In this article, we profile the top 30 most affordable online master’s in social work degree programs for 2021.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that the overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 13 percent through the year 2029. The rate is must faster than the average of all occupations and is predicted due to the increased demand for healthcare and social services. To practice as a social worker, a MSW degree is typically required. Through careful research, we located the top 30 most affordable master’s in social work online degrees.
To be considered for our list of most affordable online MSW programs, colleges and universities must be accredited (regionally or nationally), preferably by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). We considered 134 schools with a graduate tuition of less than $20,000 per year. Tuition was collected from the National Center for Education Statistics (College Navigator) and the schools were then listed in order of raw affordability.
Below is our list of the top 30 most affordable online master’s in social work programs of 2021.
#30 – Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $19,983
Rutgers University offers an online master’s in social work that can be completed in just three years. The program features all asynchronous coursework, which means there is no set meeting time for classes. Students can work on course content as their schedule allows provided they meet the deadlines. Field placement occurs in the student’s location and begins during the third term of the first year and lasts the duration of the program. The field internship requires between 11.25 – 16 hours per week. Students can earn a certificate in violence against women or Latinx initiatives for service, training and assessment. Rutgers ranks #63 in national universities by U.S. News and World Report.
#29 – University of New Hampshire
Durham, New Hampshire
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $16,265
The University of New Hampshire offers an online MSW that can be completed in just 28 months. Candidates from all academic backgrounds are welcome to apply and must submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, resume, and personal statement. In addition to coursework, students will complete two field-based internships working with social service agencies and interacting with clients. Courses may include data analysis and statistics, human behavior and the social environment, and research methods in social work. The University of New Hampshire ranks in multiple U.S. News and World Report categories including #88 in best value schools, #65 in top public schools, and #143 in national universities.
#28 – Winthrop University
Rock Hill, South Carolina
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,818
Winthrop University offers a master’s in social work online accredited by the CSWE that can be completed in just 2-3 years. Those with an undergraduate degree in social work from a CSWE accredited program can choose the advanced standing program, which lasts two years. Students without a background in social work participate in the three-year traditional program. Coursework may include human behavior in the social environment, interpersonal helping skills, and social welfare policy. The internship experience allows students to form relationships with agencies in their communities while putting to use concepts and skills learned in the classroom. Winthrop ranks #13 in regional universities South by U.S. News and World Report.
#27 – Virginia Commonwealth University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,086
Virginia Commonwealth University offers an online MSW that can be completed on a part- or full-time basis. The program is geared towards working professionals who desire flexible coursework or place-bound individuals who do not live in a service area of a traditional postsecondary institution. Students can earn their MSW in 3-4 years or can graduate from the advanced standing program in just 12 months. Administered through the School of Social Work, the program is accredited by the Council for Social Work Education. Virginia Commonwealth University is highly respected in the region and ranks #77 in top public schools and #105 in best value schools by U.S. News and World Report.
#26 – University at Buffalo
Buffalo, New York
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $14,130
The University at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) offers an outstanding master’s in social work online due to its affordable tuition and practitioner-based coursework that prepares students for the rigors and challenges brought on by a career as a master’s level social worker. The program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and is rooted in trauma-informed and human rights perspectives. The traditional online MSW program features 60 credits. Those with an undergraduate degree in social work can choose the 35-credit advanced standing program. Courses may include evaluation in social work, scientific methods in social work, and theories on human behavior and development. SUNY Buffalo ranks #88 in national universities by U.S. News and World Report.
#25 – Portland State University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $13,218
Portland State University offers an online MSW that features 100% online coursework. In addition to online classes, students complete two 500-hour field placements working for a variety of social service organizations in their own community. With three concentration options in gerontology, public health, and school social work, students can choose a path that best fits their career needs. The traditional online program is 78 credits while the advanced standing program is 46 credits. Featured courses advocacy and empowerment, research for social justice, and social welfare history and policy. Portland State University is ranked #284 in national universities by U.S. News and World Report.
#24 – University of Louisville
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $13,196
Administered by the Kent School of Social Work, the University of Louisville’s online master’s in social work is accredited by the Council of Social Work Education and features a traditional and advanced standing track. Students from all academic backgrounds are welcome to apply to the traditional track. Those with a bachelor’s degree in social work are welcome to apply to the advanced standing pathway. The traditional program takes 4-8 semesters to complete, while the advanced standing program can be finished in just 2-5 terms. In addition to online classes, students complete a 900-hour supervised practicum in their own community. Career specializations include alcohol and drug counseling, gerontology, mental health, military social work, and psychosocial oncology. Louisville is ranked #176 in national universities by U.S. News and World Report.
