Best MSW Programs in California in 2021 - Best Value Schools

Best MSW Programs in California in 2021

Staff Writers by: Staff Writers

California is home to a number of high quality MSW programs that are available on campus, hybrid, and online social work programs.  Every school on this list is fully accredited.  Programs were ranked according to a matrix using key items of information; the cost per year attending full-time, the faculty to student ratio, and the graduation rate.  These items of information help show a school’s value and success of students that attend.  The lower the cost combined with a low faculty to student ratio provides a great value, especially combined with a high graduation rate.  Schools that offer a hybrid and/or online option will earn more points due to their social mobility.  

Top 25 MSW Programs in California

1. University of Southern California           Points:  14

A private research university, the University of Southern California was founded in 1880 and is the oldest private research institution in California.  The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work ranks among the best in the nation.  Recognized as a leader in innovation, experiential learning, and online education.  Students can earn an MSW degree online, knowing that they will be participating in an engaging program that shows them how to leverage technology in social work and beyond.  Graduates are prepared to fill leadership roles in public and private organizations that serve individuals, families, and communities in need.  

At A Glance

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Resident Tuition: $29,630
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $29,630
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 8 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: 91.5%

2. University of California Berkeley         Points:  14

Established in 1868, the University of California Berkeley was the first campus of the University of California system.  As a public research institution, UC Berkeley has risen to be recognized across the globe as a top institution for higher learning.  The School of Social Welfare offers a comprehensive MSW degree program that strives to transform the systems that perpetuate poverty and social disadvantage.  Students of the program will become leaders in solving complex social problems through research and advocating policies using evidence based knowledge.  Graduates are dedicated to serving the most vulnerable people of society.    

At A Glance

  • Location: Berkeley, California
  • Resident Tuition: $5,721
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $5,721
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 19 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 91.9%

3. Brandman University            Points:  14

A private institution, Brandman University operates over 25 campuses across California and Washington as well as online. Brandman University offers programs that are designed with working adults in mind.  The curriculum, projects, internships, and faculty all work with working professionals that are seeking to advance their careers through increased education.  Brandman offers multiple start times throughout the year with courses offered both online and on campus or a hybrid blend to work with students schedules.  Advanced standing students can complete the program in one year, while tradition students will take two years to complete the program.      

At A Glance

  • Location: Irvine, California
  • Resident Tuition: $670 Per Unit
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $670 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 17 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: 81%

4. Loma Linda University         Points:  14

Loma Linda University is a private institution that is a Seventh Day Adventis Health Sciences university.  Loma Linda offers two very different tracks for those seeking to earn an MSW degree; an advanced generalist and an advanced clinical practice specialist.   Students in the advanced generalist program will gain a broad understanding of direct practice in micro and macro social work settings.  While students of the clinical practice specialist program will be prepared for practice in the highest level of behavioral health in public and private agencies.  Students can enroll in the traditional two year program, advanced standing program, a three year program and even online.  

At A Glance

  • Location:
  • Resident Tuition: $31,423
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $31,423
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 3 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: 90.5%

5. California State University Fullerton          Points:12

A public institution for higher learning, California State University Fullerton has the highest enrollment of the 23 CSU colleges in the system.  Social workers seeking to advance their education and career will find a comprehensive MSW program at CSU Fullerton.  Students will gain experience to work directly with vulnerable and underrepresented individuals and families within the community.  As they work directly with clients they will be mentored and gain field experience alongside their coursework.  Students have access to two program pathways and three concentrations within their degree to choose from.  

At A Glance

  • Location: Fullerton, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,358
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $17,862
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 25 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 82.6%

6. University of California Los Angeles         Points:  12

A public land-grant university, the University of California Los Angeles opened in 1882 as an institution to teach and train teachers.   The MSW program offered by UCLA is a comprehensive two year, full-time program that merges leadership with theory and research.  Students can choose a path of generalist or specialized fields of practice.  The program blends coursework and field practice.  UCLA also offers a part-time three year MSW program, note that the courses will be during the day and regular business hours.  During the students field experience they will learn through holistic integrated experiences. 

