Top 10 Affordable Online Masters in Social Work 2018

Embarking on a career in social work is a truly commendable undertaking. Both undergraduate and graduate students are entering the field to an ever-increasing degree; this is in part due to a growing need for social work professionals who have specialized skill-sets to serve and adapt to a broad range of community needs.  Social workers can be found serving in mental health institutions, prisons, schools, hospitals, private practice, and numerous other settings where people benefit from their guidance. Additionally, social workers are staunch advocates for justice, particularly in communities or populations who are too often underserved.

The following collection of schools represents the top 10 affordable online master’s in social work. These schools were selected following a research process following specific methodology criteria; this criterion encompasses what we consider to be the most valuable features for those pursuing an advanced degree in social work online.

Ranked on several individual scales, below you will find ten schools that offer a well-rounded curriculum in social work (1-3 points), tuition value and affordability (1-3 points), recognition and respect from education publications (1-3 points), field placement and career guidance opportunities (1-2 points), flexible options for completion of the online MSW degree (1-3 points) and additional point was added for for points of distinction that added further value to the advancing social work professional. Additionally, all of the selected schools are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE); enrolling in a social work degree program without this accreditation will not be considered credible in the job market.

For optimum affordability, all of the selected schools are in a pool of programs that cost less than $900.00 per credit-hour.

1. University of Houston

Graduate College of Social Work

Online Master of Social Work Program

Houston, Texas

Program Website

University of Houston

Points: 14

The University of Houston is the flagship institution in Texas, welcoming award-winning faculty and offering innovative, state-of-the-art academic resources. UH is consistently a top-ranked school both for its educational value and tuition return-on-investment. UH’s online master’s offerings include an MSW that provides the same excellent education as its on-campus counterpart. This college is an ideal choice for those who value well-established academic programs at a larger-scale university.

UH’s online degree programs have consistently earned accolades from U.S. News and World Report, the Princeton Review, and social work-specific publications who regularly evaluate comparable programs. As an online MSW degree candidate, students engage in a cohort model; this structure establishes further consistency, as students will join the same peers throughout the online social work master’s track. The CSWE-accredited online MSW learning portal is a dynamic course experience that fosters continuous accessibility and support. Advanced standing MSW students complete 38 semester credit hours and 500 hours of field practicum work, and traditional standing students complete 60 semester credit hours; students in either social work master’s track cannot exceed fifteen credit hours per semester.

All online MSW candidates are required 900 hours of fieldwork, and students work closely with the field education office staff to determine the best placement in proximity to students’ residence. Graduates of the online master’s in social work enter the field with a strong ethical foundation, informed understanding of multiple social work contexts, and an in-depth perspective on theoretical frameworks used in practice.

2. Indiana University – Purdue University

School of Social Work

Online Master of Social Work

Indianapolis, Indiana


Program Website

Points: 13

Highly ranked by the most respected publications, Indiana University-Purdue University has globally renowned academics and faculty members. According to 2017 statistics published by the National Association of Social Workers, IU-PU placed first in providers of mental health care in the U.S. Graduates of this school’s online MSW degree are counted among this data collection. Upon enrollment, MSW students have five years to complete their degree. MSW candidates are considered advanced standing status if they have received their CSWE-accredited BSW within the previous five years; MSW candidates with a BSW beyond five years prior are considered eligible for regular standing admission.

IU-PU’s online master of social work can be completed 100% online; this renowned program provides multiple and flexible options to earn a social work master’s online. Once applicants are admitted into the MSW program, their traditional or advanced standing status will determine how many foundation or concentration credit-hours are necessary. IU-PU’s MSW incorporates a unique practice area curriculum, which encourages evidence-informed adaptability to multiple populations; the individual practice areas include addictions, grief and loss, mental health, trauma, and tele-behavioral health.

Indiana University-Purdue University’s online MSW is a CSWE-accredited social work program. IU-PU hosts and participates in multiple recruitment and field placement efforts on behalf of its MSW candidates.

