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.

Table of Contents
FInd a Social Work Program
Bachelor of Social Work Programs
Master of Social Work Programs
Doctorate in Social Work Programs
Online Social Work Programs
Important Terms for Understanding Social Work Program Statistics
Applying to Graduate School for Social Work

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.

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.

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.

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