#23 – Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $13,035
The LSU College of Human Sciences and Education offers a master’s in social work online through its School of Social Work. The program has two tracks; the regular track for those with no social work background and the advanced standing track for those with a bachelor’s degree in social work. The regular program can be completed in two years of full-time study and 3.5-4 years at the part-time level. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, 12-credit hours of social science courses and 9-credits in humanities courses, completion of a statistics course, 3.0 GPA, letter of intent, resume, and three letters of recommendation. LSU ranks #71 in top public schools by U.S. News and World Report.
#22 – Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,871
Colorado State’s online MSW offers individuals the opportunity to earn their graduate degree in a flexible format designed for working professionals. The online courses feature challenging content taught by highly trained, compassionate faculty dedicated to student success. Students can choose from graduate certificates including advanced clinical behavioral health, conflict resolution and mediation, military and veteran culture, nonprofit administration, and preK-12 school social work. Year-one courses include anti-oppressive social work practice, principles and philosophy of social work, and theoretical foundations of social work. The entire program can be completed in three years including fieldwork. Colorado State is ranked #71 in top public schools according to U.S News and World Report.
#21 – Campbellsville University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,690
Campbellsville University offers an online master’s in social work that features a regular track and advanced standing track. In addition to coursework, students are required to complete 900 hours of fieldwork. Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work can count field hours gained during their undergraduate studies towards the 900-hour requirement. The regular program can be completed in less than two years. The Advanced standing program can be completed in just one year. Foundational courses include, but are not limited to, cultural competency, human development, policy and practice, and research methods. Campbellsville is ranked #94 in regional universities South according to U.S. News and World Report.
#20 – Arizona State University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,608
Arizona State University is a leader in online education and is now offering a master’s in social work online through its Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. The program requires students to complete online coursework in addition to two internships totaling 960 hours. Admission standards require personal statement, three letters of recommendation, bachelor’s degree, and proof of 240 hours of volunteer or work experience in social services within the past five years. Featured courses include diversity and oppression in a social work context, macro social work, and social policy and services. ASU is ranked #103 in national universities by U.S. News and World Report.
#19 – Aurora University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,600
Aurora University offers an excellent online MSW with several concentrations based on the student’s career interests. Concentrations include child welfare, faith-based social work, forensic social work, gerontology, health care, leadership administration, and professional educator licensure. In addition, students can choose to pursue a dual MSW/MPA or MSW/MBA program. The admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, 3.0 minimum GPA, resume, personal statement, and two letters of recommendation. Transfer credit options are available and can shorten the length of time to complete the program. Aurora University is ranked #298 in national universities and #161 in social mobility according to U.S. News and World Report.
#18 – Ohio State University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,425
The Ohio State University College of Social Work has trained thousands of students through its online MSW program and has built a reputation of offering flexible coursework taught by leading faculty. The coursework teaches students the critical competencies needed in the field to successfully support the needs of their clients. Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work may qualify for the advanced standing pathway, which typically takes three semesters to complete. Those with a non-social work background will take the traditional program that typically takes four semesters to complete. As a top national university, U.S. News and World report ranks OSU #17 in top public schools.
#17 – Brandman University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,320
Coming in at #17 on our list of most affordable online master’s in social work programs, Brandman University provides working professionals with a flexible pathway to obtaining an accredited graduate degree in social work. Advanced standing students can complete the program in just one year, while standard online program students can finish in just two years. The program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and features courses such as diversity and social justice, human behavior in the social environment, and social work practice with individuals and families. Graduates have gone on to work in several social services agencies within the healthcare, criminal justice, and government sectors.
#16 – University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,058
The University of North Dakota offers a CSWE-accredited online master’s in social work for individuals with an accredited bachelor’s degree. The standard program can be completed in three years, while the advanced standing program (those with a bachelor’s degree in social work) can finish in just one year. Candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree and at least 30 credits of liberal arts courses. In addition, students must have successfully passed an undergraduate statistics course and have at least a 3.0 GPA in their last two years of undergraduate study. The institution has a sound regional reputation among its peers and ranks #126 in top public schools by U.S. News and World Report.