Tuition: $600 per-credit-hour

3. Louisiana State University

LSU School of Social Work

Master’s in Social Work Online

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Program Website


Points: 12

The state’s flagship university, Louisiana State is a large academic institution with a rich history in strong higher learning. Since 1860, LSU has evolved to meet the evolving needs of its students. In recent years, distance learning has become an attractive feature for degree-seekers who are not able to attend classes on campus; the online master’s of social work is among the popular choices.

LSU’s MSW online degree is CSWE-accredited, and students enrolled in this master’s can earn their degree in two years on a full-time basis or three-four years on a part-time basis. Louisiana State’s school of social work is grounded in ethical and well-informed paths to service, promoting social and economic justice for a broad spectrum of vulnerable communities.

Online MSW students must compete 60 semester hours and maintain a minimum 3.00 overall grade point average. LSU’s corresponding internships are designated differently based on whether you are a traditional or advanced student. The MSW has both thesis and non-thesis graduate options; students who select the non-thesis option must complete a Capstone Experience, which integrates completion of an exam, reflective paper, and seminar.

Tuition: $560 per-credit-hour

4. Florida State University

School of Social Work

Online Master of Social Work

Tallahassee, Florida

Florida State University

Program Website

Points: 11

Based in the state capital, the University of South Florida is an esteemed institution with rigorous academics and top-notch learning resources. This preeminent research university holds high diversity standards for both faculty and student body; FSU welcomes students from 140 countries worldwide. Diversity is also prevalent within the distance learning programs, and students seeking an online MSW will be encouraged to bring their unique perspectives to the field.

FSU’s online master’s of social work in CSWE-accredited and structured in two programs based on advanced or traditional status. Students who qualify for the advanced standing program already hold a bachelor’s of social work from a CSWE-accredited school; the 39-credit advanced standing program is clinically focused and on average is completed within two years. MSW online students without a bachelor’s of social work will complete 61 credit hours, two field placement practicums, and are typically ready to graduate within three years. Corresponding curriculum with the online MSW includes (but is not limited to) budgeting and financing in social services, social work research, grant writing, family counseling, and family violence across the lifespan,

All of FSU’s social work students have access to services provided by the office of professional development; this department fosters the network of support for students seeking guidance in their field career choices.

Tuition: $625.00 per-credit-hour

5. University of Tennessee-Knoxville

College of Social Work

Online MSSW Program

Knoxville, Tennessee

Program Website

Points: 10

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville consists of eleven colleges and 900 programs of academic study. This college is known for top-notch faculty, stellar educational resources, and a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio despite its enormous enrollment numbers.

UTK’s college of social work has a mission to produce stellar professionals in the field; this school delivers an education that builds the necessary skills to serve diverse and vulnerable populations in need. This institution’s online master of science in social work (MSSW) is an advanced degree offered in multiple formats for optimum flexibility; the available MSSW online degree tracks include the online advanced standing program (36 semester hours), online full-time standard program (60 semester hours), or the online extended program that allows students to complete their MSSW on a part-time basis. Regardless of degree track, all online master of science in social work students must complete a total of 672 field education hours.

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s CSWE-accredited online MSSW spans a unique course curriculum. Master of Science in Social Work students are prepared for current issues in the field, making graduates uniquely prepared to be placed in the job market.  To be admitted into UTK’s MSSW program, you must hold a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE-accredited institution that was earned no longer than five years ago.

Tuition: $704 per-credit-hour

6. Western New Mexico University

School of Social Work

Master of Social Work Online

Silver City, New Mexico

Points: 10

Program Website

Tuition: $300 per-credit-hour

Western New Mexico University is a low-tuition, high-value, mid-size college that welcomes 3,500 student on-campus and online. WNMU values a student-centered learning environment, placing importance on fostering the innovation, integrity, and intellectual curiosity of its student body. This institution’s distance learning programs are 100% online with no residency requirement; these degrees include a CSWE-accredited online master of social work that can be earned without having a BSW. WNMU’s online learning is structured to be flexible enough to meet all students’ needs.

