Top 10 Online Master in Social Work Degrees


For people who care about people, social services is the perfect field. Social workers connect people in need with the programs, institutions, and services designed to help them.

According to the Social Work License Map, social workers are currently most in demand in Arizona, California, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Texas. But even if you don’t live in one of those states, most communities have people in need and systems to help them. Many online master in social work programs require fieldwork, and they’ll help you get plugged into the social work agencies wherever you live.

If you already have your bachelor in social work degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, check this out: nine of the ten schools on this list offer an advanced standing track that could cut your time and costs in half.

But even if you earned your bachelor’s degree in something else, you don’t have to move across the country to learn how to serve your community through social services. There are countless online master in social work degree programs that can land you the credentials, expertise, and experience you need to enter the field.

To help you sort through all these programs, we’ve used data from The National Center for Education Statistics and ratings from school-ranking entities like,,,,,—so this list of the top 10 online master’s in social work programs is the best of the best.

To help you make the choice that’s right for you, we’ll show you each school’s:

  • Tuition cost
  • Program length
  • Graduation rates
  • Awards and accolades
  • Accreditation
  • Anything else we think will help you decide

Let’s find a school you’ll love! For starters, here are some highlights:

Most affordable

Depending on how fast you plan on completing your degree, a lot of these schools can be pretty affordable. Almost all of them offer an advanced standing track, which could cut your total cost in half!

Still, two schools in particular are quite a bit more affordable than the others. If you live in Texas, you’re in luck: you’ve got the lowest in-state tuition on this list. Texas State University (#10 on our list) runs $6,000 per year for Texans, and $14,000 per year for everyone else. Even if you don’t live in Texas, this is the lowest out-of-state tuition you’ll see here.

If you happen to be in Tennessee though, look no further than #1 on our list, University of Tennessee-Knoxville. At just $7,000 per year, it really is a great choice, and UT’s out-of-state tuition is $16,000—just $2,000 more per year than TSU.

Best graduation rate

The average graduation rate is 59%. All but two of the schools on this list are well above that. While the skills and knowledge you’ll gain in a master’s program will be immediately applicable to your career in social work, it’s OK if you’re mostly concerned about actually getting the credentials. And if that’s you, there are two schools you’ll probably want to check out first.

Columbia University (#4 on the list) has a graduation rate of 94%. And University of Southern California (#5) has a graduation rate of 92%. That means more than nine out of ten students walk away with their degree. Something to consider though: schools with high graduation rates may also have low acceptance rates, too. CU accepts about 7% of applicants, and USC accepts about 17% of applicants. These are both well below the national average.

Don’t let that stop you from applying to a school you want to attend though.

Least amount of fieldwork

You’re going to have a hard time finding an MSW program that doesn’t require fieldwork. (And if you do find one, it’s not going to be accredited.) For students who don’t already have a BSW, you’ve got to expect that there’s going to be a lot of fieldwork—and that’s not a bad thing. It’s hands-on experience that’s directly relevant to the field you want a career in. It may even be the thing that lands you a job.

But if you already have a job or other commitments, fieldwork may also be the biggest obstacle on the path to your MSW.

For students without a BSW, most schools are going to require about 1,000 hours of fieldwork. For students in this camp, University of Buffalo (#3 on our list) requires the least amount of fieldwork: 900 hours.

If you already have a BSW from a CSWE accredited program, an advanced standing track will significantly reduce the amount of fieldwork you need to finish your degree. (Because, presumably, you’ve already done it to earn your BSW.) If that’s you, University of Louisville (#6) only requires an additional 480 hours of fieldwork to earn you an MSW.

Now, on to the top ten!

1. University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Image source: University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Tuition cost:

  • In-State: about $7,000 per year
  • Out-of-State: about $16,000 per year

Program length: 36 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 69%


  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on
  • Rank on 2
  • Rank on 5
  • “Innovative Credit Programming Award” from Tennessee Alliance for Continuing Higher Education

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville offers an online master of science in social work with three degree plans. It can be completed in one to four years, depending on which course of study you choose.

All three courses of study require a 672 hour field placement, but if you’re eligible for the advanced standing program, that’s the only field placement you’ll need, and you can complete your degree significantly faster.

