The Top Social Work Degrees of 2023

Written by Nalea J. Ko, Rankings Team
Last Updated: July 2023

Did you know that about 708,100 social workers in the United States dedicate their lives to helping others? Social workers improve people's lives and have incredible career diversity and flexibility. These professionals find employment in healthcare, education, and public agencies.

Explore everything you need to know about the best social work degree programs, including how to pay for tuition and salary data, in this helpful guide.

What You Can Expect From a Social Work Degree Program

The amount of time it takes to become a social worker depends on your career goals. For example, you can pursue associate in social work, bachelor's in social work (BSW), master's in social work (MSW), and/or doctoral social work degrees.

Five states, including California, Massachusetts, and Michigan, offer licenses or registration to social workers with associate degrees. Most states require at least a BSW, if not an MSW, to receive licensure. A bachelor's degree often serves as a stepping stone for people who want to pursue MSWs.

As a full-time MSW student, you'll study social work over two years and become eligible for higher wages than associate-level and bachelor's-level professionals. MSW programs offer specializations in community social work, child and family social work, and mental health social work, allowing you to focus on specific patients and populations.

A BSW offers a broad education for generalist practice. Every BSW student completes field experiences, which can provide at least 400 contact hours needed for licensure or graduate school.

Featured Online Social Work Progras

The Best Social Work Degree Programs

The social work degree you choose determines what you can do as a professional. When choosing a BSW or MSW program, make sure it offers a curriculum that prepares you for licensure. Consider the following factors as your research social work degrees:

Accreditation: Attend a social work program that holds accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education. Accreditation ensures that you'll get a quality education and receive adequate preparation for licensure and/or graduate school.

Fieldwork Experience: The required fieldwork experience in a social work program helps you merge the theoretical and conceptual concepts from the classroom into your fieldwork. Make sure that your social work department offers assistance with placements.

Tuition and Education Costs: Check that you can afford the tuition, fees, and expenses for your social work degree. Colleges offer varying financial aid packages. Social work students may incur additional fees for supplies or background checks needed before fieldwork.

The Top Social Work Degrees of 2023

We use a data-driven methodology to determine the best social work degree programs based on three influential factors: affordability, academics, and reputation.

1. Christopher Newport University

Christopher Newport University offers the top social work degree of 2023 with its bachelor of arts in social work (BSW), part of the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology. To apply to declare a social work major, students need 30 credits, a 2.5 GPA and a 2.7 GPA in social work courses, as well as the prerequisite courses in biology, math, sociology, and social work.

The curriculum comprises courses in human behavior and development in the social environment, social work practice, sociology, and a senior seminar. The senior year includes preparation for fieldwork and actual fieldwork.

The school expects applicants to have college preparatory courses, ACT or SAT scores, a strong GPA, an essay, and an interview.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Newport News, Virginia
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $642 per credit (resident), $1,194 per credit (non-resident)

2. University of New Hampshire-Main Campus

The University of New Hampshire-Main Campus offers a generalist bachelor of science in social work major and minor. Students participate in 40 hours at a local agency and a 450-hour internship over two semesters during the senior year. The program emphasizes small classes and a low student-to-faculty ratio.

The curriculum comprises core courses in human behavior and development and in social work practice, as well as electives related to sociology and anthropology, human biology, and diversity. The school also offers an accelerated master's program for students seeking advanced standing for an MSW degree. Students can also declare a minor in gerontology.

Applicants need a B/B+ or higher GPA, four years of English, three years of math, two years of lab science (three recommended), two years of history, two years of a foreign language, and 15 credits in college preparatory courses. Prospective students can use the Common Application.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Durham, New Hampshire
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $15,520 per year (resident), $35,290 per year (non-resident)

3. Miami University-Oxford

Miami University-Oxford's bachelor of social work program reports a 96% first-time pass rate on the ASWB examination. Program graduates can also apply for provisional certification as a family life educator from the National Council on Family Relations. The program is available on campus.