At A Glance

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Resident Tuition: $12,953
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $28,055
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 18 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 91.4%

7. California State University San Bernardino        Points:  12

California State University San Bernardino was established in 1964 and is a member of the CSU system.  Those seeking an MSW degree will find a program that follows the advanced generalist model with a specialization.  Students have three pathways to earning the MSW degree, the traditional two year track, an advanced standing track that takes one year to complete and a part time three year track.  Students also have the option to complete coursework online in a three year track model.  Specializations that students can choose from include a social issue, client populations or a field of practice.  

At A Glance

  • Location: San Bernardino, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,386
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $17,890
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 28 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: 75.6%

8. San Diego State University         Points:  12

A public research institution, San Diego State University was founded in 1897 and is a member of the California State University system.  Those seeking to earn an MSW will find one, two, three, and four year programs to help them achieve that goal.  San Diego State uses both advanced generalist and advanced specialist framework to guide students through the program to reach their desired education and career goals.  Students will have opportunities to learn how to work with and on behalf of vulnerable populations within a community.  The program is designed around two methods of concentration; direct practice/clinical or administration and community development.   

At A Glance

  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Resident Tuition: $9,154
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 25 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 83.1%

9. San Jose State University         Points:  12

A public institution, San Jose State University is the oldest public university on the West Coast and is the founding institution of the California State University system.  Students of San Jose State University gain a quality educational experience that is engaged with the community at an incredible value.  Those seeking to earn a MSW degree have the option to do a full-time two year on campus program, a three year on campus option, or even an online or hybrid model.  Students learn from diverse and experienced faculty that have worked in various settings of social work and provide meaningful mentoring for students.  With multiple partnerships within the community, students are able to network and gain skills as they engage in community programs and participate in research alongside faculty.      

At A Glance

  • Location: San Jose, California
  • Resident Tuition: $9,286
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $18,790
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 27 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: 62.1%

10. Humboldt State University       Points:  12

Humboldt State University is a member of the California State University system and is nestled up against the Redwoods in Northern California.  Those seeking to earn an MSW will find a program at Humboldt State University that is an advanced generalist program with an emphasis on rural and indiginous communities.  Students will be prepared to work as advanced generalists as professional social workers that promote social justice.  Graduates will be able to approach client situations with multi-level, multi-system sensitivity as they promote justice and resilience for their clients.  Students can complete the program in two years or three years online.      

At A Glance

  • Location: Arcata, California
  • Resident Tuition: $7,176
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 19 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: 45.6%

11. Azusa Pacific University          Points:  10

A private Christian institution, Azusa Pacific University is home to a wide range of social work opportunities.  Students can pursue a Master’s in Social Work either part-time or full-time.  Participants’ gain a solid foundation in the Code of Ethics while being sensitive to diversity.  This program integrates faith with learning and serving the larger community.  Students will choose their desired specialization, either Clinical Practice with Individuals and Families or Community Leadership and Program Administration.  Coursework and internships will be aligned with the specialization chosen.   

At A Glance

  • Location: Azusa California
  • Resident Tuition: $772 Per Credit Hour
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $772 Per Credit Hour
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 11 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 69.5%

12. San Francisco State University       Points:  10

A public institution for higher learning, San Francisco State University is a member of the California State University system.  The MSW program is designed to provide participants with the highest levels of knowledge, comprehension, analysis, and evaluation.  Students will be able to engage their skills on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels.  SFSU is home to diverse learners and is an institution for inclusion.  Students will learn to advocate for vulnerable and underrepresented clients and populations.  Students gain an ethical foundation for leadership as they create action plans to promote equity.   

At A Glance

  • Location: San Francisco, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,704
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 22 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 79.1%

13. California State University Bakersfield          Points:  10

A public university, California State University Bakersfield was established in 1965 and is a member of the California State University system.  Individuals who enroll in the MSW program at CSUB will find a professional and comprehensive program that prepares graduates to work with individuals, families, and in the community.  Graduates become grounded in serving underserved populations as they advocate social justice.  The model for curriculum for this degree is the advanced generalist practice.  Within this framework students can specialize in child and family services, mental health, or gerontology.   

