Social Work Schools

If you are interested in a career focused on helping people overcome life’s biggest challenges such as poverty, addiction, mental illness, and family crisis, attending a social work school may be your first step. Many people know about common social work jobs such as child, family, and school social work or hospital social work, but there are many additional career paths available to those who choose to attend social work school. Social workers serve as key mental health professionals in many settings, lead large nonprofits and small charities, work in government or policy roles, and serve as leaders in their communities, working toward social justice. With such variation in roles and job responsibilities, one thing most social workers have in common is a degree in social work from one of the many excellent social work programs around the country.

Find a social work program that’s right for you.

There are over 500 Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited bachelor of social work (BSW) programs across the country. With an additional 230+ accredited master of social work (MSW) programs, there are plenty of colleges and universities to consider for both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work. Many of these schools offer traditional BSW and MSW programs as well as online or distance learning options. Click on your state in the list below to learn more about the social work programs available in your area.

BSW Programs

Students considering a bachelor’s degree in social work should choose a college or university offering an accredited BSW program. After completing prerequisite general education classes, students majoring in social work take foundational social work courses and participate in field education. Field education allows students to apply concepts learned in the classroom as interns in a social work setting. Common BSW courses include:

  • Human Behavior and Social Environment
  • Social Welfare: Policy & Program
  • Social Research Course
  • Social Work Practice Courses
  • Cultural Diversity

MSW Programs

First-year MSW students generally take foundation courses designed to prepare students for all types of social work in any setting. Many students enter graduate school with bachelor’s degrees in other fields. Students who have already obtained BSWs are often eligible for advanced standing since they have completed social work foundation courses in their undergraduate programs. Advanced standing allows students to complete their MSW program in as little as one year, rather than the traditional two-year full-time program. These programs can be found as traditional, on-campus MSWs as well as online MSWs. The foundational areas of study for social work master’s programs include:

  • Social work research
  • Social work practice
  • Human behavior in the social environment
  • Social welfare policy
  • Multicultural theory and practice

Foundation field placements are designed to provide students with a broad educational experience in a social work setting. Students often participate in field experiences that vary from their intended career setting. These experiences encourage students to apply broad foundation course content in an agency setting and develop generalist social work skills. Foundation field placements and coursework prepare students for more specific areas of focus in their second year of study.

After completing foundation coursework, second-year MSW students generally choose a concentration. While all accredited social work programs prepare students for a wide variety of social work jobs, many master’s programs specialize in particular areas of the social work practice, research, and administration. Additionally some MSW programs offer certificates in social work specialties such as marriage and family therapy, addiction, and non-profit management. Common concentrations include:

  • Addictions
  • Children and Youth
  • Clinical and Direct Practice
  • Community and Social Systems
  • Criminal Justice
  • Gerontology
  • Health
  • International Social Work
  • Program Evaluation
  • Research
  • School Social Work
  • Social Policy

Second-year courses prepare students for advanced social work practice. Concentration classes provide a deeper dive in a particular area of interest, enhancing skills and expertise in a student’s chosen focus area. Second-year field placements also provide a more specialized educational experience. Through concentration field education, students develop advanced knowledge and skills within their chosen concentration and, if applicable, a specific certificate program.

DSW and PhD Programs

Generally, an MSW is considered the terminal degree for social work practitioners. That is, a master’s degree is the highest level of degree needed to work as a clinical social worker. PhD and Doctor of Social Work (DSW) programs prepare candidates to engage in social work research and teach at the collegiate level or to practice clinical social work. In some states, a PhD in social work or DSW degree will allow you to obtain a clinical license with less post-graduate experience than an MSW. In most states, pursuing a PhD in social work is best for students interested in a career in academia. These programs prepare students for academic, teaching, and research positions at universities. In some cases, the possession of a PhD or DSW degree may give professionals an advantage when applying for an advancement or management positions.

Defining Important Terms for Social Work Program Statistics

On each of our state schools pages, you will find statistics based on publicly reported information for social work schools in the state, such as graduation rates and national rankings. Below we provide additional information on our sources’ methodologies. Please note that while comparing school statistics can provide valuable insights into available programs, statistics should be just one component in your evaluation process. We recommend that students also take into account available majors and concentrations, plan their education based on their personal and career goals, and consider other costs and benefits such as relocation, financial aid availability, and post-graduation job placement rates. If you have questions about a given school’s statistics, please contact that school’s admissions office for more information.