WNMU’s MSW online is earned through a combination of core curriculum courses and specialized social work electives. The master’s core curriculum includes (among others) topics in social welfare policy, foundation of social work research methods, field practicum 1 & 2, and human behavior in the social environment; the specialized electives include sustainable development, child welfare, grant writing, understanding the rural community, and more. Students enrolled in this online social work master’s are prepared to take on leadership roles in the field, and is best designed for those who plan to become a rural practitioner.

Western New Mexico works in close collaboration with online students to determine the best-supervised fieldwork practicum; students in the course of their practice are in contact with both their local and WNMU field director on a weekly basis.

7. University of Missouri

School of Social Work

Online Master of Social Work Online

Columbia, Missouri


Program Website

Points: 9

Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri is the largest school in the state, offering over 300 potential degree programs and 80 distance-learning options. MU’s school of social work is affiliated with the college of human environmental sciences and can be attained 100% online.

The University of Missouri’s CSWE-accredited online master of social work strives to enhance leadership skills in various professional field settings; online MSW students have the option of concentrating their degree in clinical practice or policy, planning, and administration. In order to be considered advanced standing, students must have a BSW degree from a CSWE-accredited school within the last seven years; in order to be considered for admission, students must have maintained a minimum 3.0 grade point average in their undergraduate BSW degree. Advanced standing online MSW candidates complete 39 credit-hours. Regular standing MSW students complete 60 credit-hours, and applicants seeking admission to the MSW are not required to have a bachelor degree in social work.

UM’s corresponding curriculum with the online MSW includes topics in social justice, research design, psychopathology, clinical social work intervention strategies, management of a social agency, and much more. Graduates of this school’s master of social work program find exciting careers as clinical social workers, substance abuse counselors, job coaches, and more.

Tuition: $400 per-credit-hour

8. Portland State University

School of Social Work

Online Master of Social Work

Portland, Oregon

Program Website

Points: 9

Tuition: $400 per-credit-hour

Among the most affordable degree options on our list, Portland State University attracts scholar-level faculty and students who are eager to advance their career. PSU provides multiple private-funded scholarships, several of which are allocated to the school of social work.

Portland State University’s online MSW is designed with foundation and advanced concentration curriculum. The online MSW foundation curriculum spans topic areas that include human development, social justice in social work, social welfare history, societal and community structures, a field placement seminar, and more. The available advanced concentrations include practice and leadership with communities and organizations, health across the lifespan, social work with children and families, and clinical social work practice. PSU’s CSWE-accredited program produces graduates with a well-rounded blend of broad and specialty-area knowledge; this background ensures utmost adaptability and confidence in the field of social work.

During years 2 and 3 of Portland State’s MSW program, candidates and faculty collaborate for best field placement options; this college is highly student-focused, ensuring that all of its campus and online MSW students are building a skill set best fitted to their career interests and strengths.

9. University of North Dakota

Department of Social Work

Master’s in Social Work Online

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Program Website

Points: 8

Based in the city of Grand Forks, The University of North Dakota is a renowned, affordable institution that has furthered the careers of many and varied professionals.

UND’s CSWE-accredited online MSW is an extension of a social work program over 80 years old; this school attracts social work professionals who are motivated activists for establishing social justice. Focused on minimizing oppression in vulnerable populations. This online MSW program does have a brief residency requirement; these campus visits consist of intensive lab sessions, further synthesizing the education attained in distance-learning. UND’s curriculum goals are rooted in interdisciplinary knowledge and diverse skill set preparation.  All of this college’s social work graduate students must enroll in both generalist and advanced generalist social work to attain a master’s.

