Masters in Social Work

What Do You Learn in a Masters in Social Work?

A master’s degree in social work aims to provide individuals with the ability to work in multiple positions, often working one-on-one with individuals and families. The MSW degree often prepares students for self-critical and specific areas of social work, including aiding the oppressed, vulnerable, and at-risk populations in the community. Individuals typically develop skills for numerous needs, including having the ability to gather information, make assessments, and apply solutions based on the unique needs of the job role.

The following are some of the courses a person completing a master’s in social work may complete.

Featured Social Work Online Programs


Top 25 Schools Graduating Students with a Masters in Social Work

According to the NCES, these are the schools graduating the highest number of students in social work in the U.S. for the 2019-2020 school year.

College / UniversityGraduatesAcceptance Rate
University of Southern California120011%
Fordham University105046%
Walden University671N/A
Rutgers University-New Brunswick66761%
The University of Texas at Arlington64883%
New York University57816%
Simmons University57173%
CUNY Hunter College54435%
Columbia University in the City of New York5025%
University of Maryland  Baltimore468N/A
Aurora University46087%
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis42581%
University of Denver41759%
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor37923%
Ohio State University-Main Campus36554%
Our Lady of the Lake University35868%
Boston University35519%
Arizona State University Digital Immersion32864%
Wayne State University32273%
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College31975%
Widener University29672%
The University of Alabama25583%
Loyola University Chicago24967%
Portland State University24996%
University of Illinois Chicago24873%

Social Work Courses May Include

1st course Research in Social Work Practice

Research in Social Work Practice

This course often covers the tools needed for performing research in the field of social work. Skills may include planning and conducting research and assessing the research of others. The relationship between social work and research may be big parts of this course.

2nd course Social Welfare History, Policy and Practice

Social Welfare History, Policy and Practice

In this course, students may analyze domestic social policies and the history of social welfare. Students may gain knowledge in best social work practices and issues of social and economic justice. The human rights of people of all ages, families, and communities may all be topics for this program.

Human Behavior and the Social Environment

Human Behavior and the Social Environment

The main portion of this course is often the study of the systems approach and how to apply it to social work. The use of theory, how to analyze and approach various issues, and analysis of research..

Micro Social Work Practice

Micro Social Work Practice

This course is designed to help with the understanding of practice skills needed for a generalist social work practice. Planned change and problem solving practice may be applied in this course. Students may learn to conceptualize the well-being of people and to analyze all environmental conditions that may adversely affect them..

Social Planning and Policy in Human Services

Social Planning and Policy in Human Service

This course typically analyzes the history of social work and how it is applied. Politics, origins, and processes of this field are often all topics of discussion. The role of a social worker is usually analyzed and explained in this course. The difference between social work values and cultural diversity may be examined..

Mezzo Social Work Practice

Mezzo Social Work Practice

In this course, the focus is often on the best way to work with small and medium sized groups in the field. The analysis of environment, ethical concerns, and research literature may all be applied. How to integrate technology and apply the policies in this course. This is often applied to individuals, families and groups..

  • GRE scores are not required to apply.
  • Complete the online MSW program in as few as 18 months if you have a BSW; if you do not have a BSW, the program may be completed in as few as 27 months.
  • There are two online MSW program tracks: traditional and advanced standing.
  • Earn your degree from a university with a “Whole Human Education” approach that focuses on assisting you in all aspects of your education: academic, emotional, career, financial, and family.
  • Choose from 75+ programs: Whether you’re starting fresh or seeking advancement, our career-focused programs are designed to help you make an impact in your chosen field.
  • National University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about a masters in social work

You may be able to qualify for numerous positions with a master’s degree in social work. That may include working as a medical, healthcare, or hospice social worker, working as a mental health or clinical therapist, working as a gerontological social worker, or working in substance abuse, prisons, addictions, and other areas.

Earning a master’s in social work may be worth it for many people. Doing so may allow them to work in fields they are interested in, including clinical counseling or work as social workers. Those who do not have this degree may be unable to provide these services with just a bachelor’s degree. The master’s in social work, then, may open the door for other potential jobs and fields of interest.

