The Most Affordable Online Master's in Social Work Programs

By Staff Writer



Those with a desire to help vulnerable people navigate all kinds of personal, economic, and familial struggles may find a career in social work especially rewarding. Social workers identify at-risk individuals and families and provide them with support, resources, and guidance. Clinical social workers -- a position which requires a graduate degree in the field -- also provide counseling and help treat mental, social, and emotional issues.

Social workers provide support to clients of all demographics. Many work specifically with children and families as part of government agencies that exist to identify and support struggling community members. Others work in schools and hospitals, supporting educators and healthcare providers to assist students and patients in crisis.

Online graduate social work programs offer an accessible, flexible path to earning a degree in the field. These rankings provide information on accredited, affordable online master's in social work programs that provide learners with quality education designed to prepare them for licensure.

View our ranking methodology here.
Top 10 Most Affordable Online Master's in Social Work
Rank University
1 New Mexico State University
2 Florida State University
3 Concord University
4 University of South Florida
5 Tennessee State University
6 The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley
7 University of Central Florida
8 Simmons University
9 California State University-San Bernardino
10 Western Kentucky University

What to Expect From an Online Master's in Social Work Program

Requirements for online master's in social work programs vary, particularly based on each student's academic background. Those who hold a bachelor's in social work may bypass certain prerequisite courses in many programs, shortening the program length. Those without a BSW may need to take additional courses to ensure they have foundational knowledge about the field of social work.

MSW programs often allow students to pursue a concentration in areas like school, healthcare, clinical, and military social work. Core courses in social work curriculum often cover topics including social policy, welfare, human behavior, and clinical social work practice.

These programs include a required internship or practicum component, preparing students with the required number of supervised practice hours necessary for earning licensure. Licensure requirements vary from state to state. However, most states require students to graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education prior to taking required licensure exams.

Career Outlook for Social Workers

The majority of social workers work for government agencies, specifically in individual and family services. Many social workers work as child, family, and school social workers, and others take on roles as healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse clinicians. Each of these roles requires different duties, and many students tailor their social work degree toward the area they eventually wish to work in.

Social workers provide services to clients of all ages and demographics, depending on their specific workplace. Their primary duties include connecting clients with resources, providing counseling, and helping clients adapt to change and overcome personal obstacles.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 11% growth rate for jobs in social work, much faster than the average rate for other professions. Social workers earn a median salary of $50,470. However, salary can vary based on industry and employer, geographic location, education level, and experience.

The Most Affordable Online Master's in Social Work Programs 2020

New Mexico State University

NMSU features an affordable online master's in social work degree that follows a full-time format. Its school of social work offers a regular and advanced standing program for social work students.

Learners who hold a bachelor of social work degree from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program can pursue the advanced standing format to complete 30 credits of coursework. The regular program serves enrollees with a bachelor's degree in a discipline other than social work, requiring them to complete 60 credits.

The MSW program emphasizes advanced generalist social work practice and offers courses in synchronous and asynchronous formats. Learners typically take around two years to earn their degree and enjoy affordable tuition rates of about $400 per credit. Active duty military students can take advantage of discounted tuition rates, paying around $250 per credit.

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Florida State University

Learners who want to enroll in an affordable master's in social work online program can pursue the social work program at FSU. This online MSW typically takes degree-seekers about three years to complete and is available to learners from all 50 states. Coursework takes a clinical focus, and degree-seekers graduate qualified to pursue social work licensure.

The 61-credit curriculum includes two social work field placements. Learners complete two online classes each semester, and courses last 16 weeks. In addition to the online requirements, each degree-seeker must attend two mandatory weekends on campus to participate in skill-building sessions.

The flexible format offers a part-time option to serve working professionals. An eligible applicant holds a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA from a regionally accredited institution. Along with a completed application, each prospective student must provide official transcripts and a statement of purpose.

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Concord University

Located in Athens, West Virginia, CU offers an affordable online master's degree in social work. The MSW program features entirely online coursework focused on advanced generalist social work and rural practice. Depending on their educational background, degree-seekers can enroll in the standard generalist two-year program or the advanced standing option.

