Top 10 Affordable Masters in Social Work: 2018

By BSWP Staff
April 2018

Becoming a social worker is a big step and a promising choice for those who seek to be advocates for those underserved. Both undergraduate and graduate students are entering the field to an ever-increasing degree; this is in part due to a growing need for social work professionals who have specialized skill-sets to serve and adapt to a broad range of community needs.  Social workers are most often placed in settings where people need assistance in mental health institutions, schools, hospitals, prisons, private practice, and other settings where populations benefit from their guidance.

The following collection of schools represents the top 10 affordable master’s degrees in social work. These schools were selected following a research process following specific methodology criteria; this criterion encompasses what is widely considered to be the most valuable features for those pursuing an advanced degree in social work.

Ranked on several individual scales, below you will find ten schools that offer the best in MSW offerings following a criteria-specific methodology: In determining the order of this ranking, we awarded points based on:

    • A well-rounded, advanced curriculum in social work (1-3 points)
    • Tuition value and affordability (1-4 points)
    • Widespread recognition from noted education publications (1-4 points)
    • Field placement and career guidance opportunities (1-3 points)
    • An additional point was awarded for features of distinction that added further value to the advancing social work professional

Additionally, all of the selected schools are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE); enrolling in a social work degree program without this accreditation will not be considered credible in the job market.

For optimum affordability, all of the selected schools are in a pool of programs with a total non-resident annual program tuition of under $30,000. If you are a current or future resident of the state where these colleges are located, you can expect to pay even less for your MSW.

1. University of Houston

Graduate College of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Houston, Texas

Program Website

The University of Houston is the flagship institution in Texas, welcoming award-winning faculty and offering innovative, state-of-the-art academic resources. UH is consistently a top-ranked school both for its education value and tuition return-on-investment. UH’s master’s offerings include an MSW that provides the same excellent education as its on-campus counterpart. 

UH’s CSWE-accredited MSW degree programs have earned praise from U.S. News and World Report, the Princeton Review, and social work-specific publications which review the credibility of MSW  programs. Advanced-standing MSW students complete 38 semester credit hours and 500 hours of field practicum work, and traditional standing students complete 60 semester credit hours; students in either social work master’s track cannot exceed fifteen credit hours per semester.

Every University of Houston’s MSW candidate is required 900 hours of supervised fieldwork practice, and are offered extensive assistance from the department in career guidance and resources.

Points: 17

Tuition: $890.00 per credit hour

2. University of South Florida

Graduate College of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Tallahassee, Florida

Program Website

Based in the state capital, the University of South Florida is an esteemed institution with rigorous academics and top-notch learning resources. This preeminent research university holds high standards for diversity both faculty and student body; USF welcomes students from 140 countries worldwide. 

USF’s master’s of social work is a CSWE-accredited program, and depending on previous degree status, graduate students qualify for advanced or traditional course length and track. MSW program without a bachelor’s of social work will complete 61 credit hours, two field placement practicums, and graduate within three years. Currently, the social work curriculum of the MSW includes job-market competitive courses including budgeting and financing in social services, social work research, grant writing, family counseling, and family violence across the lifespan.

In order to qualify for the advanced standing MSW degree track, students must hold a bachelor’s of social work from a CSWE-accredited school. Once students have established advanced status, they complete a 39-credit MSW program that is demonstrably more clinically focused and work is most often completed within two years. The standard MSW program is for those without a bachelor’s of social work; this program entails 61 credit hours, two field placements, and is completed within three years. The associated social work curriculum of the MSW includes job-market competitive courses including budgeting and financing in social services, social work research, grant writing, family counseling, and family violence across the lifespan. 

Points:  16

Tuition: $625.00 per-credit-hour

3. City University of New York: Hunter College

Silberman School of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

New York, NY

Program Website

Settled in one of the most exciting cities in the world, CUNY Hunter College in New York City is a prestigious institution with diverse, higher education degree options. The largest of the City University of New York colleges, Hunter welcomes over 23,000 students within 170 study areas; among these areas is the top affordable masters of social work degree, topping multiple “best-of” rankings in respected publications.

