Best Master’s of Social Work Degrees

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MSW Programs

Masters of social work careers range from family counseling to policy analytics to substance abuse counseling.

If you have the passion, ambition, and endurance to confront the broken systems that oppress and target vulnerable populations, then you have what it takes to earn an intensive but rewarding Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from one of these top universities.

From the prison industrial complex to immigration reform, child welfare, or veteran services, people from all walks of life and under diverse circumstances operate under the demands of untenable structures and policies. You can be the one to make a change.

Do you see yourself working one-on-one with a client, trying to collaboratively improve their situation in a limited system of justice?

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Top 10 Best Master of Social Work Degrees

Or do you see yourself going straight for the tenuous system itself, seeking to enact organizational change to promote the economic and social justice of large populations?

Whether micro or macro social work calls to you, the programs below offer advanced training in both (and our Best Online Masters’s in Social Work do too!). As a MSW student you will combine theory with practice by engaging in coursework research and participating in extensive fieldwork practicums. Many schools provide additional opportunities to study abroad, to partner with faculty and field leaders in innovative research endeavors, to gain advanced certification, and much more.

If you already hold a Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) degree then you can enroll in an accelerated masters program (each of the schools below offer one) to earn the MSW degree in just one year. But even if you did not study social work as an undergraduate, the programs below will provide a solid foundation of social work skills and knowledge as well as specialization. And the investment is clearly worthwhile. Those who earn a MSW, according to PayScale, can earn up to twice as much as they do with only an undergraduate degree.

What are the Best Masters of Social Work Programs in the Country?

The fifty programs below all share one thing in common despite the difference of name and emphasis: they are the best at preparing students for successful, fulfilling careers in social work. Here at College Choice we’ve collated and compared the academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, and average annual salary of graduates from MSW programs across the country to create a definitive ranking of the nation’s fifty best.

We first chose programs with the most renowned academic reputation and from those pared the list down to those with high retention rates—a reflection of student satisfaction—added those with the most economical accessibility, and finally we included the averages of early career salaries (care of PayScale) to arrive at a list marked by thorough research and extensive data aggregation. Our figures come from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of California-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    AU.S. News World Reporttop-ranked program, UCLAs Masters of Social Work program is offered through the highly reputable Luskin School of Public Affairs and it blends several topicsadolescent issues, aging, child welfare, immigration, mental health, and povertyto best train the future leaders of social welfare. Students are immersed in theory, research, and social policy while learning how to enact serious change and reform in the communities they will serve.

    UCLAs program takes two years to complete and includes a substantive field work requirementfirst year students engage in two full (eight-hour) days per week and in their second year they do three days of fieldwork a week. This work includes not only direct service work, but community outreach, advocacy, staff meetings, consultations, research activity, and staff development. Additionally, all students must choose between between two provided tracks: macro or micro. The former is for those interested in working on the administrative level or in policy while the latter is for those who specifically wish to serve individuals, families, or small communities.

    Not only is UCLA a great school, but it is affordable with a reputation for graduating students who go on to earn over 50k annually in the first years of their career. This MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  2. Washington University in St. Louis
    Location

    St. Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Through the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis provides one of the best MSW programs in the entire country (it is ranked second byU.S. News World Report). This two-year degree emphasizes leadership and team building through a curriculum that covers research methods, human behavior, social justice and human diversity, social welfare policies and services, practice with individuals and groups, and social work practice with organizations and communities.

    Supplementing this core, students can uniquely design their academic experience and specialization through a range of offered concentrations. Social policy, practice methods, evaluation, leadership and management, and theory, problems, and issues are the five available areas of concentration. Further, Washington University provides the opportunity to earn certification in either affordable housing and mixed-income community management or in violence and injury prevention. Thus, this is not only one of the best MSW programs in the country, but one of the most flexible in terms of curricular focus.

    Washington Universitys MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and the Brown School is home to a social work library, a communications lab, the Clark-Fox Policy Institute, and more.

