10 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work Degree Programs 2024

Fast affordable MSW programs

In this ranking, we examine the 10 best value colleges for social worker degree online programs.

The social worker degrees listed below include master’s (MSW) options. All of these programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Whether you’re looking for the first step in your social work career or are ready to take on some of the industry’s most advanced topics, one of these schools will be able to deliver the convenient online education you need.

Finding Affordable MSW Programs Online

To locate the cheapest MSW programs online accredited by the CSWE, our editors began with a pool of 57 colleges and universities offering this credential online. CSWE-accreditation is important as among other things it ensure that programs hold to the highest ethics and values in social work. It may come as a surprise, but many online MSW programs don’t require a GRE. To narrow the pool, we applied our tuition filter, eliminating programs with graduate tuition costs exceeding $25,000 per year. Next, we applied our site-wide methodology for master’s programs. The result is the following list of the 10 cheapest MSW programs online.

Featured Programs

#10—University of Nebraska – Omaha

Online MSW

Website

Points: 10

Tuition: $6,322

One of the cheapest MSW programs online, the University of Nebraska – Omaha’s Master of Social Work is offered through the Grace Abbott School of Social Work and the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. The program features an advanced generalist curriculum comprised of course titles like:

  • Institutional Oppression
  • Social Welfare Policy
  • Social Work Practice in Health and Mental Health
  • Planning for Social Change

An advanced standing option is available, as are several dual degree options.

Pros:

  • Dual degree options
  • Small class sizes
  • Diverse student body

Cons:

  • Low graduation rate

#9—Boise State University

Master of Social Work

Website

Points: 13

Tuition: $7,645

Graduates of Boise State’s affordable online MSW program enjoy a higher-than-average pass rate on state and national licensing examinations. The curriculum for this standout program includes foundational courses such as:

  • Ethnicity, Gender, and Class
  • Social Dimensions of Human Behavior
  • Foundation of Social Welfare Policy
  • Human Development throughout the Life Cycle

An advanced standing option is available for students with an undergraduate degree in social work and/or professional practice. Full-time and part-time options are also available.

Pros:

  • Exemplary licensing preparation
  • Flexible scheduling
  • High acceptance rate

Cons:

  • Larger class sizes
  • Less diverse

#8—University of Nevada – Reno

Reno, Nevada

Website

Points: 13

Tuition: $5,792

The affordable online MSW from the University of Nevada- Reno is ideal for students interested in advanced generalist practice (AGP). The curriculum for the program prepares students for diverse roles in the field and includes coursework such as:

  • Social Work Methods with Couples and Families
  • Therapeutic Interventions with Groups
  • Social Work History and Social Welfare Policy
  • Intervention Approaches with Individuals

Both the bachelor’s and master’s programs in social work from the University of Nevada – Reno are fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Pros:

  • Advanced standing option
  • Nationally ranked public school

Cons:

  • Lower graduation rate

#7—New Mexico State University

MSW Online

Website

Points: 13

Tuition: $5,181

New Mexico State University offers a versatile and affordable MSW program from its School of Social Work. The program features an Advanced Generalist concentration and can be completed online or on campus. Both two- and three-year programs are available, as is an advanced standing option for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in social work. Courses associated with the curriculum emphasize multiculturalism as well as vulnerable populations, including:

  • Human Behavior and the Social Environment
  • Applied Social Work Research
  • Social Policy Issues, Analysis, and Change
  • Sociocultural Concepts and Populations of the Southwest

A dual master’s in social work/ master of public health degree is also available.

Pros:

  • Versatile curriculum and scheduling
  • Dual degree program available
  • Small class sizes
  • Diverse student body

Cons:

Low graduation rate

#6—George Mason University

Online Master of Social Work

Website

Points: 14

Tuition: $13,726

George Mason University offers one of the cheapest online MSW programs through its College of Public Health. The 60-credit hour program features two available specializations:

  • Adults & Healthy Aging
  • Children, Youth, & Families

The curriculum for the program emphasizes social justice and includes course titles such as:

  • Research Methods for Social Workers
  • Poverty, Oppression, & Inequity
  • Human Behavior and Social Systems
  • Organizing an Advocating for Change

An accelerated track is available for students who are able to take three classes per semester.

Pros:

  • Top-rated public school
  • High acceptance rate
  • Accelerated track

Cons:

  • Less than 50% graduation rate

#5—Louisiana State University

MSW Online

Website

Points: 14

Tuition: $9,132

In terms of affordable MSW online programs, the option from LSU is one of the most convenient. Online courses are delivered in an asynchronous format, meaning students can attend classes at their leisure. Moreover, part-time and full-time formats are available, and internships are arranged in the student’s hometown. Required courses may include:

  • Human Diversity and Oppression
  • Social Work Practice with Individuals and Families
  • Community Engagement and Grant Development
  • Advanced Social Policy

A thesis is encouraged, but not required.