The University of North Dakota generously offers in-state tuition rates for all online students regardless of residence. If applicants to the online MSW do not currently hold a BSW, a 60-credit series of foundation courses are available for required completion; this ensures a comprehensive and seamless transition to the graduate program. Graduate students in the online MSW program participate in field placement opportunities, totaling 500 required hours of service to their respective local community. Upon earning an MSW from this school, graduates are prepared to take on an advanced-level social practice that embraces social and ethical responsibility to those served.

Tuition: $600 per-credit-hour

10. University of New England

School of Social Work

Master’s in Social Work Online

Biddeford, Maine

Program Website

Points: 8

The University of New England is highly respected in the world of academics, owing in part to its state-of-the-art learning facilities and innovative education programs.

UNE’s school of social work provides flexible degree options; the online master’s in social work is a CSWE-accredited program that is designed to reflect the college’s progressive goals and sense of ethical responsibility. Graduates of the online MSW learn to navigate the complexity of social, economic, social, and cultural factors of the social work field. Students who select the 100% online program have no campus requirement and can focus their degree in clinical, community, or integrated practice.

UNE’s online master’s students may qualify for either a traditional track (64 credits), or advanced standing track (35 credits); depending on which of these tracks students choose, the corresponding curriculum includes combines foundation and concentration courses. All students are required 8 credits of field practicum. Some of UNE’s listed courses include human behavior, social work research, advanced psychosocial assessment, administration and supervision, and contemporary theory of social work practice.

Tuition: $830.00 per-credit-hour

Below are frequently asked questions regarding the social work profession, earning an online master’s of social work, and what one can expect from this promising career.

What are the benefits of advancing my BSW to an MSW?

While a bachelor’s degree in social work is an excellent foundation for rewarding work, advancing this degree to a master’s will open many more leadership roles in the field.  Additionally, as with most any advanced degree, earning potential becomes more fruitful with an MSW title next to one’s name. Most importantly, however, if you are a social work professional with a bachelor’s degree, many capacities in the profession require an MSW and field practicum hours. Some of these capacities include healthcare, school districts, administrative leadership, and areas of social work counseling that can only be practiced by someone with specialized, advanced training.

It is important to note that many master of social work degree programs do not require a bachelor’s in social work. That said, if you do not have a social work bachelor’s, you won’t be eligible for the expedited advanced standing MSW; you would be considered a traditional standing student who will typically complete their master’s in two to three years.

What type of coursework can I expect as an online MSW student?

As you advance to your master’s degree, you can expect foundational and more specialized concentration courses. Foundational courses give you a solid background in topics that all social workers should be knowledgeable about; these themes may include social work policy, research, social justice, and practices in community service. Specialized concentration courses prepare you for your supervised field practicum and subsequent career options. As a graduate student in social work, you are looking to have a balance of general and specialized knowledge; this balance will usher more opportunities and adaptability in the field.

How is the job outlook for social work professionals?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has presented promising data with regard to overall social work employment; between 2012 and 2024, there is a projected overall 12% growth in social worker employment, higher than the average for most occupations.

With regard to more specialized social workers, there is a 19% projected job growth rate between 2014 and 2014; these growing specializations include healthcare social workers, mental illness counselors, and other capacities where supervised field hours and an advanced degree is required.

Social workers are found most often in medical and health facilities, schools, advocacy research, and in private practice. Depending on your state of residency, a private clinical social work practice can be on the horizon within a few years after earning a specialized master’s degree.

How much do Social Work professionals earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work professionals’ median annual entry-level median salary of $46,890; this number represents the wage between the 50% earning more, and 50% earning less. Full-time social workers with a master’s and clinical supervision hours will have a higher salary for their services; these vocations are usually in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, state and local government organizations, and ambulatory healthcare services. Depending on where in the country you reside and practice, entry-level salary for graduate-level social workers is approximately 10-$20,000 higher than those entering the job market with a bachelor’s degree. If you select an affordable online MSW, this difference in salary can generate and excellent return on investment.

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