  1. Graduation Rate: The Graduation Rate is reported by the National Center for Education Statistics and tracks students who are studying full-time and complete their first degree or certificate within 150% of the normal timeframe for the degree or certificate earned. The Graduation Rate does not track transfer students, students who started their studies on a part-time basis, students who previously attended another college or university, or students who are completing a second degree or certificate.
  2. Transfer-Out Rate: The Transfer-Out Rate is reported by the National Center for Education Statistics and tracks students who began studies on a full-time basis for their first degree or certificate and transferred to another institution. The Transfer-Out Rate does not track students who began studies on a part-time basis or who already attended another postsecondary institution.
  3. CSWE Accredited: CSWE Accredited schools are those that hold accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education for one or more social work degree programs. Accreditation from the CSWE is based on adherence to CSWE standards for social work curricula. Contact the CSWE for more information on their accreditation standards.
  4. US News Best Social Work Grad Schools Ranking: US News Best Social Work Grad Schools Rankings are based on peer assessments of academics in graduate-level social work curricula. Contact US News & World Report for more information on their rankings methodology.
  5. Net Price: The net price is calculated by the National Center for Education Statistics by subtracting the average amount of aid (including grants and scholarships) from the total published cost of attendance for in-state/in-district students, which includes tuition, books, room and board, and other expenses.

Applying to Graduate School for Social Work

If you are interested in obtaining a master’s degree in social work, the first step is to complete the prerequisite undergraduate courses. A bachelor’s in social work ensures that you completed most social work foundational courses during college. In fact, applicants who have received a BSW are often eligible for advanced standing, which allows students to obtain an MSW in as little as one year. Even if your bachelor’s degree is in another field, you may apply to a social work graduate program. All applicants should research prerequisites for their chosen MSW program and make arrangements to complete any necessary coursework. Along with traditional liberal arts courses, a statistics course is commonly required.

Most social work graduate programs require applicants to submit scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) along with transcripts and letters of recommendation. Many graduate programs have rolling admissions policies. However, consider applying early to increase your likelihood for accessing financial supports such as research assistantships and teaching fellowships.

Top Schools for Bachelor’s of Social Work Programs

The top schools for best social work programs at the undergraduate level listed below were ranked by College Factual using an outcomes-based methodology that includes retention and graduation rates, average graduate salary, post-graduate resources, and other factors.1

  1. University of California – Berkeley
  2. New York University
  3. Rutgers University
  4. Fordham University
  5. Adelphi University
  6. University of Wisconsin
  7. University of Washington
  8. Syracuse University
  9. University of Texas – Austin
  10. University of Georgia

University of California – Berkeley

University of California – Berkeley’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare program is grounded in the school’s 70-year history of excellence in social work and social welfare curriculum. The degree focuses on the liberal arts and graduates are qualified to apply to Master of Social Work (MSW) programs as a bridge to social work licensure. The Social Welfare major includes courses in social welfare policy, professional practice, and secondary social science courses in students’ areas of interest. A senior honors program based on an independent study is offered to academically qualified students. Berkeley also offers Master of Social Work (MSW) and combined MSW/PhD programs. Berkeley’s graduate social work program is ranked #3 in US News and World Report’s Best Grad Schools – Social Work rankings.

New York University

For students looking for a unique campus experience, NYU offers a large university integrated within New York City with unlimited opportunities. NYU is the largest private university in the country with an undergraduate enrollment of almost 25,000 students hailing from across the US and the world. Since 1960, NYU has trained over 14,000 social work practitioners and leaders in every field of practice. NYU’s social work program, housed in the Silver School, trains approximately 125 bachelor-level students for BA degrees in social work. With more than 600 hours of field education in agencies throughout the New York metropolitan area, undergraduates gain the kind of social work experience usually found only at the graduate level. Students have the opportunity to learn social work within a global perspective, including work with refugees, immigrant populations, and optional study abroad trips.