  3. University of Maryland - Baltimore
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    For those passionate about clinical social work, human services management, or community organizing, this Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore emphasizes hands-on learning through field practicum by placing first-year and second-year students in foundation and advanced field placements respectively. Students work with local Baltimore social services agencies two to three days a week (depending on how far along they are in the program), integrating theory with research to become prepared for professional practice. The university even allows students to find employment-based field practicums.

    In conjunction with the practicum, students take twenty-four core courses covering individual, group, and community services. They can then choose to concentrate in one of five areas: aging, behavioral health, community action and social policy, families and children, or health. And for those students seeking further specialization, the University of Maryland Baltimores MSW offers two sub-areas of focus: employee assistance and child, adolescent, and family health.

    Marylands low tuition cost and its history of graduates who earn above 55k annually in the first years of their career make this program a high return on investment. The University of Maryland Baltimores MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  4. University of North Carolina
    Location

    Chapel Hill, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Based in Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina offers a MSW degree that is ranked among the top five in the country byU.S. News World Report. A blend of foundational courses that cover social welfare policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, social research, and social work practice, plus an advanced curriculum that allows students to opt between two concentrationsdirect practice or community, management, and policy practicethis MSW program is a traditional, solid place to earn your degree.

    The University of North Carolinas MSW program stresses, both through its curriculum and practicum, not only equal access to services, but respect for individual worth and human dignity, the right to self-determination, the importance of diversity, and a high standard for ethical conduct. Also unique to North Carolinas program is the number of opportunities made available to students. For example, MSW students can study abroad in the summer, with trips to Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, South Africa, Mexico, England, or Ireland. If you dont desire to study abroad but still want to pad your resume and gain extra experience, the University of North Carolina has five certificate programs that pair with the MSW. You can gain certification in global transmigration, non-profit leadership, substance abuse and addictions, international development and social change, or international peace and conflict resolution.

    UNCs MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  5. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Ivy League University of Pennsylvania offers a Master of Social Work program taught by a nationally renowned faculty in a small-classroom setting (on average, there are only twenty students to a class). Penns curriculum, which is rooted in social justice and change, is interdisciplinary in scope. In fact, students take classes from among Penns twelve graduate schools, they have international coursework and study abroad opportunities, there are eleven dual-degree programs, and even more certificate and specialization programs.

    There are several ways to complete your MSW through Penn. Students are allowed to study full-time and complete the degree within two years. They may study for three years, or part-time, or they may enroll in the advanced study program or the employed practitioners program. For those with a Bachelors in Social Work, the advanced study program allows them to complete the MSW in ten months. And the practitioners program is a three-year degree for working adults who study part-time and earn their field credit through their work experience. Whichever track you take, you can be assured that you will graduate fully prepared to enter a variety of systems and settings, to work with diverse client populations, and to be a leader for social change and development.

    This MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  6. University of Washington
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    With three distinct tracks of study, students of all backgrounds, experiences, and responsibilities can earn a Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Washington. Foremost, the traditional program, referred to as the Day Program, takes two years of full-time study to complete. A combination of classroom learning and fieldwork, students learn social work history, professional identity, policy, and social justice. The Extended Degree program is similar in content, but takes three years of part-time study to complete. Finally, the Advanced Studies program is for those holding an undergraduate degree in social work. This program requires only ten months of study and features specialization.

    Though each track is differently structured, they each train students to become leaders for social development, to implement effective social interventions, and to cultivate a relationship with a diverse society. UWs program allows for concentration and specialization within the curriculum as well as offering three certifications, in gerontology, guardianship, and nonprofit management.