Pros:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Nationally ranked public school

Cons:

  • Limited student engagement
  • More competitive
  • Larger class sizes

#4—University of Texas – Arlington

Online Master of Social Work

Website

Points: 14

Tuition: $9,015

UT- Arlington is home to affordable MSW programs for online and on-campus students alike. Distance learners can choose from part-time or full-time tracks. The curriculum for the program is based on a generalist practice foundation and includes course titles such as:

  • Advanced Community Practice
  • Social Work in the Schools
  • Family Caregiving and Aging
  • Intimate Partner Violence

Advanced standing students can complete the program in as few as 12 months.

Pros:

  • Versatility
  • Diverse student body

Cons:

  • Large class sizes
  • Low graduation rate

#3—University of Houston

Online MSW

Website

Points: 14

Tuition: $8,723

Offered through its Graduate School of Social Work, the University of Houston’s online MSW is a cohort-based program available entirely online. Students enrolled in this affordable online master’s in social work program will take course titles such as:

  • Confronting Oppression & Injustice
  • Social Policy Analysis
  • Critical Clinical Case Formulations and Diagnostics
  • Human Diversity and Development

A 900-hour clinical practicum is also required as part of the MSW curriculum. Online students will be matched with qualified agencies near their location. UH’s graduate social work programs have been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since 1970.

Pros:

  • Nationally ranked public school
  • Diverse student body

Cons:

  • More competitive
  • Larger class sizes

#2—California State University – Northridge

Online MSW

Points: 14

Website

Tuition: $7,176

The affordable online master’s in social work program from Cal State – Northridge is a flexible MSW option that can be completed within two to three years of study. Once enrolled, students will take online classes as part of a cohort. Examples include:

  • Generalist Social Work Theory and Practice
  • Social Welfare Policy and Services
  • Family Crisis, Trauma, and Grief
  • Urban Social Policy and Advocacy

Students with a bachelor’s degree in social work may qualify for the program’s advanced standing option.

Pros:

  • Nationally ranked regional university
  • Diverse student body
  • Flexible scheduling

Cons:

  • Larger class sizes
  • Low graduation rate

#1—University of North Carolina – Charlotte

Master of Social Work

Website

Points: 14

Tuition: $4,467

The University of North Carolina – Charlotte offers an affordable online master’s in social work program that emphasizes social justice and intervention. Admission to the program is open to all students, but applicants with a background in human services are preferred. The curriculum for the program encompasses course titles such as:

  • Advocacy & Policy Change
  • Social Work, Social Justice & Diversity
  • Advanced Social Work Practice with Communities
  • Mental Health Assessment

An Advanced Standing track is available that allows students to earn their degree within just two years of study.

Pros:

  • Nationally ranked public school
  • High acceptance rate
  • Advanced standing option

Cons:

  • Lower graduation rate
  • Larger class sizes

About Affordable Online MSW Programs

A Master of Social Work—or MSW—is the standard credential required for clinical social workers in the United States. These advanced graduate programs can be expensive and time-consuming, creating a barrier for many prospective social workers who desire a lucrative and meaningful position in the field. Affordable online MSW programs stand to bridge this gap, though. These convenient, cost-effective programs enable students to complete the necessary requirements for a career in social work without the prohibitive costs and commutes associated with traditional master’s programs in social work.

About CSWE Accreditation

All of the affordable online MSW programs listed in this ranking are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, or CSWE. The purpose of the CSWE is to ensure that social work education programs meet certain standards of quality and rigor. Programs that are CSWE-accredited are thought to best prepare social workers to perform their job duties effectively upon graduation. To determine whether a school’s master of social work program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, you can simply visit their website and search the organization’s accreditation directory. The CSWE accredits more than 750 social work programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.

Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work: Admissions Requirements

You may find the admissions process for affordable MSW online programs to be similar to that of traditional master’s programs in social work. Still, there may be unique requirements for each school that you apply to. At a minimum, you can expect to submit the following documents:

  • Official academic transcript
  • Proof of bachelor’s degree
  • Proof of GPA
  • Personal essay
  • Letters of recommendation

In addition to the documents listed above, some colleges and universities may require test scores for admission. GRE scores, for example, are sometimes requested. Other schools may wave this requirement. Other MSW admissions requirements may include an academic background in social work or social sciences, relevant professional experience or volunteer work, and an interview. For exact requirements, it’s best to speak to an admissions counselor at the specific school you’re interested in attending.

Curriculum for Affordable MSW Online Programs

When considering affordable online MSW programs, it can be helpful to know what you will be studying once you enroll.  You’ll also need to have an understanding of any applicable curriculum standards as well as available customization options. This information will help you make an informed decision about the ideal program for your academic interests and career goals.

