Top Affordable Master’s in Social Work Programs of 2024

Written by Maura Deering | Edited by Rebecca Munday | Reviewed by Danielle Golightly, LMSW

If you're interested in earning a master's degree in social work (MSW), graduate tuition may be daunting. But earning an MSW degree can be affordable. Many MSW programs offer financial aid, accelerated tracks, and advanced standing admission for those with a bachelor of social work (BSW) degree.

Explore our ranking of the most affordable MSW programs and how to find the cheapest MSWs and best funding sources.

Popular Online MSW Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

The Most Affordable MSW Degree Programs

Read our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.

1. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Credit: In-State $912, Out-of-State $912
  • Credits to Graduate: 75

University of Washington-Seattle Campus offers three master of social work (MSW) options: advanced standing, day, and extended degree (part time). All programs require a bachelor's degree, a 3.0 GPA, and a recommended 2,000 hours (equivalent to one year) of social service experience for admission. The program prepares social workers through "rigorous, community-engaged, critically reflexive research, teaching, and learning."

Students with a bachelor of social work (BSW) may be eligible for advanced standing. Other students can choose a day program or an extended degree program. Both programs take place either full or part time, but only full-time students can specialize in administration and policy practice or community-centered integrative practice. The only specialization available to part-time students is clinical social work.

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Credit: In-State $811, Out-of-State $1,841
  • Credits to Graduate: 62

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's MSW program has an annual enrollment of 300 students. It offers full-time, part-time, and advanced standing options. Students specialize in either direct practice or community, management, and policy practice. Students in the part-time three-year program must work or volunteer in a social services setting. The school will launch the online program in 2024.

UNC-Chapel Hill encourages prospective students to attend an information session and talk with student ambassadors. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college for admission. Students interested in enrolling in the 12-month advanced standing program must have a BSW and a minimum required 3.0 GPA.

3. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Year: In-State $16,408, Out-of-State $32,704
  • Credits to Graduate: 72

Students can attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign MSW program full or part time on campus or part time online. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree, a 3.0 GPA in the last 60 hours of coursework, and experience in social services or a degree in the social sciences. Advanced standing students must have earned their degree within the last seven years.

Enrollees can choose to specialize in advanced clinical practice or in leadership and social change. Students may also select from four focus areas: children, youth, and family; healthcare; mental health; or school social work.

4. University of Chicago

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Year: In-State $49,734, Out-of-State $49,734
  • Credits to Graduate: 49

The University of Chicago's master of arts program in social work, social policy, and social administration is equivalent to an MSW and accredited by the CSWE. However, the school describes the program as providing a broader educational foundation that combines direct social work practice, policy development, interdisciplinary research, and social science theory. Students can choose a social administration or a clinical concentration.

Students can study global social work abroad or through the school's international partnerships. Enrollees can also access more than 600 sites in Chicago for field placement. Students attend classes and complete fieldwork at the same time with guidance from experienced community practitioners.

5. California State University-Fullerton

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Credit: In-State $525, Out-of-State $525
  • Credits to Graduate: 60

California State University-Fullerton's MSW is an evening, part-time program designed for working students to complete their education in three years. Classes are offered either on campus or online. Students can specialize in child welfare or community mental health. The program includes 16 hours of fieldwork per week.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree, a 3.0 GPA in their last 60 credits, and at least one year of relevant paid or volunteer experience is recommended. Students who do not meet the GPA requirements can submit GRE scores.

6. Brigham Young University

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Year: In-State $8,096 for members of the LDS Church, $16,192 for non-members, Out-of-State $8,096 for members of the LDS Church, $16,192 for non-members
  • Credits to Graduate: 60

Brigham Young University's MSW program prepares students of faith, character, and intellect for a rewarding career in social work. The program emphasizes a competency-based outcomes approach to education, allowing graduates to work with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

One of the program's features is the Comprehensive Clinic, an interdisciplinary facility for research that includes video and computer technology to support student and faculty research. The school reports that the typical financial aid package ranges $20,000-$25,000.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree, a 3.0 GPA, and complete an Ecclesiastical Endorsement.

7. San Diego State University

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Credit: In-State $834, Out-of-State $1,230
  • Credits to Graduate: 60

Students can finish San Diego State University's MSW program in 1-4 years, depending on their background and schedule. Enrollees can specialize in either administration and community development or in direct practice. The school offers fieldwork opportunities in San Diego and Imperial counties. After 31 credits, learners must take an examination to continue, and the program culminates with a thesis or publication-ready article or another comprehensive examination.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree, a 2.85 GPA and 3.0 in the last 60 units, a statistics course, and at least 500 hours of experience (paid, volunteer, or internship) working with a diverse, vulnerable population.