If you already have a bachelor in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, you can enroll in the online advanced standing program, which is just 36 credit hours and can be completed in 12–24 months, full time or part time. You need a 3.0 GPA to be eligible.

If you don’t have a BSW or BSSW from a CSWE accredited program, you’ll need to choose the standard “online full time program” or the “online extended study program.” They’re both 60 credit hours and have a 352 hour field placement in addition to the 672 hour placement. The only difference between the two is that one is full time and the other is part time. The full time program can be completed in two years, and the extended study program is designed to be completed in three to four years. You need a 2.7 GPA and a bachelor’s degree (ideally a liberal arts degree) to be eligible.

For all of these options, your field placements are arranged “within a reasonable driving distance” from your local community.

Whichever course of study you choose, it appears that online students have two options for a concentration: organizational leadership and evidence-based interpersonal practice. There aren’t in-depth descriptions of these concentrations, but from the courses, it appears that the OL program focuses more on the management, structures, and programs of social work organizations, and the EBIP program gives you more electives and emphasizes working with individuals and groups.

GRE scores are not required for admission to University of Tennessee’s online MSSW program.

2. Fordham University

Image source: Fordham University

Tuition cost: about $32,000 per year

Program length: 33 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 80%

Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 2
  • Rank on 5
  • Rank on 6
  • Rank on 7

Fordham University’s online MSW program is only available to students who live in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This is likely because the 1,200 hour field placements “are arranged throughout the region”, meaning agencies in these three states.

Similar to University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Fordham offers three primary courses of study: the standard plan (60 credits, full time, two years), the extended plan (60 credits, part time, three to four years), and the advanced standing plan (33 credits full time or part time, one to one and a half years). You must have an accredited BSW to be eligible for the advanced standing plan. Interestingly, if you start in the spring instead of the fall, it may add a semester to your plan of study.

They also offer hybrid plans of study if you can make it to campus. These programs take the same amount of time as the online options.

Here’s what Fordham says about their online MSW program:

“Combining top-tier social work education, flexible class schedules and extraordinary opportunities for local fieldwork, our online master’s program can help you turn your passion for helping others into professional success—on your terms.”

Fordham University offers two concentration options: a clinical concentration and a “leadership and macro practice concentration.” It doesn’t appear that you can choose the macro practice concentration without also choosing the clinical concentration, but you can choose the clinical concentration without adding the macro practice concentration.

The clinical concentration “prepares students to provide direct social work services and interventions with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

The macro practice concentration “is for students with a clinical concentration who also desire a special focus in leadership and management of social service agencies and organizations.”

You can also add an additional specialization to meet the requirements for your Credentialed Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor-Trainee (CASAC-T) certificate. This certificate is specific to New York. This specialization adds 350 educational hours (not to be confused with credit hours) to your studies, which includes additional fieldwork.

Here’s what Fordham University wants you to know about their field placements:

“The field instruction office places over 1,000 MSW students in fieldwork every September. Whether you have limited hours, family responsibilities, long commute, or financial concerns, we work diligently to secure a placement for you that is educationally sound, challenging and responsive to your needs as well as the participating agencies’ needs. . . . Reasonable travel time (one hour or less) is an important consideration to us in determining where you do your fieldwork. . . .We place students in agencies in the five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, Westchester, Rockland, and other upstate counties, Connecticut, and New Jersey. . . . Students may work in schools, hospitals, tiny storefront operations, or large multiservice community agencies. They may serve infants, grandparents, or all ages in between; the homeless or the emotionally troubled; ethnic and racial minorities; or diverse oppressed sectors of the population, such as offenders or the victims of offenders.”

3. University at Buffalo

Image source: The State University of New York

Tuition cost:

  • In-State: about $11,000 per year
  • Out-of-State: about $22,000 per year

Program length: 35 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 74%


  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 2
  • Rank on 3
  • Rank on 8
  • Rank on 8

The State University of New York’s University at Buffalo offers a part time online MSW program. The curriculum “rooted in evidence-based practice and integrates trauma-informed and human rights perspectives.”

To learn a little more about how trauma-informed care affects your education, here’s what Dean and Professor of Social Work Nancy Smyth has to say about it:

One MSW student said, “I really am drawn to the trauma informed aspect of the program, that’s what drew me here in the first place.”