To enroll in the advanced standing program, learners must hold a bachelor of social work degree from a Council on Social Work Education-accredited program, with a 2.75 minimum overall GPA and a 3.0 minimum GPA for all social work courses.

Each applicant must provide a completed application, official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Degree-seekers without a bachelor's degree in social work begin the program focused on the standard generalist curriculum before entering the advanced generalist curriculum. The generalist program requires 60 credit hours of coursework for graduation, while the advanced standing program only requires learners to complete 36 credit hours.

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University of South Florida

Learners can pursue an affordable online master's in social work at USF. The online MSW follows a cohort model, which allows degree-seekers to begin and end their program with the same group of students to build lasting relationships with instructors and peers through sequenced courses.

Designed to prepare learners to become leaders in clinical social work practice, the unique curriculum emphasizes a strong foundation of social work values, ethics, and professional standards. Each week, degree-seekers complete between 12-15 hours of fieldwork, totaling 900 hours by the end of the program.

The 60-credit curriculum explores diversity and social justice, foundations of social welfare and policy, and social work practice with individuals. USF allows enrollees who hold a bachelor of social work degree to pursue the advanced standing format, completing less credit hours than those enrolled in the traditional option.

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Tennessee State University

Enrollees at TSU can pursue an affordable master's in social work online degree to pursue advanced generalist social work practice after graduation. The program emphasizes human diversity, social justice, and human well-being and boasts programmatic accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.

Degree-seekers learn about social welfare policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, and social policy analysis. The concentration curriculum includes 30 credits of coursework and prepares students for advanced generalist social work practice.

The advanced generalist concentration builds learners' skills, knowledge, roles, and values of social work practice.

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a 2.75 minimum GPA from an accredited institution. In addition to a completed application, a prospective student should provide official transcripts, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.

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University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

UTRGV offers one of the most affordable online master's degrees in social work. Enrollees enjoy low tuition costs of about $444 per credit. Students learn about administration and community practice to develop strong leadership skills and a deeper understanding of clinical and macro assessment.

The 33-credit curriculum features courses that last seven weeks, enabling degree-seekers to fulfill their program requirements in as little as 12 months. Enrollees learn how to work effectively with diverse populations, studying organizational administration, policy development, and human resource development.

Graduates can sit for licensing exams to earn the licensed master social worker credential. In addition to rigorous coursework, each enrollee benefits from practical experience during their 500-hour practicum component. Degree-seekers can complete their practicum in settings of their choice.

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University of Central Florida

Boasting one of the most affordable online master's in social work programs, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited master's program at UCF teaches students to work with diverse populations, including those living with mental health, addiction, and homelessness challenges. The online option specifically serves learners who do not hold a bachelor of social work degree.

During the nine-semester curriculum, degree-seekers can pursue clinical specialization and experience through field placement. Learners complete seven-week course terms while satisfying 62-credits of required coursework. Enrollees enjoy affordable tuition rates of around $487 per credit.

Students with a bachelor's degree in a discipline other than social work can enroll in the 62-credit hour part-time cohort program, taking three years to earn their degree. Degree-seekers who hold a bachelor of social work degree from a CSWE-accredited program can enroll in the advanced standing track as long as they earned a 3.3 GPA or higher during their most recent 60 credit hours of coursework. Advanced standing students complete 32 credit hours in just over four semesters within a cohort program.

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Simmons University

Simmons, located in Boston, Massachusetts, offers an affordable master's in social work online program. The clinically focused MSW curriculum teaches learners about multicultural perspectives and concepts of social justice values, preparing them for direct practice in many different clinical settings.

Degree-seekers begin with foundation courses to build a framework of knowledge and skills needed for advanced generalist social work practice. The second half of the program focuses on an advanced curriculum and requires learners to choose from specializations in health and aging, child and family, trauma and interpersonal violence, and mental health and addictions.

Enrollees must complete two immersive field education experiences. The first placement focuses on generalist social work practice and includes a field education lab component. After a student begins the advanced curriculum, they complete their required fieldwork in an agency.