At A Glance

  • Location: Bakersfield, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,853
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $18,357
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 21 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate:  65.4%

14. California State University Chico          Points:  10

A public institution for higher learning, California State University Chico was founded in 1887 and is the second oldest campus of the California State University system.  CSU Chico offers three pathways for students to earn an MSW.  An accelerated one year path is available for students that currency hold a Bachelor’s in Social Work and graduates within 5 years, this pathway requires 34 to 36 credit hours to be completed as well as 720 hours of field education.  The second path is a two year option that requires 59 to 61 credit hours for completion as well as 1200 hours of field practicum.  The last pathway is a three year option that requires the same as the two year but allows for students to work and attend part-time to earn their advanced degree,  

At A Glance

  • Location: Chico, California
  • Resident Tuition: $3,145 0-6 Units, $4,651 More than 6 Units
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 23 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate:  68.2%

15. California State University Dominguez Hills          Points:  10

A public university, California State University Dominguez Hills is a member of the California State University system.  Students that study Social Work at CSUDH will find the program rooted in Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.  Participating students will take their first course in CRT their first semester and then see it interwoven throughout the remainder of their courses.  CRT examines how race and places of intersection can or have led to marginalized groups of underserved peoples.  This helps practitioners recognize institutions and systems that are contributing to oppressive conditions.    

At A Glance

  • Location: Carson, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,379
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 26 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 75.5%

16. California State University East Bay             Points:  10

A public university, California State East Bay is one of the 23 member universities of the California State University system.  Those seeking to earn a Master’s in Social Work will find a program that graduates culturally sensitive and responsible urban social workers that are specialized to work with children, youth, families, and the community.  Graduates are prepared to address needs of their clients that are caused by inequality or various forms of injustices.  Students will gain experiences and complete field hours with diverse populations within the area as they learn from mentors.  The program takes two years to complete.   

At A Glance

  • Location: Hayward, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,434
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $17,938
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 23 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 78.3%

17. California State University Long Beach          Points:  10

A public institution, California State University Long Beach is a member of the CSU system and is home to one of the largest campuses in the system. At CSU Long Beach students of the MSW program will gain core values such as academic excellence, inclusion and diversity, ethics and integrity among other values that will serve them well in the field of social work.  Students will learn to serve and represent vulnerable populations and underserved individuals within the community.  The MSW program is student centered and provides opportunities for growth and experience both in the classroom and in the field.   

At A Glance

  • Location: Long Beach, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,268
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $17,772
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 26 to 1
  • Online: No 
  • Graduation Rate: 67.6%

18. California State University Los Angeles         Points:  10

As a member of the California State University system, California State University Los Angeles provides quality education at an affordable cost  to a diverse population.  The MSW program at CSLA is one that puts the profession of social work in the light of enhancing human well-being across the board of those that are vulnerable, underrepresented, and living in poverty. Graduates will learn how to advocate for social justice and social change on behalf of their clients. There are two pathways available to earn an MSW degree; the traditional two year path or the 1 year advanced standing pathway.   

At A Glance

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,202
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $17,706
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 23 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 75.5%

19. California State University Northridge         Points:  10

As a member of the California State University system, California State University Northridge is a high quality and affordable college in the Los Angeles area.  Students seeking ro earn an MSW degree have options that make this degree much more flexible and attainable than at other institutions.  There is the traditional two year pathway on campus as well as online.  Students can also attend part time and complete the program in three years, this program is only offered on campus at this time.  Students will learn how to represent vulnerable and underrepresented clients while advocating for social justice.  All participating students will earn the concentration of an advanced generalist practitioner.  

At A Glance

  • Location: Los Angeles, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,411
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $17,915
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 27 to 1
  • Online: Yes (Two Year Program)
  • Graduation Rate: 50.1%

20. California State University Sacramento        Points:  10

California State University Sacramento is a member of the CSU system and was founded in 1947 as a public institution.  The MSW program at CSU Sacramento was established in 1964 and has a history of excellence in training professionals that lead and serve the region, state, and beyond.  Students pursuing this degree have three pathways to choose from, the traditional two year track, an advanced standing one year year track, and a three year part time track (courses are held during the evening and weekends.)  Participants will complete both coursework and field work requirements prior to graduation from the program. 