As with the other online MSW programs we’ve looked at, there’s a standard part time option for 60 credits (open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree), or a 35-credit advanced standing option for students with a BSW from a CSWE accredited program.

The standard track takes students through the fundamentals of social work, including:

  • Social welfare history and policy
  • Theories of human and organizational behavior and development
  • Diversity and oppression
  • Interventions
  • Scientific methods and evaluation

The advanced standing track skips ahead to research and seminar courses.

Each track will also include the following:

  • Perspectives on trauma and human rights
  • Professional development courses
  • Advanced topic analysis
  • Advanced interventions
  • Elective courses

Whichever degree path you choose, you’ll be required to complete a field placement in your region. It must be at least 15 hours per week. The standard option requires a “foundation placement” for 420 hours in addition to an advanced placement for 480 hours. The advanced standing track only requires the 480 hour advanced placement.

Note: If you want to complete your classes fully online, you’ll need to choose your course of study carefully.

4. Columbia University

Image source: Columbia University

Tuition cost: about $22,000 per year

Program length: two years

Graduation rate: 94%

Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 1
  • Rank on 5
  • Rank on 5

Columbia University offers an online MSW through their School of Social Work. They offer two degree specialization options: advanced clinical practice and social enterprise administration. Here’s what they say about their school:

“Columbia School of Social Work has been a leader in social work education and research since 1898. It joins rigorous academic theory with real-world practice to enhance the welfare of citizens and communities in New York City, the nation and around the world.”

For your first year of field placement, Columbia University decides where you’ll go, but the second year, you can choose. You should expect your field placement to take at least 21 hours per week.

There are two main fields of practice you could spend your time in:

  • Family, youth, and children’s services
  • Health, mental health, and disabilities

Here’s what a couple of students have to say about their experience with the online MSW program:

Here’s a little more about how the online program works:

Columbia University does not require GRE scores for admission into the online MSW program. They have a two year program, an advanced standing program, and an extended program, but the requirements and differences between them are not specified online.

Note: Columbia University is one of the eight Ivy League schools. That can make quite an impression on your resume.

Fun fact: Columbia University has a student to faculty ratio of 6:1. The national average is 18:1. That means you can probably expect your faculty to be a lot more available than they are at other schools.

5. University of Southern California

Image source: University of Southern California

Tuition cost: about $41,000 per year

Program length: 37 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 92%


  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 2
  • Rank on 6
  • Rank on 7
  • Rank on 10

University of Southern California offers a fully online master in social work through the Suzanne Dworak-Peck school of Social Work. The program prepares you to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

Here’s what USC says about their online MSW:

“The program focuses on collaboration with small, seminar-style classes. All class sessions are live and taught by USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work faculty. The online classroom features tools, such as breakout rooms, live chat and document sharing, which are designed to foster close, intimate discussion.”

To be eligible for the 12-month advanced standing option, you must have a BSW from a CSWE accredited program.

There are three departments within the school and when you begin your classes, you’ll choose one to focus on:

Here’s how they describe each department:

Adult mental health and wellness

“Mental health issues affect one in five American adults, and social workers are the largest group of clinically trained mental health providers in the country. Social workers who focus on health-related issues need to prepare to work with adults from 18 years old to end-of-life, helping with a range of issues, from drug abuse to elder care to health care policy. . . .

“The Adult Mental Health and Wellness curriculum explores human behavioral theory with an emphasis on clinical practice and policy. You will consider the role of neuroscience as it relates to the mind-brain-body system as well as social systems, such as family, culture and community. Courses blend evidence-based research with hands-on experiences in clinical settings.”

Optional program tracks: military social work.

Children, youth, and families

“In today’s complex society, families are more vulnerable than ever to issues, such as poverty, homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction. In these situations, the entire family unit can be left in need of services and support. Social workers, trained to work in direct practice with families, can act as the support families need to rise above adversity and get their lives back on track after crisis. . . .

“The Children, Youth and Families curriculum prepares practitioners who can advocate for and intervene on behalf of children and youth in the social environments in which they live. These social workers also create service programs that support families of diverse backgrounds. Your coursework will consider findings in neuroscience and evidence-based research.”

Optional program tracks: military social work or school social work.