#15 – University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,666
Individuals seeking affordable master’s in social work online programs find The University of Iowa’s School of Social Work to have options. The online MSW program is designed for working students living in Iowa or a bordering state. Students follow a part-time, three-year course plan that can be completed entirely online. Courses cover topics like demonstrate ethical and professional behavior, engage diversity and difference in practice, engage in policy practice, and intervene with individuals. In addition to geographic location, qualifying for admission requires an earned BSW or four-year degree in a related discipline. University of Iowa ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 88th best national university and 108th best value school in the country.
#14 – Florida State University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,533
Florida State University offers a CSWE-accredited online MSW program that has earned top rankings and distinction as one of the nation’s best MSW degrees. The part-time, online MSW is designed for students who cannot pursue their graduate degree full-time. Courses are delivered in a flexible format and can be completed entirely online. While a BSW is not required for admission, accepted students with a BSW do qualify for advanced standing. Also, the GRE is not required for those who meet certain admission stipulations. In addition to offering a top-ranked MSW degree, FSU has received school rankings from U.S. News and World Report. In fact, FSU’s current rankings include #58 in best national universities and #123 in best value schools.
#13 – Indiana University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,873
The MSW online degree program at Indiana University is a CSWE-accredited program that is conveniently designed for working students. All classes are delivered online and include a series of foundational courses and electives. Course topics include diversity, human rights, and social justice; generalist theory and practice; introduction to the social work profession; research; and social policy analysis and practice. Students also take courses in their selected focus area in conjunction with concentration courses. Special practice areas include mental health, military, e-social work, and telebehavioral health. The school ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 196th best national university and 68th most innovative institution.
#12 – University of Missouri
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,478
University of Missouri’s online master’s in social work program is offered 100% online and requires a total of sixty credits. Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a quality governing body looked favorably upon by employers and doctoral degree programs, the online MSW helps prepare students for careers within this highly competitive field. Coursework is delivered online and covers topics like human behavior and psychopathology, intervention with individuals and families, management of social agencies, policy making and advocacy practice, and research in social work. There are no campus visits required, though supervised work at an approved agency serves to fulfill the practicum requirement. University of Missouri ranks with major publications like U.S. News and World Report as the 124th best national university.
#11 – Ohio University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,720
Ohio University’s online MSW program ranks among the most affordable on our list. For less than $10,000 per year, students earn a CSWE-accredited degree by taking classes on their own schedule. Courses cover topics like advanced social work assessment, foundations of social work practice, human behavior in the social environment, and social work research and program evaluation. To qualify for admission to this top-rated program, applicants must have a recent BSW from a CSWE-accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. In addition to its esteemed accreditation, Ohio University ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 176th best national university and 118th best value school.
#10 – Boise State University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,646
Boise State University offers a master’s in social work online degree that is designed to prepare students for advanced social work practice with families and individuals. All classes are taught by BSU faculty and delivered online. Courses cover a wide range of social work topics like advanced social work interventions, ethnicity and class, foundations of research, human development, and social dimensions of human behavior. Admission to the program is competitive. To be considered for admission, students must hold a bachelor’s degree with an undergraduate GPA of 3.00 or higher. Recommendations and social service practice experience are also required when applying for admission. In addition to being fully accredited, Boise State ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 298th-389th best national university.
#9 – University of Houston
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,372
At the University of Houston, independent learners and self-motivated students may earn an affordable master’s in social work online. While the program is designed to present flexible coursework online, firm deadlines must be met. Online courses cover topics like advanced social policy analysis, foundations of social work, human diversity and development, policy in the social environment, and program planning and evaluation. The University of Houston is fully accredited and ranked with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. In fact, University of Houston ranks #176 in best national universities and #106 in best value schools.
#8 – Humboldt State University
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,298
The master’s in social work online degree at Humboldt State University is for busy and working students looking to balance their education and outside obligations like jobs and family. Courses are conveniently delivered online and require attendance to weekly live web sessions. The program is rigorous and students should be able to dedicate at least 25 hours per week to the part-time program. In addition to being CSWE-accredited, the program and institution rank with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. In fact, Humboldt State ranks 37th in best regional universities in the West and 33rd in best value schools.
