Best MSW Degrees
Master's degrees in social work are ideal for students interested in advancing their careers and opening more doors within the field of social work. Graduates can go on to become a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), after passing the state board exam and completing the required supervised clinical hours. Those who have successfully completed social work master’s programs also have the opportunity to pursue advanced administrative positions in the field. These positions are often highly respected and start at a higher salary level.
When choosing an MSW program, students should ensure that the college or university holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). A social work master’s program with CSWE accreditation ensures that the degree coursework meets the unified standards set up by the organization.
Social Work Programs
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The following list shows universities that offer a master's degree in social work and ranks them according to their salary rates. Baylor University is at the top, having an annual alumni-reported salary of $124,093. The first half of this list (#1-#13) shows universities with reported salaries above $100,000, while the second half (#14-#25) shows universities with reported salaries above $91,000. All of these universities have been accredited by the CSWE.
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The following 25 online schools are the most affordable for pursuing a master’s degree in social work. Each of the universities and colleges listed has an annual tuition rate below $15,000 and is CSWE-accredited. Bridgewater State University places highest on the list with a low tuition of $1,260. The second most affordable school, California State University-Stanislaus, offers its MSW through either an on-campus option or a hybrid option, both with a tuition of $8,506.
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What Can a Social Worker With an MSW Do?
Graduates who earn a master of social work can choose from a large pool of MSW jobs serving diverse populations. MSW graduates who are passionate about working with children can become school social workers or child welfare caseworkers. A social worker with an MSW can also become a guidance counselor, which is a type of school social worker who identifies students’ problems at home or helps find the best learning setting for children with disabilities.
Master of social work graduates who wish to work with adults also have an array of job opportunities. One option is to become a substance abuse counselor, working with clients either one-on-one or in a group setting. An aspiring social worker with an MSW may also become a clinical mental health social worker. Additional work experience may be required, depending on the licensing requirements of the candidate’s state.
To prepare for these different types of MSW jobs, students are typically able to choose a specialization track as part of their curriculum and must declare this specialty before graduating. Each school differs in the social work tracks they offer, so students should use this as part of their criteria for choosing the best MSW program.
Where Can a Social Worker Work With an MSW?
The types of work settings where social workers can find employment are as varied as the types of MSW jobs they can find. Those pursuing a medical-focused career are likely to work in clinics, hospitals, private practices, or nursing homes. Substance abuse counselors with a master of social work can find relevant jobs at substance misuse clinics or local mental health agencies.
MSW graduates with a specialization in children and youth can work in non-profit organizations, schools, and government agencies such as child welfare. Social workers with a passion for serving military personnel can find civilian employment on military bases, enlist as a social worker, or work at the VA.
How Much Does a Social Worker With an MSW make?
The average MSW salary in the U.S. is $51,000 a year; however, multiple factors can impact an MSW social worker’s salary. For instance, social workers with more years of experience will qualify for higher salaries than those who recently graduated from their MSW program.
Another factor affecting MSW salary is the location or work environment. For example, those employed in the private sector could very well earn more than those working in a public agency. Social workers with a career in a medical or clinical setting are also likely to earn more.
Most states require continuing education in social work in order for LMSWs to maintain their active licenses. However, each state sets its own guidelines for how many hours are required and over what period of time. Different types of licensure are also likely to require different types of continuing education. A master of social work graduate practicing in a clinical setting, for example, may need to complete more credits than an MSW with no clinical license.
Continuing education is also available in the form of a more advanced degree. The doctor of social work (DSW) is a practice-focused degree, while a Ph.D. is more research-focused. These degrees can be pursued by social workers who wish to follow the most advanced career path in the field of social work.
Licensure and Accreditation
In order to become an LMSW, prospective social workers should narrow down their MSW programs to colleges and universities that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This national organization evaluates programs to ensure quality education in more than 750 accredited social work programs across the country. The CSWE is the only social work accrediting agency in the U.S., so it’s important for students to confirm this accreditation before enrolling in an MSW program. Most states, if not all, require licensed social workers to graduate from a social work program that is accredited by the CSWE. Neglecting this crucial step could lead to graduates being unable to receive a state social work license.
MSW Program Requirements
Students who enroll in a CSWE-accredited MSW program can expect to spend two years earning this advanced degree. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree before enrolling. Those with a bachelor’s in social work may be able to complete their classes in one year, depending on the institution. Students are typically required to take the GRE as part of the MSW application process.
After the first year, aspiring social workers usually pick a specialization. Exact options vary school by school; concentrations typically include children and families, mental health, health, and aging populations.
- ASWB. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.aswb.org/licensees/continuing-education/.
- CSWE. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.cswe.org/.
- PayScale. Accessed April 02, 2019. https://www.payscale.com.