Completing a master’s degree in social work may take 1 to 4 years, with most people completing it in 2 years when enrolled full time. Accelerated programs may be available to shorten that time. Some may also with to attend part time, which could require more time to complete the necessary courses.

Completing a master’s in social work often requires securing funds as you would for other educational programs. Options may include scholarships, private student loans, some federal student loans, and grants. Some organizations may help employees complete their master’s degree when working in lower positions. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

An MSW is a graduate program. That may mean more study and hands-on experience opportunities. There are often challenges for many people, including stress for completing work. For some, it may be more difficult than others.

Each college or university may set their prerequisite requirements for entrance into a master’s program in social work. That said, there are many schools that offer these degree programs, which may mean options are plentiful for many students.

How Much Does A Masters in Social Work Cost?

Paying for a graduate school education may seem daunting, but there are multiple funding options that may be available to many students. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. The NCES, reports that in the 2018 to 2019 school year, a student completing a master’s degree at a public institution was likely to spend, on average, $19,314 per year to do so.

To pay for this, students may have several options if they do not want to or cannot pay out of pocket for those costs. Below are some examples of this.

Social Work Scholarships

One of the options for covering the cost of a master’s degree in social work may be the use of scholarships. These often do not require repayment – scholarships from organizations, private sector companies, and numerous other affiliations may have specific requirements and limited funds available. A few options may include:

Lutheran Student Scholastic and Service Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Lutheran Student Scholastic and Service Scholarship is available for junior and senior students who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in any academic area that will prepare them to serve and support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Click here to learn more and apply today!

Amount: $15,000

Deadline: May 15

Patty Gibbs-Wahlberg Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Each year, the Patty Gibbs-Wahlberg Scholarship is offered in the amounts of $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000. The awards go to three college students in the United States who are pursuing a CSWE-accredited bachelor’s degree in social work. Eligible recipients must be active Phi Alpha members, demonstrate academic excellence and much more.

Amount: $6,000

Deadline: May 31

James R. Reville Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Two $3,000 scholarships are presented annually. It is paid in two installments of $1,500 per semester for any year the student is enrolled in college in a program related to the field of intellectual or other developmental disabilities. The funds must be claimed within a four-year period from the time the scholarship is awarded

Amount: $3,000

Deadline: Jan 11

Consuelo W. Gosnell Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship is awarded to master’s degree candidates in social work who have demonstrated a commitment to working with, or who have a special affinity with, American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations. Candidates who have demonstrated a commitment to working with public are also eligible.

Amount: $40,000

Deadline: March 01

Federal Loans

Federal loans are those backed by the federal government. Several programs may be available to help cover the cost of a master’s in social work. Here are a few examples of potential options.

There are three types of loans available at this level:

  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These may be available to graduate schools and professional students. Unlike direct subsidized loans, which are made available to undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need, direct unsubsidized loans often do not have a need based requirement. More students may be eligible for them.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: These are often made available to professional or graduate level students. They are designed to pay for educational expenses that are typically not paid for through other loans. Eligibility for these loans is often not based on financial need. However, some may require a credit check to be performed, and borrowers may not qualify without meeting other requirements in some cases.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans: These loans may enable a student to combine all of their undergraduate and graduate level federal debt into one new loan. This consolidation loan is typically provided after a student completes their education.

Private Student Loans

For those seeking other options for paying for college for a master’s degree in social work, private student loans may offer some help. These are loans provided by providing institutions and lenders. As a result, they typically have varied interest rates (sometimes higher than federal student loan rates) as well as a wide range of different terms. Be sure to learn as much as possible about the loan before applying, including the costs, fees, prepayment penalties, consolidation options, and any forbearance options that may (or may not) be available.

Is a mental health and substance abuse social worker a good career?

A career as a mental health and substance abuse social worker typically involves treating and assessing the mental health, emotional well-being, and substance use problems of a person. This may include providing individual and group therapy sessions, crisis intervention services, advocacy, education, and prevention strategies for both individuals and communities.