#7 – University of Central Florida
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,872
University of Central Florida offers a CSWE-accredited online MSW program for less than $9,000 per year. Two completion tracks are available: advanced standing track and the traditional track. To qualify for the advanced standing pathway, students must have earned a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program within the last six years with a 3.3 GPA. Courses cover topics like clinical social work practice with LGBTQ+, diverse client populations, and practice with families. According to U.S. News and World Report, UCF ranks #160 in best national universities and #141 in best value schools. Also, the program meets educational eligibility criteria for LCSW licensure in the state of Florida.
#6 – Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,664
Texas State University offers an affordable master’s in social work online degree through its College of Applied Arts and School of Social Work. The program has received its accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education. Required courses cover topics in advanced social policy and social justice, advanced social work research, international social work, social work and health care, and social work research. Admission follows two pathways for the BSW holder and the non-BSW holder. Advanced standing is offered to those with a bachelor’s in social work. In addition to being fully accredited, Texas State ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 298th-389th best national university and 154th-209th top public school.
#5 – University of Oklahoma
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $8,577
The CSWE-accredited online MSW at University of Oklahoma is an affordable degree that allows graduates to apply for licensure in various states. Since requirements vary by state, Oklahoma’s degree is highly versatile. What makes Oklahoma’s MSW program unique is the combination of an online learning experience coupled with field training. Courses are delivered online and cover topics like human diversity and societal oppression, human lifespan development, professional social work, and theory, practice, and evaluation with individuals, groups, and organizations. In addition to being CSWE-accredited, University of Oklahoma ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 133rd best national university and 167th best value school.
#4 – Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $7,976
At Appalachian State University, students may earn an affordable master’s in social work online degree on a part-time basis. The App State online MSW is unique in that the program offers two concentrations that allow students to further tailor their degree. Concentrations include community and organizational practice, and the individual and families. The program is designed to prepare students for social work careers, such as child welfare case workers, medical social workers, school social worker, and substance abuse counselors. To be eligible for admission, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. GRE waivers and advanced standing enrollment are awarded to students with a cumulative GPA of 3.2 in the last degree earned.
#3 – Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, Florida
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $7,296
Saint Leo University offers an MSW online degree that is both accredited and highly affordable. The online MSW is open only to qualified residents of Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Required courses cover topics like include human behavior in the social environment, methods of social work practice with individuals and families, social welfare policy, and social work research methods. According to U.S. News and World Report, Saint Leo ranks 26th in best regional universities in the South and 4th in best value schools. Also, Saint Leo is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
#2 – University of South Dakota
Vermillion, South Dakota
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $7,043
University of South Dakota’s online MSW programs are designed to prepare individuals with the skills needed to provide competent and ethical social work services in South Dakota’s diverse communities and surrounding areas. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university and have maintained an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or better to qualify for admission. Classes are delivered entirely online and require 60 credits for regular standing and 36 credits for advanced standing. Online courses cover topics like generalist practice – individuals and families, history and philosophy of social work, human behavior in the social environment, and practice-informed quantitative research. USD is fully accredited and ranks with U.S. News and World Report as the 249th best national university.
#1 – University of Nevada
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $5,931
University of Nevada Reno offers the most affordable master’s in social work online degree program on our list. For less than $6,000 per year, qualified students may earn an online MSW that is CSWE-accredited. Both advanced standing (BSW students) and traditional (non-BSW students) completion pathways are available. For the advanced standing program, qualifying students complete only 32 credits and graduate in as few as 15 months. Foundational courses for traditional students cover topics like elements of evidence informed practice, social work history and social welfare policy, social work methods with couples and families, social work methods with individuals, and structural oppression. In addition to its CSWE accreditation, the school ranks #227 in best national universities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you do with a master’s in social work online degree?
Graduates of master’s in social work online degree programs may work in a variety of industries and roles. Depending on interests and licensure requirements, graduates of online MSW programs may seek careers in child, family, and school social work; clinical practice; health care; government; or mental health and substance abuse counseling.
Below are several careers to consider after graduating from an online MSW program.
- EAP Counselor
An EAP or employee assistance program counselor helps employees and families of current employees with various issues and helps find strategies that alleviate stress. Stress may come from outside the workplace environment, or it may be related to work.
- Hospice Social Worker
Social workers in hospices assist patients and their families with end-of-life decisions. From funeral planning to the completion of insurance paperwork, hospice social workers perform various tasks.
- Medical Social Worker
A medical social worker oversees administrative tasks and interacts with clients on a personal level. Most of their days are spent making initial contact with clients, interviewing to gather medical history, completing intakes and gathering background information, and documenting client visits.