Enrollees can declare the major at any time, but to be formally accepted into the major, they must pass two core classes with a C or higher, complete the program orientation, and have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher. The final year includes fieldwork experience.

Miami University uses the Common Application for admission. Applicants must send high school transcripts and at least one recommendation letter. Standardized test scores are optional. While there is no specific GPA requirement, the school describes admissions as selective.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Oxford, Ohio
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $17,808 per year (resident), $40,024 per year (non-resident)

4. Auburn University

Auburn University's BSW program, part of the College of Liberal Arts, offers small class sizes and extensive service-learning opportunities, as well as internships and fieldwork. The program for a major includes 42 hours of required programs, 15 hours of electives, and 18 hours of coursework from lists of specialized courses. Students must also complete other courses from the general school curriculum, including eight hours of a foreign language.

Learners can also declare a minor in social work, which requires at least 15 hours of core and advanced-level courses. To declare the major, students must complete core classes and have at least a 2.5 GPA in social work courses.

Auburn does not have a specific GPA requirement for admission, but notes that a high school transcript is the most important consideration. Applicants should have four years of English, three years of social studies, three years of math, and two years of science.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Auburn, Alabama
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $12,572 per year (resident), $33,944 per year (non-resident)

5. Ohio University-Main Campus

Ohio University-Main Campus offers a BSW in social work through either the standard program or its Honors Tutorial College. The Honors Tutorial College emphasizes personal interaction with faculty as students take tutorial-style classes. Learners must maintain a 3.5 GPA for the Honors Tutorial College option. Both the traditional and the Honors Tutorial College options require at least 20 hours of volunteer or paid social work to graduate, as well as completing fieldwork. In the traditional program, enrollees must maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

For admission, applicants should have four years of English and math, three units of social sciences and natural sciences, two years of foreign language, and one year of arts. SAT and ACT scores are optional.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Athens, Ohio
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $639 per credit (resident), $1,148 per credit (non-resident)

6. Temple University

Temple University offers its BSW degree entirely on campus or with an online 60-credit completion track. Both the online and on-campus programs offer a part-time option. The online version offers synchronous classes during the evenings to accommodate working students. Please note that the fieldwork component requires a criminal background check and child abuse background check clearance. It may also require a drug screening.

The curriculum requires classwork in biology, economics, and statistics as well as in the social sciences and core social work courses. The senior year includes 400 hours of fieldwork.

Temple University uses the Common Application. Applicants need at least a B grade average, four units of English and math, three units of science and social studies, two units of foreign language, and one unit in the arts. The average GPA for incoming students in 2022 was 3.42.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $17,136 per year (resident), $30,864 per year (non-resident)

7. University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

The University of Pittsburgh offers a major or minor in social work. In addition to the standard BSW, learners can choose either a bachelor of philosophy in social work, which includes a focus on research and more rigorous courses, or University Honors College options. The school notes that the bachelor of philosophy option may require an additional year because of its heavy coursework demands. The curriculum for the BSW includes 600 hours of fieldwork.

Applicants must apply both to the University of Pittsburgh and, after earning 60 credits of required coursework, to the social work program. Unlike many undergraduate schools, the University of Pittsburgh reviews applications on a rolling basis throughout the year. Standardized test scores are optional.

  • Program(s): BSW or bachelor of philosophy in social work
  • Campus: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $19,760 per year (resident), $36,000 per year (non-resident)

8. University of Connecticut

The University of Connecticut's BSW program offers small classes and a supportive, collaborative community. The school, which also offers MSW and Ph.D. programs, recently opened its Innovation Institute, which works to advance research-based solutions for public systems serving children, families, and communities.

Seniors complete 400 hours of fieldwork. During the junior and senior years, most of the coursework centers on social work courses. Spanish-speaking students can participate in a child welfare and protection track.