CUNY Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work is designed to give students the utmost flexibility in how best to pursue their advanced degree. Depending on one’s pre-requisite eligibility and career aspirations, those accepted into this top MSW degree have the option to attend the one-year residency program, advanced standing program, accelerated full-time program, accelerated one-year residency program, or an 85-credit dual MSW and M.S.Ed. master of education, which is a dual master’s degree program focusing entirely on children with special needs and in conjunction with the Bank Street College of Education Infant and Family Development and Early Intervention.

The CUNY Hunter MSW curriculum covers a broad range of education, designed by social work professionals at the top of their field. Some of this curriculum includes social welfare policy and services, human behavior in the social environment, community organizing planning and development, social work research, in addition to field practicum requirements respective with each program track. According to, alumni of this program have given glowing feedback for Hunter College in their career in the social work field.

Points:  15

Tuition: $625.00 per-credit-hour

4. University of Kentucky

College of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Lexington, Kentucky

Program Website

Based in the heart of Lexington, the University of Kentucky is a pioneer leader in numerous academic programs. UKY consists of sixteen specialized colleges that hold its nearly 300 degree options from undergraduate to doctoral level. This top college earns consistent praise from national educational entities that include U.S. News and World report, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and a multitude of peer-reviewed journals. UKY’s master of social work is among this institution’s most comprehensive programs, providing specialized degree tracks for many career interests.

The University of Kentucky’s college of social work is considered highly innovative in the field. Their affordable master of social work program includes an unusual number of options for specializations and degree pace. MSW candidates are not required to have a BSW, and students can earn their advanced degree on a full or part-time basis. UKY’s MSW has two concentration options, clinical social work or community and social development; students can further specialize their master’s by adding concentrations in military behavioral health, school social work, gerontology, or developmental disabilities. This MSW program is designed to give graduates a competitive skill set as they join or re-join the job market.

For added flexibility, the University of Kentucky’s MSW program has weekend courses available; this option was created to make earning a master’s degree more possible in balance with a career. Additionally, MSW candidates can attain their degree through online distance-learning. UKY has a wide range of scholarships, many of which are directly related to social work students; these awards make the college’s MSW tuition even more affordable.

Points:  15

Tuition: $700.00 per-credit-hour

5. University of Kansas

School of Social Welfare

Master of Social Work Program

Lawrence, Kansas

Program Website

Founded in 1854, the University of Kansas is a revered college with over 40 of its graduate programs ranked on a national scale. KU welcomes a diverse student body from all 50 states and over 100 countries worldwide. This institution has consistently expanded since its founding in 1854, owing in part to its growing endowment that now stands at $1.44 billion.

UKY’s School of Social Work holds a traditional, advanced, and dual degree track where students may concurrently earn an MSW and Juris Doctor (J.D.) through the KU School of Law; these uniquely flexible options provide even more distinction for graduates entering social work job market. The MSW has 64 required credit hours, 36 of which must be maintained at 3.0 GPA. Social work master’s students complete 480 hours of supervised field practicum in their first year, and 720 hours of clinical field practicum in their second year. The associated MSW curriculum encompasses field-relevant topics that include cultural diversity, loss and grief, social work and aging, LGBT issues, and much more. 

For added affordability, the University of Kansas offers numerous fellowship and scholarship opportunities for graduate-level students; UKY also works closely with all MSW students in securing scholarships from resources outside of the department. This college has extensive career services for all enrolled social work program students. 

Points:  14

Tuition: $400.00 per credit-hour

6. Indiana University

School of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Multiple Campus Sites

Program Website

Indiana University has a unique, expansive network of colleges that allow for flexibility in degree choice and location. Depending on your choice of study, you are likely to find suitable course availability between their multiple on-campus and online curriculum opportunities.

Once enrolled in Indiana University’s MSW, social work graduate students have five years to complete their degree. MSW candidates are considered advanced standing status if they have received their CSWE-accredited BSW within the previous five years; MSW candidates with a BSW beyond five years prior are considered eligible for regular standing admission.

