The Most Affordable Online Master’s in Social Work Programs

Written by Janice Monti | Edited by Victoria Hudgeons | Last Updated May 2024

A master’s in social work (MSW) provides the training to become a licensed social worker. However, graduate school comes with steep costs. Learn about the most affordable online MSW programs and how they can help launch your social work career.

Popular Online MSW Programs

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

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What to Expect from an Affordable Online MSW Program

With an MSW, you can qualify for advanced social work licensure as a licensed master social worker (LMSW) or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Social workers with an MSW not only qualify for more advanced positions, but their average salaries are $13,000 higher than those with a BSW, according to the National Association of Social Workers.

MSW degrees generally require two years to complete, including at least 900 hours of clinical experience. Some programs award credits for social work coursework to BSW graduates, allowing them to finish in about one year.

Whether online or on-campus, all accredited MSW programs adhere to equivalent curriculum standards, focusing on clinical assessment, caseload management, research methods, and policy analysis. An MSW also provides the opportunity to pursue specializations in areas of child, youth, and families; mental health counseling; and clinical social work.

The Most Affordable Online MSW Programs

With so many affordable online MSW programs, choosing one that fits your personal needs and professional goals may seem overwhelming. Our rankings can help make that choice easier. When deciding on the best school for you, consider the following factors:

  • Accreditation: The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits all programs on this list. Choosing a CSWE-accredited MSW program helps ensure you take courses aligned with industry best practices.
  • Fieldwork Experience: All MSW programs require supervised clinical hours where you connect classroom knowledge to practical skills in a professional setting. You may want to prioritize programs that offer placement assistance or have established relationships with your preferred clinical site.
  • Tuition and Education Costs: The overall cost of an online MSW program depends on many factors, such as in-state versus out-of-state residency, public versus private school tuition rates, online learning fees, and availability of financial aid.

Paying for an Affordable Online MSW Program

If you are looking for ways to make your MSW more affordable, an online degree can offer considerable savings, eliminating commuting costs and allowing you to work while getting your degree. However, other factors impact how much you pay for your education. An MSW degree at a public, state-sponsored school costs much less than a private institution. The average rate for tuition and fees at a public school in 2021-22 was $12,596, compared to $29,931 for a private school.

While in-state students at public schools generally pay lower tuition than out-of-state residents, both public and private schools may offer distance learners discounted rates. However, you may still have to cover technology fees and travel expenses for required fieldwork placements and on-campus components. One of the best strategies to save on the cost of your MSW is to investigate financial aid opportunities.

Careers and Salary with a Master’s Degree in Social Work

An MSW provides more opportunities for direct practice, higher levels of licensure, and greater earning potential than a BSW. A BSW prepares you for entry-level social work positions, such as child welfare specialists or case managers. In contrast, an MSW opens doors to higher-paid, advanced positions in clinical settings and private practice in fields like healthcare social work and mental health social work.

MSW-holders qualify for higher licensure levels, including LMSW, LCSW, and certified independent practice social worker, among other titles. Consequently, MSW graduates find positions with more leadership responsibilities and higher salaries than those offered to BSW graduates with limited licensure opportunities.

The average annual salary for MSWs is $61,000 compared to $58,000 for BSW-holders, according to Payscale data from February 2024. LCSWs who must have a master’s degree to practice can earn as much as $86,000 depending on specializations and years of experience.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work Master’s Degrees

An MSW degree can lead to multiple career possibilities. Social workers provide direct services in healthcare and mental health clinics, government organizations, correctional facilities, social service agencies, educational institutions, and private practice. Social workers may also pursue nonclinical careers in nonprofit management, fundraising and development, and policy analysis and research.