8. CUNY Hunter College

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Credit: In-State $620, Out-of-State $1,000
  • Credits to Graduate: 60

CUNY Hunter College offers a full-time two-year MSW program with three enrollment options. Students enroll in a one-year residency program for social services workers with at least two years of full-time experience and their employer's approval to conduct the internship as part of their workload, an advanced standing program, or an accelerated 18-month program. Learners in the two-year program attend classes two days each week and perform fieldwork on the other three days.

Students in the accelerated program can only specialize in clinical practice. Those enrolled in other programs can choose specializations, such as clinical practice, community organizing, or organizational management and leadership. Students can also concentrate on a field of practice based on a universal human right: aging, child welfare, global social work and practice with immigrants and refugees, health, mental health, world of work, school social work, criminal justice, or sexuality and gender.

9. University of Pennsylvania

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Year: In-State $67,140, Out-of-State $67,140
  • Credits to Graduate: 16

The University of Pennsylvania MSW program is guided by a mission of pursuing social justice and facilitating social change. The MSW program emphasizes small classroom sizes, diverse perspectives, and human interaction in educating future leaders in social work. The program is available as a full-time, part-time, or advanced standing basis; or for workers in a Pennsylvania county child welfare agency, such as a Child Welfare Education for Leadership (CWEL) Program.

Because the school regularly schedules Wednesday evening joint lectures, students should keep Wednesday evenings free. The school has multiple dual-degree or degree-certificate programs, including less-common options like a joint doctor of veterinary medicine/MSW, an MSW/certificate in Jewish communal service.

10. California State University-Long Beach

  • Programmatic Accreditation: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Cost per Year: In-State $8,422, Out-of-State $7,128
  • Credits to Graduate: 60

The MSW program at California State University-Long Beach is tailored for students who wish to pursue advanced generalist social work. Courses can be completed in 2-3 years, with an advanced standing option available for applicants who have already obtained a BSW from an accredited school.

Students have the chance to select from three popular specializations: child and family well-being, adulthood and aging, and integrated health. The application period for the program begins on October 1st and closes on January 15th for the fall semester.

What Social Work Concentrations Are Available in Affordable Master's in Social Work Programs?

A master's in social work provides ample opportunities for people hoping to make a career change. Individuals with compassion and empathy for others can pursue an MSW to advocate for populations in need.

Social work students usually choose between two concentrations.

  1. Clinical studies: Clinical studies are ideal for social workers wanting to work closely with individuals.
  2. Policies and administration: Students who intend to lead organizations should pursue administrative concentrations.

Specialized social worker degrees deepen your expertise, which can help you pursue positions with higher salaries.

How Will I Know Which Master's in Social Work (MSW) Programs I Can Afford?

When considering affordability, tuition is not the only factor. With financial aid options, MSW programs can cost much less than the school's sticker price. For example, The College Board reported that grants accounted for 33% of graduate student funding in the 2021-22 school year.

Furthermore, consider your debt-to-income ratios when determining which schools they can afford. If you take out loans, monthly payments should total less than 12% of your monthly income post-graduation. By weighing potential debt against expected post-graduation salary, you can find an MSW program that fits your budget.

What are the Admissions Requirements for an Affordable Master's in Social Work Program?

Many MSW degree-seekers apply to programs after accruing professional experience. Since institutions often require MSW applicants to submit a resume and recommendation letters, prior employment in the field can improve the chances of acceptance.

Other application requirements include:

  • A personal statement
  • An application fee
  • Undergraduate transcripts

Once accepted, students usually spend 2-4 years completing 42-62 credits, covering topics such as human behavior, public policy, and field experience.

How Can You Pay for an MSW Degree?

Graduate tuition and fees averaged $12,596 at public schools, $28,017 at private non-profit schools, and $14,161 at private for-profit schools for the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

With these prices, prospective students may think that even the cheapest MSW program falls outside their budgets. But, various financial aid resources can help students afford their graduate education, including loans, grants, fellowships, and scholarships for social work majors.

Students can offset the costs of their master's in social work through:

  • Loans: Many students take out loans from the federal government or private lenders. The loan type and provider determine interest rates and repayment timelines.
  • Fellowships: Fellowships pay graduate students' tuition — often with an additional stipend — in exchange for research or teaching work.
  • Grants: Governing bodies, private organizations, and colleges offer grants to students based on financial need. Students do not repay grants.
  • Scholarships: Institutions, organizations, and businesses typically award scholarships based on merit. The donating entity decides the scholarship's parameters, such as minimum GPA or community service requirements.

Making Cheap Master's Programs in Social Work Even Cheaper

Students can go beyond loans, grants, and scholarships to reduce the cost of graduate school. For instance, degree-seekers can study at a local institution to cut housing and transportation costs, or students can prioritize public universities over private ones.