Once applicants are admitted into the MSW program, their traditional or advanced standing status will determine which and how many foundation and concentration credit-hours are required for completion of their degree. Indiana University’s master’s of social work incorporates a unique practice area curriculum, all of which encourages  to multiple populations; the individual practice areas include addictions, grief and loss, mental health, trauma, and tele-behavioral health.

Indiana University MSW is a CSWE-accredited social work program; this department has numerous benefits that include seasoned social work field faculty, state-of-the-art resources, and extensive support in pursuing work in the job market.

Points:  13

Tuition: $784.00 per credit-hour

7. Rhode Island College

College of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Providence, Rhode Island

Program Website

Settled along a 180-acre campus in the suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island College is an affordable academic institution with a consistently strong reputation. Highly ranked among nationally recognized colleges, RIC  has an average class size of twenty, and 89% of the college’s faculty holds terminal degrees in their respective fields.

Rhode Island College’s school of social work is a particularly strong choice for aspiring social workers looking for promising, long-term careers in improving social conditions, advocating for oppressed communities, organization management, and enhancing social and economic justice. RIC’s affordable master’s in social work is particularly focused on a student-centered learning environment that fosters open discourse and critical thinking; those enrolled in this top MSW learn to incorporate their education in human behavior, social work ethical problems, and the impact of oppression in a multi-cultural society. Graduates of Rhode Island College’s master of social work are well-prepared to be advanced-level social work practitioners.

There are competitive admission requirements for Rhode Island College’s MSW program; applicants must have had a 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate work, no fewer than 15 credit-hours in anthropology, economics, human physiology, psychology, and other relevant curriculum that best serves the master’s student continued education in the prospective program. Once accepted, MSW program students engage in curriculum such as needs assessment and program evaluation, case consultation, human behavior, diversity and oppression, social work research, among other field-relevant courses.

Points:  12

Tuition: $714.00 per-credit-hour

8. Arizona State University

School of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Tempe, Arizona

Program Website

Arizona State University is a reputable higher education opportunity with a massive network of campuses and degrees. ASU’s top affordable master of social work program ranks #31 in U.S. News and World Reports list of best MSW degrees in the country; this degree is located in their Downtown Phoenix or Tucson-based college of public service and community solutions.

ASU’s master of social work is designed by seasoned field professionals who prepare graduate students to advance in direct practice. Social work master’s candidates have the option to specialize in public child welfare, health and behavioral health, or children, youth and families. Depending on the student’s chosen specialization, courses will consist of 39 credit-hours that culminates into a thesis or capstone course. Additionally, those enrolled in the MSW program are required to complete field practicums throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Arizona State’s MSW degree program has received ratings from recent graduates; most of these positive ratings commended the college’s faculty expertise, small class sizes, and uniquely relevant curriculum for a long-term career as a social worker.

Points:  11

Tuition: $1,000.00 per-credit-hour

9. Kutztown University

School of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Program Website

Founded in 1866 in a quaint rural town in Pennsylvania, Kutztown University is a small academic institution comprised of four specialized colleges. KU is a student-centered learning environment, with 93% of its faculty holding terminal degrees in their field and a 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Located within Kutztown’s liberal arts and sciences college is a low-cost master of social work that has proven to accelerate careers; this top MSW program provides the necessary advanced study that compliments either an undergraduate in social work or relevant experience in the field. Among the primary goals of KU’s MSW are celebrating diversity, professional identity, integrating theory into practice, and flourishing as a family-in-environment practitioner. MSW students are required to complete a 900-hour agency-based practicum in which to further develop as a general social work practitioner. In addition to internship practicums, KU’s MSW curriculum includes foundations of social welfare policies, families in the social environment, human behavior in the social environment, research methods, and numerous other field-specific courses and electives.

Kutztown University’s MSW program is typically completed in two years on a full-time basis and a maximum of four years as a part-time student. KU offers a weekend and online degree hybrid, where MSW students can self-design their course load based on personalized needs.