Social change and innovation

“Strong communities and organizations are in need of big-picture thinkers who can solve problems while supporting the needs of individuals. More and more social workers are taking on that role, becoming the voice that helps large entities thrive without losing sight of those who depend on them. . . .

“The Social Change and Innovation curriculum focuses on social change and innovation as applied to global systems. You will explore evidence-based research in either business or community development by choosing classes that focus on either area of study. Community Development and Social Change courses teach you to think critically about communities and organizations, and to develop strategies and programs that facilitate change. Social Work and Business courses prepare you to develop corporate social responsibility initiatives and guide business toward positive community relationships.”

Optional program tracks: military social work.

6. University of Louisville

Image source: University of Louisville

Tuition cost:

  • In-State: about $12,000 per year
  • Out-of-State: about $25,000 per year

Program length: 30 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 53%


  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 2
  • Rank on 3
  • Rank on 9

University of Louisville offers a fully online master of science in social work through the Kent School of Social Work. They offer a standard 60 credit MSSW that can be completed in two to three years, and an advanced standing MSSW for 30 credits, which can be completed in one to two years.

Your field placement can be completed in your state, and you should expect to spend at least 16 hours per week or 450 hours per year with your social service agency.

Here’s what University of Louisville says about their program:

“The Kent School is committed to teaching the next generation of social workers, preparing them to promote social justice and be positive change agents in the fast-growing field of social work, and empowering them to help others lead a healthier, more productive and safer life.”

The three main subject areas UL’s program focuses on are:

  • Children and families
  • Health and mental health
  • Community and international practice

Additionally, you have five specialization options:

Whatever your specialization, the coursework “focuses on helping students form methods and decision-making practices that promote social justice.”

7. Boston University

Image source: Boston University

Tuition cost: about $49,000 per year

Program length: 40-43 credits, or 65 credits

Graduation rate: 87%


  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutes of Higher Education
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 1
  • Rank on 4

Boston University offers an online master in social work degree through their School of Social Work. The program has two majors (clinical social work and macro social work), and there are three tracks for each program: traditional, human services experience, and advanced standing.

The traditional and human services experience tracks are both 65 credits and can be completed in three years. The biggest difference between the two appears to be that the traditional track requires two field internships (length not specified) and the human services experience track only requires one field internship (1,000 hours). You need two years of human services experience to be eligible for the HSE track.

The advanced standing track is designed for those with a BSW from a CSWE accredited school, and is only 40-43 credits. Like the HSE track, the advanced standing track has one field internship for 1,000 hours.

Here’s what Boston University says about field internships:

“A rigorous field education experience is required of every MSW student. The field experience is a vital aspect of the social work graduate program curriculum which provides students with dynamic, hands-on practice within social work practice settings. Field education not only exposes students to the everyday activities they will utilize during their career in social work, but also gives them the opportunity to start making a difference in people’s lives before they even graduate.”

And here’s how they describe the difference between the clinical social work program and the macro social work program:

Clinical social work program:

“Highly skilled social workers are needed in a variety of settings, including hospitals, child welfare and children’s services, and more. Gain the professional tools to engage in purposeful conversations and therapeutic activities, working with individuals, families, and groups.”

Macro social work program:

“This program is ideal for those committed to championing change initiatives and tackling the root causes of social problems. Transform your passion into partnership with communities and organizations, employing the knowledge, policies, and strategies designed to improve living and social environments.”

Still not sure which program to choose? Boston University has a handy infographic to show you the more specific differences between the clinical and macro social work programs.

8. Case Western Reserve University

Image source: Case Western Reserve University

Tuition cost: about $43,000 per year

Program length: 36 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 82%


  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 3
  • Rank on 6
  • Rank on 8

Case Western Reserve University offers an online master of science in social administration (equivalent to an MSSW) through The Mandel School.

This was the first professional degree in social work established in the United States. It was launched in 1915, and became accredited in 1919, when accreditation first became available. By enrolling at CWRU, you’re stepping into a historical program built on more than 100 years of social work education.

CWRU has a standard 60 credit track or a 36 credit advanced standing track for those with a CSWE accredited BSW.

The program offers two concentrations: community practice for social change and direct practice. Here’s how they define the two:

Community practice for social change

“Develop the practical skills and values needed to lead and organize comprehensive social change on a broad scale. The concentration also addresses a range of issues including globalization, poverty, inequality and oppression, cultural diversity, women’s issues, human rights, and more.”

