Social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the country, with the National Association of Social Workers reporting that more than 70,000 new jobs were added in 2018 alone. Although many graduates of bachelor’s degree programs find some entry level work in the field, the most rewarding and lucrative career opportunities require an advanced education, such as a masters in social work degree.
The best social work masters programs prepare students with knowledge of the core competencies and the values that guide social workers to excel at professional training and practice. This is true whether the student chooses a traditional best master’s in social work program or an online degree in social work.
Benefits of Earning a Masters in Social Work
Earning a masters in social work degree takes the entry-level roles available to graduates of bachelor’s degree programs to the next level. There are many positions that an individual cannot apply for unless they have a graduate degree, such as the degree earned after graduated from a best masters in social work program. These programs prepare graduates to work in advanced and clinical practice positions.
Widener University describes some additional benefits of earning a degree in social work, including earning an online masters in social work. The advanced education and training that comes with completing one of the best social work masters programs allows for doing the work before students even graduate from the program. This is not limited to the fact related to completing a practicum or other hands-on experiences, but also to the advanced training in research and statistics, and social welfare and policies.
The job outlook for social workers has grown over the past several years and is expected to expand even more, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicating that the field is expected to grow by 13 percent within the next few years, with the addition of nearly 91,000 new social worker jobs.
Graduates of Master’s in Social Work Programs Earn Increased Salary
Another area where earning a master’s in social work (MSW) degree is beneficial is the earnings. Completing one of the best social work master’s programs leads to an increased salary, compared to graduates of other programs. The BLS indicates that the 2019 median pay for social workers was $24.26 per hour.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports that the salary for social workers with a Master of Social Work degree is more than $13,000 above the salary for graduates of bachelor’s degree programs. Individuals that hold a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) also earn more at research organizations, inpatient hospital facilities, and at government agencies.
|1||University of Wyoming||Laramie, Wyoming|
|2||Ohio State University||Columbus, Ohio|
|3||University of South Florida||Tampa, Florida|
|4||East Tennessee State University||Johnson City, Tennessee|
|5||Florida State University||Tallahassee, Florida|
Selecting the Best Master’s in Social Work Program
These programs offer the best opportunities for earning a Master’s in Social Work degree. We included both traditional on-campus and online programs.
University of Wyoming
The Master of Social Work program at the University of Wyoming provides the opportunity for graduates to have the values, knowledge and skills to make a difference in the lives of individuals, families, and communities, and to advocate for and serve the most vulnerable populations. Engage in meaningful professional relationships, interprofessional collaboration, and professional development opportunities, while learning the concepts of social, economic, and environmental justice.
Ohio State University
The Ohio State University Master of Social Work program is the oldest continuously accredited social work program at a public university, having awarded the first master’s degree in social work in 1923. Today, the university prepares graduates for a career of advanced social work practice, through the three parts of the program, which are the foundation curriculum, advanced practice and field practicum experiences.
The traditional program begins in the fall semester, in August of each year, and allows students to pursue the degree at the Columbus, Ohio campus or online. The traditional program is specifically designed for students that have a bachelor’s degree in another area, or that earned a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree more than five years ago. Students choose an area of emphasis, which includes the aging and health option, the mental health and substance misuse option, child and youth services, which are available on-campus and online. The community and social justice area of emphasis is available only on campus.
University of South Florida
The Master’s in Social Work program at the University of South Florida prepares graduates for a career working with individuals, families, and groups in organization-based and agency settings. The University recognizes the need for highly-qualified, highly-skilled clinical social work practitioners in the area, and bases the program on core basic social work practice knowledge, and advanced scholarly study in the field.
Students complete a field education placement component in addition to coursework.
Students that qualify to have advanced standing have the option to apply to the online Master of Social Work program.
East Tennessee State University
The East Tennessee State University Master of Social Work degree prepares students for advanced clinical professional practice that the university says is consistent with the goals, the course of study, ‘and the curriculum that is prescribed by the Council on Social Work Education Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards.’
Gain the skills to engage in competent and responsible clinical practice in both private and public agency settings, to demonstrate the competencies required of the profession. Students also complete a field experience, which East Tennessee State University describes as being ‘at the heart of social work education.’
Florida State University
Earn a Master in Social Work degree from the highly-ranked Florida State University College of Social Work. The university calls its program one of the most distinguished programs in the country, and indicates that students will receive a first-rate education.