Points:  10

Tuition: $750.00 per-credit-hour

10. University of Georgia

School of Social Work

Master of Social Work Program

Athens, Georgia

Program Website

The University of Georgia is a massive, resource-rich institution with seventeen specialized schools for virtually any degree interest. Serving over 40,000 students around the world, this college’s academics and faculty have won numerous awards and high rankings; US News and World Report and Kiplinger’s are among the respected publications who have recognized UGA for its stellar academic offerings and degree value. One of UGA’s graduate degrees is a top-value affordable master of social work, a program that has consistently grown since opening its humbler beginnings in 1964.

UGA’s master of social work is a challenging degree program that has existed for over 40 years; over this time, faculty and enrollment numbers have consistently increased. This college’s MSW can be attained through three concentration options; these options include a micro practice concentration, macro practice concentration, or an integrated/combined practice concentration. Depending on which one of these paths you select, you will be prepared for careers that span individuals, families, diverse population settings, advocacy, administration, policy development, and much more. UGA does not require an undergraduate degree in social work, but it does include curriculum in biological sciences, social sciences, psychology, and statistics.

The University of Georgia provides flexibility in degree pace, and department advisors work closely with each student to meet their needs, in any way possible within the framework of the MSW.

Points:  9

Tuition: $800.00 per-credit-hour

Below are frequently asked questions regarding the social work profession, earning a master’s of social work, and what one can expect from this exciting career.

If I’ve already earned my bachelor’s of social work, what are the benefits of earning a master’s of social work?

A bachelor’s degree in social work is an excellent foundation for rewarding work, advancing this degree to a master’s will open many more leadership roles in the field.  Additionally, as with most any advanced degree, earning potential becomes more fruitful with an MSW title next to one’s name. Most importantly, however, if you are a social work professional with a bachelor’s degree, many capacities in the profession require an MSW and field practicum hours. Some of these include healthcare, school districts, administrative leadership, and areas of social work counseling that can only be practiced by someone with specialized, advanced training.

Can I earn my MSW without a BSW?

For many programs, It is important to note that many master’s of social work programs do not require a bachelor’s in social work. However, if you don’t hold a bachelor’s degree in social work, you won’t be considered an advanced standing MSW student; advanced standing students have fewer course requirements and can typically earn their MSW in a more accelerated pace. If you don’t have BSW, you would be considered a traditional standing student who in most cases will complete their master’s in two to three years.

What type of coursework can I expect as a master’s student in social work?

The best master of social work programs will provide a blend of foundational and specialized concentration courses that help you shape your career. Foundational courses may include research, social work policy, social justice, and practices in community service; this curriculum provides a well-rounded background in topics that every social worker should have a working knowledge; these themes may include. Specialized concentration courses prepare you for your supervised field practicum and subsequent career options. As a graduate student in social work, you are looking to have a balance of general and specialized knowledge; this balance will usher more opportunities and adaptability in the field.

What is the job outlook for social work professionals? Will my MSW pay off?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has presented promising data about overall social work employment; between 2016 and 2024, there is a projected overall 15% growth in social worker employment, higher than the average for most occupations. This overall growth is due to increased demand in both general and specialized social work professionals.

With regard to more specialized social workers, there is an 18% projected job growth rate between 2016 and 2026; these specializations include mental illness and substance abuse counselors, where focused training is essential for successful treatment.

Social workers are found most often in medical and health facilities, schools, advocacy research, and in private practice. Depending on your state of residency, a private clinical social work practice can be on the horizon within a few years after earning a specialized master’s degree.

How much do Social Work professionals earn?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a social worker’s median annual entry-level salary is $46,890. Full-time social workers with a master’s and clinical supervision hours will have a higher salary for their services; these vocations are usually in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, state and local government organizations, and ambulatory healthcare services. Depending on where in the country you reside and practice, entry-level salary for graduate-level social workers is approximately 10-$20,000 higher than those entering the job market with a bachelor’s degree. Naturally, selecting an affordable master’s in social work will increase your return on investment once in the social work field and job market.