- Social Worker Manager or Supervisor
The social worker manager supervises social workers in various organizations. They offer guidance and help in dealing with challenging cases. They also ensure compliance and document processes.
What is the job outlook for individuals with a master’s in social work online degree?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment of social workers is projected to increase 13 percent through 2029. The anticipated growth is much faster than the average for all other occupations; however, growth will vary by specialization.
In similar occupations, such as mental health counselors and rehabilitation counselors, the job outlook is also favorable. In fact, mental health counselors should see a 25% projected growth through 2029. Employment growth is due to the flux of people seeking mental health counseling in light of the pandemic and societal challenges. Rehabilitation counselors should see an anticipated growth of 10%, also more favorable than the average for all other occupations. The demand for rehab counselors is expected to grow, due in part to the increasing elderly population and needs of veterans and people with disabilities.
Also, BLS reports a 17% growth rate for the employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers. Other occupations that anticipate double-digit growth rates include healthcare social workers (14% projected growth rate) and child, family, and school social workers (12% projected growth rate).
Most social work jobs require a master’s degree in social work, such as the online MSW. Job prospects are especially good for individuals with an MSW and specialized training or schooling, as well as licensure. Overall, job prospects will be very good for clinical social workers over the next decade.
How much money can I earn with a master’s in social work online degree?
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for social workers was $50,470 as of May 2019. BLS reports the median wage as the wage in which half the workers in any given occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. A further breakdown for social workers showed that ten percent earned less than $32,000 and the highest ten percent earned more than $82,500.
Within the social work field, earnings vary by specialty. A breakdown of the median annual wages for various social work jobs is listed below.
Child, family, and school social workers earned a median annual wage of $47,390 in May 2019. Healthcare social workers earned $56,750 on average. Mental health and substance abuse social workers earned $46,650 on average. All other social workers earned a median annual wage of $61,230.
The median annual wage for social workers varies by industry. The top four paying industries are as follows:
According to BLS, social workers in local government except education and hospitals, earned an average wage of $55,500. Ambulatory healthcare services is the second highest paying industry for social work. Social workers in ambulatory health earned $51,290 on average. The third top-paying industry for social workers is state government. Social workers in state government earned $49,100. Individual and family services industry paid social workers an average of $43,030.
What specializations are available in online master’s in social work programs?
Many master’s in social work online programs offer specializations designed to build upon classes at the foundational level. Specializations also allow students to tailor their degree toward areas of interest or to meet career goals. Specializations or concentrations are common in online MSW degree programs.
Some examples of MSW concentrations include clinical practice; management and community practice; and policy, planning, and administration. Clinical practice and advanced direct practice are clinical concentrations designed to lead MSW graduates to careers in community mental health centers, primary care clinics, and private practice settings. The concentration emphasizes the study of behavioral and emotional well-being of individuals and groups.
A specialization in management and community practice emphasizes the preparation of social workers for leadership positions. Earning a specialization in management and community practice prepares you for careers in policy, advocacy, and in community-based facilities.
The versatile specialization of policy, planning, and administration is similar to the management and community practice concentration. The specialization prepares graduate students for careers as policy makers and managers in social service organizations or political and governmental settings.
Some programs offer internships that allow students to explore their specialization in further through hands-on experiences. This is especially valuable for the clinical practice specialization.
Are there professional associations I can join while earning a master’s in social work online degree?
While enrolled in a master’s in social work online program or a recent graduate of an online MSW, you may qualify and benefit from joining a professional social work association. Professional organizations offer a wide range of membership benefits, including access to job postings, networking opportunities, and research.
Below are three professional organizations open to graduate students in MSW online programs:
- Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
Recognized as the premiere accrediting agency by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, CSWE had more than 2,500 members. Membership benefits are offered an annual subscription to the Journal of Social Work Education, as well as monthly newsletters.
- National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
NASW is the largest social work association. Students can become involved in the association, enhancing their professional growth, though various social advocacy programs. Membership access offers training and access to conferences, issues to the Social Work journal, and discounts on continuing education programs.
- School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA)
The SSWAA provides its members access to articles, findings, research, and other valuable tools used in the practice of social work. The association is best known for creating the national social emotional learning Common Core standards. Other membership benefits include networking opportunities and biweekly newsletters.
This concludes our list of the top 30 affordable online master’s in social work degree programs for 2021.