How To Choose a Social Work Graduate Program

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There are many things to consider when choosing an MSW (Master in Social Work) program. Deciding on a graduate program is a big commitment that will not only dictate years of time to your studies, but for most people there will be a significant financial commitment as well. Therefore it’s important to take the time to research and identify the best possible program for you. Here are some factors you may want to consider as you make decisions about which Social Work graduate program is best suited to meet your individual needs.


Not everyone has the benefit of being able to relocate to attend graduate school, but if you are able to consider programs throughout the country, this will open up every opportunity for you. For example, if you are interested in practicing social work in an urban setting, you might want to choose a program where you will be able to do your field placements in urban settings.

Thinking about where you might want to practice in the future might also help you decide upon the ideal location of the program you select. Studying in the locale you plan to practice in may create opportunities to nurture your professional contacts throughout your studies and field placements.

If your options are limited in terms of location, be sure to learn everything you can about the universities closest to you in order to choose the one that will best meet your educational needs.


Choose a graduate school that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Some social work career opportunities might require that you get licensed by the state at some point, and in order to do so most states require that you earn a degree from an accredited social work program. Here, on the CSWE website, you can find a current list of the accredited CSWE programs available.

Career Aspirations

Not everyone who goes into the social work field knows exactly what they want to do as a social worker, but some do. (See also: How to become a licensed social worker)

If you have an idea of what you want to practice (school social work, private therapy practice, administration), you may want to look for a program that offers specific coursework in your area of interest.

If you’re not sure about the area of practice you would like to pursue in the future, you should research some of the different concentrations in social work to see what is more appealing to you. You might also want to consider looking into the potential salary of a social worker and employment statistics near your location.

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Child, Family, and School Social Workers
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT$77,6801,990
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$70,6801,200
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$61,3706,090
Mankato-North Mankato, MN$60,060190
Duluth, MN-WI$59,340650

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top States for Employment for Child, Family, and School Social Workers
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York25,330$51,490

Bureau of Labor Statistics

What are some concentrations in social work?

Some programs will offer coursework in various concentrations, which will allow you to take classes and see what interests you most while you earn your degree. Some of the different types of concentrations you might consider are:

  • Clinical Social Work
  • Social Work Administration
  • Health Social Work
  • School Social Work
  • Social Work with Children, Adolescents, and Families
  • Social Work with the Older Population
  • Community Social Work
  • Social Work in a Mental Health Setting

What are Dual Degree Options for Social Work?

Consider earning a dual degree in social work with another graduate degree. Some universities allow you to simultaneously study for another degree while you get your MSW in order to concentrate your social work practice in a specific area. Some dual degree options include:

  • Social Work and Human Sexuality
  • Social Work and Business Administration
  • Social Work and Law
  • Social Work and Public Health
  • Social Work and Urban Planning

Financial Aid Availability

Research different financial aid options that you may qualify for. Not only should you find out about the financial aid process, program fees, and loan information, but you might also want to find out if you qualify for any scholarships, grants, work study programs, and research and teaching assistantships.

Field Placement

Find out what social work field placement options your university offers. Your field placements could offer some of the best experience of your MSW studies, so making sure you have opportunities to land a great placement in a setting that interests you may be essential to your growth as a social worker.

The process of researching and choosing a social work graduate program might feel overwhelming at first, but taken step by step may easily begin zeroing in on the type of program that is best for you.

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