Direct practice

“Learn to engage individuals, families and groups, assess client needs and strengths, provide or help arrange needed services and support, weigh intervention alternatives, implement change strategies, and evaluate results.”

The direct practice concentration has two separate specializations:

  • Children, youth, and families
  • Mental health with adults

Before you’re admitted to the MSSA program, you must submit a Field Education Proposal and a Signed Agency Agreement Form, and CWRU must approve it. So before you even begin your studies, you’ll already be lined up to begin your field study.

CWRU doesn’t require GRE scores.

9. Rutgers University

Image source: Rutgers University

Tuition cost:

  • Advanced standing track: about $35,100 total
  • Standard track: about $54,000 total

Program length: 39 or 60 credits

Graduation rate: 80%


  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 1
  • Rank on 8
  • Rank on 10

Rutgers University offers a fully online MSW degree program taught by world renowned faculty. Here’s what they want you to know about their faculty:

“Our faculty are internationally recognized for generating innovative ideas and conducting research that breaks new ground. They are Guggenheim Fellows, MacArthur “Genius Award” Fellows, Fulbright Scholars, and Pulitzer Prize winners. As a preeminent public research university and hub of lifelong learning, Rutgers’s mission is to prepare students to become productive members of society and good citizens of the world.”

Rutgers’ online master in social work program requires 1,175 hours of fieldwork.

There is an advanced standing track for those with a BSW from a CSWE accredited program.

Rutgers University doesn’t require GRE scores for admission.

Fun fact: Rutgers University is the eighth oldest institution of higher education. It was founded in 1766, making it more than 250 years old!

10. Texas State University

Image source: Texas State University

Tuition cost:

  • In-State: about $6,000 per year
  • Out-of-State: about $14,000 per year

Program length: 36 or 62 credits

Graduation rate: 54%


  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Council on Social Work Education

Awards and accolades:

  • Rank on 4
  • Rank on 5

Texas State University offers an online MSW program with a concentration in advanced practice leadership. The concentration gives students practice in both micro-level and macro-level social work, preparing you for both direct practice and a more administrative environment.

The program can be completed part time or full time, and has a 62 credit foundation track as well as a 36 credit advanced standing track for those with a BSW from a CSWE accredited program.

Here’s what TSU says about their program:

“Our MSW degree program is built on a liberal arts perspective. Our graduates perform extremely well on state licensing exams and have found employment across a wide variety of service delivery fields.”

In addition to the core curriculum, you can take electives in the following social work areas:

  • Health care
  • Diversity
  • International social work
  • Gerontology
  • Spirituality
  • Adventure therapy
  • Work with veterans
  • And more . . .

The foundation track requires two field practicums, and the advanced standing track requires one. The “foundation field” (for foundation track students only) is a total of 360 hours, 24 per week. The “advanced field” experience (required for both tracks) is 540 hours, and should take about 36–40 hours per week.

Graduates of TSU’s master in social work program are eligible for state licensure.

A quick note on pursuing graduate studies

In order for a school to recognize your undergraduate degree, the school you previously attended and the one you wish to attend usually have to be accredited by the same organizations.

Most of the schools on this list are accredited by different regional accrediting bodies, so wherever you went to school before, you’ll hopefully have some options (the list may get shorter quick though). Four of these schools are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and three of them are accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges.

Plus, eight out of the ten schools on this list are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, which means even if the programs use different regionally accrediting bodies, the content will meet the same industry requirements, and you may not have as much trouble transferring your credits.

The best school is really up to you

We can’t tell you exactly which school is the best choice for you—and you shouldn’t let anyone else do that, either. You have to weigh the factors that are most important to you and let that guide your decision. Choosing a school is a huge investment—both in terms of what it immediately costs you and how it affects your life. So take your time.

We hope this list has helped make the decision a little easier for you. Good luck in your future studies!

Ryan Nelson
Ryan has a B.A. in English Literature from Western Washington University. If he could rewind and go to college all over again, he'd do it a little differently. For now, he's living vicariously through people like you by helping you find the best online schools for your field.

1 Comment

  1. Great summary and program review, you saved me a lot of time and headache. Thank you very much for your valuable work.

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