Students in the full-time accredited program chooses either the Clinical Social Work concentration or the Social Leadership concentration. Students have the option of earning their degree at the Tallahassee, Florida campus, the Panama City, Florida campus, or in an online format.
The school also offers four joint pathway programs. Those programs are the MSW/MBA program, the MSW/MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice, the MSW/JD, or the MSW/MPA program.
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University of South Dakota
Earn a master’s degree in social work in an online format at the University of South Dakota, and gain the same advanced skills and knowledge available to on-campus students that prepares graduates to provide competent and ethical social work services across diverse communities throughout South Dakota and the nearby region. The university presents the program in a manner that guides graduates to pursue their passion to improve the lives of people and communities.
Graduates of the program at the University of South Dakota have a consistently high pass rate on exams, with a recent range of 84 to 91 percent pass rate.
Michigan State University
Michigan State University prepares graduates to become the social workers of tomorrow through the Master of Social Work program, offered with two concentration options. Students that choose the Clinical Social Work option gain the benefits offered by an evidence-informed education that is grounded in the 10 core competencies. The program draws upon multiple theories and approaches of the profession, and educates students with state-of-the-art classroom instruction and field education opportunities.
Students that select the Organization and Community Leadership concentration learn the methods of defining, clarifying, and resolving social problems at different levels. Social workers in this area may engage at the community, organization, national and international levels.
Students that qualify for the Advanced Standing program have the opportunity to earn the degree in less time than the traditional Master of Social Work program.
Hunter College, located in New York, provides several options for students that wish to complete one of the best social work masters programs. One program that is likely of interest to prospective students is the accelerated full-time option. The intensive program allows students to focus on the demanding requirements, including attending class two days a week and the field placement three days each week. Although students earn their degree faster than students in other program options, it does not take away from the schools’ commitment to educational access and desire to cultivate students’ intellectual and personal development.
Ohio University responded to community need for the development of a masters in social work program with an emphasis placed on providing service to rural environments, and first created the program in 1999. The program, which became fully accredited in 2015, offers students the option of earning the degree in an on-campus setting or earning the degree online.
Program graduates gain the knowledge and skills for advanced practice in rural environments, with the focus on improving well-being of individuals, families, communities and organizations. The competency-based program is available with five possible full-time and part-time options, including the opportunity to complete the program in a 100 percent online option.
San Jose State University
The history of the Masters of Social Work program at San Jose State University dates back to 1969, when the original focus was to educate and train program graduates to work with the Spanish-speaking populations of California. Today, the university offers three models. The curriculum of each of the three models prepares graduates for professional practice, and to have the knowledge and skills that are essential for working with Latinos and other minority groups. Students are trained to work with disenfranchised, marginalized and oppressed families, groups and communities after graduating from the San Jose State Master of Social Work program.
Students may earn their degree in the traditional, on-campus format or in a hybrid format.
Simmons University offers the opportunity for students to graduate with a Master’s in Social work (MSW) degree in as little as 16 months. Do you have a bachelor’s degree in social work? Apply for advanced standing and you can still complete the degree in as few as 16 months. Students that prefer not to complete the accelerated online program have the option to earn their degree by taking classes online on a full-time or part-time basis, with the opportunity to take as long as 32 months to complete degree requirements.
Students learn a variety of theoretical frameworks and practice methods, part of which includes human development, sociocultural theory, cognitive behavioral theory, and solution-focused theory. Additionally, students in the program have the opportunity to earn a certificate, which provides the student with more advanced skills. Certificate options that you can earn along with your online masters in social work include Mental Health Practice, Trauma Practice, or Practice with Groups and Families.
University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
Earn a Master of Social Work degree at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in your choice of three enrollment options. Although many students choose the traditional campus program, other students choose to complete the program online. Some students choose the dual MSW/MBA program option.
Prepare to work as a highly-skilled social worker when you graduate from the program after completing the requirements for the Leadership and Social Change concentration option or the Advanced Clinical concentration. Students that choose the Advanced Clinical option also choose a focus area, selecting either the mental health, schools, children, youth and family services, or the health care focus.
The school boasts a 96 percent employment rate for students upon graduation, and program graduates with a 92 percent licensure success rate.