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

With a history dating back to 1766, Rutgers is one a few colleges chartered before the American Revolution. It has grown and changed significantly over 230+ years. Rutgers now spans five distinct campuses. The School of Social Work holds classes at both the Camden campus and the Newark campus which are diverse, redeveloping areas allowing students to experience student life in an urban setting. Many Rutgers students commute or live in apartments near campus but undergraduate housing is available for those looking for the dorm experience. Students interested in majoring in social work apply for a space in the BASW program during their sophomore year. This competitive program requires a 3.0 GPA, proof of prerequisite course completion, and letters of recommendation. Social work students gain valuable experience as interns at organizations throughout New Jersey, greater New York City, and greater Philadelphia.

Fordham University

The Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW) at Fordham University prepares graduates for generalist social work practice in agency settings. The curriculum highlights social justice, human rights, and the well-being of individuals and communities. All students complete a 600 clock hour field instruction course in a social service agency setting to gain hands-on experience and skills. As Fordham University is located within the greater New York metropolitan area, students have a wide range of opportunities for completing the field placement. Extracurricular activities such as conferences, lectures, and other events are offered throughout the academic year. Graduates of the BASW program are typically eligible for advanced standing in Master of Social Work (MSW) programs at Fordham or other schools, allowing completion of the master’s degree in less time. Fordham’s social work programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Adelphi University

The Adelphi University School of Social Work offers a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program that takes a career-focused approach to social work education. Students can complete the BSW program at any of Adelphi’s four campus locations: Garden City, Manhattan Center, Hauppauge Center, and Hudson Valley Center. The curriculum is centered on a generalist perspective and prepares students for entry-level careers and graduate study in social work. The school boasts small average class sizes and a supportive environment that fosters student success. In addition to hands-on experience through field placements, students are encouraged to participate in networking and community action through the Social Work Action Gateway (SWAG) undergraduate student club and the Philanthropic Action for Challenging Times (PACT) initiative. Adelphi University also offers Master of Social Work (MSW) and PhD in Social Work programs that have been consistently top-ranked by organizations such as US News and World Report.

Top Schools for Master’s of Social Work Programs

The top graduate social work programs listed below were ranked by US News and World Report. These rankings are based on a 5-point scale calculated from peer assessment surveys from administrators and faculty at social work programs across the US.2

1. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
2. Washington University in St. Louis
3. University of California – Berkeley*
3. University of Chicago*
3. University of Washington*
6. Columbia University
7. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill*
7. University of Texas – Austin*
9. Case Western Reserve University
10. Boston College*
10. University of Pittsburgh*
*These schools were ranked in a tie in their respective positions.

University of Michigan

For more than 90 years, the University of Michigan School of Social Work has been preparing social workers through classroom learning, research, and service. While the University of Michigan is ranked in the top five of all public universities by US News and World Report, its school of social work is ranked #1. The School of Social Work offers over 300 scholarships for MSW students and reports 94% of students offered employment following graduation. Located in Ann Arbor, the School of Social Work offers over 550 field education placement options and a 9:1 student to faculty ratio. U-M’s School of Social Work is dedicated to education, research, and service that fosters progressive change at local, national, and global levels. While the school does not offer a BSW in social work, undergraduates can minor in social work and take interdisciplinary classes.

Washington University in St. Louis

The George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis has a history dating back to 1909. The Brown School has been acknowledged as a leading school of social work for years and draws students from all over the country. The Brown School’s mission focuses on preparing students in the areas of policy, practice, and research. MSW students are able to customize their curriculum by choosing from a number of concentrations and specializations. Over 300 field education options are available locally, nationally, and abroad. Joint and dual degree programs allow students to earn their MSW along with a master’s degree from another field such as education, urban development, law or business. Students interested in a career in academia may consider the Brown School’s doctoral program.

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration is located in the founding city of social work. Many of the founders of the school are also noted as founders of the discipline of social work. The University of Chicago’s faculty includes the largest group of child welfare experts of any school of social work in the nation. Students choose a concentration in clinical practice or social administration before their second year. However all students receive a broad education in social work with various elective choices based on their concentration. Field education is focused in the city of Chicago, providing many opportunities to learn while serving a vibrant, ever-changing city. Prospective students should note that graduates receive an SSA Master of Arts (MA) degree in social work which is equivalent to an MSW.