The university requires four years of English; three years of math; two years of lab science, social studies, and a foreign language (with three preferred); and three years of electives. To enter the BSW program, applicants must have at least 54 credits with a GPA of 2.5 or higher and meet the university's core requirements.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Storrs, Connecticut
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Tuition: $681 per credit (resident), $1,625 per credit (non-resident)

9. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus

The University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus BSW program offers practical learning opportunities in university initiatives and through fieldwork for academic credit. For example, students might work in the Child Welfare Professional Enhancement Program, Social Work Aging Program, or Knee Center for Strong Families.

Enrollees must apply to declare social work as their major, but not all students are accepted to the program. Once admitted, learners must maintain a 2.5 GPA in both general and social work courses. The school offers a suggested course of study, but students are not required to follow it specifically, as long as they meet all the requirements.

Students can apply with either the Common Application, Apply Coalition with Scoir, or the university's application form. First-year students applying between 2021 and 2025 do not need to submit standardized test scores. Applicants need four years of English, three years of math and of science , and three years of history and citizenship.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Norman, Oklahoma
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $4,920 per year (residents), $21,488 per year (non-residents)

10. University of South Carolina-Columbia

The University of South Carolina-Columbia's BSW program provides a competency-based curriculum that prepares graduates to "promote social and economic justice, social well-being, and an appreciation of diversity among vulnerable populations across South Carolina and beyond."

The junior year comprises preparation for fieldwork, and both semesters in the senior year include fieldwork and a capstone project in the last senior semester. The school recommends a specific course sequence, but the sequence is not mandatory. Students receive assigned placements for the required 400 hours of fieldwork.

Prospective students must apply to the BSW program separately from general university admission. Applicants need a 2.5 GPA, 39 hours in the core curriculum prior to admission, and 54 credits by the time they progress to upper-level classes.

For university admission, students need four years of English, four years of math, three years of science and social science, two years of foreign languages, one year of arts, and two additional units. Computer science is recommended.

  • Program(s): BSW
  • Campus: Columbia, South Carolina
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Council on Social Work Education; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $512 per credit (resident), $1,439 per credit (non-resident)

How to Pay for a Social Work Degree Program

Getting your social work degree creates a significant financial investment. As of 2020-2021, a year of tuition and fees at public institutions reached an average of $12,394, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Private nonprofit colleges charged an average annual tuition of $28,445. For a BSW program, you'll pay about $300-$642 or more per credit. Social work students must also pay for fingerprinting and criminal background checks.

You can often pay less with online social work degrees. As an online learner, you do not incur transportation costs or on-campus housing fees. However, some schools include additional tech fees for distance education. Social work scholarships, grants, and work-study programs can help you further reduce your financial obligations.

Careers and Salaries with a Social Work Degree

Leadership opportunities often await MSW degree-holders. You can work as a college professor, licensed clinical social worker, or public policy analyst if you hold a master's degree. An advanced degree can bring greater responsibility — and higher pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers earn a median salary of $50,390. According to Payscale data from July 2023, licensed clinical social workers make an average salary of $63,880, while public policy analysts earn an average wage of $63,640.

Master's-level social workers employed in national security and international affairs earn some of the highest wages, with a median salary of $69,000, according to the National Association of Social Work.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work Degrees

What degree is best for a social worker?

The "best" degree depends on your career interests and personal goals. Other considerations include your state's licensing requirements. Certain states offer licensure for BSW degrees, but many require at least a master's degree. If you want to work in clinical social work, management, or specialty practice, you must earn at least a MSW.

Are social work degrees hard?

BSW and MSN curricula can be academically and emotionally difficult. Along with demanding coursework, fieldwork can also present physical and spiritual challenges. Field placements also require a heavy workload and accompanying paperwork.

What are the 3 levels of social work?

Social work breaks down into three levels: micro, mezzo, and macro. The meso level includes work in communities, schools, and neighborhoods. At the micro level, social workers provide direct services to individuals and families. Professionals at the macro level work in policy, healthcare systems, and law and legislation.

What does a social worker do?

Social workers' responsibilities depend on the setting and their educational level. Typical job settings include government agencies, schools, and nonprofits. Non-clinical social workers help people locate services and programs, while clinical social workers provide psychotherapeutic services.