At A Glance

  • Location: Sacramento, California
  • Resident Tuition: $8,852
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 24 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 78.2%

21. California State University Stanislaus         Points:  10

California State University Stanislaus was established in 1957 and is a member of the CSU system.  Participants of the MSW program will engage with diverse populations as they promote social justice.  Students are prepared for the integrative practice framework for multi-systems interventions.  Graduates will build their network as they create community partnerships based on principles of social justice.  Students will be mentored by faculty as they complete the coursework and field work. Students can complete the program in two years or a part time three year program.  

At A Glance

  • Location: Turlock, California
  • Resident Tuition: $9,018
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 22 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 79.6%

22. Northcentral University           Points:  10

Northcentral University is a private online institution that provides degree programs that are designed for working adult professionals.  It is based out of San Diego though it was acquired by the National University System in 2019.  The MSW program is fully accredited and graduates will be advanced general practitioners.  Students will gain a broader knowledge and understanding of the tools and resources available to help clients overcome obstacles they face.  There are currently two tracks available for students, the advanced generalist track or the two year track.  Both are offered online.    

At A Glance

  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Resident Tuition: $739 Per Credit Hour
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $739 Per Credit Hour
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 16 to 1
  • Online: Yes
  • Graduation Rate: N/A

23. California Baptist University          Points:  8

A private Christian institution, California Baptist University was founded in 1950 and is affiliated with the California Southern Baptist Convention. Those seeking to earn an MSW from CBU will find an added benefit from earning it here, a personally assigned faculty mentor that will model social work values, Chirstian faith, and professionalism.  Students also have numerous opportunities to network and meet other professionals throughout the year.  The program can be completed in one year for students that qualify for the advanced standing placement or two years for traditional students.  Upon competition students will have over 900 hours of field work experience to draw from and place on resumes.  

At A Glance

  • Location: Riverside, California
  • Resident Tuition: $725 Per Unit
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $725 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 14 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 58.2%

24. California State University Monterey Bay          Points:  8

A public institution, California State University Monterey Bay is located on the former military base Fort Ord just one mile from the coast of Monterey Bay.  The MSW program at CSU Monterey Bay offers two program options; a traditional two year program and a three year program.  To accommodate working professionals that are advancing their careers, classes are held from 4p.m. to 10p.m.  Graduates are students that are multicultural, multilingual, and diverse.  The curriculum is responsive to real social work practices and reflects the strengths of the region’s communities through partnerships.  

At A Glance

  • Location: Seaside, California
  • Resident Tuition: $7,176
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 25 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 54.4%

25. California State University San Marcos         Points:  8

A public institution for higher learning in San Marcos, California State University San Marcos is one of the newer member colleges of the CSU system founded in 1989.  Participants of the MSW program at CSU San Marcos prepare students for direct practice in a variety of settings.  Graduates are culturally competent, ethical, and effective professionals.  The first half of the program students will prepare to be advanced general specialists, the second half of the program they will choose a specialization and take courses accordingly.  Students have the option for completing the program in the one, two, or three year tracks.   

At A Glance

  • Location: San Marcos, California
  • Resident Tuition: $7,176
  • Non-Resident Tuition: $396 Per Unit
  • Faculty to Student ratio: 26 to 1
  • Online: No
  • Graduation Rate: 52.2%

Points Methodology

Cost: Under $10,000 Per Year      Points:  5

         Between $10K and $20K Per Year    Points:  3

         Above $20K Per Year        Points:  1

Faculty to Student Ratio      10 to 1 and Below   Points:  5

                                   Between 10 and 20 to 1  Points:  3

                                    Above 20 to 1 Points:  1

Graduation Rate:        Above 80%   Points:  5

                                    Between 60% and 80%  Points:  3

                                    Below 60%    Points:  3

Extra Points:    Online    Points;  3

                        Hybrid    Points:  2

                        On-Campus Only   Points:  1

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