Social workers get a bad rap in the media. They’re often painted as sadistic baby snatchers or uncaring bureaucrats. In reality, social workers do a lot more than what you hear on true-crime podcasts. Individuals who choose social work tend to be caring, empathetic individuals willing to spend their careers supporting others and fighting for societal change.
What Is an Online Master’s in Social Work (NO GRE Required)?
Graduate degrees in social work equip students to practice social work at a professional level. While there are undergraduate degrees in social work, most higher-level social work jobs require a master’s degree.
The National Association of Social Workers defines social work as “The professional activity of helping individuals, families, groups or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning or creating societal conditions favorable to that goal” (NASW, 1973). Social workers work with different populations across all sectors of society. They might function at the micro level, working with individuals one-on-one, or the mezzo level, leading community organization efforts. Some social workers work at the macro level, where they advocate for changes in laws and systems to improve the quality of life for millions of individuals.
A Master’s in Social Work (MSW) opens the door to a staggering number of job opportunities. You can find social workers in almost every people-oriented field.
- Hospitals employ social workers to diagnose and treat mental illness or support discharge planning.
- Fire and police departments hire social workers to support victims of crimes or those navigating crises or tragedy.
- School social workers help students overcome personal and learning barriers to learning and success.
- Nonprofits employ social workers to implement their programs, such as homeless outreach or drug treatment.
- The government hires social workers to investigate allegations of abuse against children, the elderly, and developmentally delayed people. They also manage their care and ensure they are treated well.
Social workers are also allowed to obtain a license to become mental health therapists. That means that they can go into practice for themselves, treating individuals and billing insurances. Upon graduation, MSW students who wish to be therapists must complete a certain number of supervised work hours and continuing education. They can then apply to sit for the Association of Social Work Board’s Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker Exam.
Except for teaching at a college level, there are very few jobs in social work that require anything higher than a Master’s degree. That means that almost any job in the field is available to you upon graduation.
Many (if not most) MSW programs do not require applicants to provide GRE test scores with their application. Instead, they will look at GPA, previous work experience, and personal statements for making admissions decisions.
How Much Does a Master’s in Social Work Cost?
As with most degree programs, your costs will depend heavily on the program you choose.
The cheapest options are available only to those who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). These programs are referred to as Advanced Standing programs. For BSW graduates, acceptance to an Advanced Standing program means getting to skip a large portion of a regular program on their way to graduation. Some Advanced Standing programs allow you to graduate in as little as one year, saving a considerable amount in tuition costs.
If you don’t already have your BSW, you can expect to pay for two years of full-time tuition to get your MSW. In-state tuition for an in-person program might be affordable, depending on the state. For example, if you live in New Mexico, you can get your MSW from Western New Mexico University for around $20,000. However, if you live in California, it will cost you around $115,000 to get your MSW at the University of Southern California.
If you happen to live in a high-cost state, a great option is to check out online MSW programs. Online programs tend to be less expensive than on-campus options, running between $20,000 and $45,000.
Keep in mind that these estimates are for tuition only. Students will also be responsible for the cost of books, fees, and living expenses. They may also need to provide their own transportation to and from any internships.
Average Salary for a Master’s in Social Work
The salary for social workers depends heavily on the field they work in and their years of experience. Social workers who have their own private therapy practice tend to make more than those who work for state governments. Social workers who work in hospitals tend to make more than those who work in nursing homes. A social worker is generally paid more when the environment is intense and when they have to utilize more skills.
Salaries also differ depending on where you work—social workers make the most in states like Washington and California and the least in states like Mississippi and Florida. For example, a healthcare social worker in California earns a median salary of around $83,000 per year. Meanwhile, a social worker in the same role in Georgia will probably make between $35,000 and$50,000 per year.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median social worker salary in 2020 was around $51,000. Payscale.com puts that figure slightly lower, at$49,000 per year. The median wage of healthcare social workers is around $57,000 per year, and it’s around $48,000 for mental health and substance abuse social workers. Child, family, and school social workers had a similar median salary of around $48,000 in 2020.
