e., schoolchildren, adults, etc.) develop coping skills to deal with their issues. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have some lingering questions about MSW programs and careers? Here are a few questions and answers that may help you as you research future opportunities in the field of social work.

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

With a master’s degree in social work, licensed graduates may be qualified to pursue the following social work career options and more: 

  • Case management aide
  • Probation officer
  • Human services specialist
  • Community outreach worker
  • Juvenile court liaison
  • Nonprofit professional
  • Human services administrator

Should I get a master’s in social work or counseling?

Both social workers and counselors promote the well-being of their clients and contribute to their personal development. However, each occupation achieves those goals in a different way. Social workers are responsible for assessing and providing the resources necessary to solve a wide variety of issues, whereas counselors are generally trained to support a specific segment of the population—like high school students or those who are struggling with substance abuse and emotional turmoil by identifying personal goals and potential solutions. If you’re still trying to decide if a master’s in social work is the right choice for you, this MSW guide may help to point you in the right direction: “Is a Master of Social Work Worth It?” 

Is the GRE required for admission to an MSW program?

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that some graduate programs/schools use to evaluate prospective students. Some accredited MSW programs do not require GRE scores; however, if your GPA is below the minimum requirement, some institutions may use test scores to assess your academic potential. To determine if you need to take the GRE test, explore the specific admission criteria outlined by your desired MSW programs. 

Where do social workers make the most money?

According to the BLS 2021 data on the median annual salary for social workers, they may make anywhere from $36,520 to $82,840, depending on qualifications, location, work environment and other factors. For instance, the highest paid social workers typically work in private practices, local government and hospitals. The median annual salary of social workers who work in local government (excluding education and hospitals) was $61,190 in 2021, according to BLS data. These numbers are by no means hard and fast and should be used only as a guide. 

Last updated January 2022