Typically, these individuals work to counsel individuals or groups and often work with counselors, doctors, or nurses to plan the care an individual needs for mental health disorders and substance use disorders, including choosing the proper therapies those individuals need. They typically need some technology skills

Other skills these social workers need to have may include good social perceptiveness, active listening skills, good communications, critical thinking, and the ability to monitor individuals for changes and needs (as well as monitoring themselves for needed improvements).

Work activities typically include assisting and caring for other people, including providing close care for those who are facing mental health disorders. They may work with supervisors and peers, document and record information from communications with clients, and establish and maintain interpersonal relationships. Typically, these social workers counsel patients and clients, collaborate with other professionals to provide care, maintain client records, and evaluate the progression of treatment.

As a result of this type of work, these careers may require at least a master’s degree, with some requiring Ph.D. education. Many come into the job with these skills on how to assess and treat patients, which means little on-the-job education is provided. Employees typically need to have 5 or more years of experience in the field.

  • Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.

2022 Median Salary for a Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

The following are the median annual salaries for people working as a mental health or substance abuse social worker in 2022, based on BLS data.

New Jersey$65,090Missouri$47,200
New York$60,320Nebraska$54,200
North Dakota$60,710New Hampshire$50,860
Oklahoma$57,180New Mexico$62,610
Pennsylvania$51,650North Carolina$55,530
South Carolina$46,760Ohio$53,310
Utah$65,180Rhode IslandN/A
Virginia$56,350South Dakota$48,160
West Virginia$46,130Wyoming$59,620

Is a mental health counselor a good career?

A mental health counselor may be a good career for those who wish to work in advising and counseling individuals and groups on various emotional and mental health issues. A great deal of the focus for this career may be on prevention and early intervention. They may work in areas of families, parenting, mental health disorders, stress management, substance abuse, addictions, aging, and other areas.

The tasks in this type of work often include maintaining confidentiality in relation to treatment for clients, assessing patients for risks to their safety, such as suicide, and encouraging the expression of thoughts and feelings. They often develop deep insights into relationships and the overall mental well-being of a person.

The skills needed as a mental health counselor are numerous and may include some technology but also social perceptiveness, active listening, and good communication. They may also need to be able to provide service orientation to help people.

Work activities typically include assisting others in their mental health needs, establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships, getting information and data to use for creating treatment plans, and then organizing and planning those treatments. They often oversee care for individuals and may work with supervisors and peers in the process.

The work done here is high level, which is why most mental health counselor positions may require at least a master’s degree, with some employers seeking out doctoral level experience. Many may want students to obtain working experience in a related field as well. There is often little to no on-the-job learning aside from getting accustomed to the location’s specific workday.

  • Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.

2022 Median Salary for Mental Health Counselors

The median annual salary for 2022 for those working as a mental health counselor is listed below for each state, as supplied by

New Jersey$78,500Missouri$39,420
New York$61,660Nebraska$32,070
North Dakota$51,790New Hampshire$58,940
Oklahoma$36,680New Mexico$51,140
Pennsylvania$37,760North Carolina$54,220
South Carolina$35,800Ohio$44,380
Utah$47,380Rhode Island$70,070
Virginia$48,370South Dakota$41,230
West Virginia$58,240Wyoming$45,690

Read More

Here are a few related blog posts that may provide additional insight into social work and the different graduate programs available. Thank you for reading!


Sandy Baker


Sandy has extensive experience writing educational articles for topics ranging from online education to college degrees. She’s worked with several Ivy League colleges to create blogs, newsletters, sales material for recruiting as well as “how to manage” college lifestyle pieces. Additionally, she’s written for well-respected study abroad programs helping students to find international opportunities spanning the globe from South America to Africa and Asia.

Sandy’s experience also includes writing about financial aid, FAFSA, scholarship searches, and managing college loans and grants. This includes aiding both students and parents in managing the application and financial aid process from start to finish. Her writing in this area has been featured in The New York Times, Cleveland Magazine, and several blogs.

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