What Is the Job Outlook for Master’s in Social Work Holders?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average rate of growth for all occupations is around 4% for the next 10 years. That means that there will be 4% (or about 6 million) more jobs in 2029 than there were in 2019. Comparatively, the number of jobs in the social work field is projected to rise by 13% by 2029. That means that the demand for social workers will increase much faster than can be explained by usual economic and population growth.
Throughout the country, people seem to be considering how individuals become productive, healthy members of society, which will lead to more funding going to the field of social services. We are learning to value wellness and health in all aspects of personhood. Demand for social workers to support childhood development, treat mental illness, and assist individuals during a crisis will only grow.
Courses in Master’s in Social Work Programs
MSW programs must do more in two years than BSW programs do in four. If students don’t have a background in social work, they spend the first year “catching up” on the basic tenets that provide the foundation for social work practice. First-year courses may include:
- Social Work Theory
- Human Behavior & the Social Environment
- Social Work Policy
- Generalist Practice
- Research Methods
- Social Work Ethics
The second year builds on the first by introducing the skills needed to practice social work at a graduate level. Second-year courses may include:
- Advanced Practice with Families
- Advanced Practice with Individuals
- Advanced Policy Practice with Organizations/Communities
- Advanced Research
- Advanced Clinical Practice
All MSW programs certified by the Council of Social Work Education require completing one or two internships to gain the skills needed to practice social work independently. Advanced Standing students completed the first internship during their BSW program. Regular program students must complete both internships during their graduate studies. These internships represent a significant number of hours and are often accompanied by classes in which students can debrief with faculty.
Scholarships for Master’s in Social Work Programs
Social work isn’t a lucrative career choice — social workers go into the field for philanthropic, not financial reasons. For this reason, many scholarships and financial aid programs exist to help social workers pay for their education.
Many states have programs whereby social workers can exchange years of service for student loan forgiveness. For example, at some schools in Washington State, MSW students can have their student loans forgiven by working in child welfare for as many years as they were in school. This program is called CWTAP.
Other scholarship opportunities for MSW students include:
- Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship, administered by the National Association of Social Workers for MSW students with an affinity to working with Native American or Latino populations.
- Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund, a need-based scholarship awarded to students who are actively working toward social change.
- USAID Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellowship Program is granted to students (MSW and otherwise) committed to international aid work.
- Foundation for Child Development’s Young Scholar Program is open to MSW students who intend to pursue research that will support early childhood education professionally.
- The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation supports students who answer the call to public service.
Each individual university has its own scholarship funds and endowments. To find out if the program you’re interested in has scholarships, visit their website or contact their financial aid office. Completing a FAFSA application will reveal if you may be eligible for federal need-based grants or loans.
FAQs on Master’s in Social Work
- Standard and Advanced Standing options are available.
- Online, on-site, or hybrid programs available.
- Full-time and part-time program options.
- Programs can take anywhere from 12 to 36 months.
- MSW students can complete the degree program completely online.
- Provides essential training for a career in social work.
- Qualifies graduates to sit exams to become a licensed therapist.
- It can be completed in as few as 12 months.
- Many programs do not require GRE for admission.
- Job demand is predicted to increase rapidly in the next 10 years.
- Degree costs vary widely depending on the program.
- At the low end, programs can cost as little as $14,000.
- At the high end, programs may cost as much as $100,000.
- Scholarships may be available.
|University Name||Program’s Name||GRE Required?|
|Capella University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Case Western Reserve University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Columbia University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Edinboro University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Fordham University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Simmons University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Syracuse University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Texas A&M University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Texas State University – San Marcos||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|The Catholic University of America||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Tulane University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Denver External link||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Kentucky||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Louisville||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Nevada, Reno||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Southern California||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Tennessee at Knoxville||Master of Science – Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Texas – Arlington||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley||Master of Science – Social Work||Not Required|
|University of Utah||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Western Kentucky University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|
|Western New Mexico University||Master of Social Work||Not Required|