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California State University, San Bernardino

CSUSB offers an affordable master's in social work online program fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Degree-seekers can earn their MSW in three ways: a two-year program, a three-year program, or a distance education program.

The distance education option includes three academic years of coursework, spanning six semesters. During their final year, degree-seekers can choose a specialization in a client population, social issue, or field of practice. Learners can then apply research projects and assignments to their specialization, tailoring their curriculum to their career goals and personal interests.

Rather than a field experience that takes place after coursework, CSUSB integrates practicums concurrently with classes to further develop their values and skills.

Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher from an accredited institution. Prospective students should demonstrate a background in liberal arts, including social and behavioral sciences, and a year of full-time paid experience.

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Western Kentucky University

Learners can pursue an affordable online master's degree in social work at WKU. Fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the program prepares degree-seekers to work with individuals, groups, families, communities, and organizations.

Online students who hold a bachelor of social work degree earned within the last seven years can enroll in the advanced standing part-time format to complete 33 credit hours of coursework. An enrollee with a bachelor's degree in a discipline other than social work can pursue the traditional part-time format, satisfying 60 credit hours.

Graduates find employment in community organizing, foster care, and mental health roles, along with alcohol and substance abuse prevention and treatment.

Online graduate students pay a tuition of $707 per credit hour. Alums demonstrate strong theoretical knowledge of advanced generalist social work practice at individual, family, and community levels.

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University of Arkansas at Little Rock

UA Little Rock offers an affordable online master's in social work to prepare learners for advanced practice and leadership roles in the field. Learners focus on clinical social work practice, learning evidence-informed and contemporary approaches throughout their coursework.

Degree-seekers complete coursework and field internships, taking about three years to earn their degree. Only available to Arkansas residents, the online program requires learners to complete field internships in person. MSW field coordinators determine field placements for each enrollee to ensure that they find suitable placements near their specific location.

Each candidate must hold a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher from an accredited institution. Along with a completed application, a prospective student must submit GRE scores, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. Eligible applicants must demonstrate relevant volunteer, employment, or other life experiences.

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California State University, Stanislaus

Degree-seekers looking to enroll in an affordable online master's degree in social work can pursue the hybrid master of social work at Stan State. Learners develop the skills they need to advance social justice across diverse communities. Graduates can sit for the licensing exam to earn the licensed clinical social worker credential.

The advanced curriculum explores social work practice with trauma survivors, current trends in social work research, and advanced social work practice with communities and organizations. Enrollees complete two classes during each eight-week session, taking about two years to earn their degree. Degree-seekers must complete their courses in a specific sequence.

The competency-based coursework explores social, economic, and environmental justice, along with how to advance human rights. Learners also develop an understanding of how to demonstrate professional and ethical behavior during advanced generalist social work practice.

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Washburn University

Washburn University offers an affordable online master's in social work program. Students prepare for clinical social work practice, meeting multilevel client needs across settings. Enrollees learn to provide direct clinical social work services to groups, families, and individuals in urban and rural areas.

An MSW student can select a specialization within their degree to tailor their coursework to their specific career goals and interests. Concentration options include school social work or healthcare. Degree-seekers who hold a bachelor of social work degree can pursue the advanced standing format, earning their degree in about 11 months, while learners who follow the traditional format typically earn their degree within two years of full-time study.

Each interested candidate must hold a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or higher from an accredited institution. During the admissions process, a prospective student must complete an application and provide transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

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Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Prospective students interested in an affordable master's in social work online program can consider enrolling in the rigorous program at IUPUI. Learners enjoy entirely online coursework, comprising 60 credits. In-state students pay a tuition rate of about $585 per credit, while out-of-state students pay around $716 per credit.

Foundational coursework explores diversity, social justice, and human rights. Learners also focus on specialized fields of social work practice, including e-social work, mental health, and addictions. Boasting accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education, the MSW prepares degree-seekers for advanced generalist practice.

Enrollees complete 30 credits of social work core courses and 30 credits of special practice area courses. Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree. During the admissions process, an interested candidate must submit a completed application, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a resume.