    The University of Washingtons MSW degree, ranked third best in the nation byU.S. News World Report, is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  7. University of California-Berkeley
    Location

    Berkeley, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    UC Berkeley is a globally recognized leader in education, in a number of disciplines, its social work department included. They offer a Master of Social Welfare degree that is highly flexible, meaning students are free to focus on their areas of interest and passion. Students can choose among four areas of formal concentration: aging, child and family services, community mental health, health, and management and planning. Students may also earn certification in Social Work with Latinos or School Social Work. Finally, if those options werent enough, Berkeley has two concurrent degree programs that pair with the MSW, one in public health (MSW plus a MPH) and one in public policy (MSW plus a MPP).

    With an emphasis on the importance of leadership, Berkeleys goals for its MSW program include leadership in service, leadership for social justice and change, and leadership for evidence-informed and competency-based practice. Students learn professional responsibility, how to advance social justice, how to use tested knowledge, and effective implementation of intervention method.

    Also considered the third best MSW program in the country (tied with Washington) byU.S. News World Report,Berkeleys Social Welfare MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  8. University of Texas-Austin
    Location

    Austin, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    One of the most affordable MSW programs on our list, the University of Texas in Austin makes going back to school for advanced study (and thus advanced vocational placement) an option for most. This MSW program is flexibly structured, allowing students to finish between one year and three-and-a-half years (depending on past education experience). There are two concentrations available, clinical social work and administration and policy practice, and UT Austin requires over one thousand hours of field practicum.

    Like some of the other programs on our list, UT Austin seeks to provide its students with a number of diverse learning experiences. However, unlike a majority of programs on this list, UT Austin offers an international internship opportunity. Students integrate theory and practice, earn practicum hours, and learn how to navigate a different culture and its associated systems. International placement spans the globe, from South Africa to India to Costa Rica. At UT Austin you can also enroll in dual degrees, some of which are mostly unavailable elsewhere, such as the combined Master of Divinity and MSW program. Other dual degree options include MSW degrees paired with a Master of Public Health, Master of Public Affairs, a Doctor of Jurisprudence, or a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies degree.

    UT Austin is a great place to earn your Council on Social Work Education accredited MSW degree. World-renowned, affordable, and with graduates earning (on average) 53k annually in the early years of their career, you can expect a successful experience post UT Austin.

  9. University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
    Location

    Champaign, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The Master of Social Work degree at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign explicitly expresses the significance the program places on options, both academic and vocational. Thus, students first choose among three enrollment tracks: the traditional full-time or part-time program on campus, the outreach program (which is a hybrid of online and on-campus coursework), or the dual MSW/MBA program. The latter is for those who wish to supplement their social work study with one academic year of concentrated MBA classes. Furthermore, at UI Urbana Champaign MSW students choose among two concentrations: leadership and social change or advanced clinical. The latter includes four more specialization areas: mental health, health care, schools, and children, youth, and family services.

    Whichever enrollment track or concentration speaks to you and your situation, studying social work at UI Urbana Champaign guarantees you will be fully prepared to perform erudite research, effectively apply human behavior knowledge to real-world scenarios, engage diversity in practice, and overall advance human rights and social justice. Payscale also informs us that graduates from UI earn, on average, nearly 58k annually in the early years of their career.

    The University of Illinois School of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

  10. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    At the University of Southern California you will take classes that explore unique issues, diverse populations, and innovative ideas such as social work in the military, enacting social change, the dimensions of spirituality, juvenile justice, mental health, school social work, and leadership. As a MSW student you will pair this distinctive course load with international study opportunities and field internships. This MSW program is comprised of three departments: adults and healthy aging; children, youth, and families; and community, organization, and business innovation.

    USC sets itself apart in a number of ways, by offering online classes in addition to on-campus coursework, so you can earn your degree in a flexible and efficient manner. They also provide classes on their Irvine (Orange County) campus. Summer and weekend classes are also made available so students who are working can still earn their degrees at the traditional two-year pace. Finally, USC, similar to some other schools on our list, offers dual degree programs. But unlike the other schools, USC offers eight different degrees! So, in addition to earning the MSW, you can earn a MBA, law degree, or masters in planning, public administration, public health, and much more.

    The University of Southern Californias MSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

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