University of Washington

The University of Washington Master of Social Work (MSW) program offers students three flexible routes to complete their graduate education. Candidates who previously earned an undergraduate degree in social work or social welfare accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) are eligible for advanced standing to complete the MSW in 10 months of full-time study. A full-time day program that can be completed in two years is open to students of all undergraduate backgrounds. A part-time pathway that can be completed in three years is also available. In all programs, during the advanced curriculum students may choose a concentration area to suit their professional goals. The University of Washington School of Social Work is top-ranked for its research funding, research results, and faculty publication rates and offers students competitive opportunities to participate in social work research projects and innovative approaches to social work practice. The school also offers a BSW program and a PhD in Social Welfare.

Columbia University

The Columbia School of Social Work is the oldest social work institution, and one of only two Ivy League schools of social work. Columbia offers a Master of Science (MS) in Social Work, or MSSW, and a PhD program. The master’s program is designed to prepare social workers for direct agency-based practice, non-profit management, community-based work and policy positions. Dual degrees are available in fields such as divinity, business, international affairs, law, and public health. Columbia prioritizes field education by requiring all students to work three days per week in the field, rather than the Council on Social Work Education’s two-day minimum requirement. The majority of Columbia University’s social work students live in and around New York City and experience field placements in the NYC metro area. Columbia also offers an online MSW program to New York and New Jersey residents as well as students in many cities around the country. Students must live in specific metro areas because field placements are only offered in those areas.

Online Social Work Programs

There are many traditional campus-based social work programs that are beginning to offer online degree paths. All coursework is completed online and students take part in field education in their local communities. Strong online MSW programs offer the opportunity for students to engage in live online classes taught by on-campus faculty, limited class sizes, and opportunities for student collaboration. Some programs limit their online student population to certain geographic areas to manage field education placements. Other schools admit students from all over the country and work with a national network of field placement sites. Online programs’ structure, teaching style, and requirements vary significantly. It is important to research admission requirements, expected completion timelines, and educational philosophy of each program.

Below are profiles of a few examples of CSWE-accredited online MSW programs that demonstrate some of the commonalities and distinctions between online programs. You can also read about top-ranked online social work master’s programs on our rankings page, where you will find in-depth information on how to choose an online program, tuition, acceptance, and student success metrics for ranked programs, and profiles of selected programs that placed at the top of our list.

Simmons College

SocialWork@Simmons is an online Master of Social Work (MSW) program offered by Simmons School of Social Work. Historically a women’s-only college, Simmons was the nation’s first school of social work to offer training and education to clinical social workers. Simmons maintains a strong clinical focus in both its traditional program and online MSW program. Students may attend from any location in the country and admission requirements are the same for traditional Boston campus students and online students. Degrees are granted by Simmons College with no distinction between the traditional program and the online program.

Indiana University

MSW Direct at Indiana University admits students from across the country who meet the requirements of the traditional Indiana University MSW program. MSW Direct offers an Advanced Generalist concentration to all online students. Students must attend a mandatory orientation on campus. Otherwise, all coursework is completed online and field work takes place in each student’s community. MSW Direct offers flexible scheduling designed for working students. Most students dedicate about twenty hours per week to the program. This timetable allows students to obtain an MSW in approximately three years. However, MSW Direct allows students to break from coursework at any time as long as they take courses in the required sequence and complete all coursework within five years. Degrees are granted by Indiana University and online students are welcome to participate in the main campus graduation ceremony.

Case Western Reserve University

As part of its top-ranked MSW program, Case Western Reserve University offers the Online MSSA program. This CSWE-accredited program offers a Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA) which is equivalent to an MSW. The program combines self-paced and faculty-led course sessions with some live sessions. Many professionals choosing the Online MSSA program may utilize their current place of work for their field education location. Two concentrations are offered to online learners: Community Practice for Social Change and Direct Practice. Direct Practice students can specialize in either Children, Youth & Families or Mental Health with Adults. The Online MSSA program is offered to all candidates who meet the requirements of the traditional program.

1. College Factual Overall Best Social Work Programs: https://www.collegefactual.com/majors/social-services-public-administration/social-work/rankings/top-ranked/#
2. US News and World Report Best Grad Schools – Social Work: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/social-work-rankings