Bridgewater State University
The challenging Master of Social Work program at Bridgewater State University produces graduates that want to take the next step in their professional life, and gain advanced social work practice skills. Graduates maintain a lifetime commitment to upholding human rights, and working towards social justice, while also respecting human diversity across local, national and international levels.
Students that prefer to earn their degree on a part-time basis have the option of choosing Saturday classes. Students that complete courses on a part-time basis have up to four years to complete the Master of Social Work degree.
University of Denver
The University of Denver traditional Master of Social Work online program immerses students in social work theory and practice, along with two internship experiences. Students gain the necessary skillset to become purpose-driven, while building on values and advanced social work practice. The university offers students the opportunity to choose either the Mental Health and Trauma concentration or the Health, Equity and Wellness concentration.
University of California Berkeley
The University of California Berkeley offers two options for its Master of Social Welfare (MSW) degree, the name assigned to its master’s degree in social work programs. The university explains that its top-ranked graduate social work programs future diverse leaders of the profession, and that the school prepares leaders that are prepared for practice to assume social work leadership and practice roles, and that offer specialized skills at specific intervention levels. Choose from three program specializations, including Advancing Well-Being Across the Lifespan, or Strengthening Children, Youth and Families, or Strengthening Organizations and Communities.
The full-time two-year program is an on-campus program, as the school does not offer this particular program online. Some students may qualify for the FlexMSW Advanced Standing program, which is available to current social work professionals that have a bachelor’s degree in social work from an accredited school.
Azusa Pacific University
Prepare to impact lives upon earning a master’s degree in social work from Azusa Pacific University. The program focuses on educating students to develop a strong foundation in the profession’s Code of Ethics while also preparing students to experience diverse career opportunities. Students have the opportunity to choose either the Clinical Practice with Individuals and Families specialization or the Community Leadership and Program Administration specialization.
Advance your skills further by adding a certificate or credential option. Two options include the Human Services Management Certificate, Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Social Work and Child Welfare and Attendance. Other options are the Title IV-E L.A. DCFS Internship Program and the California Geriatric Social Work Education Consortium.
Earn a Master of Social Work degree at Widener University in an entirely online format, which the university explains incorporates trauma as a central theme. The university believes that this focus prepares graduates to advance their client base and career while treating individual clients, families and communities. The school stresses the importance of a trauma-focused program, pointing to statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that indicates that an estimated 90 percent of clients in behavioral health settings have experienced trauma.
Students have the benefit of the support of Widener University, which allows students to take only one course at a time in the beginning of their studies, to get used to the rigor of the program. Students who graduated with a BSW degree from an accredited program will be able to apply for advanced standing, which requires fewer credits and less time to graduate with their MSW.
Salem State University
Salem State University is the oldest public social work program in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Students enrolled in the award-winning program have the opportunity to earn a Master of Social Work degree that provides a comprehensive education in social work that focuses on integrated practice for health, and behavioral health with several options to complete the program. One unique aspect of the program is that students have the opportunity to select their choice of elective courses to create their own unique Master of Social Work program.
North Carolina State University
The School of Social Work at North Carolina State University urges students to embrace the school’s Think and Do approach when pursuing their Master of Social Work degree. The school focuses on graduating a strong community of learners, educators, and practitioners that have the knowledge and values to optimize the quality of life for all people. The program prepares students to respond to the service needs of diverse client populations and to become competent in a variety of advanced generalist practice roles in both direct and indirect service.
University of Texas at Arlington
Students that graduate from the University of Texas Arlington School of Social Work Master of Social Work program become leading social work practitioners, educators, researchers, consultants, and program managers and administrators. Faculty members are nationally and internationally recognized scholars and researchers that help guide students through the program of classroom instruction, field experience and an integrated seminar or thesis option.
Students choose whether to complete the program online or on campus and have the opportunity to earn the degree through full-time or part-time study. There are five specialty areas, which allow students to focus on their area of interest. The specialty areas include Direct Practice in Health, Direct Practice in Aging, Direct Practice in Children and Families, Direct Practice in Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and Community and Administrative practice.
We selected accredited colleges and universities that offered the best masters in social work programs. We ranked each program first by tuition, and then by program length, assigning a unique score for each criterion, and assigning a final point score based on the total for each school.
The tuition listed for each school is the cost of one credit hour of instruction, and does not include fees, housing or other expenses.
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