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Delaware State University

Enrollees at DSU can pursue an affordable online master's degree in social work. The university offers its MSW -- fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education -- as the only program of its kind in the state. Degree-seekers focus on advanced generalist practice and graduate prepared to pursue entry-level licensing opportunities.

The curriculum emphasizes experiential learning, including two student-selected internship practicum components. Foundation courses focus on a generalist social work perspective, teaching students about human behavior in the social environment and social policies. Advanced courses build on the core foundation, exploring advanced practice with individuals, groups, families, communities, and organizations.

A degree-seeker with a bachelor's degree in social work can pursue the advanced standing track, completing 30 credits of coursework. Enrollees in the traditional MSW must satisfy 60 credits, covering theories of personality and adult psychopathology and administration, management, and supervision.

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Western New Mexico University

Learners interested in earning an affordable online master's in social work can enroll in the Council on Social Work Education-accredited MSW at WNMU. Learners interested in making a difference in the lives of children can explore the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Title IV-E Stipend program.

The curriculum emphasizes core social work values of social justice, service, and the importance of human relationships. Professors all maintain licensure as social workers and weave their professional experience into their instruction. Degree-seekers explore cultural competence in social work practice, group dynamics in social work practice, and foundations of social work research methods.

An eligible applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a 2.75 GPA or higher from an accredited institution, along with providing a completed application, official transcripts, a personal statement, a professional resume, and letters of recommendation. Enrollees can begin their program in the summer, spring, or fall with priority and rolling admissions options.

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Appalachian State University

Appalachian offers an affordable master's in social work online program. The part-time format combines online and on-campus components, following a hybrid model. Learners enjoy affordable tuition rates of $266 per credit hour for North Carolina residents and $925 per credit hour for out-of-state enrollees.

Degree-seekers prepare for advanced social work practice, developing management and leadership skills. Graduates can pursue careers as substance abuse counselors, school social workers, or child welfare caseworkers. Each enrollee can pursue a concentration in individuals and families or community and organizational practice.

Learners with a bachelor's degree in social work from programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education can enroll in the advanced standing option if they meet the 3.2 minimum GPA requirement. Advanced standing students complete 33 credit hours, typically earning their degree within two years.

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Indiana University Bloomington

An aspiring professional who wants to earn an affordable online master's degree in social work can consider the MSW at IU. The fully online format features affordable tuition rates of about $585 per credit for in-state students and $716 per credit for out-of-state students.

Learners complete 60 credits of coursework, comprising 30 credits of social work core courses and 30 credits of special practice area courses. Graduates can consider careers as child protective services social workers, alcohol and drug abuse specialists, and family service workers.

Boasting specialized accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education, the MSW prepares degree-seekers for advanced generalist practice. Enrollees also explore specialized fields, including military social work, telebehavioral health social work, and mental health.

Each candidate must hold a bachelor's degree and provide a completed application, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a resume.

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Austin Peay State University

Degree-seekers interested in earning an affordable online master's in social work can enroll in the mid-Tennessee collaborative master of social work (MTC-MSW) program at APSU. The MTC-MSW option launched in 2009 to connect APSU, Middle Tennessee State University, and Tennessee State University to offer one degree from three locations. Learners complete some of their courses on campus in the evening, along with classes in a flexible online format.

Since 2010, degree-seekers who hold a bachelor's degree in social work from Council on Social Work Education-accredited programs have pursued the advanced standing format. Each enrollee must determine a home campus upon admission, although they can interact with peers from all locations.

The curriculum explores social welfare policy and services; human behavior and the social environment; and social justice and equity for multicultural populations. Traditional MTC-MSW students complete 60 credits of coursework while advanced standing learners only need to satisfy 30 credits.

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West Virginia University

WVU offers an affordable master's in social work online program. The advanced standing MSW requires an enrollee to hold a bachelor's degree in social work. The curriculum comprises 36 credit hours in 12 courses, and learners enjoy affordable tuition of about $631 per credit hour.

Degree-seekers prepare for advanced social work practice, learning to integrate micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level practice skills in different service sectors. The MSW, with accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education, emphasizes effective models for rural service delivery.