Make your MSW even cheaper with the following options:

  • Work-Study Opportunities: On-campus learners with financial need can apply for federal work-study programs. Participants work part-time to help pay their educational costs.
  • Accelerated Programs: Accelerated MSWs take less time to complete, often cutting program length by several months. Students in accelerated programs can cut down on tuition, housing costs, and transportation expenses.
  • Advanced-Standing Programs: Some institutions offer advanced-standing programs, which usually require half the credits of a standard MSW. This may reduce overall cost. Advanced-standing programs typically require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in social work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
  • Dual Degree Programs: Students intending to pursue both a master's and a doctorate can attend an MSW/Ph.D. dual degree program. Combining these degrees requires fewer credits overall than completing the degrees separately. Several courses count toward both the master's and the doctoral degree, reducing credit requirements even further.

Jobs for Social Work Graduates

Social workers can find employment in various fields, including healthcare and education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers earned an average annual salary of $62,880 in 2023. Explore a few common social worker positions below.

Substance Use Social Workers

Substance use social workers help people struggling with addiction and establish treatment plans with their clients. Those with master's degrees, licensure, and supervised experience can become clinical social workers and perform mental health evaluations.

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers work to better the community. They spearhead and manage outreach programs, research their effectiveness, and develop funding plans. For managerial positions, organizations may prefer these social workers with a master's degree.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree with social work experience or master's degree
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +9%
  • Median Annual Salary: $77,030 according to the BLS

Mental Health Social Workers

Mental health social workers help clients with mental health and substance use issues. Because they hold licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) licenses, they can diagnose mental health disorders, formulate clinical intervention plans, and perform psychotherapy.

  • Required Education: Master's degree
  • Minimum License Requirements: Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or equivalent
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +11%
  • Median Annual Salary: $55,960 according to the BLS

Healthcare Social Workers

Healthcare social workers, also called medical social workers, provide mental health services for patients with acute, chronic, and terminal illnesses. They help clients understand their diseases and assist them with adjustments to their housing and healthcare needs. Licensed clinical healthcare social workers can extend their services to diagnosing mental health conditions and offering psychotherapy.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

Child, family, and school social workers connect families to resources like food stamps and counseling services. With a master's degree and clinical licensure, social workers can provide therapy and create treatment plans.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree in social work for entry-level positions; master's degree for managerial and clinical positions
  • Minimum License Requirements: Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) or equivalent
  • Job Outlook (2022-32): +5%
  • Median Annual Salary: $53,940 according to the BLS

Choosing the Right Graduate Social Work Program

While cost is critical when selecting the right MSW program, aspiring students should also consider other factors. A program's accreditation, curriculum, internships, and networking opportunities are as important to your professional success.

Accreditation indicates that a school meets high academic standards. Financial aid, licensure, employment, and further education opportunities require students to attend an accredited institution.

Consider these additional factors when selecting a graduate social work program:

  • Available Courses: Social work covers numerous jobs, from geriatric counselors to correctional officers. Review the school's curriculum to ensure the courses align with your career path.
  • Internship Opportunities: Social work degrees often include field experience requirements. Explore each school's internship opportunities to find one that aligns with your professional goals. Building connections, networking, and working with experienced social workers can lead to work opportunities after graduation.

Should You Attend a Social Work School Online?

Many online degrees are asynchronous, allowing learners to view lectures when convenient. This flexibility can appeal to graduate students who take classes while working full or part time. Online programs can also be more affordable: Many schools charge in-state tuition or reduced online rates for all enrollees. Students can also save on transportation costs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting Your MSW

How much does an MSW degree cost?

MSW degree costs vary, depending on whether you attend a public or private school, pay in-state or out-of-state tuition, and enroll full-time or part-time. On average, annual graduate tuition and fees average $12,596 at public colleges and universities, $28,017 at private non-profit schools, and $14,161 at private for-profit institutions, according to the NCES.

Is going to social work grad school worth it?

Going to graduate school for social work could be worth it if you want to pursue advanced job opportunities in social work. Most licensed social worker positions require a master's degree, including clinical social workers. The field is also growing quickly. The BLS projects 53,800 new social worker jobs annually between 2022 and 2032.

Can you get a master's in clinical social work?

Yes, you can pursue a master's degree in social work. To become a clinical social worker, you must complete an MSW, fulfill state experience requirements, and pass a licensure exam.

Are there one-year MSW programs?

Yes. Certain MSW programs allow students to graduate in one year. Some of these programs are accelerated or online. Students with a bachelor's in social work can apply to advanced-standing MSW programs, which usually take one year of full-time study to complete.

How much does a social worker make?

The average annual salary for social workers is $62,880. Pay can vary by specialization, workplace, location, and licensure. For example, the BLS reports average wages of $67,430 for healthcare social workers, $63,870 for mental health and substance use social workers, and $59,190 for child, family, and school social workers.

Page last reviewed on November 30, 2023