Core Curriculum for Master of Social Work Programs

When considering the cheapest CSWE-accredited online programs, there are certain core classes you can expect to see on your course schedule. While their titles may differ from one program to the next, these classes will reflect concepts such as social work theory, practice and methodology, human behavior, the social environment, and research methods in social work. Sample core course titles may include:

  • Social Policy and Social Work in Organizations and Communities
  • Human Behavior and Social Systems
  • Social Work Research
  • Social Work Practice: Individuals & Families
  • Diverse Client Populations
  • Human Development through the Life Cycle
  • Understanding Theory in Social Work Practice

Online MSW Concentrations and Specializations

Some affordable MSW programs allow students to customize their degree plans by electing certain pre-defined concentrations and specializations. These curriculum features provide structure for students with specific academic and career interests. While not required for employment, an MSW program with a defined concentration can help you tailor your studies to your desired career goals. Some popular concentrations for master’s degrees in social work include:

  • Clinical Social Work
  • Child Welfare
  • School Social Work
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Adults and Healthy Aging
  • Youth and Family Studies

Elective Classes for Affordable MSW Online Programs

Some affordable online MSW programs offer elective classes while others follow a strictly prescribed curriculum. For those that do include elective options, these courses may explore sub-fields of social work or closely related topics. Examples include:

  • Crisis Intervention with Children and Adolescents
  • Perspectives on Severe Mental Illness
  • Organizational Leadership for Social Workers
  • Social Work Response to Disasters
  • Social Work Practice with LGBTQ+ Clients
  • Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on Physical and Social Functioning
  • Introduction to International Social Work

In cases where online MSW programs do not include concentrations, students may use electives to customize their degree plans around a certain interest or career goal.

Career Outlook for Online MSW Graduates

It’s a misconception that students need to pay exorbitant tuition in order to secure decent jobs in social work. To the contrary, even the cheapest online MSW programs can lead to promising career opportunities, so long as they’re fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for social workers will grow faster than average in the coming years. Specifically, a 7% increase in social worker jobs is expected between 2022 and 2032. The number of available job openings may vary depending on the subfield of social work you’re interested in. For example, positions for mental health and substance abuse social workers are expected to grow by 10% by 2032 while jobs for child, family, and school social workers will increase by just 5% during this same period.

While entry-level jobs in social work do exist, the most lucrative positions in the field are reserved for those professionals who have completed a master’s degree in social work. According to PayScale, social workers with this credential make $61,000 per year on average. The BLS reports the top 10% of social workers make more than $87,000 annually.  

Frequently-Asked Questions About Affordable MSW Programs

Prospective online MSW students often have questions about their intended degree programs. Below, our editors have compiled a few of the common questions associated with these plans of study. The information provided here is general in nature and not reflective of any specific school or offering. For more details, contact the school directly or visit the program website.

Q: How much is tuition for an online MSW program?

A: Tuition costs for master’s programs in social work will vary by program and school. In their search for the cheapest CSWE-accredited online programs, our editors identified MSW programs ranging in cost from less than $5,000 per year to well over $60,000 per year.

Q: How long does it take to complete an affordable master’s in social work?

A: It depends. For students with a bachelor’s in social work, an MSW could take two years or less, depending on the program. Without an academic background in the social sciences, a master of social work could take much longer to complete. Thanks to accelerated offerings, fast affordable MSW programs also exist.

Q: What can I do with an online MSW?

A: Online MSW students will have the same career prospects upon graduation as on-campus MSW students. Most will practice as social workers in various settings such as hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, and nonprofit organizations.

Q: What is an Advanced Standing online MSW?

A: Advanced Standing tracks within online master of social work programs allow students who already have a bachelor’s degree to skip certain foundational or prerequisite courses typically required of an MSW. This allows those with an academic background in social work to complete their master’s degree in less time.

Q: What is an Advanced Generalist MSW?

A: An Advanced Generalist MSW program is a master’s degree in social work that provides prospective social workers with a broader range of preparation in various sub-fields of social work. This type of MSW can expand a student’s career options after graduation.

Q: Are online MSW programs legitimate?

A: Yes, many of them are. To ensure that a specific program meets quality standards, search the directory on the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) website.

Career Questions for Affordable Online MSW Programs

It’s clear that graduates of accredited online MSW programs have promising career prospects. Still, you might have career-related questions about this particular credential. Below, our editors address some common concerns shared by prospective MSW students.

Q: What are the job prospects for social workers?

A: The need for social workers with advanced credentials is growing, so job prospects are promising. The BLS predicts a 7% increase in social worker jobs between 2022 and 2032, but opportunities vary by specialty. Healthcare social workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers will have the best opportunities.

Q: How much will I make with a master’s degree in social work?

A: As a social worker with an advanced degree, your salary will depend on a number of different factors, including your social work specialty, your employer, and the number of years you’ve been working in the field. The BLS reports the median annual wage for social workers to be approximately $55,000, but they have the potential to earn much more. The highest-paid social workers are those who work in hospitals as healthcare social workers.

Q: What professional organizations can I join with an online MSW?

A: With an online MSW, you can join any association reserved for social workers, including:

  • Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA)
  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW)
  • International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)
  • School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA)
  • Clinical Social Work Federation (CSWF)

Sources

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook
  • College Navigator
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • GradReports
  • PayScale.com

By CVO Staff

This concludes our ranking of the cheapest CSWE-accredited online programs for graduate students seeking an MSW.