The advanced standing format immediately enrolls learners into the advanced curriculum, waiving foundation-level courses. Each candidate must hold a 2.75 minimum GPA, although the admissions department prefers 3.25 or higher.

With their application, each prospective student should include transcripts, letters of recommendation, an admission essay, and a resume. Students with a bachelor's degree in disciplines other than social work can consider the university's traditional MSW option.

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University of Texas at Arlington

UTA offers one of the most affordable online master's degrees in social work in the nation. The fully online cohort offers both part-time and full-time degree plans for degree-seekers to graduate in 1-3 years.

A student with a bachelor's degree in social work can pursue advanced standing enrollment. Learners can enroll in this accelerated full-time program to earn their degree in 12 months.

The accelerated format features eight-week courses and begins every fall semester. Advanced standing and traditional MSW students can pursue the full-time cohort format, completing their degree in 16 months for the advanced standing track or 26 months for the traditional pathway.

Online students can pursue specialty areas in direct practice in aging, direct practice with children and families, or direct practice in mental health and substance abuse. Each applicant must provide college transcripts. An advanced standing candidate must possess a bachelor of social work degree with a 3.0 GPA.

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California State University, Northridge

CSUN offers one of the most affordable online master's in social work programs. Learners participate in a cohort format, focusing on urban community practice through a generalist approach. Degree-seekers develop the skills needed to work at any level of practice in the field.

Enrollees can pursue a two- or three-year format. The two-year option serves full-time students through an intensive curriculum, and the three-year opportunity follows a less demanding pace. Online students complete regular assignments and meet for live online sessions one weeknight each week. Aside from the once-a-week live session requirement, degree-seekers complete asynchronous courses.

This Council on Social Work Education-accredited program explores human behavior and the social environment, psychosocial assessment and diagnostic formulation, and generalist social work theory and practice. Learners enjoy affordable tuition rates of $752 per unit. Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree with a 2.5 minimum GPA from a regionally accredited institution.

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University of Iowa

Degree-seekers can earn an affordable master's in social work online at UI. The cohort model enrolls about 25 students, requiring them to meet twice each year as a group with local social work practitioners.

Eligible applicants must live in Iowa or bordering states and hold a bachelor's degree demonstrating 3.0 GPAs from accredited institutions. Admitted students must commit to participate annually in a 2-3 day summer institute in Iowa City.

Working with a field administrator, each degree-seeker develops and secures proper placement in a practicum or internship within the community. Learners also participate in asynchronous courses and evening classes in real time, using video conferencing.

Enrollees interested in working in macro-level social work functions or roles can consider the integrated concentration to prepare for careers in case management, medical social work, and school social work.

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Eastern Washington University

EWU offers an affordable online master's degree in social work. The program prepares learners for professional practice in urban and rural settings in areas, such as child welfare, societal violence, and addictions.

The first year focuses on foundational topics of generalist practice, teaching students about the knowledge, values, and skills involved in social work practice. The second year explores advanced generalist practice skills, teaching students about clinical assessment, organizational and policy analysis, and evidence-based treatments.

An eligible applicant holds a bachelor's degree demonstrating a 3.0 GPA or higher from an accredited college or university. Learners with a bachelor's degree in social work can enroll in the advanced standing program. Each candidate must provide a completed application, resume, letters of recommendation, and admissions essay. Candidates do not need to provide GRE scores.

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University of Maine

Students interested in earning an affordable online master's in social work can enroll in UMaine's program. The online MSW offers small classes, seminars, internships, and experiential learning. Degree-seekers develop an understanding of ethical social work through several specializations and roles.

The curriculum explores advances in contemporary advanced social work practice to meet the needs of rural areas. A learner can enroll in the advanced standing format if they hold a bachelor's degree in social work. Advanced standing students complete 46 credits in two years, while students following the traditional format must complete 63 credits in three years.

The online program blends online classes with face-to-face meetings. Most classes follow online, asynchronous formats. The cohort model allows learners to connect during the in-person requirements and field practicum component.

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